Two musicals on Lee Kuan Yew in the works

Mr Lee Kuan Yew smiles as his portrait is taken on Aug 14, 2009. Two separate musicals about the former prime minister are in the works and are expected to be staged next year, in time for Singapore's 50th anniversary. -- ST PHOTO: STEPHANI
Mr Lee Kuan Yew smiles as his portrait is taken on Aug 14, 2009. Two separate musicals about the former prime minister are in the works and are expected to be staged next year, in time for Singapore's 50th anniversary. -- ST PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW

Both slated to be staged next year, in time for Singapore's 50th birthday

Two separate musicals about former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew are in the works and are expected to be staged next year, in time for Singapore's 50th anniversary.

For one of them, new Singapore theatre company Metropolitan Productions has roped in several well-known local arts talents to form the backbone of the musical's creative team.

Cultural Medallion recipient and composer Dick Lee will write the music, while novelist Meira Chand and theatre practitioner Tony Petito, founder of the Singapore Repertory Theatre, will work on the storyline and script.

The Straits Times understands that the other musical is slated to be the opening act for the iconic Capitol Theatre when it reopens next year. It is commissioned by Capitol Investment Holdings, which owns Capitol Singapore.

Capitol Investment Holdings said the musical will be on the pivotal role Mr Lee played in Singapore's struggle for independence. More details will be released later.

The Metropolitan Productions musical will focus on events in Mr Lee's life from the Japanese Occupation until Singapore's independence in 1965.

Metropolitan's Alvin Tan, 33, a trained opera singer, said the idea of putting Mr Lee's life on stage came to him about two years ago, when he first returned home from studies.

"I wanted Singapore audiences to learn more about opera and I was thinking, what kind of a story would get Singapore audiences to watch an opera even if they don't like opera?" he said.

The story of modern Singapore's founding father, he felt, would have the widest appeal. The initial idea for an opera was later changed to a musical to reach a wider audience.

Mr Tan is aware that the musical could be a minefield. But he stressed that the production will be "very factual".

"We thought it would be refreshing to see Lee Kuan Yew not just as a leader and founder, but to also see his personal struggles, his vulnerabilities, his losses and victories, and how he sees the world... We believe there will be no misrepresentation."

Ms Chand, 72, was initially taken aback when she was invited to work on the musical's plot about 11/2 years ago.

She said with a laugh: "A musical about Lee Kuan Yew did seem a bit out of the ordinary, but I certainly have come round to the idea. If you think of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the improbable things that great musicals have been made of - why not?"

On the sensitivity of the material, she said: "There's always a sense of walking on a knife edge, but in the end... I see it as great narrative and it needs to be written. It is a legacy project."

Dick Lee, who has not started writing the music, said: "I'm naturally thrilled to be working on such an important work, especially as Singapore's 50th anniversary is round the corner, and am looking forward to reading the script."

Mr Tan said the musical is expected to cost a few million dollars and is talking to potential sponsors and several venues to stage it, including Resorts World Sentosa.

corriet@sph.com.sg