Catch the Tun Seri Lanang musical!

On my drive from Johor Baru to Kota Johor Lama, the seat of the early kingdom of Johor, I can’t help but agree that there’s no better place for the media launch of the Tun Seri Lanang musical theatre show.

A paved path that leads up to a wooden bridge
at the entrance to the Kota Johor Lama Museum
I spot several landmarks that remind me that the district of Kota Tinggi was where Johor’s history started since 1528.  It’s a bright and sunny morning as I head on to the launch of this musical presented by Yayasan Warisan Johor (YWJ) or the Johor Heritage Foundation. 

I bypass the entry into Kota Tinggi and turn into the old road towards Desaru.  The scenic route is bordered by rolling hills, cultivated with oil palm plantations and I pass Felda Air Tawar villages and lush greenery in secondary jungles.   

I’m familiar with the attractions here but my eyes are searching for the signage bearing the name Museum Kota Johor Lama posted at various points along the route.  I drive on until I see a sign to the museum at the turn-off to Teluk Sengat.  Just before reaching Teluk Sengat, I turn into a narrow road where another sign points to the museum.

This landmark en route to Kota Johor Lama reminds me
 that Kota Tinggi was where Johor history started in 1528
The Kota Johor Lama Museum, housed in a building designed as a traditional Rumah Limas Johor, is situated in Kampung Johor Lama, an important site in local history.  Artefacts and information in the museum records the role of Kota Johor Lama after the fall of the Malacca Sultanate to the Portuguese in 1511 and the rise of the Malay Sultanate in Johor.  

I drive on until I see a narrow road that leads to an open space where a number of cars and coaches are parked.  “This must be it,” I tell myself as I park my car after a 73km smooth drive from JB.  I don’t see any building and not a soul is about.  Then I spot a paved path that leads up to a flight of wooden steps with an archway emblazoned with the words, Kota Johor Lama Museum, and I know I’m on the right track. 

Director, On Jaafar [3rd from Left] with some cast members
The sun is beating down mercilessly as I trek along the path and when I round a corner I see the Rumah Limas on my right but my eyes are riveted to several people dressed in traditional Malay costumes.  They look perfectly at home in this scenario and as I draw closer, I see some of the men and women wielding swords and armed with rifles!

I realise they are part of the cast in the musical theatre show and my excitement goes up a few notches as I anticipate the launch event being held in the very site where history was made.  I approach the building’s front porch or verandah where a group of people – dressed in black trouser suits – are seated and I later learnt that they are the choir.

Tents are set up next to the building where groups of students and other guests are seated while I’m ushered into a rear parlour of the museum where the event is held.  It’s an airy verandah typical of traditional houses where natural light and cool breezes are welcomed in.  Rows of chairs are arranged for the event and I grab a seat discreetly behind the first row, aware that the front seats may be reserved for VIPs.

One for the album: Fans with Ungku Ismail Aziz
When the event started, the seats in the first row are quickly filled up by key members of the cast with the show director, On Jaafar, seated in front of me.  With six productions under On’s direction staged at Istana Budaya, he is no stranger to the musical theatre industry here.  I met On several times at various YWJ productions over the years and it’s good to renew our acquaintance again.

The local actors seated in front include Datuk Jalaludin Hassan who will play the main character, Tun Seri Lanang, Ungku Ismail Aziz who will play Sultan Iskandar Muda Mahkota Alam, Bell Ngasri in the role of Komeng, Raja Ilya as Puteri Pahang and Azizah Mahzan as Pucot Maelingoe, admiral of the Achinese fleet responsible for the attack on Batu Sawar with an 80,000 strong army in 1613.

Datuk Zulkanain Kamisan [Standing 2nd from Right]
officially launched the show in a simple ceremony 
After the opening address by YWJ Director, Tuan Haji Mohd Shahrin Datuk Haji Rahmat, the State Executive Councilor for Youth, Sports, Culture and Heritage, Datuk Zulkanain Kamisan officially launched the show in a simple ceremony. 

I’m glad I got a hint of what should happen soon after this because I quickly put on my shoes [It’s a Malay tradition to remove footwear before entering a house!] and head to the front of the building where a scene from the show is acted out in the front lobby of the museum!

In what is apparently an exchange of gunfire, I see spirals of red smoke exploding on the hillock opposite the building as armed “warriors” rush out, closely followed by sword-wielding female “fighters” – from their hiding place under the Rumah Limas – to confront their enemies!

Armed "warriors" rushing out to a confrontation in
a scene from the musical show, acted out on the site
This gave guests a glimpse of the action scenes they can expect to see in the live performance of the 1 hour and 50 minutes long, musical theatre show.  On is proud that the 149 members of cast and crew is made up of mainly Johor talents.  These talents include actors, musicians, dancers, the choir as well as the crew involved with stage design, props, costumes and audio and visual technicians.  On tells me that the youngest talent is a 15-year old silat exponent.

He is pleased to work with young talents which is an indication that Johor does not lack talent and is encouraged that the future of theatre here is assured.  The script for Tun Seri Lanang, the musical, is the joint effort of writers, Shaq Saini and Man C. K.  The musical director is Hanizam Hassan while Rohayu Yusof and Sufian Hassan are in charge of the choreography.

On Jaafar [Wearing blue shirt] striking a pose with the
enthusiastic cast of Tun Seri Lanang, the musical
The audience can look forward to enjoying 90% of music in this production which is not quite a portrayal of the biography of Tun Seri Lanang but a showcase of how he transformed from a captured prisoner-of-war to a king.  This musical features various interesting historical scenarios from Batu Sawar to Acheh that the character, Komeng, the personal assistant to Tun Seri Lanang, will link together with his narration.

On assures me that the Malay language used in the dialogue will be easily understood because only selected scenes have dialogue in classical Malay and pantun or poetry.  Music will be provided by an ensemble that includes contemporary instruments like the keyboard, string and wind instruments.  As he went on to tell me about giving the lead actors singing parts, I think JB theatre fans can look forward to an exciting treat in this production filled with music, dances, costumes and historical characters – one that I’m not going to miss!

Tun Seri Lanang, the musical, will be staged at 8.30pm on June 3 & 4, at the Persada International Convention Centre.  Tickets priced at RM10, RM20 and RM30, can be obtained from the YWJ Complex at Jalan Sungai Chat, Tel: 07 - 2245488, or by WhatsApp on Tel: 015 – 9613 0910.

If you wish to have the full heritage experience, go visit the historical site at Museum Kota Johor Lama, which is open daily from 9am to 5pm [Closed on the first day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Raya Aidiladha].  Entrance is Free-Of-Charge.

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