Today I finally got to catch Lat’s Kampung Boy The Musical and boy I must say, I thought it was worth every single cent I spent on the ticket! From the elaborate sets to the time-line accurate costumes (approved by my mom who tagged along, and she was born in that era!) and superb acting, it was a visual treat for a casual Lat-lover like me, so I can imagine the elation of the hardcore Lat fans out there who have already attended the musical.
- Lat and his father, portrayed on stage (Image taken from Lat The Musical’s Facebook Fan Page)
Note: I didn’t take any pictures during the performance (as the audience were requested not to do so) so the pictures accompanying this post are from the Lat exhibition around Istana Budaya.
If it wasn’t for some of the reviews I read before going for the musical, I would have made the common mistake of assuming that the musical was just a stage adaptation of the Kampung Boy and Town Boy comic books. On the contrary, the musical was well-endowed with a lot of fresh material from Lat’s personal history (though there was some material that crossed over from the books). This dramatization of Lat’s life takes the audience from his birth up until his decision to move his family back to his place of origin, picking up a lot of the pieces that Lat left unanswered at the end of Town Boy.
An overview of the main exhibition area, housing some of Lat’s original artwork from Town Boy and Kampung Boy
When I read that this was the most expensive Malaysian musical to date, costing around 3 million to produce, I was wondering where was all the money spent. Was it on the actors’ and actresses’ fees? Or the orchestra they had to hire?
Now that I’ve watched it, my answer is this: They spent it on getting every aspect of the production right. For one, I thought that the stage props were really well thought-out and well-made. I particularly liked the subtle touch of making all the background props from Lat’s childhood in black and white, like they were lifted directly out of the pages of Lat’s comics, and the gradual addition of colour and realistic elements as he progresses through his life. This is particularly apparent when you look at Lat’s childhood home in the kampung that becomes fully coloured when it is revisited with his family in his adult life. At this juncture, I would like to express my awe at the fact that they actually made two exact replicas of the same set, just with a different (coloured) exterior.
Kudos also to the costume designer(s) as well for going the extra mile to make some of the more difficult costumes of Lat’s trademark characters work, like his teacher’s baggy pants and Mrs. Hew’s top-heavy wig. Awie made a great Lat, and I loved Sandra Sodhy’s portrayal of Mrs Hew to bits! Everyone in the cast did a great job, even the background dancers (especially the kids!).
You can see the correction fluid marks here around Frankie and the makcik’s chin on the right. It goes to show that practise makes perfect!
My main and only grouse would be the cast’s singing at the very beginning of the first act. I really couldn’t make out the lyrics that they were singing, which did affect my enjoyment of the show a little. This gradually improved as the show progressed, maybe due to the fewer number of vocals for each song, or perhaps a well-timed sound system tweak? It all worked out for me in the end when I got home and discovered that the organizers posted the lyrics of each song with their corresponding press photos on their Facebook fan page.
A piece of friendly advice I would give to those intending to catch this musical is to arrive early to give yourself ample time to enjoy the accompanying exhibition of Lat’s work all around Istana Budaya’s foyer (The photos accompanying this post should give you a rough idea of what to expect). Lat’s original manuscripts and artworks as well as life sized cardboard printouts of memorable scenes from his comics are displayed there, so there’s no lack of photo-ops around! These cardboard cut-outs were also seen adorning the box seats on the left side of the theater, which was a nice touch.
A piece of Lat’s older strips on display.
As an added treat at the end of the matinée performance I attended, Lat himself appeared after the final bows by the actors and actresses and joined the cast on stage. It was a shame that he didn’t join in the autograph session by the actors and actresses after the show as I really wanted to get his signature for the standalone Lat compilation that I bought for RM120 at the New Straits Times booth. I also got the Limited Edition Kampung Boy and Town Boy hardcover books sold there as well.
The books come with Lat’s signature and a collector’s box to house them, and with only 1000 copies available (with any leftovers to be sold at the NST offices after the musical ends its run), it’s worth spending the extra moolah on it, especially if you’ve not bought the books before. As an added bonus, each purchase of the books entitles you to a free eco-friendly tote bag made specially for the musical. There were also T-shirts on sale, though the prints on them weren’t as nice as those the cast got with the musical’s signature caricature of Lat with the musical notes on his sunglasses.
Overall, Lat The Musical acted as an ‘extra’ to the autobiographical comics Lat has produced thus far. It shows the other side of Lat that he rarely displays to the world; the periods of brooding and confusion that he experienced during the transitions in his life. In fact, even Lat’s own son found the musical to be an educational experience. Even so, I got the feeling that the producers were forced to simplify some parts and characters in order to give the audience a more ‘feel-good’ feeling as most biographies are wont to do. For instance, I felt that Frankie was whittled down into a slapstick character that Lat’s simple personality could bounce off on. But then again, who am I to say that he isn’t like that in real life as I’ve never met him before?
If you understand the Malay language (almost all the dialogue and songs are in the national language) and love Lat’s works, this is a must-watch as it will serve to complete your understanding of the man behind the comics. For aspiring artists-to-be (comics or otherwise), this musical will definitely serve as an inspiration for you to keep at what you’re doing even during the bleakest of times. With some luck and timely advice, hopefully you will become the next Malaysian national icon.
A far-off shot of a few of the cast members coming out for the autograph session. I managed to get a photo with Sandra Sodhy!