PETALING JAYA, Feb 18 — Musicals with Asian characters are rare and far in between.
Save for the likes of The King and I, Miss Saigon, Flower Drum Song and South Pacific.
So, you can imagine London-based Malaysian singer Aaron Teoh’s delight when he received a phone call informing him he got the role of Prince Chulalongkorn in the upcoming UK tour of The King and I.
That call was a surprise considering Teoh is a relative unknown and also because of his height.
“They’re not going to cast me as a leading man because of my height — in television and film you and stand on a box but in theatre, there’s nowhere to hide,” the 5’3” performing arts graduate told Malay Mail.
Thirty-year-old Teoh, who will “spend the next year playing a 15-year-old”, was offered the opportunity to play the son of King Mongkut and the heir to the throne last October, after three rounds of auditions in London.
“I sang Ten Minutes Ago from Cinderella and thought I blew it but two days later I got a callback."
The Petaling Jaya native spent a year-and-a-half in London with his wife Adeline Choo, who was pursuing a master’s degree in comparative education.
Before landing the role of Prince Chulalongkorn, Teoh worked as a Harry Potter tour guide at the Warner Bros. studio and began auditioning for various roles and commercials with the help of an agent.
“The entertainment scene there is very different and has a lot more red tape than they do here. In Malaysia, it’s always through a friend of a friend, that sort of thing.”
Taking over the role of the prince from Jon Chew, a fellow Malaysian theatre performer and ex-journalist, Teoh said his predecessor gave him solid pointers to ace the role.
“He said to try to play the most precocious brat you ever thought of but also temper it with the fact that he is exposed to that lifestyle as well as a Western influence.
“That thought is fighting with his Eastern upbringing and by the end of the play, the two worlds collide and he’s trying to reconcile his upbringing with this new ideology and find this comfortable middle ground."
Teoh, the youngest of four children, began his musical theatre journey in secondary school when his crush invited him to watch her perform in a, coincidentally, Rodgers and Hammerstein show with the Young Kuala Lumpur Singers (YKLS).
Soon after, he joined the singing group and later on met his future wife who was taking classical lessons with the Young Choral Academy (YCA).
His parents were supportive and pushed him to study performing arts when he finished secondary school.
“I didn’t realise how different my parents were until I got into university. That believe and support was such a joy to have.
“Without the opportunities that YKLS and YCA afforded to young people and people who want to learn the craft, I wouldn’t have the talent to get to where I am today because training has a big deal to do with that."
Teoh, who is currently back in PJ, will return to the UK next month to begin rehearsals on March 25.
The King and I is produced by the Lincoln Centre Theatre and will tour 14 cities across the UK including Dublin, Ireland from April 26 until May 2020.
Follow Teoh’s journey on Facebook or follow the hashtag #myprincesdiaries.