The NANTA Cookin’ Show recently began its 2nd run at the Resorts World Sentosa Theatre, and Singaporean audiences were shown what exactly makes it the longest-running show in South Korean musical history. The non-verbal musical performance balances the traditional Korean percussion music samulnori and modern pantomime and acrobatics. Since its Seoul debut in October 1997 at the Hoam Art Hall, it has been performed in 18 countries with 3 theatres in Seoul and 1 in Jeju Island devoted to staging NANTA Cookin’.
“6 o’ clock!”
The show opened with 4 actors walking onstage and sitting at a table laid with musical instruments. On closer inspection, those “instruments” were actually bowls, woodblocks and metal plates. The different rhythms were highlighted by changes in lighting – amber and green when it was fast-paced, purple and blue when it turned calm. The chefs were then ordered by the kitchen manager to finish cooking a wedding meal by 6 pm. He roped in his nephew (Yellow Chef) to help the other chefs.
Projectiles and Vegetables
In case you were wondering, NANTA uses real food – tomato sauce, salt, pepper, water, flour, eggs and vegetables. We kid you not – the performers cooked over a real stove fire before our eyes. And if food fights and stunts are your cup of tea, you’ll be duly entertained as well. Many of the show’s jaw-dropping moments came from the performers’ juggling acts and stunts with food such as throwing plastic balls, vegetables and even a bag of rubbish into the audience. You’ve been warned.
In a hilarious scene full of adrenaline, the Blue Chef threw 30-over plates at Yellow Chef at increasing speed…and all were deftly caught! The comedic pair fashioned weapons from kitchen utensils – Yellow Chef used 2 whisks to make nunchucks and Blue Chef used a broom as a wushu stick. In another bizarre vegetable-slicing session, echoes of cabbage, carrot, cucumber and onion were heard as the chefs went about their work. This segued into an acapella session with some impressive rock star worthy vocals from the female Red Chef, who whipped her hair back and forth while screaming the same word on stage.
Most of NANTA’s comedy revolves around slapstick humor. When Green Chef accidentally fell into a dustbin, he was tragically left alone onstage. When an audience member failed to pull him out of the bin, he simply got up on his 2 feet and sent her off with a feisty “Twiro ga” [“go back” in Korean].
A show of strength and concentration
The repetitive rhythms and percussion became grating after a while, and the plot became sluggish at points. However, the performers’ possessed immense mental and physical strength must be mentioned. The strenuous chopping and drumming segments were sometimes more than 2 minutes and required their full concentration. Credit must also be owed to the creators of NANTA, who successfully combined traditional Korean music with contemporary performance aspects to bring an all-rounded show to modern audiences.
Given its size, the Resorts World Theatre was an odd venue choice. Having watched NANTA in Seoul, this writer felt the show would have fared better in a smaller theatre for better interaction and a more intimate atmosphere.
Like a well-made bowl of Bibimbap [Korean mixed rice], NANTA had all the essential elements needed to make it a palatable riot for viewers. Would we recommend a second helping, though? Probably not – the first serving made us plenty full.
Rating: 3 / 5
Cast: Lee Dongwon (Nephew), Cho Hwijoo (Hot Sauce / Red Chef), Yoo Donghyun (Blue Chef)
Photos courtesy of Red Spade Entertainment