For Malaysian theatre actor/singer Aaron Teoh, auditioning for a role in the travelling musical The King And I in London was one of the most tense experiences in his life.
The London-based actor recalls how his first audition last September lasted only 60 seconds. He was brought into a room and asked to sing a song for the team behind the musical.
“I was asked to prepare two songs but they only wanted one and before I knew it, it was over. They said: ‘thank you, that’s all we need to hear’, which can either mean you are amazing or you’re awful. I was convinced it was the latter,” says Teoh, 30, in an interview.
“I remember calling (my wife) Adeline and venting, regretting my choice of song, my performance, everything,” he adds.
As it turned out, Teoh did much better than he thought. Two days later, he got a call from the The King And I tour management.
Four auditions later, he was offered a role in the show.
In the The King And I musical, Teoh will be playing Prince Chulalongkorn, oldest son of King Mongkut and heir to the Siamese throne. He appears alongside Jose Llana, who plays King Mongkut, and Annalene Beechey who plays Miss Anna, a British school teacher.
Coincidentally, Teoh will be taking over the Prince Chulalongkorn role from another British-based Malaysian actor Jon Chew.
“Jon is a friend and an amazing guy. I watched him perform on the West End (in London) and was so excited and happy for him. I mean what an incredible opportunity. Seeing him inspired me and I’m just so eager to get started,” says Teoh.
Teoh is currently back in Kuala Lumpur for a short break.
This Lincoln Center Theater production of The King And I will hit the road on April 26 in Manchester; subsequent stops include Dublin, Edinburgh, Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, and Bristol. The 14-city tour ends May next year.
“It’s a mind-blowing feeling to be part of this (touring) adventure. I’m looking forward to seeing my wife when she visits. She has been the most supportive amazing person you can imagine and I owe all of this to her. That and being able to finally afford to bring my parents over to watch me. They’ve come for every show I’ve ever done and this one will be no different,” says Teoh.
Born in Kuala Lumpur, Teoh grew up in a very musical family. His father had musicals such as The Sound Of Music and My Fair Lady on laser disc, which the young actor would watch while growing up.
“My sister Audrey would sing me to sleep with Andrew Lloyd Webber (tunes),” recalls Teoh.
The actor worked as a singing teacher locally for nine years and was involved in many Malaysian theatre productions, including Pan Production’s Merrily We Roll Along (2014) and Monday Show Entertainment’s Tick Tick Boom (2015).
Teoh moved to Britain in September 2017 with his wife who was pursuing her Masters in Comparative Education at the time. While she was studying, Teoh made himself busy and went to theatre auditions.
“The pool of talent is so much bigger in Britain and you have layers like casting directors and agents. Without an agent to represent you, it’s pretty difficult to get seen for auditions. I was prepared for rejections, that’s part of the job. But I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be to even get an audition,” says Teoh, who is now represented by Byron Management in London.
Looking back on the experience Teoh says he is extremely thankful for all that has happened, knowing that performing on an international stage is a dream to be realised.
“Yes, there are Malaysians out there making their mark (in the arts) and doing Malaysia proud. But a lot of us have had do it with our own money. There are amazing performers in Malaysia and my hope is that there is more support and funding for the arts so that more people can pursue it as a career,” says Teoh.