Radhi Khalid (second from left) says it is a monumental task for him to play the late Tunku Abdul Rahman in The LKY Musical, currently playing at Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, until Aug 16. Photos: Metropolitan Productions
For many Malaysians, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman was a great historic and political figure. But for homegrown actor Radhi Khalid, he was more than that.
Calling the country’s first prime minister “a great man”, Radhi, 51, was surprised when London-based director Steven Dexter roped him in to play the role of the Tunku in The LKY Musical (LKY) currently playing at Sands Theatre, MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
With a script written by American director/playwright Tony Petito, story by Meira Chand, music composed by Singaporean songwriter/composer Dick Lee and lyrics by Stephen Clark, the Metropolitan Productions musical has international flavour.
Radhi, who is now busy with the show’s run in Singapore, revealed in a recent interview that his father was once photographed with Tunku and that his diplomat brother was given a signed autobiographical book on him.
But the Penang-born Radhi has gone further by stepping into Tunku’s shoes in a musical, which is part of Singapore’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. The musical follows the life and trials of the late Singaporean premier Lee Kuan Yew from his early days at Raffles College to the founding of an independent Singapore.
The titular role is played by Singaporean thespian Adrian Pang, while Sharon Au plays Lee’s wife Kwa Geok Choo and Benjamin Chow plays left-wing politician Lim Chin Siong.
Talking about his role, Kuala Lumpur-based Radhi says he is “totally honoured but surprised and fearful all at once. I have played other political figures, but this is a ‘biggie’.” Interestingly, Radhi played a politician opposite the Tunku character in Shuhaimi Baba’s 1957: Hati Malaya in 2007 and played Alan Lennox-Boyd, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies who played a crucial role in Malaya’s road to independence in the Merdeka3 play, also opposite a Tunku character.
Upon reading the script, the actor recognised the monumental task of playing a major public figure. “How do I portray a real-life character sincerely?” he asks, while also considering the script’s demands. However, Radhi says that as things got “stitched and glued and understood, it just got better.”
The musical LKY also gave him the opportunity to take a deeper look at Tunku – as a person and politician. “The director was open but challenged me to be more insightful to the character and why he is there,” he adds.
One of the crucial scenes in which Radhi will bring the Tunku to life is when the union of Malaya and Singapore is discussed over a grand dinner in LKY. But the scene the audience will be anticipating is the crack in Lee and Tunku’s friendship and the political differences that led to the expulsion of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965.
“As in politics and social upheavals, there is always a thought for peace, harmony and unity apart from what’s best for one’s peoples. There is not always a ‘who is right, who is wrong’ situation,” points out Radhi.
Having acted in several Singaporean television shows such as Now Boarding, Private Eye, Singapore Dark Tales and Phua Chu Kang, Radhi reckons that such collaborations should be cultivated.
“Art touches the hearts and don’t we all bleed the same colour?”
The LKY Musical is on at Sands Theatre, MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore until Aug 16. For tickets, visit www.sistic.com.sg