OlaBola and the powerful play!

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IT is perhaps a blessing that Malaysian theatre never previously took a bite off of the world’s former paradigm for stage arts. But now, with new technologies, with new mediums of expression, Ola Bola The Musical can perhaps be a testament for Malaysia’s readiness to make this country – no – this region, a landmine for a new form of arts and theatre.

The minute you walk into the hall, you’re enveloped by an ambience that brings you back to Stadium Merdeka in the 1980s. It’s a clever use of audio from the roar of the crowd and the live drums. The audience is faced with three huge screens that completes the Stadium Merdeka illusion.

Throughout the show, these screens are used eloquently with the rest of the set to really connect the audience with where director Tiara Jacquelina wants to take us. As exposed by The Sun, there will be an act where a helicopter lands on stage. The choreography and graphics used in this act alone makes Petrosains look outdated.

Ola Bola The Musical is adapted from the 2016 movie Ola Bola. Inspired by true events of the Malaysian football team’s journey to the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, the story follows “Tauke” Chow Kwok Keong, the team Captain who was die-hard determined to lead the Harimau Malaya to the Olympics.

Evolving a movie into a stage performance comes with its own difficulties. The audience will always scrutinise which part gets left out and which part gets changed.

Yet watching the end result, you get the sense that Tiara Jacquelina and her team entered this challenge not to completely mimic the movie but to provide more to the plot in ways that only theatre performances can. If anything, I would say the character relationships in the musical were more developed than in the movie.

The script provided everything from comedy to hopeless dejection. You feel what the characters were going through. And when it was time to be proud of Malaysia as Ola Bola was bound to bring the audience followed.

We don’t have to be Broadway. We don’t have to be West End. Those are the entertainments of the past decades for a different culture. Just as Miyazaki films streamline a Japanese identity readily commercialised for the whole world, Ola Bola signals for a Malaysian melting pot of art that can confidently lure the world audience. There’s no need to compare ourselves to the Phantom of the Opera or the Wicked. Let them come to us.

“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

Government agencies have always tried their best to channel money into the theatre industry. But the issue has never totally been about funding. It is about the passion for storytelling, the love of sharing an experience. And in a country where storytelling comes in diverse forms, it is always a challenge to determine which medium will play to the greatest gallery. But Ola Bola has found a chord that all Malaysians can sing to.

The performance outlines a seamless transition between the old and the new. The music score highlights tints of traditional melodies alongside raps that help fuel the story; all the more underlining the great amount of talent needed to be part of this cast.

Moreover, whilst other languages have been slow to pass the test of rap, the elegance of the hip hop featured on this Istana Budaya stage is another example to why Bahasa Malaysia suits elegantly in the beats and bars that rapping brings forth; an idea that is scary for some but exciting to the youth. Even in the use of the stage and props, the creative team weaves effortlessly from digital projectors to traditional stage set-ups, ensuring the audience is left wanting to see more of both.

With such a star-studded cast, it’s worthy to anticipate Altimet’s entrance; there was a lot the audience could look forward to. But since the show’s premier on 8 February, everyone has been commending the singing talent of Muthu ‘Spiderman,’ the goalkeeper played by Abi Manyu; the vibrato in his solo literally shook the seats.

Stephen Rahman-Hughes who plays coach Harry Mountain also commanded the stage with his vocals and classy stage presence. Douglas Lim who plays Uncle Wong is a crowd favorite for bringing the laughs.

Ola Bola The Musical earns its right to be shown in the grand architecture of Istana Budaya. Whilst Malaysia has always focused on building great pillars for business, engineering, medicine, law – and whilst these studies are necessary to improve our quality of life – it is the pursuit of poetry, beauty, romance, passion and love that fulfills these vast halls with meaning.

Just as the Ola Bola movie was intended to inspire generations to believe in Malaysia’s football team, this musical has similarly defined a new paradigm and standard for Malaysia’s creative arts.

Here come the days of Malaysian theatre.

“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”


**The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Astro AWANI.

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