Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

Cerita Beda Hak Sama’s latest offering is an achievement in theatre-making and philanthropy.

By: Jul. 10, 2024
Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes
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On July 6 and 7, 2024, the theatre community and social enterprise Cerita Beda Hak Sama (CBHS) ran their newest production, Teater Musikal Joshua Oh Joshua, at Graha Bhakti Budaya, Jakarta. Adapted from a well-beloved family movie of the same name, the musical was CBHS’s most ambitious project yet, featuring more than 50 cast members, 20 original songs, and a big dream.

Joshua Oh Joshua is a 2000 film by Rapi Films that features Joshua Suherman, one of the biggest child stars at the time. CBHS got the permission from the right holders to adapt the film into a stage musical, making it the latest musical adaptation of well-loved IPs which include Musikal Petualangan Sherina (Jakarta Movin), Musikal Cek Toko Sebelah (Jakarta Movin), and Musikal Keluarga Cemara (Visinema, Indonesia Kaya, and TEMAN).

This production is led by Affav Siregar as executive producer and Alma Shiva Rhaina as producer. The script is written by Palka Kojansow as script writer and both Palka and Thirza Ariella as lyricists. Felita Kezia Chandra serves as composer and music director. The writing process was a highly collaborative one, with some parts of the lyrics also being written by Felita and Gerry.

Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

On the creative side, Joshua Oh Joshua is crafted by Arvan Fadhlurrahman as creative director, Gerry Gerardo as director (making his directorial debut), Maruf Andi as vocal director, Adri Pradipta as art director and scenographer, with technical help by Endang Purnomo as technical director and lighting operator. Jodie Maran serves as the lead choreographer alongside co-choreographers Zaya Fadhlillah and Pretty Eugine.

As a community CBHS champions social issues with each of their productions. Their first few productions are made to support children with HIV/AIDS and last year’s production of Tariakan was made in collaboration with the deaf community. And this time, the ticket proceeds will be used to start an informal school to provide education for unfortunate children living on the streets. 

Joshua Oh Joshua tells the story of Joshua (Daffa Syawlan), the only son of the wealthy couple Pak Jefry (Achmad Fadlan) and Bu Jefry (Nadhila Amalina). Joshua is taken from his stroller as a baby by Mak Gendeng (Kenia) who quickly abandons him. The infant is quickly found by the kind garbage collector Gito (Rolland Voeler), who lives with his much more temperamental wife Nani (Ade Rianom). As Joshua has a necklace on him with the letter J, Gito decides to call him Joni Jonson Putra Sugito, or Jojo for short.

Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

Jojo grows up in the slums, living alongside a colorful cast of locals, including his best friend Jejen (Darlene Shua), the rich girl Tasya (Khayla Khay), a band of small-time thugs led by Minceu (Fei Luthfy), Jejen’s mom and Jojo’s neighbor Bi Onah (Gina U. Dewi), the free-spirited optimist Bang Opik (Fathur Ojak), and much more.

Despite having to live with poverty and his abusive adoptive mother, Jojo grows up to be an honest, kind-hearted, and hopeful boy. He dreams of traveling the world. To realize his dream, he studies hard and even works as a porter at the traditional market Pasar Senen. 

After a series of accidents involving Bu Jefry’s wallet, Bu Jefry finds out that Jojo wears a very similar necklace to the one worn by her lost son, Joshua. Bu Jefry and Pak Jefry ask Jojo to do a DNA test with his parents’ permission. The results come in and confirm that Jojo is, indeed, Joshua.

Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

On the day of the graduation, Joshua becomes the graduating class’s valedictorian and gives a speech. He then bids a tearful goodbye to his adoptive parents as he returns to his biological family.

During their press conference a few weeks back, the producers shared that they had another objective with Joshua Oh Joshua: to introduce (and reintroduce) more children’s songs, as they had observed a lack of children’s songs as of late compared to previous decades.

Keeping this in mind, as well as the source material, it’s apparent that Joshua Oh Joshua’s main target demographic is children. And in this regard, the show really pulls it off. Joshua Oh Joshua is a show that’s easily enjoyable for audiences of all ages.

The story is simple but well-delivered. The setting feels lively and, to its credit, the characters are given their due portion for the most part. Despite having a very extensive cast, we get to know each character just enough as they play their intended role in the story. A common pitfall in theatrewriting in many Indonesian productions that feature a ton of characters is trying to give the spotlight to too many characters. This makes the story unfocused, potentially even taking away precious time from the main character whose story is supposed to be at the heart of the show. Joshua Oh Joshua manages to avoid this, giving all characters the appropriate portion to support the story as a whole.

Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

By giving the audience time to spend with Joshua and supporting characters, it’s easy for us to fall in love with this upbeat kid and sympathize with him. The story is also easy to follow despite the multitude of characters. I also want to give a shout out to the opening number of Act 2, ‘Ulangan’, for bringing the energy back up after the intermission while reminding the audience about the problem Joshua faces (that is, he’s not allowed to go to school and take the exam by Bu Nani).

And the ending, in particular, is beautifully bittersweet as Joshua has to say his farewells to his life as he knew it. It’s a surprisingly nuanced take for such a story, as while it’s supposed to be a happy moment that Joshua can reunite with Pak and Bu Jefry, it also means leaving his parents, friends, and community.
That being said, the story is not without its fault, although this can mostly be attributed to the original movie.

The most glaring one is that Joshua’s actions don’t directly result in him being able to be reunited with his family. The discovery of Joshua’s true identity happens mostly through happenstances and he’s relegated to a mostly passive role. It might’ve been more interesting if, after discovering that he was found roadside as a baby, Joshua also put in some effort in finding his biological parents. This would make the show’s message of pursuing one’s dreams even stronger and more inspiring for the youths in the audience. 

Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

Furthermore, his biggest dream to explore the world – which is given its own song and a little subplot about saving money – is still left unanswered (though perhaps he’ll be able to fulfill it with Pak and Bu Jefry’s resources).

Some characters might have benefitted from a bit more depth. Namely, we didn’t really get to explore Gito’s motivation to raise Joshua as his son, and he’s got surprisingly few appearances, even though his relationship with Joshua can be very interesting. Similarly, each time we see Pak Jefry and Bu Jefry after the opening number, they are simply looking for Joshua, making them a bit one-dimensional. Further building their characters could make their reunion with Joshua even more hard-hitting.

And although the placements of the songs in the story are altogether very apt, there are a few things to note. The musical numbers featuring the children’s songs are obviously made to introduce the songs themselves, and while it does well in introducing them, it doesn’t really have any impact on the story or characters in the big picture. And the thugs have their own introductory song in Act 2, even though we already met them in Act 1. 

Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

Still, this is hardly noticeable, as the show flows from scene-to-scene in a highly 
masterful way. Even if some songs do not progress the story – intentionally so because, as mentioned, the production team also wants to introduce children’s songs through the show – each scene is entertaining enough that the show never felt draggy.

Gerry Gerardo’s directing also plays a big part. He knows how to push the intended emotional delivery of each scene to the next level. Meaning, the big ensemble numbers are really fun and memorable, while the sad scenes are appropriately somber and heartfelt. But more than that, he manages to make all the performances – both from the adults and children – feel solidly on even ground. Sometimes, theatrical shows can feel slightly off as the actors bring their own acting approach from the different schools they hail from. But in Joshua Oh Joshua, all the actors give a unified, dramatically coherent performance. To tackle such a big project as his directorial debut is already an achievement by itself, but executing it successfully is a truly remarkable feat.

Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

And Felita Kezia’s music is brilliant. Although she is a relatively young composer, her songs for Joshua Oh Joshua can stand with the best works from other, more well-established Indonesian musical theatre composers. This is due to her understanding of modern musical theatre writing, balancing the need for storytelling and characterization with catchiness and accessibility. She also integrates a previous song into a later, bigger song during the confrontation between the police and the thugs, giving new context to a familiar melody. Additionally, she also makes good use of scoring to help accentuate various scenes.

It is so rare that the different creative aspects of a production come together in such a harmonious way, but Joshua Oh Joshua’s team seems to have struck gold. In addition to the directing and the music, the choreography is no less spectacular. It is fun, creative, and full of character. It’s obvious that the choreographer team has had a lot of fun putting the choreography together, creating a rich and exciting combination of balletic, hip hop, contemporary, ballroom, and even traditional Indonesian dance moves with a twist. They also make good use of the props in some scenes, adding extra flair to the numbers.

Regarding the performances, the cast of Joshua Oh Joshua brought their A-game. As mentioned, the acting, singing, and dancing all had a consistent quality to it. So, even if the individual performances might not be as technically polished as musical theatre veterans, the performances are truly balanced as a group, making it very effective in delivering the material.

Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

That being said, the actors do deserve praise and recognition for their work. Daffa Syawlan as the eponymous Joshua is a very well-rounded young actor, with convincing acting, unwavering confidence, and solid vocal performance. His Joshua is very easy to like and empathize with, and he doesn’t get lost in the mix even though he has to share the stage with older actors. It’s a great and very promising accomplishment for him.

Darlene Shua, Khayla Khay, and the rest of the kids ensemble are also similarly strong. Most impressively, they executed the fast and often complex choreographed numbers with synchronous energy and accuracy.

As for the adults, Ade Rianom stands out as Joshua’s abusive mom. She comes across as scary yet still realistic, like someone you might know from real life, or at least hear from the news. And this is beautifully contrasted with her demeanor when she’s at work as the domestic helper for a rich family. Seeing this contrast between her subservient and domineering sides really imbues the character with a sense of material reality. Without saying it outloud, it raises interesting points about how people can act differently depending on their social standing compared to others. There’s also a surprisingly tender moment towards the end as she apologizes to Joshua, although having a hint on her softer side beforehand would’ve made the reveal a bit less jarring. Joshua’s other three parents also put on competent performances (and have angelic singing voices), but, as mentioned, didn’t have as much material.

Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

Fathur Ojak as Bang Opik – a friend and mentor of sorts to Joshua – is thoroughly entertaining, with truly fantastic, animated expression and gesture work. Kenia as Mak Gendeng is very memorable, with an unforgettable voice and demeanor. Gina U. Dewi as Bi Onah has a surprisingly touching solo number that immediately endears her to the audience despite the relatively small role. Ajeng Apriliah’s Ibu Andi – Nani’s employer and Tasya’s mother – is a scene-stealer, being both funny and flirty.

Joshua Oh Joshua also had guest performers. Namely, content creator Andovi Da Lopez as Polisi Budi, ex-boyband member Teuku Ryzki as Polisi Yanto, and actress and original movie cast Ingrid Widjanarko as Ibu Kepala Yayasan. The three of them blended well with the cast, playing their smaller roles with proficiency.

As for the artistic design, the thing that stood out the most to me is the set design. The main set piece consists of a 2-level platform with stairs. Looking closer, the most interesting part is the two small screens that serve as walls on both the left and right sides on the first level. Because these are screens as opposed to partitions, the artistic team can then project images to quickly transform the lower side to houses, airport, school, or anything else the show needs (and in conjunction with the big screen in the back). And because the lower screens are semi-transparent, when they’re used as house walls, we can still see the silhouette of the people ‘inside’ the houses through these screens. It’s an ingenious way to efficiently bring the locations to life.

Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

The lighting design is also quite solid, casting the stage in the appropriate mood or focus as needed (although during some crowd scenes, the general lighting used made the background just as prominent as the story happening on the foreground). Some of the climactic moments had appropriately dramatic lighting.

Meanwhile, the sound is more of a mixed bag. While most of the time it’s pretty clean and legible, there were moments where the sound is not correctly balanced and even a few occurrences where the actor’s mic cut off. It’s not bad enough to drag the overall quality down, but it’s definitely noticeable.

As a side note, the show that I watched (Show 4, the evening show on July 7) started late. There was an announcement on social media that the show would start at 19.30 instead of the original 19.00 due to bad weather. But even after this announcement, the show instead started at around 20.30, or one and a half hours late compared to the original start time. During the ticket redemption process, there was also a bit of confusion regarding the different lines, as well as the procedure (turns out, we need to line up to check-in using the e-ticket first, then line up again to get the physical ticket/wristband). Hopefully, the production team will evaluate this system for their next production.

Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

Joshua Oh Joshua is a product of love. And hard work. And intelligent, creative theatre-making. 

It is such a stunning show and a huge leap forward for CBHS. Its main strength is just how well-put-together it is. Its different aspects are already great on their own, but the way the team brings everything together in such harmony really elevates everything, making it greater than the sum of its parts.This holistic, consistent quality not only sets it apart from many other productions, but makes it easy to overlook its few blemishes.

But most importantly, it is for such a good cause.

Review: CBHS's Joshua Oh Joshua Entertains, Inspires, and Amazes

The team behind CBHS proves that you can advocate for an important social cause while also making great theatre. The show might bring laughter and tears during its 2.5-hour run, but the planned school can change lives for generations.

Joshua in the story is truly fortunate to reunite with his wealthy parents, but for the other kids living in the streets with no secret familial relations, CBHS might be the help that they need.


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