Wanchai’s Queen Elizabeth Stadium will be taken to a parallel world this month as Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (HKYAF) introduces its brand new musical, Melodia. The story follows the titular 13-year-old heroine, whose planet, Zymbalia, is suddenly hit by a huge explosion. After learning she is the only one who can save everybody, she embarks on a quest to find and defeat the evil force known as The Enchanter. On the way, she discovers a secret that changes her life forever.
As the cast prepared to enter the final stage of rehearsals, Young Post met Aoi Toba, who takes the lead as Melodia, and narrators Kaja Chan and Phoebe Chan. Each of their characters is part of four separate tribes, which embody different animal-inspired qualities.
Aoi, 16, describes her character as “a very creative, energetic, bright, honest and sassy girl”. Explaining the dynamics within the world of Zymbalia, she continues, “Her tribe are like humans, in that they think they’re the only superior beings on the planet. As she ventures out, she realises there are three more tribes.”
“It’s a celebration of diversity,” she adds.
“As narrators, our role is to be a bridge between Zymbalia and the humans sitting in the audience, to give them a better understanding,” says Kaja, 15, whose tribe consists of humans with “primate-like qualities”.
Phoebe’s tribe are “underground people” who are inspired by animals like moles, badgers and meerkats. “As well as physical characteristics like burrowing and nose twitching, we also take on the personalities of these animals. We’re very friendly and very close-knit,” she says. Meanwhile, the final tribe are bird-like humanoids.
Melodia is the creation of director and HKYAF founder Lindsey McAlister, Cirque du Soleil composer Violaine Corradi, and musician and artist Rose Winebrenner. The three met at the Foundation’s annual Arts in the Park and decided to create an original musical for young people. They wanted Melodia to mirror what is happening on Earth, while being set in a parallel world.
As well as being full of original songs and music, the production promises to be a feast for the eyes too, with dance, acting, puppetry, aerial arts, colourful costumes, and projections filling up every bit of space on the large stadium stage.
Getting on to the cast was highly competitive: 100 young performers were chosen from 800 auditionees. The HKYAF team deliberately didn’t give too much away about the storyline in the workshop-style auditions – they just wanted to see who had the right mix of passion and energy, and who could impart plenty of personality into their roles.
“Yaf wrote the story, but we’re all adding to it in our own way,” says Kaja. “Because it’s such a huge cast, we can all give a little extra something to our characters. We’re performing it in a stadium, and there’ll be different things going on in every corner.”
Being allowed to put their own stamp on the roles presented a new dimension for many on the cast, Aoi says. “All the past Yaf productions I’ve been in have been adaptations of existing shows, so I could always refer back to professionals via YouTube videos. But this time, it’s all about our potential, and how we explore our roles. It’s a great opportunity for all of us.”
Having moved to Hong Kong from Japan in 2011, Aoi has been in Yaf productions for nearly four years. In early shows, some of her lines had to be cut, as her English wasn’t strong enough. Now, the animated actress and singer is leading the Foundation’s most ambitious and large-scale original musical to date. And it hasn’t escaped anyone on the team that her character’s inner strength and determination is comparable to her own.
Phoebe, 16, explains, “Melodia doesn’t really fit in with her tribe, but then this catastrophe happens. For the first time, she ventures out of the place she’s been living her entire life, and meets people from different tribes. Together, they try to save the world. Through all this, Melodia finds herself: her voice and her capabilities.”
“Melodia is very relatable,” Aoi says. “She has her struggles and fears, but manages to overcome them. At the end of the journey, she’s stronger and more powerful than she was at the start.”
She continues. “The script is full of inspiring quotes and positive messages. My favourite is ‘Believe in yourself and you will be unstoppable’.”
Melodia will be staged from April 27 to 29. For tickets, see here.
Edited by Ginny Wong