The LKY Musical

book by Tony Petito
story by Meira Chand
lyrics by Stephen Clark
music by Dick Lee
Metropolitan Productions
Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

One of the biggest local theatre productions in recent years, The LKY Musical is the inaugural production by Metropolitan Productions, sweeping us through a quarter century of Singapore’s history through the eyes of the country’s founding Prime Minister.

We move from Lee’s student days at Raffles College in 1941 to the Japanese Occupation and his studies in the UK before he returns to Singapore to champion independence in 1965. The plot ticks off the key events one would expect of the period. However, by trying to fit everything into a neat dramatic arc, Tony Petito’s book and Meira Chand’s story tends to broad-brush some of the nuances of history, going for efficiency rather than emotional weight.

Photo Credit: Metropolitan Productions

One wishes for a slightly more balanced representation of characters. For instance, Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman appears as an insouciant poker player while politician S Rajaratnam seems little more than an industrious scribe.

Adrian Pang carries the show as Lee, capturing the man’s fears, frustrations and unwavering tenacity in pushing for change. While Pang catches Lee’s distinctive inflections and gait, there is a sense that he is dutifully performing a role rather than truly inhabiting it; this is a good performance but perhaps not a great one.

It is a shame that Lee’s wife, the formidable Kwa Geok Choo (Sharon Au), is but a footnote in the narrative instead of being central to the story; she is mostly huddled by a table listening to the radio. Au also proves to be the cast’s weakest link, with brittle delivery and pitiful singing skills.

Photo Credit: Metropolitan Productions

There are standout performances by newcomer Benjamin Chow as charismatic trade unionist Lim Chin Siong and funnyman Sebastian Tan as rickshaw puller and loyal family friend Koh Teong Koo. Edward Choy and Tan Shou Chen also provide good support as PAP stalwarts Goh Keng Swee and Toh Chin Chye, respectively.

Dick Lee disappoints with a score that is vast and varied but ultimately vapid; one would be hard pressed to recall a single distinctive refrain. The melodies in the second half almost blur into a mix. Indeed, one wonders if there is any real point in having the characters sing instead of speak the dialogue; the neatly choreographed numbers and rhyming lines somehow push authenticity to the side.

Director Steven Dexter keeps the pace tight and delivers the requisite spectacle one would expect, though some scenes, like a mantra about glorious economic progress and a lurid, National Day Parade-like number complete with the national anthem, are decidedly stagey. The three-storied set by designer takis, upon which multimedia projections are superimposed, evokes a sense of grandeur that echoes the powerful emotions on stage.

As a tribute to a man whose actions speak far louder than words, there is only so much that a piece of theatre can do. The LKY Musical reminds us of the difficult journey behind the country we have today and even if it does not throw up anything groundbreaking, this is a sleek, serviceable history song that is bound to satisfy.

The Crystalwords score: 3/5

*This review was written for TODAY and published on 27 July 2015.


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