Remember a couple of weeks ago when I went for the Escape the Fate concert in KL? Well, I was stuck in evening traffic in front of the old Panggung Bandaraya for a good half an hour, so there was plenty of time to look at the big MUD The Musical: The Story of Kuala Lumpur signs they had plastered all over the building. Turns out, the place houses the longest running musical in KL, which has been on for the past two years! How the actors don’t go crazy, singing the same songs every day, is beyond me. 😀
Evelyn and I went to check it out over the weekend. The theatre is just next to the Sultan Abdul Samad Building facing Merdeka Square. Even if you’re not coming here for the musical, the building is a nice place to take photos. Opened in 1901 (making it well over a hundred years old!), its Mughal-inspired look features a unique carved facade, with brown bricks, white framed windows and a copper dome. Before it was converted into a performing arts centre, it was the first official administration office for the Kuala Lumpur Sanitary Board.
The inside retains a European-colonial heritage, from the opulent chandelier to marble tiled floors , but with a distinctly local flavour. The stained glass windows, for example, have figures of Malay and Indian characters rather than the usual angels or saints.
Tickets are priced at RM50 for Malaysians, and RM80 for foreigners.
The theater is big and can easily seat up to 200 people. Sadly, during our visit, there were only 11 people .__.
Did a short video. Unlike other musicals, which prohibit photography and videography, they encourage it here so feel free to snap and take lots of pictures and vids! 🙂 (PS: 2021 edit: Apparently things have changed – my video on Youtube got a copyright strike from Enfiniti, the company that owns the production. Kind of a bummer that they said it was okay to film and upload, but then changed their policy later. Would have been nice to receive a message coz I would have taken it down, instead of getting a copyright strike immediately.)
The story is set in the 1880s, when Kuala Lumpur was nothing more than a small village. If you’re wondering about the title Mud, that’s because KL stands for ‘muddy confluence’ in Malay, being the central point where two rivers – Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang – converge together. Immigrant populations from all over Asia came with the promise of tin riches, and this is reflected in the diverse cast of characters.
Mamat, Meng and Muthiah are the three central characters and childhood friends who came to KL in search of a better life. Through their tale, the audience is introduced to a host of other personalities, each with their own enduring stories. Mamat, newly married and expecting his first child, is the mail boy for the British administration, while Meng and Muthiah, who recently arrived from their villages, are searching for jobs. Muthiah, who was promised a job building the railway, searches in vain for ‘relatives’ whom he has paid a price for passage to KL.
Meng, on the other hand, lands a job at the Ampang tin mine, run by a wealthy Chinese tycoon. But work is hard and troubles are afoot. The mines are dangerous, and they are raided often by rival factions as the Chinese triads in KL fight for power and influence.
Meng and Mamat meet up again at the marketplace, where they find a disheveled looking Muthiah, adamant that his relatives will come to his rescue. Unable to face his friends, he runs away. Leaving him to cool his heels, Meng and Mamat adjourn to the village to celebrate the birth of Mamat’s child.
The ‘kenduri’ scene, where all the characters gather for the celebration, gets points for audience interaction 🙂 They roped Evelyn and another member onto stage to ‘help’ out – Evelyn was given the task of stirring the communal wok 😀
Meanwhile, Muthiah finds solace at a nearby temple. The backdrop, which first showed a stone statue of a goddess, eventually transformed into a real person and Muthiah starts dancing, seeking for spiritual guidance. This was one of my favourite parts of the show. Contemporary dance is difficult, but the actor who played Muthiah delivered it extremely well – fluid and full of expression. One could feel the character’s hopelessness and desperation in every movement.
Tragedy strikes with The Great Fire of KL in 1881, where the entire town and its wooden houses was razed to the ground.
Despondent villagers, resigned to their fate that they have lost their homes and belongings, the life they tried so hard to build.
As if that wasn’t enough, later that same year, torrential rains caused a massive flooding in KL, resulting in more damage to property and crops.
The flooding scene (which I, unfortunately, didn’t manage to capture on video!) had a huge ‘wave’ crashing down onto the audience members – made from a large cloth tapestry that ran over the seats from one end of the hall to another. The effect was really good!
At their wits end, the villagers almost pack up and leave… but of course, if they had, we wouldn’t have KL today, would we? 🙂 Persevering, they vow to continue rebuilding the town they have come to call home.
Credited with improving Kuala Lumpur is the British Resident, Frank Swettenham (Malaysia/then Malaya was under British rule, so the different states had an assigned BR, who oversaw stuff). After the flood and fire, he began the clean up of the streets, and stipulated that buildings should be made from brick and tile to make them less flammable. He also ordered wider streets to be built. This programme took about five years. The rich Chinese tycoon, Kapitan Yap Ah Loy, set up a brick industry to help rebuild KL, and the buildings were subsequently replaced with proper brick and tiles, but with Chinese carpentry and influences. This is why you’ll only find the eclectic ‘colonial shophouse’ architecture in Malaysia and Singapore.
The final scene had the cast performing a very uplifting number dubbed Tomorrow Begins Today – dressed in costumes from all the different ethnic groups in Malaysia. They even had all of us go up on stage and dance the final number, before we took a group picture! 🙂
It was truly a fun and eye-opening experience, and I’m glad I went to check MUD out. The cast is excellent: from the way they perform, and how much heart and soul they put into it, you’d never guess this was probably their 502837 time performing. 🙂 The songs are good, although at times ,the dialogue and the Malaysian accent shines through, so some parts may be difficult to understand for foreign audiences not used to our local slang.
The props are also well done, like the cardboard ‘kampung house’ during the Kenduri scene, the umbrellas during the flooding scene, etc. Costumes are elaborately done and accurate.
It’s pretty sad that more people didn’t turn up for the show,despite it being a weekend. I bet there are some days where they only had one or two audience members (!) Such talent and quality should not be wasted. They really should look into better marketing, because prior to stumbling on the site while driving in KL, I had never heard of Mud KL.
The show runs twice daily at 3PM and 8.30PM. More info at mudkl.com
MUD KL : The Story of Kuala Lumpur
Panggung Bandaraya, Jalan Raja, Dataran Merdeka, 50100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Phone: +603 2602 3335
By LRT: via Ampang or Kelana Jaya LRT line. Get off at Masjid Jamek station. The theatre is a 5min walk away.
Hop On Hop Off: Stop 17 at Dataran Merdeka
Driving: Parking at Dataran Merdeka Underground.