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Buzz builds for Elephants premiere

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Phnom Penh's Chenla Theatre will host the first full staging of Where Elephants Weep as producers and cast hope the production will eventually travel to venues throughout SE Asia

Photo supplied by Cambodian living arts

Marc de la Cruz and Eric Bondoc perform in the US preview of Where Elephants Weep in April 2007.

AFTER seven years of soliciting donors and  writing and rewriting words and music, the monumental collaborative event Where Elephants Weep is set to premiere in Phnom Penh at the Chenla Theater on November 28.

"Obviously, it's a very exciting moment for us to be actually having the first full-staged production as we conceived it ... with the belief that the emerging arts from Cambodia are rooted in their ancient traditions, but are also helping inspire new original voices to come forward, which is really the goal behind this commission," executive producer John Burt said.

East meets West

The story of Where Elephants Weep is a familiar one. Sam (Michael K Lee) is a successful New York record producer who has returned to his native home to serve as a monk and face his turbulent past. In the process, he falls in love with Khmer pop star Bopah (Diane Veronica Phelan) and finds himself torn between his desires and his duty.

In a traditional arrangement, Bopah is betrothed to another by her self-serving brother Khan (Eric Bondoc) but returns Sam's affections. Throughout the story, there is a strong sense of the past trying to reconcile itself with the present to create a different kind of future.

It's a love story ... and it's a sort of a self-fulfilling journey of self-a wakening.

"It's a love story," said Lee, "and it's a sort of a self-fulfilling journey of self-awakening."
Where Elephants Weep was commissioned by John Burt for Cambodian Living Arts, in association with Amrita Performing Arts.

It is the creation of Burt, who initially came up with the story line, multi-award winning playwright Catherine Filloux, Russian-trained composer and Khmer Rouge survivor Him Sophy, and Broadway director Robert McQueen.

The Program

  • The VIP world premiere of Where Elephants Weep opens Friday, November 28

    Tickets: Gold Circle US$250, Silver Circle $150, Bronze Circle $100.
    Location: Chenla Theatre, Phnom Penh

  • A gala performance will be held Saturday, November 29

    Tickets: Exclusive Seating $75, Premium Seating $50, General Seating $25.
    Location: Chenla Theatre

  • A general admission performance will run from December 5-7

    Tickets: Exclusive Seating $12, Premium Seating $5, General Seating $2.
    Location: Chenla Theatre

The rock opera has been completely transformed since its preliminary preview performance last year in Lowell, Massachusetts.

"We took the piece apart for a week," McQueen said.  

Since then, new scenes and characters have been added, and once the show hit Cambodian soil an entirely new company emerged.

"It's been inventive," McQueen said. "The piece has really taken form, particularly with the Cambodian cast members who've come in -  what do they do and how can we use that in the show? And that's been extraordinary for me. I think that is the best way to work - to go into a company, to find the company and then to allow the company to inform the piece."

The heart and soul of the work behind Where Elephants Weep lies in collaboration.

"This has been about collaboration at every level, both artistically - the collaboration that's occurred between Cambodian Living Arts and Amrita Performing Arts - and ... between international artists and Cambodian artists. There has been a very conscious and exciting way in which people who ordinarily worked independently have come together to work on this," Burt said.

McQueen agreed. "It's about people coming together and making opportunities for each other - finding ways of bringing people together so that everyone's voice is heard; that is fiercely important to me as a director."

Promising future

The future of the production is uncertain, and the current global economy makes things all the more difficult. Burt has had interest from people in Seoul and Singapore, and he hopes to be able to have productions in Tokyo and Hong Kong as well. His goal is to get as much exposure as possible and hopefully bring the production back to North America.

Much has been done to bring Where Elephants Weep to the stage, and everybody involved would like to see it continue on. "I believe in this piece," said Lee, "and I will champion this piece to get it seen by as many people as possible ... I feel if people can hear his [Sophy's] music and ... hear Catherine's words and see Robert's directions and the cast's performances, that it can be an unbelievable experience.

"I'm just going to put it out there, that it is going to be seen by many more people and affect a lot of lives [and] raise awareness at the end of the day about Cambodian arts in Cambodia."

__________________________________________________
For ticket reservations, telephone 023 220 424.

For information, email info@whereelephantsweep.net

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