Let me ‘cut to the chase’ and in typical efficient Singaporean style, tell you firstly that though I’m not one who shed a tear easily, this musical moved me. But it certainly didn’t begin that way.
You see, I had no inkling what to expect. Riding on the SG50 year, there have been some prominent productions on Singapore’s history which have unfortunately missed the mark. Therefore it is with this mix of anticipation and apprehension that we took our seats in the MasterCards Sands Theatre at MBS, awaiting the curtains to open for this highly-anticipated musical.
The very first thing that impressed us was the set. We’ve never seen anything like this in Broadway, West End and certainly not in Singapore. What looked like ‘HDB’ styled boxes (the 3–tiered set of ‘boxes’) open and close to reveal the different scenes turns out to be quite an efficient use of stage space and visually captivating too. There’s very minimal movement and certainly no time-wasting for huge props to be swung in and out of stage. Coupled with the impressive use of lighting, projection and video animation, the set was nothing short of impressive. The set alone warrants a visit to this musical, especially since it kept the pace of the musical tight and audiences riveted to the seats throughout.
The LKY Musical tells the dramatic story of Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. It follows his life from his pre-war days as an idealist student through his transformation into a powerful political leader fighting for Singapore’s independence. Beginning with the challenge of surviving the Japanese Occupation through his years as a Cambridge student, his return to Singapore as a young lawyer, the formation of the PAP, and the political struggle with the communists. It ends with the failure of our merger with Malaya. (Excerpt from the musical’s programme synopsis)
Adrian Pang is the protagonist playing the role of Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) and he was truly captivating carrying the role of the late LKY with aplomb and gravitas. He was also able to lend the appropriate level of tenderness in the quiet scenes with Sharon Au’s Kwa Geok Choo. Adrian took the show from the stage to the hearts of the audiences and that was nothing short of astounding. To add, his singing was impressive! We’ve known and respected him as one of the few finest actors in Singapore. After this musical, our admiration of him has just moved notches higher.
Sharon Au plays the role of the late Kwa Geok Choo (Mrs. Lee). Steadfastly and stoically standing next to her husband, gently nudging him at the appropriate moment as she watches history unfold under her husband’s leadership. This role is a far departure from the usual bubbly or melodramatic roles she personify on TV and for that, her effort to portray the late Mrs. Lee was commendable.
What was note-worthy too were the rest of the cast that supported the two leads. We were particularly impressed with Benjamin Chow and the affable Sebastian Tan.
Benjamin Chow plays LKY’s political friend turned foe Lim Chin Siong. This was another role which was not easy to fill as Lim is known to be fiercely charismatic and a brilliant orator, fluent in dialect, Mandarin and English. Benjamin carried the role superbly. Delivering his lines with clarity and conviction which clearly complements that of Pang’s LKY – a surreal representation of the relationship the actual two historic figures had. Apart from Adrian, Benjamin clearly owned the stage.
Sebastian Tan plays the family’s trusted friend and employee, Koh Teong Koo whose loyalty and quick-witted thinking during WW2 saved LKY. Till today, he is fondly remembered as the rickshaw puller who saved LKY. Koh, played by Sebastian, remains a central figure throughout the musical and is taken to symbolise the struggles and confusion the common man on the street faced during those tumultuous early days. But lending in his own flair, Sebastian effectively lightens up the entire musical with his excellent comedic timing and his spluttering of Hokkien.
Finally, this segment would not be complete without mentioning about the fine acting from the rest of the ensemble. Gone are the over-acting and melodrama that is so commonly found in local TV dramas but in the musical, lines were articulately delivered and well emoted. Together with Adrian and Sharon, the cast shone in the dimly-lit theater. We never knew we had so many talented artistes, capable of holding their own on the musical stage right here in our tiny island!
Any nation’s birth is never a simple affair and for Singapore, it was compounded by racial tensions as well as political agendas from neighbouring countries. Script-writers risk either producing a convoluted plot or, conversely, a too simplistic (and boring) plot but for this musical, it was done just right. Conversations were short, straight and sharp, almost distinctly LKY style. As a member of the audience, I appreciated it as I certainly do not wish to feel like I’m sitting through a social studies class (no offence to Social Studies teachers but this is a musical after all).
The Music and Songs:
This is where the musical differs from the others we’ve watched. There was no mass dance featured here and the music were largely not very melodic. There was also no love ballad number. This therefore sets it apart from the commercial musicals and somehow sets the tone that the story of Singapore (at that point in history) does not warrant these frivolities.
That being said, the music and lyrics were skillfully composed. Accompanying the dissonant chords, strong accents and synchopated rhythms were the lightings and animation that effectively kept the plot cohesive and audience engaged. We were pleasantly surprised to see the music played live by an orchestra too. Such a treat.
Towards the end, the general dissonance seem to serve as a protracted prelude as it resolves into a patriotic anthem, rousing the audience and even the cast (we saw a tear or two shed from the lead themselves) to a fitting and emotional finale.
Suitable for kids?
The script and mood of the musical is rather suspenseful and tense. The layers of politics intertwined within the script will need to be explained thoroughly to preteen children (10 and below).
The Overall Experience:
This is a musical like no other. Quite simply because Singapore itself is a nation like no other. It closely resembles a docu-drama with sprinkling of songs to lend a deeper, more profound portrayal of emotions. Overall , just like the country whose story it was telling, it was not the lights, effects and sounds that made the musical but its people, the cast and crew represented on stage by their superb acting and skillful production. Like the country they were portraying, everyone gave their best to make this musical a success, one that we would be so proud to call our own and to share it with the world.
Season: 23 Jul to 16 Aug 2015
Venue: Sands Theatre, MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands
Performance Times: Tues to Fri 7.30pm, Sat 3pm and 7.30pm, Sun 1.30pm and 6pm
Ticket Prices: $150, $108, $98, $88, $78 ($60 for restricted view)
Duration: About 2 hours 20 mins (including a 20 min interval)
Booking through Internet: Marina Bay Sands Ticketing or Sistic
Disclaimer: We were invited to watch the musical for the purposes of this review. Photos are credited to Metropolitan Productions. Opinions are ours.