The upcoming Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) musical starring Adrian Pang in the titular role and Sharon Au as his muse, the late Mrs. Lee is enjoying enormous publicity and hype. Earlier on, we published a feature on Sharon Au and her thoughts on playing such an enigmatic character who though has spent decades in the public spotlight, little is known about her. This time, we interviewed Meira Chand who was the mastermind behind the story. While much attention will surely be on Dick Lee and the type of songs he composes specially for this musical, I am in nervous anticipation for the storyline behind the musical. Often times, it is the story that makes or breaks a musical, Les Miserables was unforgettable because of its ability to leave you on the edge of its seat while Cats was to me an absolutely snooze-feast due to the haphazard way the story was told.
For Meira, the story and songs can not only co-exist beside one another but instead work together like the different instruments in a band to tell the complete drama. “Characters often express goals and dreams through song, and drama can be communicated through music. So it is important for the songs and music to expand upon the words of the script, to develop and enhance what is written and evoke atmosphere and mood in a way words cannot.” The music and the story are never in conflict but rather the music is an instrument much like words are that aid the story-teller (Meira) in telling her story.
What worries me the most is the huge number of people involved in the entire creative process, a different person in charge of story, music, book, lyrics and direction. Thus without a clear direction, there is a huge possibility that the musical will be piecemeal and without coherence. Fortunately, Meira reassured my worries as she explains, “I was approached write the original story from which the musical has been developed. It came before script, lyrics or music and I was not required to think of these things.” I certainly breathed a sigh of relief upon knowing that everything was built around the story because that is to me, the most important aspect.
Crafting a story of such a great man, a man who means so much to so many different people, evidenced by the hundreds and thousands of Singaporeans who braved the rain to queue for hours to pay their final respects to the man affectionately known as LKY, is no easy task when expectations are so high. Don’t believe me? Just think about movie adaptations of books and why there is always a huge uproar made by the original fans of the book. The reason is simple, everyone has their own mental image on what the characters look like, how they’re supposed to behave and the ‘perfect’ original story thus any deviation from their mental image is to them unacceptable. Thus, in order to get an idea of what the story will be like, it’s essential to find out what LKY means to her. “The story of the experiences of those years and struggle against both colonialism and communism are an inspiring narrative. I hope this musical will bring awareness to young people of the fight of right against might that has been all but forgotten.”
Also premiering close to LKY the musical is the film 1965 with a star studded cast portraying LKY and his fight for independence. Obviously and inevitably, comparisons will be made between the two productions so of course I was curious to find out what made the musical different? According to Meira, the difference ” is that we look at a much wider slice of history. We also examine the historical events and experiences of Mr Lee’s early life that shaped into the man he later became. It is the story of a courageous and idealistic young man, often beset with doubt, struggling to make dreams reality.” The focus of the musical is wholly centered around LKY the man and his achievements a mere byproduct of the man that he is rather than the film which seemingly appears to be centered around a celebration of his achievement. For us as an audience, there is much to look forward to. However to Meira “Beside all the vivacity a musical provides, I hope people will see the deeper story of courage and struggle, and how so easily things could have gone another way.”
The musical promises to be an absolute must watch if not for a beautifully crafted story then at least for a singing LKY.
All Images Courtesy of The LKY Musical!
More about Meira Chand (taken from her website):
Meira Chand is of Indian-Swiss parentage and was born and educated in London, where she attended Putney High School. She later studied art at St Martin’s School of Art & Design, and taught art at an international school in Japan before turning to writing. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Western Australia.
In 1962, she moved with her husband to Japan, living there until the early 1970s when she left to spend five years in India, where she began writing short stories. On her return to Japan in 1976, she wrote her first novel The Gossamer Fly, followed by four more novels set in Japan, Last Quadrant (1981), The Bonsai Tree (1983), The Painted Cage (1986), and a war novel, A Choice of Evils (1996). A further two novels House of the Sun (1989) and A Far Horizon (2001) are both set in India.
In 1997 she relocated to Singapore where she wrote her most recent novel, A Different Sky (2010). On its publication, A Different Sky was a Book of the Month choice by the UK bookshop chain, Waterstones, and was included on popular US personality Oprah Winfrey’s recommended reading list, and was also long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2012.
Meira Chand’s novels spring from the confluence of different cultures in her life, with strong themes of identity and belonging. In Singapore she is involved in many programmes to promote literature and mentor young writers. She has served for over a decade as an assessor and mentor in the National University of Singapore, Centre for the Arts, Creative Writing Programme. She has also been closely involved since its inception with READ! Singapore, a programme initiated in 2005 by the National Library Board to promote the joys of reading. Amongst other things, she is a member of the Arts Resource Panel for the National Arts Council and was chairperson of the Singapore Literature Prize in 2012. Chand has also served as the chair for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the region of South East Asia and South Pacific. In 2011, she received a Special Recognition Award from the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts, Singapore. She is now a Singapore citizen and has made her permanent home in the country.