Usman Awang work talks about the uncaring people around you.

When Uda Dan Dara was first staged in 1972, audiences were thrilled, says Datuk Faridah Merican, who originated the role of Dara.

“When we presented it on stage, the audience totally enjoyed what they saw,” Faridah recalls the experience of performing in the now-canonical musical, written by national laureate Usman Awang, with original music by Dr Basil Jayatilaka. “It was pure acceptance of Usman Awang’s work.”

But 1972 is a long time ago. Times have changed, and so have the audiences. “We had to re-look at the ending for this production,” says Merican. 

Usman astutely tackled the issues of class discrimination and social injustice in the Malaysian narrative. Our country was formed 15 years prior to the staging. Malaysians were still trying to discover what it meant to be, well, Malaysian.

Even to this day and age, such issues still crop up, making Uda Dan Dara a timeless and relevant musical.

It is a window through which we can safely look at our nation and ask pertinent questions.

By making Uda a young man of Chinese descent, an additional layer is added to this multifaceted musical.

Of course, this is nothing new. In the 2002 restaging, Dara was of Malay-Chinese parentage played by Filipino actress Maria Yasmin, while Uda was played by prolific actor Khir Rahman.

Speaking about his experience adapting the script to fit the modern timeline, Omar Ali, KLPac’s resident director says “the hardest part of it was not to go too far because it is such beautiful writing and we didn’t want it to lose its voice.

“So, the first thing we did was to go over the script countless times, trying to get a sense of what it is trying to say, and what were the possible meanings.

“At some points, to move the story, we had to – and I say this very carefully – try to understand what Usman meant but at the same time, include other possible meanings to it. It was very tricky!”

Omar collaborated with Mark Beau de Silva, Faridah’s on-stage son in the insightful play Bottom Top, for the script adaptation.

“There were already questions being asked of and to Usman in the 1972 production about the ending. After Uda dies, Usman wanted there to be an uprising of the village folk but Krishen and Rahim very strongly didn’t want that. The compromise was that Dara becomes mad after Uda is killed,” Faridah interjects.

“We had to re-look at the ending for this production. I suppose it fitted very much then for the heroine to go crazy but our Dara is a very strong young woman and she doesn’t have to lose her mind, neither do the people have to fight and rebel.

“Our Dara is stronger because of the people around her and that is where we leave her at the end, to fight her own battle,” she adds. “There is so much more to this once upon a time love story that we can present to a current audience. Usman’s work talks about the uncaring people around you, and about those who regard status as something important. He got all that laid out for you.”

Uda Dan Dara will begin showing at KLPac from April 3. For more information, call 03-4047 9000.

Related story: 

Faridah Merican on her childhood, her foray into theatre and directing Usman Awang’s Uda Dan Dara