The following article discusses topics of sensitive nature (bullying, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, mentions of suicide, and discrimination) which may be upsetting and/or controversial to some readers. Hence, reader discretion is advised. The view, thoughts, and opinion expressed in this article belong solely to the authors and do not reflect Sunway University and Sunway College’s value. Furthermore, this musical is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, businesses, places, events, and/or incidents are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental.
As the jazz music plays in the background and the murmuring of crowds echoes throughout the auditorium, the lights of the theatre slowly dim out, until it is pitch black. Then, a spotlight was shone on one individual. Thus, Dorms: The Musical began.
Dorms: The Musicals tells the story of a 16-year-old girl named Alia (played by Andrea Chow Yiing Jia) with big dreams to enter Oxford University and pursue a career as a doctor. However, throughout the show, she learns that life is not so straightforward and simple for her to achieve her dreams. There are challenges and obstacles that will shake her heart down to the core. However, that is just how life is. This musical is inspired by real cases of bullying and abuse along with the excellent use of rock and ballad-inspired soundtrack to amplify and capture the feelings of Alia’s journey.
The show starts out with Alia’s graduation with her childhood best friend, Ming Hwa (played by Wong Kae Jing). After graduation, Alia plans to go to SMBK Taiping with Ming Hwa, one of the most prestigious boarding schools in Malaysia. Unfortunately, Ming Hwa doesn’t get accepted to SMBK Taiping, and Alia suspects that the reasoning for the rejection was due to her ethnicity, because Ming Hwa has better grades than Alia. It didn’t make sense why she was rejected. Therefore, Alia and Ming Hwa were forced to go on separate ways in their journey. When Alia talks to her father, Radzi, (played by Mavin Woon Chan Heen) and her mother, Jamilah (played by Loh Xue Ning), regarding her acceptance to SMBK Taiping, her mother is hesitant because she has heard rumours about the abuse and bullying of students occurring at the school. On the other hand, her father reassures Alia that SMBK is a prestigious school that has no such thing. In the end, Alia makes her own choice and decides to move into a dorm in SMBK Taiping accompanied by her parents, to check out her room. To their surprise, the bed and lockers of the dorms are smaller than expected, and she will be staying with a roommate without her prior knowledge due to her “clumsiness”.
The size of the bed became an argument between her parents, and Alia’s roommate, Khadijah (played by Nico Lee), came at the worst timing and heard Alia’s parents arguing, making it an awkward first interaction. Nevertheless, they introduced themselves to each other and went on to their first class. At class, they meet with 2 other students, Irfan (played by Chung Zi Liang) and Ivan (played by Benjamin Soh Yong An), making them a group of 4 friends. After the class ended, the girls’ dorm had a night meeting where Alia and Khadijah attended. There, they met the most entitled, mean, and downright abusive batch facilitators (and their seniors) named Aisha (played by Claire Leelani Gomez) and Iman (played by Loh Xue Ning). The rule of the dorm was that “What happens in the school stays in the school”, which can be seen as a red flag. Additionally, these seniors were very strict regarding the rules and would severely “punish” anybody who disobeys them. Unfortunately, Alia overslept, which broke one of their rules. As a result, Aisha and Iman barge into her room, force her to wake up, and scold her excessively in a belittling manner, basically verbally abusing her.
As time went on, these 4 friends grew closer to each other, especially Alia and Irfan. During a movie show, Alia confessed to Irfan that she might have developed a feelings towards Irfan, but Irfan turned down her confession. Time goes on and it’s finally semester break, so Alia decides to go back to meet her parents and Ming Hwa during the holidays and share her experience regarding the abusive seniors. Overall, her mother sympathises with her, but her father just tells her to be strong and deal with it, and Ming Hwa is very supportive of Alia. After semester break, Alia goes back to the dorm to continue her studies. However, when she returns, the abusive senior accused her of breaking another law that could damage the reputation of the school. This time, it wasn’t just verbal abuse, but physical abuse. Alia was blindfolded, had her hands tied up, and she is beaten terribly inside the toilet as a “punishment”.
Time passes and Alia meets with Irfan. They were talking casually and things finally seemed less awkward in their relationship as friends. At one point, Irfan admits that he is gay, which is why he turned down Alia’s confession. One day, Irfan seemed off, his vibe was very different compared to usual. Alia tries to ask him what is going on, but Irfan refuses to tell her, which ends up in an argument. The next scene was very saddening. During class, the principal (played by Jaden Woo Kin Yee) announced to the class that Irfan had passed away and the reasoning for it was still under “investigation”. Though Alia didn’t believe it and demanded the principal to tell the truth with anger in her voice. The principal said that Irfan passed away because of suicide, which makes Alia and her friends overcome with grief. Back at the dorm, Alia and Khadijah comfort each other, and Alia also calls Ming Hwa to talk about the death of her close friend.
The next day, the seniors held another meeting mentioning Irfan’s death and how it sets a bad example for the school and other students, saying that nobody should be like Irfan. This really enrages Alia, but Khadijah stops her from lashing out her anger. As coincidence would have it, Alia found Irfan’s diary and decided to read it. The diary contains Irfan’s memorable experience, whether it’s good or bad. The diary tells Alia what was Irfan’s first impression towards her, and how he is relieved when Alia was accepting when she learnt Irfan was gay. Moreover, the diary also tells Alia what was the cause of Irfan’s suicide, arguably the most important part for her. Turns out, the fact that Irfan was gay was leaked to the other boys, and he was being bullied and was called nasty names for it. However, that was not the worst of them all. One night, 2 male students captured and blindfolded him. As Irfan would describe it himself, what happened to him physically and emotionally hurt him in such a great magnitude. He felt so dirty that no matter what he did, the feeling of dirtiness just did not seem to go away. This, led him to end his life.
After learning what happened to Irfan, Alia calls Ming Hwa and tells her the entire story. Being Alia’s best friend, Ming Hwa doesn’t stay still. She takes the matter into her own hands and goes to one of the most powerful and influential places on Earth, the internet. The information regarding Irfan’s death and the cause of it is posted publicly and becomes viral. Hearing this, the seniors call all the girls and tell them that no one could leave until the person who leaked the information confesses to them. This pushes Alia to the edge and she finally stands up against the seniors. After having an emotional outrage against the senior, Alia storms off to her room. Soon after, Khadijah comes back to the room as well. Coming in clutch, it turns out that Khadijah was recording what Aisha and Iman were saying during the meeting. Alia immediately asks her to send the recordings to Ming Hwa, which was, of course, posted on the internet and became viral.
After both of the posts become viral, the principal finally takes matters into his own hands. He expells the 2 male students who sexually assaulted Irfan and expells Aisha and Iman for their terrible behaviors. Time goes on, and Alia alongside her friends and batchmates finally graduate. Alia receives many compliments from her parents, teachers and friends for her amazing grades, but that is not the end of the story. Alia returns to Irfan’s grave with flowers, and says her last message to him. In a very saddened and regretful expression, Alia said that she was very grateful for Irfan who has helped her to become a better person and opened her mind to many other possibilities and differences she never thought of before. Lastly, she wishes that Irfan was with her for the graduation.
And that is the end of the story. Words are not enough to describe how well the show was done, and how amazing each and every member of Sunway Theater Club had performed. One part that was not emphasised enough in the written story above was the musical performance of the cast. All the cast members who sang had great vocals and the choice of music was on point. The choice of music and the emotion poured into the songs could be felt by the audience, and this helps the audience to capture what each character was feeling. Another part that was not mentioned enough was the lighting. The use of warm and cold light emphasised the mood of the room, whether it was tense, happy, or sad. Moving on, here are what some of the cast and crew members have to say regarding the show.
Interview With the Cast and Crews of Dorms: The Musical
- How did you feel before the first show started and how did you feel after the last show ended?
“Before the first show started, I was anxious, nervous, and excited all at the same time. I didn’t want to be in the room yet I wanted to get on stage and put on the best show I could. After the last show, it honestly felt really surreal. I couldn’t believe that we’d finally done it. I couldn’t believe that there wouldn’t be anymore rehearsals on Tuesdays and Fridays” – Chung Zi Liang, playing as Irfan
“As one of the assistant stage managers, I felt incredibly anxious and was admittedly, quite high strung the morning of the first show. Although we had done multiple dress rehearsals and runs already, I still felt quite nervous as I wanted the first show to go as well as it could be so that morale could be boosted. In contrast, I felt quite relieved and relaxed after the last show ended. There was also a good amount of sadness now that the show was finally over, as I knew that this most probably would be the last time I ever worked with/see some of these cast and crew.” – Cheryl Koh, Assistant Stage Manager
“Before the first show started, I felt very nervous and scared that I would mess up my transition. And after the last show ended, I felt sad that the show had ended. I had so much fun during the show and I felt sad that it has come to an end and I wish to travel back in time to the 4 days working as a transition crew.” – Hing Wen Han, Transition Crew
- What was the biggest challenge for your role throughout the whole show (from preparation to execution)?
“Due to the show being only done in 5 months, scheduling is very important to get down. I was in charge of the schedule to make sure the show could be executed on show day. I had to make sure the directors followed the schedule. If they stray from it, I would have to reschedule to the best of my ability. Our directors are also first-time directors so me and my production manager had to give tips to them to make sure the musical went as smoothly as possible.” – Sandrine Soon, Stage Manager
“Honest answer: Pronunciation of meiosis and oogenesis” – Soh Yong An, playing as Ivan
“For me, it was a bit hard to understand my character, Alia’s, grief as I haven’t been through anything remotely like what she’s experienced. It was also hard to display her affections towards Irfan as I’ve never had any similar experience to that.
Hence, I couldn’t connect with her during these scenes and that took me a long time to overcome. Thankfully, the directors and cast were very supportive and helped guide me along, especially the directors and Zi Liang (who played Irfan), who gave me calls till midnight to walk me through Alia’s character and emotions, and how I could portray them better.” – Andrea Chow, playing as Alia
- What was the most valuable experience / lesson you learned throughout the whole show?
“How to communicate and cooperate with others. This was the first production I’ve done without any formal supervision from an advisor or teacher and it really showed me how valuable communication (and listening to each other) is, especially in a working environment.” – Loh Xue Ning, playing as Jamilah & Iman
“For me, the most valuable experience was that I got to realise my dreams of being a part of a musical. I am a huge musical theatre kid but unfortunately never had the chance to try out theatre before. I’m so thankful to the directors for giving me, a total newbie, the chance to play the lead role, even though I had 0 experience in the industry. I have learned so much from actual professionals who worked in the production as well, which really widened my horizon and knowledge on theatre. The entire experience was so surreal, a definite dream come true. To be able to join a group of amazing individuals with the same passion is something I’ll hold close to my heart.” – Andrea Chow, playing as Alia
“That if you did your best, nothing else matters. If you fail again and again and again, keep on trying because the people around you will have your back and help you along the way.” – Gurprit Kaur, Audio Tech and Costume Designer
Lastly, a shoutout to one of our Echo Media members, Haikal from Creative Writing, who was one of the directors of Dorms: The Musical, for his help in connecting the writer of this article to the cast and crew of Dorms: The Musical.
Written by: Daniel
Edited by: Poorani