Malaysia's new hit - Mahathir, the musical

Mon Sep 27, 2010 10:39am EDT
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By Neha Singh

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - A musical on the life of Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is rocking the stage in the Southeast Asian nation, although the country remains divided over the legacy of its longest serving leader.

The two-hour long performance in the capital city, which features lively song and dance routines, narrates the struggles of a medical doctor who went on to become one of Asia's longest serving prime ministers.

"This is a contribution from the entertainment industry to deliver his vision to the audience. We want to tell the new generation who is Tun Mahathir," said actor Esma Daniel, who played the role of Mahathir in his adulthood.

Credited as Malaysia's "Master Planner," Mahathir transformed a commodities-based backwater into a modern trading nation, and inspired the building of architectural marvels like the 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers in 1998, then the world's tallest building.

For many, however, Mahathir was a controversial leader.

Critics blame him for curbing free speech, stifling political opponents and allowing corruption, cronyism and nepotism to flourish under his rule, none of which feature in the musical.

"Well it's a matter of popularity and unpopularity, he's a very strong character, a very polarizing person," said Barry Wain, the author of Malaysian Maverick, a book about Mahathir.

The musical presents the now 85-year old Mahathir as a visionary, exploring his childhood days selling balloons to make extra pocket money, right through to his ascent to the country's top job in 1981. He retired in 2003.   Continued...

<p>Actor Zizan Nin, who plays the role of Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, performs during the "Muzikal Tun Mahathir" at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur September 26, 2010. REUTERS/Stringer</p>