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Reviewed by:
  • Magic Mirror: The Musical
  • Loo Fung Ying
Magic Mirror: The Musical. Music, lyrics, and musical direction by Chow Kam Leong. Produced by Guan Yin Foundation/Datin Tan Swee Lai. Directed by Yu Xiao-Xue. Panggung Sari, Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 4 December 2011.

The number of locally produced musical theatre performances in Malaysia has increased over the past ten years. In the early days, producers relied on existing Western models such as Flower Drum Song(1998) and The Sound of Music(1999). As Diamond (2012) observes, local musical theatre performances in the late 1990s were weighted toward the Western Broadway structure. The trend toward musicals remains, adding an independence of newly produced musical theatre that does not borrow existing shows from the West. Contemporary musical theatre production groups such as Asia Musical Productions (formerly known as Musical on Stage), Dama Orchestra, Enfiniti Productions, and the Actors Studio are actively producing new local musicals with plots based on Malay legends, Chinese folk tales, local romances, patriotic [End Page 538]stories, and so forth. Sold-out performances such as Puteri Gunung Ledang(Princess of Mt. Ledeng, Enfiniti Productions, 2006), Butterfly Lovers: The Musical(Dama Orchestra, 2006), and Broken Bridges: The Musical(Actors Studio) have become stimuli for local performing arts groups. 1

A new genre of Buddhist musical arose alongside the increasing number of musical theatre performances with stories centered mostly on romance. Past performances produced by Asia Musical Productions, such as Siddhartha: A Musical Journey to Enlightenment(1999), Above Full Moon(2004), and The Jewel of Tibet(2008), were such successes that they were restaged again in later years. 2

Seizing an opportunity to produce a costly musical theatre in the nation’s largest venue—Istana Budaya (National Theatre, literally, “Palace of Culture,” with 1,412 seats)—is never easy, regardless of the nature of the production, especially if the production does not conform to national culture directives. 3However, the popularity and restaging of performances of many Buddhist musicals has proved that there is an audience for such work. Nevertheless, support from the local ministers who are seen at official openings for such local Buddhist-produced musical theatre is an obvious factor in the growth and sustainability of the genre. For example, the presence of deputy prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin bin Yasin at Magic Mirror: The Musicaland minister Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon at Prince Siddhartha: The Musicalto officiate openings for such local Buddhist-produced musical theatre enhances the acceptance of religious freedom in an Islamic country.

Provoked by the increasing crime rate and seeing a world at war, the goal of these Buddhist musical productions is to enlighten and educate with the practice of compassion. 4Hence, some of these musicals have moved away from the conventional musical structure, which routinely addresses issues of love, family, and economic and social success, instead laying out the teachings of Buddha as the focal point. Therefore, in the process of transmitting the teachings of Buddha in a theatrical form, the manipulation of the rhetoric of religion and the conventional structure of a musical became entwined. An adaptation of a theatrical setting thus became a religious event, while the manifestation of Buddhism in contemporary theatrical form introduced a new free-structured musical that is, above all, weighted on the practice of compassion. 5

Magic Mirror: The Musicalis representative of the growing genre and gives insight into the style of Asia Musical Productions, which has produced many of these Buddhist musicals. Entering Istana Budaya on 4 December 2011 was somehow different. The foyer as usual was crowded with an expectant audience. However, the air had a faint hint of burning sandalwood incense and jasmine scent that immediately put the viewer into the ambience of a Chinese Buddhist temple, though the feeling was not quite the same in the surroundings of the Istana Budaya’s traditional Malay Muslim architecture. The audience, mostly Chinese with a few Indians, assumedly Buddhist practitioners, chatted in the foyer as they waited. The simple gesture of heshi(placing both palms together in greeting) became a common sight at this event, [End Page 539]between staff and audience, for example, in thanking people...


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