By Shawne Wang, W!ld Rice and Raihana Omar, UWCSEA Alumni Relations Officer
Excerpts from Living the dream with Sean Ghazi, originally published in W!ld Times March 2017 by W!ld Rice. Reproduced with permission.
The multi-talented Sean Ghazi makes singing, acting and dancing look easy. But, as he shares in depth below, there’s a great deal of hard work and heartbreak that goes into making one’s dreams come true …
“Being in this business is hard,” he says frankly ... “You get so used to rejection – it becomes like your friend, or your middle name. And you can get really down on yourself.”
One of the biggest disappointments of his career took place at the very first Fame Awards in Singapore. In 1995, he competed as a singer and a host, impressed the panel of judges, and won the top prize. “I had moved my life back from Germany to Southeast Asia for this opportunity,” he remembers, with a trace of sadness in his voice. “I thought that the Fame Awards would help me get more exposure in the region – that I could get more theatre work and make a name here for myself.”
It didn’t work out, to say the least. “They had no plan for me, and they weren’t interested in developing anything new with me,” reveals Sean. Instead, he was given a litany of excuses: he was a Malaysian, he didn’t have a degree, he hadn’t served National Service. “It was traumatising – I really should have had therapy about it!” he says, with a wry laugh.
Painful though the experience was, Sean has come to realise that it’s just as much a part of his career as his biggest successes – which include sharing the screen with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat in Anna and the King and performing at the Hollywood Bowl with pop orchestra Pink Martini.
“You start to see your whole career as a jigsaw puzzle,” he explains. “No piece is insignificant. The highs, the lows – the days that you cannot afford to eat are balanced by the days you get a standing ovation in London.”
Chasing the Dream
There’s no doubt that Sean knows a great deal about “the peaks and valleys” that make up a career. he had to pull off a last-minute ‘RENT Rescue’. While covering the lead role of Angel in Berlin, Germany, he received a call from a producer in New York. Due to a bout of flu hitting the London company of RENT, they were out of actors who could play the role of Angel.
“They asked me if I knew the role of Angel in English – and I didn’t!” he confesses. “But we were always taught in our training to just say yes. Even if you don’t know, you go with the flow.” Within a day, he had packed his costumes, had taken two flights to get to London and learnt the role in English. Sean nailed Angel’s solo performance, winning rapturous applause from everyone in the theater.
The American Dream
In 2009, Sean made one of the most momentous decisions of his life. He left Malaysia to chase the American Dream. That meant “going right back to Ground Zero” – uprooting his entire life and relocating to a country where no one knew who he was.
And so, at the age of 40, Sean began pounding the pavements in Los Angeles, going for audition after audition. To put food on the table, he got a job as a waiter in a seedy diner. “It was very humbling,” he says of that time. “I learnt that I’m quite resilient – if you plonk me anywhere on the globe tomorrow, I can survive.”
He compares his audition experiences to the clinical process depicted in hit film La La Land. “It’s a pure crap shoot whether you’re the one who gets noticed out of a bunch of actors who look just like you!” Ultimately, Sean found solace in making music. He began touring the States with Pink Martini – a connection he made after recording Ku Impikan Bintang, a cover of the group’s hit single, Let’s Never Stop Falling In Love.
Making Dreams Come True
Six years after moving to LA, Sean decided to return home to KL. Moving back has given him more control of his career again – something he clearly relishes. “Over the years, I’ve learned that I need to do my own thing – to put my own ladder against my own wall,” he observes. “It’s harder but, at the end of the day, it’s also more fulfilling, because you dictate what you do, how you’re seen and how you’re heard.”
To that end, he’s happily curating an eclectic programme as the artistic director of Bobo, a piano lounge in KL. He’s hoping to use the venue to stage ‘micro-musicals’ in future: evenings dedicated to just singing through the scores of beloved musicals like Les Miserables.
In April 2017, returned to the Singapore stage after 20 years away, playing George, one of the leading roles in W!LD RICE’s production of La Cage Aux Folles at Victoria Theater.
Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This
It’s been some 30 years since Sean graduated from UWCSEA but he remains very connected to the College. In April 2017, Sean spoke to current students keen to pursue performing arts in their IB Diploma and beyond, and in November 2017, Sean joined several other former students by volunteering to support the Impact of Giving Gala. Crooning melodies to guests at the glamourous event, Sean’s voice added a soulful atmosphere to the evening’s entertainment.
Sean looks to end his year on a high note by holding his first ever solo concert in Singapore since winning the Singapore Fame Awards back in 1995. Sean reunites with his good friend and fellow West End performer Stephanie Reese in an evening of hit favourites from Broadway musicals and many more.
Catch an evening with Sean Ghazi as he sings love songs from the stage and screen at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 13, 14 December 2017!