For years, Base Entertainment Asia was considered the premier production company, bringing in internationally-acclaimed stage shows to Singapore, ever since they set up offices at Marina Bay Sands. From Broadway and West End musicals The Lion King to Matilda, to ballets, concerts, stand-up comedy, cabaret, children’s entertainment and everything else in between, Base Entertainment Asia has without a doubt livened up the local theatre scene and given those in Singapore a chance to see some of the best shows in the world in their own country.
But when the pandemic hit, all plans were shelved, and the company shut its doors and waited with bated breath until the storm blew over, biding its time and making big plans for when borders would re-open, and live theatre would become viable again. A little over two years on, and Base Entertainment Asia is back in business, with a full suite of shows lined up for the foreseeable future. Most recently, the team brought in a blockbuster production of The Sound of Music to Singapore and Malaysia, featuring an all star cast from New York, before Disney’s hit Frozen The Musical arrives in February at the Sands Theatre, the tour’s only Southeast Asian stop.
While The Sound of Music was in Kuala Lumpur, we headed up to the Istana Budaya for the Malaysian premiere of the show, and took the time to speak to Base Entertainment CEO Chantal Prudhomme on Base’s move to bring shows to Malaysia, how the team has been coping over the pandemic years, and how they continue to thrive going forward.
“I think that everyone has felt the pain of the pandemic in some form, but right now, we’re finally on the other side,” says Chantal. “When the pandemic happened, everything stopped quite abruptly, and no one knew how long it would last. And for people like us, what we do is that we plan years in advance for all these big shows, and for the longest time we couldn’t predict what was next for us. So we kept on planning, and kept switching and adjusting and moving things around until finally the borders started opening. And I’m just glad that we’re based in Singapore, where once we opened up, things stayed fully open, and that’s helped us get back on our feet again.”
Now, Base Entertainment Asia is busier than ever, and ready to welcome the swathe of audiences hungry for theatre, ready to move on well-past the pandemic. “There were so many discussions we were having with our overseas partners, and it was just planning so much around the idea of being able to launch something once borders opened again,” says Chantal. “We’re lucky we managed to have these failsafes in place to keep the offices open for the last two years, and switched over to zoom meetings and phone calls rather than physical correspondence. But with so much absence, it made the reunion that much sweeter. We have strong relationships abroad, and we’re more dedicated than ever to come together as a village to really put it all together.”
While Base has always been putting up shows in Singapore, this move to bring shows to Malaysia is an interesting one, and represents an expansion of their operations to let the arts flourish even further amidst the region. The Sound of Music was the first time Base returns to Malaysia since bringing The Phantom of the Opera there in 2019, and one of the first big international shows touring the region since the pandemic. “There’s definitely a strong love for the arts in Malaysia, and with so many people here, it’s about making sure we bring in a good, big show people will want to watch,” says Chantal. “The trick is listening to the audience, and what we want to offer them to get them into the theatre, and come out happy. And we’ll just keep on bringing stories and shows that we feel the audience wants to hear and see.”
Base’s shows in Malaysia have always been staged at the Istana Budaya, perhaps the country’s biggest and most established performing arts venue. “It’s the best place to stage a musical because it’s carved a name for itself with musicals. The seating also works well, with 1,300 seats, compared to smaller venues, or say a stadium which has too many. And what’s more, it means something to the people, and is easily recognizable,” says Chantal. “Bringing in The Sound of Music was also a deliberate decision – we didn’t want to bring something that’s too dark, and wanted something happy. And this show, it’s really about resilience and staying together as a family to get through difficult times, on top of being a classic. There’s also a lot of relevance to today’s context, where there are parallels to the World War II scenario and the conflicts in the world. That’s why I believe it’s so close to everybody’s hearts.”
The Sound of Music is a special touring show for any country it goes to, primarily because it casts local children from that country, giving a rare opportunity for young, rising talents to showcase their musical talents on the big stage. Over 800 children auditioned for the show, with only 17 making it to the final rotating cast of three teams in Malaysia. And just because they’re children doesn’t mean they’re amateurs; they perform to the best of their abilities, and put in the same hours of rehearsals, growing with each step.
“There’s great talent in Singapore and Malaysia, and I love giving this opportunity for them to shine,” says Chantal. “We’ve always wanted to do that, and we’ve been doing that, but The Sound of Music‘s roles for children are all so important, and it goes far beyond token representation or a 2-minute guest appearance. And what it does is that it creates this emotional connection with the country where you are. Because the story is about a family. It’s about love. It’s about getting over difficulties. We can all identify with that. And having your own people represented on stage creates a deeper emotional connection, while doing it at the level of professionalism that you would find anywhere on Broadway or on the West End.”
As much as a touring show may seem ‘easy’ to someone out of the loop, there are actually plenty of logistical and operational concerns every step. of the way. “We rely so much on touring shows, and even choosing the show is already a big decision. Factor in logistics and manpower, and it can be overwhelming,” says Chantal. “But we’ve done it for so many years now that we’re used to it, and more than that, we’ve got an amazing team that’s making all of the magic happen. Not only from us, but the local crew working behind the scenes, from Singapore from Malaysia, are crucial for the success of that show, alongside talents in the technical side like sound and light, and even the marketing side of things is very important – they’re crucial to attracting people to the show. It all comes together to deliver an incredible show. “
“When people watch our shows, I want them to walk away and talk about it, and feel like they’ve come out with a new experience or learning something new. The children, for example, learn a lot about history, and can have those conversations with their parents after watching the show,” says Chantal. “I’ve seen the show so many times, and yet I still feel like I come away each time with a new takeaway. I really hope that our young actors, both the Malaysians and Singaporeans, will continue to pursue and develop their love for the arts, and who knows, 10 years from now, when they’re adults, you may find them on Broadway, or the West End or just involved in the arts in some way. That’s what we want to do – to spread the word and love for the arts, and pass down the legacy from one generation to another.”
Base Entertainment Asia presents their next show, Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show, from 10th to 21st May 2023 at the Sands Theatre in Singapore. Tickets available here
Base Entertainment Asia will also be presenting & Juliet from 21st September to 8th October 2023 at the Sands Theatre in Singapore. Tickets available here
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