Moving tale of Tun Seri Lanang

The lush production of Tun Seri Lanang The Musical explored the history and heritage of Johor.

The venue was packed during the two-night run of the 135-minute musical.  The first show was graced by Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Khalid Nordin.  The musical was directed by On Jaafar, who had helmed six productions at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur.

Bell Ngasri as Komeng [Left] in a scene
with title character played by
Datuk Jalaludin Hassan
Staged at the Persada International Convention Centre in Johor Baru recently, it was presented by Yayasan Warisan Johor (YWJ) or the Johor Heritage Foundation.

At the media launch for the show (held earlier at the Museum Kota Johor Lama at Kota Johor Lama, the seat of the early kingdom of Johor), he explained that this production was not a portrayal of the biography of Tun Seri Lanang.  Instead, it charted how he transformed from a captured prisoner-of-war to King of Samalanga in Acheh.

This show featured various interesting historical scenarios from Batu Sawar near Johor Lama to Acheh where some 23,000 captives were taken from Johor in the 1613 Achinese attack.

A scene in the court of Sultan Iskandar Muda Mahkota Alam of Acheh showed how he aimed to make Johor disappear from the map by his decree that the captives must dress and speak like the Achinese.  Faced with the danger of losing their Johor identity, Tun Seri Lanang appealed to the sultan and it was the compassion of his permaisuri or queen.  She sought to advise the sultan on a better way to strengthen their nation, not by force of a decree but by integrating the two nations through inter-marriage.

A dramatic scene from a dance by the Sri Kandi,
female warriors of Acheh
On took the liberty to create the character, Komeng as Tun Seri Lanang’s pembantu or helper, who linked the story with his narration and also provided comic relief in a somewhat tragic segment of Johor history.  Through a series of events, Tun Seri Lanang escaped the evil plot of the Orang Pembesar or nobles in the Acheh court, who planned to have him drowned at sea.  The musical came to a climax where he was ultimately installed as King of Samalanga.

Presented on a wide stage with a multi-tier design, the actors were accompanied by a live ensemble of musicians playing contemporary instruments like the keyboard, string and wind instruments along with traditional drums and a choir.

A live ensemble of musicians played contemporary
as well as traditional musical instruments
The dialogue was in Malay with selected scenes that saw characters speaking in classical Malay and pantun or poetry.  Scenes changed rapidly as the story unfolded with live music, dances, traditional costumes and historical characters.

The 149-strong cast and crew were made up of mainly Johorean talents.  They included actors, musicians, dancers, the choir as well as the crew involved with stage design, props, costumes and audio and visual technicians.

The script was the joint effort of writers, Shaq Saini and Man C. K while the musical director was Hanizam Hassan.  Rohayu Yusof and Sufian Hassan were in charge of dance choreography.

The choir performed with the music and actors
The lead actors in the cast were Datuk Jalaludin Hassan as the main character, Tun Seri Lanang, Ungku Ismail Aziz as Sultan Iskandar Muda Mahkota Alam, with Bell Ngasri in the role of Komeng.  Raja Ilya played the role of Puteri Pahang while Azizah Mahzan was Pucot Maelingoe, admiral of the Achinese fleet responsible for the attack on Batu Sawar with an 80,000 strong army in 1613.

There was a sense of achievement after the show ended, when renowned composer, Datuk Suhaimi Md Zin, gave encouraging comments on the music, compositions and arrangements.  Academician and cinography practitioner, Hamzah Tahir, also praised the good music and acting.

The cast taking a bow at the close of the show!
“Tun Seri Lanang the musical is the beginning of a very promising future for musicals in JB,” said On, who was upbeat about the performance and how the state government was keen to develop the arts and encourage more youths to be involved. 

“I certainly wish to take this show further and perform it in a bigger theatre to a larger audience, to share more about Johor history and showcase the spectacular talents on stage and behind the scenes,” he added.

For more information on YWJ activities, visit website:

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 11 July 2016

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