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The Indonesian kid who stirs the Hollywood Bowl: Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja

Asmara Wreksono
Asmara Wreksono

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, September 7, 2018  /  07:09 pm

Tackling one of the world’s toughest entertainment stages, The Hollywood Bowl, 7-year-old Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja shone bright with her performance as Molly in the world-famous musical Annie on July 27. Playing Molly, the youngest orphan in the story, who is also Annie’s best friend, Malea stars alongside Broadway heavyweights such as David Alan Grier, Lea Salonga and Ana Gasteyer. 

“It started in March when the Hollywood Bowl announced that they were looking for seven girls to be Annie and her orphan friends for their summer musical production, and it was an open submission. So I submitted the video,” Malea told The Jakarta Post via email.

“The day after my submission, I got an email from the casting director that they loved my video and that they would put me through directly to the producers’ callback,” she said, adding that others would need to audition in person with the casting director first before being eligible to be selected for the producers’ callback.

From thousands of video submissions, 680 made it to the casting callback and only 57 succeeded in scoring the producers’ callback. In early May, Malea met with Tony Awards nominee and director Michael Arden, music editor Todd Ellison and choreographer Eamon Foley as well as producers from the Hollywood Bowl and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She immediately captured their hearts with her audition where she performed the song “Hard Knock Life” from the Annie, and her personal favorite, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls.

Having Malea and older brother Mark Andrew Tjandrawidjaja grow up in California, the United States, parents Esther and Arman make sure the children don’t forget their roots.

“We always speak Indonesian [to the children] and encourage them to speak Indonesian back to us. We have to do this because the kids feel more comfortable speaking in English,” said Arman.

Aside from instilling the Indonesian language in everyday life, Arman and Esther also introduce traditional Indonesian songs to both Malea and Mark. “Most of the nights when the kids are going to bed, we put on gamelan music as their lullaby,” Arman added.

Read also: Eka Kurniawan named 2018 Prince Claus laureate

With Asian actors gaining momentum in the US entertainment scene, Arman said the family was excited for Malea’s promising future, “We are very excited because all this time we see how difficult it is for Asians to be in Hollywood. We don’t get affected directly now, but we are hoping that this will open more opportunities for Asians in general, and Malea in particular, in Hollywood.”

Prior to her performance in the Hollywood Bowl’s production of Annie, Malea has starred in big commercials for companies such as Lenovo, Amazon, Kiehl’s and Jeep, and also costarred in a TV show titled Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories. She does the casting calls in between her school days.

“On weekdays, like any other kid, I go to school from 8:00 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. I go to auditions after school. If there are no auditions, I go home, do my homework, study for school tests and practice my singing, piano and violin,” she said.

Arman doesn’t completely deny that his children are stereotyped as overachieving Asians. “We are not trying to be tiger parents, but as most Asian parents do, we always try to open as many doors as possible to our kids by introducing them to different kinds of activities outside school. We don’t give them targets that they have to excel in all their activities, but we just want them to try and do their best.”

When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Malea said, "I want to be a singer, an actress and a doctor."

Malea is currently working on an upcoming short movie titled Mother of Three, slated to be launched in 2019. Her works are showcased at



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