Friday, 5 June 2009

Group hopes to put on Cambodian rock opera in Long Beach

A creative team that produced a successful premiere of the Cambodian rock opera "Where Elephants Weep" in Phnom Penh showed film clips of the play to residents in an attempt to generate interest in bringing the play to Long Beach. (Vanta El/For the Press Telegram)

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Posted: 06/03/2009

LONG BEACH - After a failed attempt to land in Long Beach in 2007, and a highly successful run in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, a Cambodian rock opera may be ready for some West Coast exposure.

At least that's what the creative team behind "Where Elephants Weep" is hoping after local residents reacted enthusiastically to film clips from the play's run in Cambodia that were shown recently at Mark Twain Library.

Although members of the New York-based group are reluctant to talk about what exactly it will take to bring the production to Long Beach, they were upbeat after meetings with several young leaders in the Cambodian community.

The first time the project was proposed in Long Beach, playwright Catherine Filloux said her group "did not feel a groundswell in Long Beach."

This time, however, her hopes are higher that the community will rally behind the project, especially in the wake of the play's popular run in Phnom Penh in November and December.

"Where Elephants Weep" was first opened in Lowell, Mass., in what Filloux said was a workshop. But the community response was "awesome," according to Filloux, and she hopes the same kind of momentum and support can be built here.

However, she notes that since her team is based on the East Coast, it will be up to the Long Beach community to make it happen.

Director Robert McQueen predicts it could take a year-and-a-half to bring the production to Long Beach.

In Phnom Penh, the cast was led by Cambodian star Ieng Sithul, who plays the Buddhist abbot, and Michael K. Lee, an emerging Broadway musical performer.

The play is a sort of bicultural take on the ancient Cambodia tale of "Tum Teav," which has been called the Cambodian "Romeo and Juliet."

It is in both Khmer and English, with subtitles projected onto screens around the stage.

In this telling, however, gray-clad rappers and traditional Apsara dancers intermingle as an expatriate Cambodian-American returning to his homeland struggles to reconcile an internal clash of cultures and desires.

The play is a collaboration between Soviet-

trained composer Dr. Him Sophy and Filloux.

Him, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide of the late 1970s, received a scholarship to study music in Moscow in 1985, where he earned a doctorate in musical art and composition.

Filloux is an American of French-Algerian descent who has lived and taught in Cambodia. This is her fourth Cambodian-themed drama.

Bringing the production to Long Beach is not a small task. Organizers plan to talk to operators of venues in the Southland and members of the arts community. However, they stress it will be up to the local community to spearhead the effort.

Local residents are enthused about the prospects.

"Cambodia has so much to share with the community," says Richer San, who was part of the group that invited the play's producers to air the clips of the play at the library.

"I feel like this a a grand slam for Cambodians and for getting past the killing fields," said Filloux. "It's appealing to the young because it's supermodern and accessible. It shines a light on Cambodian culture that's so accessible."

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