By JOHAN JAAFFAR
OlaBola The Musical sets a new standard in local production. It is a feel-good musical with a patriotic twist! It is a must-watch musical for all Malaysians.
I have reservations when successful movies are made into musicals. OlaBola is one of the most successful Malaysian films in recent memory. Directed by Chiu Keng Guan, who also helmed the hugely successful The Journey (2014), OlaBola collected more than RM16mil at the box office.
OlaBola has all the trappings of a successful film. It is indeed a Malaysian film in every sense of the word – with multi-ethnic talents at their best. The story itself is dramatic – a determined Malaysian football team wanting to make a mark at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.
But fate has it, Malaysia decided to boycott the Olympics that year like many other countries. The players were told about it, half-way through the qualifying final match with South Korea. Devastated, they had to decide whether to soldier on or give up.
It was not about going to the Olympics anymore. It was about pride, overcoming their helplessness and frustration and above all about patriotism.
They won in a true Malaysian spirit.
Puan Sri Tiara Jacquelina knows it is risky to bring OlaBola to the stage. There is no guarantee that a successful film can be turned into a successful musical. For one, film audience are less discerning than stage audience. The stage as a medium is one that is more personal; the audience is part of the whole theatrical construct.
Bend It Like Beckham was a box office success, catapulting among others, Keira Knightley to stardom. Directed by Gurinder Chadha in 2002, it was more about aspiring young female footballers than about the iconic David Beckham. It was about girl power as well as the British-Asian immigrant community in London.
The success of the film inspired a musical version at West End in London. It ran for nine months after its opening on June 24 2015. By West End standard, it didn’t do too well. Successful musicals play for years.
Tiara is known to take risks, make headlines and turn heads. A fledgling actress in the 1980s, she was part of the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) theatre troupe which I was involved. She carved her name as a stage and film actress over the years with sheer tenacity and hard work. She made Puteri Gunung Ledang (PGL) the film, which won her the Best Actress Award at the Asia Film Festival in 2005. She brought PGL to stage, making it the first ever local world-class-standard musical to grace Istana Budaya.
Her Enfiniti Production brought P. Ramlee The Musical to stage and produced Mud, the musical about Kuala Lumpur, in collaboration with Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur.
OlaBola The Musical is loud and boisterous. But the story is well-woven without hints of exaggeration and mindless propagandising. The major characters have their own stories to tell – sometimes heart-wrenching but against the odds, they prevail. Kudos to the cast, many of whom are new, untested actors. These young actors and actresses have proven their worth. Brian Chan (playing the Tauke), Luqman Hafidz (Ali), Abi Manyu (Spiderman Muthu), Jian Wen (Ong Tiam Chai), Kai Chalmers (Eric) and Melissa Ong (Mei Ling) are a pleasure to watch.
The only recognisable face on stage is actor Iedil Putra (playing Rahman the radio commentator) is superb. And there is the stylish Altimet playing Sergeant Ahmad and the hilarious Douglas Lim as Uncle Wong. I must give credit to even actors with minor roles as they, too, shine.
It is a delight watching Stephen Rahman-Hughes on stage bringing the discipline and toughness to the young Malaysian team as Coach Harry Mountain. We need to see more of him after PGL and OlaBola The Musical.
It is quite a feat to put up a show like this, involving almost 200 cast and crew. The technical demands too are not easy to execute. The music, lighting and choreography are almost flawless.
But a play about football must also feature the ball as an integral part of the setting. In fact, the second half of the musical – where the ball is kicked, dribbled and scored – demanded precision which the crew and the technical team executed with finesse.
The scenes are suspenseful, delightful and exhilarating … it is almost like we are cheering for the team in the stadium. It was truly a theatrical splendour.