Au to play Mrs Lee in 'role of a lifetime'
FORMER MediaCorp actress and host Sharon Au said she is nothing like Kwa Geok Choo, the late Cambridge-educated lawyer wife of Lee Kuan Yew.
Au, 40, faces one of her biggest challenges yet, taking on the larger-than-life role in Metropolitan Productions' upcoming The LKY Musical, which opens at Marina Bay Sands' MasterCard Theatres on July 21.
Calling it the "role of a lifetime", she acknowledges that she is one of the least experienced members of a cast which includes veteran actor Adrian Pang as the late founding prime minister and comedian Sebastian "Broadway Beng" Tan as a rickshaw puller, an everyman named Koh Teong Koo.
Au, who auditioned for the part, said yesterday at the first major press conference for the musical: "It was extremely humbling to be accepted to play Madam Kwa Geok Choo.
"It would have been sufficient for me if I could just play a rickshaw puller...I just wanted to be part of this project. I wanted to volunteer as a wardrobe mistress, or someone to carry Adrian's bag."
The casting for the roles of Madam Kwa and another major real-life figure - Mr Lee's late political rival Lim Chin Siong - was revealed at the press conference, held yesterday morning at the top floor of the OUE Bayfront building.
Newcomer Benjamin Chow will play Mr Lim. The casting of Pang was revealed earlier last month.
Referencing Andrew Lloyd Webber's well-known 1978 musical, Metropolitan Productions director Tan Choon Hiong said: "We have world-class musicals like Evita, which is about the life of Eva Peron, an Argentinian politician, but why is there no world-class musical about the Singapore story?"
The LKY Musical, which clocks in at 21/2 hours, hopes to fill that void, and is one of three stage and film productions this year which feature Mr Lee. The other two are Singapura: The Musical and 1965.
The LKY Musical traces his life story over a period of about 20 years, from his early days in Raffles College to Singapore's independence in 1965.
It boasts an experienced production team including veteran composer and musician Dick Lee and London-born author Meira Chand, who will be writing the story for the musical.
In response to a question about similarities between her and Mrs Lee, Au - an executive at MediaCorp - was quick to answer: "There are no similarities at all between me and the icon. To me, she was, and she is, the perfect Asian wife and the perfect Asian woman."
Industry insiders and theatregoers had mixed reactions to her casting. Said civil servant Chris Li, 30: "I think Sharon is a good choice, even though she does not look exactly like Madam Kwa. She is an experienced actress who has grounding in theatre. I think she and Adrian Pang look good together and will have solid chemistry."
Daniel Yun, executive producer and co-director of the upcoming film 1965, in which Mr Lee features as a character, agreed that Au was a good choice. He said: "(Pang and Au) had chemistry when I worked with them on I Do I Do (2005), and I can see them on stage as a couple.
"Singing-wise, I'm not sure how much singing there will be, but I'm sure they were cast because they're up to it."
Less enthusiastic is human resource manager Irene Lim, 35, a regular theatregoer. "Sharon is nine years Adrian's junior, while Madam Kwa was 21/2 years older than the late Mr Lee. I also feel Sharon lacks the air of remarkable intellect and quiet poise that Mrs Lee had," she said.
"Someone more suited to portray Madam Kwa would be (actress) Claire Wong, in terms of her age, career, image and overall demeanour."
While work on the musical began over three years ago, the death of Mr Lee last month has cast a sombre pall over the proceedings.
While no changes have been made to the music or story, Pang said that the former prime minister's death has given the musical "all sorts of added significance and poignancy".
"I supposed as a team, we're trying to embrace that, and see that as so much more material to draw on now, more so than there would have been."
Since Mr Lee's death on March 23 at age 91, there has been an outpouring of tributes and articles, both in Singapore and around the world. For many, what struck a chord was his devotion to his wife, who died in 2010 after a long illness.
The couple, who got married in secret in Stratford-upon-Avon during their university days, were best friends and confidants.
As the subject matter of the musical is not exactly light-hearted fare, composer Lee said he was worried about how he could make it work as a musical.
"It's quite a serious story, I couldn't see that there were going to be a lot of fun, big production numbers where he's dancing at the rally or something."
Nonetheless, he called his effort his "best score to date".
"The songwriting became very nuanced, quite deep, and from a technical point of view, I used a lot of chord progressions that I haven't used for a long time."
Additional reporting by Lee Jian Xuan