When an overworked employee drops dead from exhaustion, his boss (Colin Kirton) frantically hires a bomoh to resurrect him, so he can see his work to completion. How inconsiderate of you to die when there is work to be done, he huffs. And so Edwin (Iz Sulaini) returns as a zombie – a little grey in the face, but none the worse for wear.
Now is this a good idea? We all know that when you dabble in witchcraft, there is always a price to pay. But maybe not quite the price you imagine.
The Working Dead, a musical comedy set in contemporary Kuala Lumpur, zooms in on corporate life and the various characters that make up the mix.
There’s the hardworking employee who works come rain or shine – or in this case, death; and the rebel employee who strikes out on her own; and let’s not forget the insufferable suck-up who is convinced that the way up the corporate ladder is to grovel and apple-polish.
Just as you meet these characters in the workplace, so you will as well in The Working Dead, an original musical written by journalist Terence Toh, with music by Lydia Tong and Kelvin Loh. Toh is also executive producer. Nicole-Ann Thomas directs.
“This musical has a looming sense of unavoidable doom garnished with a dash of quirky, a teaspoon of silly in-your-face puns, and a bucketful of fun characters.
It is definitely relatable especially in this day and age of continuous feeds from all sides of technology and no lines drawn between work and life and family and, well, balance. The pressure of having to deliver is just too much for some,” says Thomas.
Audience feedback from a small-scale workshop production of The Working Dead in April last year, where selected scenes from the musicals were presented, helped shape the final version of this full-length musical.
“The audience feedback was varied, but many were positive, and even the more constructive comments were encouraging. It told us we were on the right path, but it needed fine tuning.
People liked the ‘office dynamics’ part of the story, seeing different quirky characters all interact in an office, and were interested in some minor characters, so we expanded on all these,” says Toh.
One memorable character that is minor no more is Brian Cheong’s Derek, the flamboyant caricature of the enthusiastic corporate a**-kisser.
“You know that annoying colleague in the office everyone hates, that acts like he knows everything and agrees with all that your boss says even if it is something completely illogical? Yeah, that’s Derek. Almost everyone who has worked in an office would have encountered someone like him. It takes all kinds to make the world go round,” Cheong shares of the character he plays.
Compared to last year’s workshop, Derek has a lot more stage time in this full-length version of the musical.
“There are now deeper reasons and motivations to Derek’s actions and choices, and I hope I will be able to help the audience to see and recognise this; that beneath that irritating facade, there may be more to a person than what you can see. In striving towards something we believe in, we sometimes lose our way or make poor choices – perhaps even voluntarily being a ‘corporate whore’. But when we fall down, it is up to us to pick ourselves up and keep moving forward, regardless of what it takes,” he adds.
Presented by KuLT Productions and supported by The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat, The Working Dead has a four-piece live band on guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. It runs for approximately two-and-a-half hours, with intermission.
On stage, the number of characters has been upped from six to 10. Besides Cheong, Iz and Kirton, the rest of the cast are: Denise Yap, Kirthana Kuhendran, Pryanka Rasa, Tina Isaacs, Zhafri Hassan, Zickry Yusof and Zukhairi Ahmad.
“I enjoyed writing the comedic parts of this musical the most. I also enjoyed finding all the irrational things we do in the office – for instance, many people will only go home after their boss leaves, which doesn’t make sense – and put them in the show somehow,” says Toh.
The Working Dead is his first full-length musical. He describes it as a comedy that is “a little dark”, but overall fun and suitable for the whole family.