Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Kitchen Musical

Watching The Kitchen Musical is like a tacit admission that you have nothing better to do on a Saturday night. Seriously, anyone who gets to watch this thing on its given timeslot has either decided to stay in for a quiet weekend or was channel-surfing when the television-musical-bug decided to bite. Terrible, I know, but creator CheeK's concept of fusion entertainment---one that combines food, music, drama and dance in one show---has badges of an experiment gone awry and yet like any new dish that makes use of traditional and exotic ingredients, there's always hope that with enough tweaking, he can get the recipe right. There's barely enough to whet your appetite but since it traverses the so-bad-it's-good category, don't be surprised to find yourself tuning in once in a while.

I was quite curious about this show but despite several not-so-well-planned attempts to watch it, I never really had the chance to catch the premiere episode until they ran a 4-hour marathon on Studio23. The modus operandi of the show is quite simple---everything takes place in a posh, cosmopolitan restaurant that specializes in French cuisine called The Avilon where the characters prepare food, interact with each other, bust a move and burst into song.

Our story begins when fresh graduate, Maddie Avilon (Karylle) returns from Le Cordon Bleu and lands a job at her father's restaurant as a sous-chef under the direction of renowned culinary genius, Alex Marcus (Stephen Rahman-Hughes). Young, zealous and brimming with ideas, Maddie ends up butting heads with the uptight and methodical executive chef who detests the very idea of adjusting his refined palate just to experiment on the set menu when a food critic's in town.

From there on out, it takes no great leap of imagination to see how the open antagonism between the two would soon turn into sexual tension as master and apprentice slowly win over each other with every dish that they prepare. Anyone who's seen the show knows that something's cooking in the kitchen and no, we're not referring to the evening special that consists of the four-course meal that they come up with every week.

To seemingly add spice to an otherwise proven formula, a feisty old flame of Alex's named Selena Aragon (Rosemary Vandenbroucke) gets employed as the restaurant sommelier while trusted friend, and colleague, sous-chef Daniel Ray (Christian Bautista), throws his hat into the ring to vie not only for Maddie's heart but also professional independence. Throw in a recovering alcoholic as restaurant manager (Arthur Acuña), a couple of funky line cooks (Juan Jackson, Thou Reyes, Carla Dunareanu and Erwin Shah Ismail), a gay pâtissier (Ikey Canoy), and a gaggle of receptionists/waitresses/bartenders (Oon Shu An, Nadiah M. Din, Juwanda Hassim, Gayle Nerva and Rebecca Spykerman) who can carry a tune and voila! What you have is basically a programming experiment that could have very well been conceived after hours of watching MTV, the CW Network and the Food Channel (maybe even Fox's Hell's Kitchen).   

It's quite unclear to me whether or not the said place has Michelin stars but the web that binds all the characters can by no means be considered veiled nor intricate. There's the standard love triangle that's looking more and more like a quadrangle-pentagon as the series goes on, the resort to cringe-worthy dialogue, and the oft times awkward segue to music and food that has the tendency to drive away viewers who checked in expecting more substance from the show's narrative.

Despite its numerous shortcomings, The Kitchen Musical is still quite unique for an Asian production. For one, it has a core group of characters that can generate sufficient interest from its viewers (something which can be attributed to the innate talent and charisma of the actors in its fold), moreover, it's a nice platform to launch homegrown stars from the Southeast Asian region. It might be accused of riding the musical television trend but at the moment, it's still the first of its kind from this part of the world to target a wider audience.

It's true, the first few episodes were underwhelming and the rendition of some musical productions may at times appear cheesy and amateur but unlike Glee which integrates and showcases song and dance into the story, time stands still in The Avilon whenever a musical number comes on. It actually operates more as a device to set a mood, an avenue to peer into the minds of the characters and an opportunity to convey things that cannot be said out loud as opposed to being a fine blend of lyrical drama. Granted it doesn't always work as intended but when it does, it's nothing short of magic. Their version of Faith was cute and infectious, Hot N Cold was predictably flirty and its take on The Police classic, Every Breath You Take, was simple yet loaded with meaning. I guess what I like most about this series is that it not only makes use of current chart hits but it also taps into music that I grew up with; songs by artists such as Matchbox Twenty, Semisonic, Vertical Horizon, Erasure,  and R.E.M. that don't get the same amount of air play as before but are nevertheless worthy of being rediscovered by a new generation.

To wrap things up, I think the show has potential but it could use a lot of work for the musical numbers usually take a huge bite off the show's running time and therefore there's very little time allotted for the development of the storyline. That said, I'm also quite aware of the possibility that maybe The Kitchen Musical wasn't meant to be taken too seriously; it has after all, sent out an SOS over mushroom soup, presented George Michael's Freedom with sitars and paid a tongue-in-cheek tribute to an REO Speedwagon song that has long since become a karaoke favorite. So maybe it could just go on as it is. In the same way that most people would prefer spending an evening with family and friends in a KTV bar over dining in a five-star restaurant, not everything has to be a critically-acclaimed drama or a high-end spectacle for the general public to enjoy it. 

 Photo credits: The Kitchen Musical |Facebook and Ron Leyba


  1. studio 23 is airing show like this? it's quite an accomplishment. haha..

  2. Lol, it's actually shot in Singapore and shown on different channels depending on where you are. In the Philippines, it's on Studio23 although you can also catch it on AXN--I think.

  3. unfortunately won't be able to see this. I've seen the youtube clips and was wondering about the music rights.

    oh by the way, Sherlock is really good. season 2 is up already. thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Don't worry, you're not missing much. It's one of those shows that you just watch to kill time. I have trouble watching it every week as it is, I only rely on catch-up marathons and I didn't even finish the one they aired on new year's eve. As for the music rights I'm guessing that the producer already sorted that out since they're peddling the show overseas.

    Oh, I ♥ Sherlock. Currently watching season 2...eagerly waiting for episode 3. Great way to start the year, eh? I'm still working on the review for episode 1 but I'll be lucky if the said blog entry even gets out before March. Prelims week is coming up so my free time is going to be spent devising multiple-choice questions. Blech. :(

  5. speaking of musicals, i think Kdrama What's Up has potential. i did watch it because of the writer Song Ji Na.

    Sherlock is awesome. Sherlock reminds me of toda erika's character in Keizoku 2: SPEC. At first, i was skeptical because most british shows i've watched are only great during the first episode. after that, it turns boring the following episodes. I can't even follow misfits, life on mars, or skins anymore. but sherlock is different.

  6. Oh, I haven't seen any kdramas lately. I think the last one I saw was last year's "Greatest Love" and that was a romcom by the overrated Hong sisters. If you think "What's Up" has potential, might check it up eventually provided I get the chance to get hold of a copy.

    Sherlock reminds you of Toda Erika's character in SPEC 2?!?! Ugh, I will not even dignify that with an answer. Lolz. But seriously, Sherlock is a great show. Maybe the fact that I only get 3 episodes a season has something to do with it but it's the only show that I was looking forward to this year. :)

  7. Kdrama is dead for me. No time. and hong sistahs? no way. haha..

    the way sherlock reacted about how excited he is about a dead body and case files, one character that popped out is toda erika's SPEC 2. I dont know, maybe a huge crush on toda did the damage.

    I'm not really a british tv specialist but it's what i've experienced to all the british tv shows for me, it goes downhill after episode 1. like what they've said about heroin, maybe i'm looking for that first high on episode 1 and can't get it after that.