Monday, August 13, 2007

Tunku the Musical


"Leanne, are you in KL?"

"Yes. Wassup?"

"Would you be interested in watching Tunku the Musical tonight? I have two free tickets!"

"Yes! Yes! Yes!"

And that was how I ended up at KLPAC last Saturday, watching Tunku the Musical ~ on opening night, no less!

The Story - as I see it

Contrary to the title, Tunku did not make an appearance in the entire musical. The focus of the musical was on events that occurred during the reign of Tunku Abdul Rahman as first Prime Minister. The musical started off with the celebration of Independence, followed by the separation of Singapore from Malaysia, and culminated to the events on May the 13th 1969.

Interwoven within these key historical events was the story of Syed, an aide of Tunku, aptly played by Tony Eusoff. Syed was portrayed as an ambitious political aide and a racist to boot. He despised the Chinese so much that he disapproved of his son, Malik's romance with Fauzia, who was of Chinese descent but was adopted by a Malay laksa seller.

Syed was among the vocal supporters urging Tunku to kick out Singapore from Malaysia due to PAP's shenanigans. While Tunku believed that the country was big enough for everyone, Syed believed otherwise. The musical also implied that Syed was instrumental in sanctioning the riots of May the 13th, after DAP won the election. Despite all these, Syed had a deep, dark secret ~ his mistress was not of Malay descent.

Jumping into this cauldron of power, deception and dark exposé was Paul, a hardcore political journalist. The role was played with "glee" (I can't think of any other word to use except that) by Douglas Lim. It was a joy to watch Douglas unleashed himself in that role and at times, he reminded me of a young Robert Redford in his role in All the President's Men, except that Douglas was just more rotund. :) Paul was always at Syed's tail, chasing him for comments as events unfolded and playing the devil's advocate. Paul never let up on Syed ~ pushing and pushing and pushing him. One wonders if perhaps it was partly Paul's needling of Syed's failure to foresee DAP's success in the election that drove Syed to sanction the riot.

As the story unfolded, after the separation of Singapore from Malaysia, Syed pushed his son Malik to study law in UK, thus separating Malik from Fausia. His argument was that Malik was meant for better things than getting stuck with a Chinese girl. Malik went along with Dad's wish but promised Fauzia that he would return for her.

Events heated up while Malik was away. Elections came and Syed thought he had played his cards well enough to win. But alas! DAP won instead. The public has spoken. But Syed could not accept that. Syed could not fathom his loss. And as DAP prepared for their parade in the city, Syed prepared for his own "parade".

Meanwhile, Malik was due home during that period. Fausia waited anxiously for his return.

As DAP gathered in the streets to celebrate their victory, gangs gathered in the streets to vent their anger. There were riots on the streets. Houses were burnt down. It was total chaos. Amidst the confusion, Fausia was attacked and raped by a Malay gang. Malik appeared too late, only in time to find Fausia's battered body. As Malik held on to Fausia, a Chinese gang appeared, seeking vengeance. They saw Malik with Fausia's body and assumed the worst. The Chinese gang then attacked Malik and stabbed him.

Meanwhile, at the aftermath of the riot, Syed was back on the streets with a group of journalists. His attitude was almost condescending, superior. To him, such destruction was a lesson learnt. If the opposition wins, the people suffer. He carried that attitude until he came upon a body. To his horror and grief, it was Malik's.

The scene ended and we were brought forward to present day Malaysia.

The Review

Malaysia is brimming with talent which we should continue to grow and nurture. I confess that I did not know what to expect and I came out pleasantly surprised.

Much had been said about Tony and Douglas and their characters above. I would not want to sound like a broken record here. Just an additional thought ~ the two leads have great chemistry. Watching the interaction between Tony and Douglas on stage was a pleasure. Special mention has to be made with regards to the three lady leads; namely Doreen Tang (who played Fausia), Evelyn Toh (Cik Tan) and Maria Yasmin (Maria). Blessed with beautiful voices, each of them is perfect in her role. I enjoyed Zamil Idris' (Malik) baritone and was shocked to discover that he was one of the finalist for Malaysian Idol. One wonders why he did not win the competition! The rest of the cast held their own.

There was one particular scene that warrants a special mention ~ the rape of Fausia. Truly it was an uncomfortable scene for me to watch but it must have been more uncomfortable for the cast to act. The acrobatics for that scene must have been extremely taxing. And the amount of choreography that went into that should be applauded. Watching Fausia being flung all over made me dizzy. Kudos to Doreen, the Malay gang and the choreographer for making this work.

I love the music and lyrics. The fact that they could hold my attention for the entire duration and enabled me to write the story above, speaks volumes of the writers' talents. The tunes were catchy and the lyrics were able to tell the story well without the need for extra dialogue. Among my favourite tunes are "Front Page News", "With One Stroke of Your Pen" and "One Moment Ago". "Laksa" was a memorable piece as it brought home the thought that we are truly one nation. Our lives are so intertwined that we could no longer tell if laksa is malay or chinese food.

Since I know nothing much about dance and orchestra, all I can say is that everything jived. The dance choreography went well with the music. The dance elements flowed well with the story. And to my untrained ear, the orchestra sounded wonderful. :)

The staging was simple but effective. It was a clever move to show original footages of our little piece of history on the big screens, and to intertwine that with footages of the musical, shown in black and white. That added authenticity to the acts on stage. Also, the choice of wardrobe in bland colours ~ i.e. white, black, grey, etc ~ during the historical scenes, and in full technicolour for present day Malaysia worked well.

Bloops and blunders

I guess it is no surprise that the best laid plans of mice and men will fail when it comes to computers. They are such temperamental "electrical circuit boards" - the bits and the bytes, the RAM and the ROM! In the midst of the show after intermission, the screens showed "error" although the footages were still running. Some technician came to the rescue and luckily for the musical, the problem was resolved without a further hitch.

Here's my two cents worth of feedback. When showing the "dead body" of Malik, my advice is NOT to pan the camera too close to his body. We could clearly see that Malik was breathing. That kind of "killed" the grieving mood.

The Ending

I found the ending to be rather abrupt. The story had build us up for a climax ~ the rape of Fausia, the death of Malik, the discovery by Syed. Then ... nothing! The scene changed to present day Malaysia. That was truly anti climatic. I am not sure what could have been done at the end but I expected more. A closure for Syed perhaps?

However, THAT should not, in any way, reduce the wonderful performances in the musical. Kudos to Joe Hasham and his cast & crew for pulling all this together.

One thing else this musical has brought home to me besides its entertainment value is the interest to read more about that time period. How could we have lost our unity (witness the tongue-in-cheek song of "laksa") and forsake that for suspicion, self interest and destruction? With recent events coming to a head in the last two years, one wonders if we did indeed learn anything in the last 50 years of independence. The last song about being "colour blind" remains perhaps a wish? an ideal?

Go watch the musical, if you have yet to do so. Check out the following site for more information.


discordant dude said...

hey leanne che, how are things back home?! i actually have some frens involved in this musical... ah, am i gonna miss merdeka back home... think i'll be working on that day.

Leanne said...

Hey cuz, thanks for dropping by. As you can see from my infrequent posting, things are extremely hectic here.

Name your friends who participated in this musical. Perhaps I can identify them through the souvenir programme.

Heard that you're enjoying life in London. Will write more in my email to you one of these days. ;)


princess said...

How long did "Tunku the Musical" take?