Cambodian Rock Band is playing at the Signature Theatre located at 480 West46th Street. The musical runs two hours and thirty minutes with one intermission. It closes on March 15, 2020.
Linda Chu is the costume designer. She won a Tony in 2014 for A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love & Murder and was nominated for a Tony in 2017 for Anastasia.
The place is Phnom Peng, Cambodia 2008, 1975 and 1978.
It’s 1975 and a band is playing. It’s made of a singer (Courtney Reed), guitar (Joe Ngo and Moses Villarama), drummer (Abraham Kim) and all other instruments (Jane Lui). They are recording what they are playing. The band leaves.
While they are playing and sometimes in other scenes Duch (Francis Jue) make a comment or two.
We are now in 2008 in a Hotel room. Sothea (Courtney Reed) is looking at documents. In walk her father Chum (Joe Ngo), big surprise to her. He didn’t even tell her mother he was going. Chum was from Cambodia but he wants his daughter to come she’s been there two years. She has been working on and investigation of a camp S21. When the Viet Nam took over Cambodia, they sent people there they thought were an enemy of the country and torture, beat and killed them. There were eight survivors. Her boyfriend Ted (Moses Villarama) walks in wet as if he came out of a shower but she chases him off to go to his room. She does some things with her dad. Chum still insists she come home. Sothea explains she has talked to seven of the survivors to see if they can find the leader of the camp Duch. He has been missing since 1978. She doesn’t know where the eighth survivor is. He says some things only the survivor would have known. When she confronts him, he refuses to admit if he was the eighth survivor.
Sothea disappears. Fearing for her safety he uses her boyfriends cell phone and leaves a message he will tell her everything if she comes back.
It’s 1978 and his father has booked a flight for his family of seven to go to France. Chum asks his father if they can stay another week so they can celebrate New Years there. He says yes. What he really wanted to play with his band. When they finish recording it’s too late. Viet Nam invades Cambodia. Restrictions are place on the population like not playing instruments. People are arrested and killed.
Chum loses his family. He is arrested and put in S21. Cadre (Moses Villarama) is sent to rough him up. He is wearing a scarf to cover his face. When he comes in Chum recognizes his voice as one of his band mates. Cadre has to calm him down. In order to survive he made up a story about who he was and helps Chumo come up with a story that he sold bananas on the street. Duch is in charge of the S21 camp. Cadre goes into Duch office when he’s not there to find Chums files and find out why he was arrested.
He’s caught. They go to his cell. Duch asks Cadre to leave. When he finds out he plays guitar, Duch finds a him one. As he plays Duch falls asleep, which he hasn’t done in a long time. That’s what keeps him alive. When some big shots are coming to the camp, he orders Cadre to kill him. Things happen and chum escapes.
Duch brags from time to time how he has lived among the people and was not recognized for thirty years. When caught the trail goes on for three years.
The band comes back on again and rocks. During the second song they encourage the audience to stand up and dance.
This is an impressive musical to see. The story is powerful and when you hear the full story it will blow you away.
The cast is outstanding. Most of the songs are sung in Cambodian but still the beat and sound move you
Review by Rozanna Radakovich.
Photos by Annazor.
To read a candid interview with the cast, scroll down to the left for photos. Click on photos for this and other shows.