Event company

Malaysian theater company bridges digital and live divide with musicals

It’s a good sign to stay busy and motivated in local theater in these post-pandemic times. And musicals can help boost morale.

Last month, theater company Liver and Lung started the year on a high note with the release of their third musical recording based on the critically acclaimed book A little life by American author Hanya Yanagihara.

Songs inspired by A Little Life: The Unofficial Broadway Album features seven indie-inspired folk songs that tell the story of Jude, a lawyer with serious health issues who privately self-harms. The tragic story follows Jude’s quest for a better life and his struggle with his own personal demons.

“We fell in love with Jude’s story as soon as we read it,” reveals Hannah Shields, co-founder of Liver and Lung.

“Hanya Yanagihara is a genius and we knew right away that his lyrics had an evocative and expressive musicality,” she adds.

During the long pandemic “hiatus” from live theater, Liver and Lung continued their musical recording projects, which have now become an important subgenre in terms of expanding theatrical content beyond the live stage. It is one of the few independent theater companies here to have tackled confinement head-on, offering virtual and digital content to young theater audiences.

In December 2020, Liver and Lung released their first music recording project with Mahsuri (and other special tales), a six-song digital album based on the legend of Mahsuri, and followed it up with the Sepet musical soundtrack in July 2021, which included 13 independent folk tunes. Mahsuri (and other special tales) was also released as an online short in January 2021.

The recent Songs inspired by A Little Life The release of the musical album will now be followed by a familiar musical outing from young theater makers Shafeeq Shajahan (playwright/director) and Shields (playwright/choreographer), who have formed Liver and Lung, a Malaysian-British partnership in 2014.

Stage novel

This week, Liver and Lung returns to the stage with their popular show Sepet the Musical at PJPac, 1 Utama mall. The series of shows, with some nights already sold out, will run from February 24-27 and March 4-5.

The musical is based on that of the late filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad Sepet, a classic of contemporary Malaysian cinema released in 2005. New songs, written by Shafeeq and his collaborator Badrish Bahadur, will be part of this upcoming stage production.

Irena Taib (of indie band The Impatient Sisters) will also add a bigger sound to the musical, with new instrumentation and arrangements.

SepetThe beloved Jason and Orked characters will be played by Joshua Anthony and Badrika Baluch.

Shafeeq mentions how this musical has also been scaled up, with the addition of new elements and interactive surprises to delight old and new audiences alike.

Sepet the Musical was originally staged in September 2019 and continues to delight audiences.

“There is something special in what Yasmin Ahmad left us. Over the years, we have been honored to pay tribute to his iconic film,” says Shafeeq.

“We continually see people from all walks of life come to watch the show and they always get something out of it,” he adds.

The past two years have been a tough time for theater companies to keep afloat.

Still, Liver and Lung continued with online broadcasts and new projects such as music albums. He also helped put together KLoud Fest, a digital event collaboration with DiverseCity, which featured movies, music and comedy last March.

“The pandemic may have slowed us down, but I’m confident we have the ability to rock the world with Malaysian-made music,” says Badrish.

Shafeeq is looking forward to an eventful year, with in-person shows and digital projects. Collaborations between young theater actors from the Malaysian and British scene are also on the program.

“We seek to train the next generation of composers, actors, writers and directors. We truly believe that KL can be the Asian hub for the arts,” says Shafeeq.

As far as local theater is concerned, the recovery process remains a challenge, particularly in restoring interest in musicals and plays. Each new live production is an important step forward.

Shafeeq remains optimistic about the future of the theater scene in KL.

“Malaysia has such diversity in its stories, we should showcase it for others to enjoy,” he concludes.