SEPT 18 — Phantom of the Opera? Cats? My Fair Lady?
Alongside these global hits, there’s a new contender for my own favourite musical and it is a slightly unusual choice.
I went to watch The LKY Musical the other day and I have to say I loved it.
The full-length production features a dramatised but historically accurate depiction of Lee Kuan Yew’s life along with musical numbers; it details our founder’s journey from ambitious student to prime minister of an independent Singapore.
Starring much loved local actors — Adrian Pang as LKY and Kit Chan as Kwa Geok Choo (Madam Lee) — the acting and singing is excellent, the stage and lighting fantastic and the storyline both engaging and funny.
To be honest I didn’t enter the theatre at Marina Bay Sands with high expectations. Singapore is often more noted for its notorious censorship board than a thriving theatre scene.
While things have been improving given the subject matter here was so directly related to the government and founding of the country, I was really surprised by how thought provoking and creative the staging and dialogue were.
The musical delves into the events leading up to Singapore’s independence while also looking at the relationship between Lee and his core friends and collaborators as they worked to achieve their ambitious plans for the island.
We look at the roles played by figures like Goh Keng Swee and S. Rajaratnam, and we see what a crucial role Madam Lee played as she supports Lee every step of the journey.
Honestly, I think her role could have been fleshed out even more — women are so often relegated to emotional support when in reality they are so much more and Geok Choo was a brilliant student, one of the first women from Singapore to attend Cambridge University.
Most significantly the musical examines the relationship between Lee Kuan Yew and Lim Chin Siong, the radical student union and protest leader.
Where Lee represented Singapore’s upper middle class, Lim was wildly popular among working-class Singaporeans and students.
While the two men would collaborate initially and even develop a close friendship, they would eventually fight for control of the People’s Action Party and for control of Singapore itself.
Eventually (spoiler alert) Lim is jailed and, of course, our hero steers Singapore into the future.
What’s most impressive here is that the story of Lim and Lee’s rivalry is presented very objectively. Lim isn’t a one-dimensional villain but a passionate and engaging character.
The production also looks at how and why both Lee and Tunku Abdul Rahman worked for the merger between Singapore and Malaya that would create Malaysia.
It then examines why Singapore was suddenly expelled from the union after just three years and despite all that history, the musical did not feel like a history lesson.
The characters are engaging and you follow their journey without noticing you’re actually absorbing a great deal of history.
The narrative softens some of Lee’s more Machiavellian manoeuvres yet when the curtain falls to Majulah Singapora (our national anthem) I wanted to jump to my feet.
I am not a professional theatre critic, but I would argue it is important that this production moves beyond our shores and onto a global stage — this is a genuine Asian story and more of those ought to be shared with the world.
This could be our Hamilton.
At the very least, it should certainly tour KL as it really underlines how entwined our histories are.
Without Lee Kuan Yew and the merger there might never have been a Malaysia.
Of course, Singaporeans and Malaysians might not agree on the exact version of events but I really think a lot of Malaysians would enjoy seeing this perspective.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.