Billed “Malaysia’s Longest Running Musical”, Enfiniti Vision Media‘s MUD didn’t let sombre news from Paris nor smallish matinee crowds stop its rising young cast from delivering hearty doses of fun, uplift and a welcome history lesson this time round.
Walking into Panggung Bandaraya, you do sense a certain thankfulness for the nation that has been built for us, despite less-than-ideal circumstances and laughable leadership inspiring the collective woe-is-me-in-this-forsaken-country sentiment. And that Saturday evening MUD experience felt guiltlessly old-fashioned.
Written as the story of how Malaysia rose up through natural and economic nightmares to become a nation, MUD would in itself make a solid standalone play. As a musical, it’s exuberant. Stretching its scope from the yellowed annals territory of the late-1800s to the foundation of the country, covering that much material is a feat of distillation: because a heck of a lot went down in that time.
A reach-out, get-along cast with youthful aplomb in buckets
The ensemble this year enlists hardly a household name among them to weight this lot dow…uh, lift them up. Like they need any help (outside of the occasional rehearsal drop-in from patron/fairy godmother Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina herself presumedly). Because they more than do the job on their own, somehow making you syukur about living in the post-modern KL you live in now, checking their performances just short of overcompensation and dialing in just the right amount of verve and enthusiasm for their parts.
Free as yet from the crutch/baggage of fame, the young unknown leads thrived on this 110-year-old stage. With little to no expectations come greater power and potential to unabashedly shine, and this early matinee show had the mixed multinational audience in earnest stitches as the young cast took every opportunity to include everyone into the performance. The Malay male lead (as Mamat) in particular, looks and sounds a star.
When the Great Fire of 1881 breaks out and swallows up KL in raging flames, the nearest audience member felt the desperate tug at their sleeves to jump in and help out with a “bucket of water” for a spot of emergency gotong royong; then when the Great Floods of the early 1900s again threatened to destroy the old capitol, giant “tidal waves” streamed out to wash over the seated audience and engulf the stage in “water”.
The interactive vibes came in spades not just from the cast, who more than projected with assertive individual and ensemble performances, a dynamic array of costumes, and genuine stagecraft; but from the inspired props as well.
Heart, harmony, history lessons…and a thanksgiving reminder
The Malaysia which blossomed rafflesia-like in the Sixties grew out of the naturally fertile soil of Kuala Lumpur, your literal ‘Valley of Mud’. This musical is a tribute to the resilience of olden day KL which post-modern history doesn’t always remember; and to the determination its people – our forefathers – and the hardened stuff in all of us which made even the dream of this country possible.
If there is a moral here (whether for local millennials tuning in or visiting tourists wanting an entertaining-without-being-reductionist history of us), it’s that our forefathers had each others’ backs and thus had it good, in the long run. In the true spirit of our uniquely layered society (before Malaysia Truly Asia came along), our ancestors were able to will a country into being in spite of all the fires and floods nature threw at them. Wanna talk about harmony? These guys were the Beach Boys compared to what we pass off as living in tune now, and they did it with the wind and the rain screaming in their faces.
The young get-along cast of MUD transcend professionalism and chemistry with bonded ensemble performances that carry this home. All-action, all-singing, all-dancing…talk about a triple threat, Istana Budaya may soon be given a run for their ringgit. And these performances will get tighter as the show runs its course all this month.
MUD‘s easily likable characters (resist all you want), from pillars of the community like the comic Pak Itam and the classic Mak Puteh; the selfless newlyweds Mamat and his singing wife; to the giddy and starry-eyed amoi and the ever-optimistic Chinese Kapitan; to the straight-shooting Meng and the troubled son Muthiya, all reel you in with their old-school, pre-1Malaysia muhibbah charm, single-minded conviction and simplicity.
MUD: The Musical is a presentation full of heart and a small, chugging choo-choo-train-that-could of local performance art. Drive into town or take the train, lend a piece of yourself and pay your respects to it if you haven’t.
*MUD: The Musical runs at the iconic community theatre Panggung Bandaraya on Jalan Raja at Dataran Merdeka, KL till December 31st with daily matinee and evening shows. For tickets (MYR60 & MYR45 for MYKad holders) buzz the box office at 03 2602 3335 or hit www.mudkl.com.