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This musical traces the life of LKY aka Lee Kuan Yew (Adrian Pang), former Prime Minister of Singapore, who spearheaded Singapore's rise from a third world country to a fully developed first world nation.

Theatre Review (Singapore): ‘The LKY Musical’

In conjuction with Singapore’s 50th Birthday this year, Metropolitan Productions presents The LKY Musical that will run at the Marina Bay Sands Theatres from July 21st to August 16th 2015.

LKY1

This musical traces the life of LKY aka Lee Kuan Yew (Adrian Pang), former Prime Minister of Singapore, who spearheaded Singapore’s rise from a third world country to a fully developed first world nation. We see LKY going through his secondary school days under colonial British rule, to facing the trials of World War II, and the fall of Singapore to the Japanese.

LKY then takes off to the United Kingdom to study law, where he is made determined to come back to Singapore upon graduation, and fight for self rule for the country, and he does just that. The musical ends with Singapore merging with Malaysia, only to be thrown out of the Malaysian Federation on August 9th 1965 – thereby marking the country’s independence.

Benjamin Chow (left) and Adrian Pang portray Lim and Lee respectively.
Benjamin Chow (left) and Adrian Pang portray Lim and Lee respectively.

Most of the cast boasts of good acting skills and superb singing voices. Pang delivers an effortless performance, as he effectively portrays the joys and invokes the pathos LKY faces as he tries to bring Singapore into self rule. Equally, Benjamin Chow who plays LKY’s antithesis Lim Chin Siong, gives an outstanding performance as he delivers a myriad of strong emotions through his singing, by undulating his tone and pitch to serve the spirit of the lyrics appropriately.

However, Dick Lee’s musical compositions, whilst pleasant enough, do not have any memorable hook. All the songs almost blend into one another, with not one song standing out. This critic was left wondering if Lee is the only Singaporean composer we have residing on the island? Surely there are plenty of composers in Singapore capable of orchestrating better melodies and catchier hooks.

After all, his National Day theme song for this year, “Our Singapore”, received mixed reactions online, and Lee hasn’t had a hit for the long time. Of course, his iconic 1998 song “Home” will go down in history as the greatest Singapore(an) composition ever made, – but has the composer run out of juice?

Also Sharon Au, who plays Mrs LKY aka Kwa Geok Choo, has a sweet singing voice, but in no way does she have the powerful vocals needed to perform solo in a musical. Many times Au’s voice is simply eclipsed by the orchestra.

Sharon Au as Mrs. LKY
Sharon Au as Mrs. LKY

 

And whilst Au nails Mrs LKY’s accent, she has slight problems with enunciation that is probably a result of Au’s own language shortcomings which has her dragging on vowels when they ought to be clipped and vice versa. For example, her pronunciation of the word ‘science’ sounds like ‘signs’.

However, this critic liked Au’s portrayal of Mrs LKY as a loving but restrained and reserved lady – perhaps this is a convenient irony of Au’s inability to fully embody the role, but in this case it works well as that seems to be the impression most have of Mrs LKY – that she was not bubbly or high spirited, but rather a reticent, controlled and quiet woman.

The writing has some light-hearted, witty, and humourous moments which will tickle the funny bone. On the other hand, as for the story itself, this critic was sorely disappointed because LKY is a man who for the sake of literature, theatre, and the arts would make a fascinating character study, but in this musical his flaws and negative characteristics have been mostly removed. Instead we get a sanitized version of LKY that one wonders if his own family would even recognise.

The LKY we get in this musical is……….. Nice. Perfect. Almost Angelic. With nary a mistep. Honestly, this critic found this LKY to be ……..Boring. Flat. Delusive. Unnatural. And not genuine.

Yes, the writers tried to infuse a bit of objectivity by bringing in Lim and the controversial Operation Coldstore. Yes, they did try – a little. But basically, they could have portrayed LKY in a more truer light.

This is a man who was complex, not easy to define, and one who sparked both hatred and awe. A case in point: LKY was described in such glowing light by the Amah (nanny) who raised his children and yet in this clip you can sense a very different sort of person who didn’t have sympathy for someone who unintentionally made a small miscalculation.

LKY was not a simple human being to decipher. He was a paradoxical, baffling, impenetrable, and controversial fellow. Which is exactly why it’s so disheartening that the writers didn’t grab the opportunity to craft what could’ve been a complicated and contrary characterisation – and in the process given us a beguiling and intricate personality that both thespians and audiences would’ve enjoyed unfolding. It is an unfortunately missed opportunity indeed.

Perhaps the writers were unsure if they would be in trouble if their writing was too brassy. And maybe there is some truth to what the trishaw rider-friend of LKY says in the musical, – “It’s just as dangerous being too timid, as it is being too bold”.

Well, what about being just truthful then? That should be front and centre of any autobiographical depiction, least of all when it comes to the portrayal of one of the most inscrutable, incongruent, and intriguing personalities of this era.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.

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