Published on May 22nd, 2013 | by David

A Javanese Sensory Overload With Hanoman: The Musical

The Bay Area will soon get a chance to experience an explosive piece of international theater, as Hanoman: The Musical comes to San Jose June 25th-27th. A self-titled “Javanese Rock Opera,” this musical mixes song, dance, martial arts, Indonesian shadow puppetry, and digital projection into a non-stop assault on the senses. I recently got a chance to chat with the director about what exactly makes Hanoman so special.

TrulyNet: So what’s the concept behind Hanoman?

Mirwan Suwarso: I’m taking a story that’s over 1,000 years old– a story that’s from within my culture. However, as culture has progressed, the way this story is being told is no longer relevant, so I tried to bring more contemporary influences to it. I’ve introduced film and shorter narrative styles, and infused it with martial arts and rock music to make it more dynamic and attract younger audiences again.

TN: So it originally opened in Indonesia?

MS: Yes. What is really unique in Indonesia is that we don’t have a theater culture, so once you’ve seen something once, you don’t want to see it again. So I had to actually create five different shows within the space of two years to keep attracting audiences. I eventually realized that I couldn’t sustain creation at this pace, took the best elements of each of the five shows, and created Hanoman.

TN: So this is actually a synthesis of five different shows into one specifically for the international market? How did those five different shows combine? Are they all pieces from the same story?

MS: The stories are different, but some of the songs are the same. In each show, I learned more. Each was very experimental. In one, I learned how to take a rock from on screen and make it appear on stage, where a character could actually kick it and break it. In another, I learned that shadow puppets could actually interact with and fight with characters on stage. In all these different shows, I learned different styles of music, different styles of acrobatics… I took all these and combined them to create Hanoman.

TN: So will this show have an international cast?

MS: For the U.S., it will actually mostly be American actors. The first foreign actress I really worked with was Camille, who had been in Prison Break and other TV shows. I was very impressed with how she approached and embraced the different culture, and thought she did an awesome job. From then on I realized, American actors are very versatile, and really embrace the richness and texture and moral[s] behind our stories. They actually absorbed more and came more prepared than I expected them to.

TN: You spoke about the richness of your culture- what should we expect as Americans, coming from traditional musical theater experience?

MS: Americans are usually very impressed by the costumes, but costumes are easy to do. What I think is most impressive is actually the energy– there are fight sequences that are very exciting and realistic. There’s also the story: this story is based on thousand-year old mythology, but at the same time it’s very relevant to each of us. Hanoman, for example: he has the power of a god, but looks like a monkey, so as he was growing up, he has all these powers, but also all this anxiety. He feels like he just doesn’t belong, which drives him to become a sort of rebel. I think that’s a story that can be relevant to everybody (especially teenagers). The story is very easy to follow and relate to.

TN: What about musically?

MS: Our music is different than regular musicals– it’s mostly pop songs, almost like rock songs. The structure, bridge and everything is similar to something that you’d hear on the radio. That’s been working well for us, because the actors, singers, and everybody involved really like the songs.

TN: It looks like you actually have some musicians and vocalists from popular Indonesian bands in the cast.

MS: In Indonesia, we actually need to bring a lot of contemporary culture into it for the young people to watch it. With wayang– the traditional shadow puppets– it is almost an abandoned art. Nobody goes to see it anymore. If you want to go as a tourist, you can pay three bucks, five bucks to see these shows which can last up to four or five hours…and most tourists can’t stand it for more than fifteen minutes or half an hour.

When I took over, we just completely changed everything. Nobody expected what we were doing. We broke the narrative format, and made it very short. We added martial arts, Capoeira, and acrobatics, and then starting to work with film, where characters could be on film, then jump on stage, then back and forth, and we have the shadow puppets interacting, and it just became really, really unique and really different.

MIRWAN SUWARSO is the director and producer of Hanoman The Musical and the founder of Tales of Heroes, a production company that creates a series of exciting, action packed musicals that combine film, live theater,wayang kulit (traditional Indonesian shadow puppets), martial arts and a rock infused orchestra.

Inspired by the epic tale of Ramayana, Hanoman The Musical tells the story of the origin of one of the fiercest warriors in ancient Asian mythology. Cast members include Daniel Torres (Evita) and Laura Vall (of the alternative rock band, The Controversy). Direct from sold-out performances in Asia, Hanoman will have a limited three-day run (Tuesday, June 25 thru Thursday, June 27, 2013) at San Jose Center for the Performing Arts in downtown San Jose (255 Almaden Boulevard). All performances began at 8 p.m. Tickets range in price from $45 to $125 and are now available online at SJTix.com or by calling 408.792.4111.

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About the Author

David has been writing professionally since 2008, as a translator and product editor for Japan Trend Shop. Along the way he has worked in IT for Six Apart (and its reincarnation as SAY Media), Naked Communications, and Tokyo 2.0, as well as volunteering his nerdiness for dance events and organizations such as the Fusion Exchange and the Portland Swing and Jazz Dance society. After graduating Lewis & Clark College in 2010, David entered the Teach for America program, and taught Algebra and Geometry at Aptos Middle School in San Francisco. When he's not educating young minds or buried in a computer screen, he spends his time dancing, and frequently teaches dance with fellow TrulyNet author Ruth Hoffman.

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