Marie Claire has partnered with Enfiniti to give away 20 tickets to five lucky readers to an early show of Ola Bola the Musical. The preview will be held on 7 February 2018 at Istana Budaya. Head over to our Instagram @marieclairemalaysia to find out how to win!
The stage is set. The lack of curtains gives me a clear view of the forty-odd cast members all decked out in Ola Bola jerseys. I’m dubious about the idea of singing footballers, but I settle into my seat for the first act rehearsal.
Talk about screen-to-stage projects and throw in a musical for measure. It’s no mean feat – working on a different space, medium, without the luxury of cameras to pan up close, musical theatre is as raw as it gets—there are no second takes or do-overs. Based on true events and the film Ola Bola by director Chiu Keng Guan, Ola Bola the Musical is a fictional story set in 1980s, loosely based on Malaysia’s national football team Harimau Malaya and their hard-earned inspirational journey to the Moscow 1980 Olympics.
Having starred in and produced the nation’s infamous sold-out musicals like Puteri Gunung Ledang and P. Ramlee the Musical, Tiara Jacquelina made the decision to make her musical directorial debut with Ola Bola the Musical. “A multi-cultural story is one I love to do. It’s not so much about the football, but more of the heart in the story. For the past 20 years, we haven’t gotten a story as beautiful as Ola Bola. I can’t not do this story. If I don’t, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.” You don’t need to be a massive follower of football or Ola Bola to enjoy the musical. I find myself chortling at a cleverly staged kopitiam scene when an antagonist subtly broke the fourth wall.
That being said, if you’re here to watch a football match play out in a controlled theatre with a predetermined outcome, Tiara promises that is exactly what you will get. She speaks about one of her bigger challenges: to recreate the spirit and bustling energy of a football stadium filled with 50,000 people. Another factor that casted doubt on her role as director was the knowledge she lacked. “Some have said, ‘You’re a woman, what do you know about football?'” Tiara admits, following a joke about having a crush on the Portugese heartthrob Cristiano Ronaldo. But what she doesn’t know, she makes up for it by roping in the best to make this musical happen. Malaysian short film director and comedian Shamaine Othman and Tiara herself helm the story-writing process, singer-songwriter Mia Palencia who opened the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games and award-winning Altimet are the power duo who collaborate to score the lyrics and music, while Raja Malek, production designer for the award-winning Puteri Gunung Ledang musical makes the stage come to live. “All of these actors and choreographers, they play football. I made sure whatever we were doing made sense. I’m learning – as I go along.”
When auditions opened in March last year, Tiara made it clear that football skills are the first thing she looked for in the cast. On top of that, singing, dancing, rapping, and acting. You may see some familiar faces on stage – Luqman Hafidz reprises his role as lead character Ali, while Lim Jian Wen takes on his unforgettable role of comedic relief Chai. Both of them went through auditions just like everyone else, though Tiara was surprised that she had film stars auditioning for her musical. “It wasn’t my intention to cast stars. I was a bit hesitant – film stars, you’re already acting in a film, and to go through theatre, to start from scratch – it can be a humiliating journey to start from scratch with everyone else,” Tiara says. “But Luqman and Jian Wen have been so committed to their roles – so disciplined, willing to learn, and I have nothing but respect for them.”
Despite scoring local television gigs, Ali was undoubtedly Luqman’s first big role in Malaysian film that cast him into the spotlight. I hear the enthusiasm in his voice as he speaks about his character: “That’s why I wanted to try my luck at auditions. It’s not that I don’t want to give the character to someone else, I just have strong sentimental feelings towards Ali.” Like the original film, the musical is an equally heart-stopping emotional roller coaster. In one scene, you have the audience giggling over Muthu’s (Abimanyu) young brothers mimicking professional footballers; in the next, the audience hold their breaths as Tauke (Brian Chan) and his sister Mei Ling (Melissa Ong) deliver a heart-rending ballad during the musical’s pivotal scene; cut to another where Rahman (Iedil Putra) the aspiring football commentator screams, “Goal! Go-go-go-go-go-goaaal!”
It took a while for Tiara to envision the sound of Ola-Bola. “These are mat bolas, it’s gritty and sweaty. They would rap! I can feel the energy and attitude from a footballer – the have the flair, ego, and confidence.” The musical centers around rap, hip-hop, and the occasional ballad.
“My main concerns were dancing and singing, because it was new to me,” Luqman tells me about the time he took a page out of American rapper Nelly’s book by sticking a plaster on his cheek for a roughed-up look. “I needed the groove and look!” I later realise he’s referring to the rapper’s Hot In Herre music video.
“He practiced with the plaster on his face the whole day!” Tiara bursts out in laughter.
And what does the original Ola Bola film director Chiu Keng Guan think about the shift from screen-to-stage? “He too couldn’t imagine what a film to stage Ola-Bola would be like.” Tiara says. “[Chiu] asked me, ‘Tiara, so Ali and Tauke will sing?’ It wasn’t until he sat in on one of the rehearsals that he understood. He has been very supportive.” It’s intriguing for both director and audience to see one of the nation’s most emotionally engaging films brought to life, live on stage this month.
Catch Ola Bola the Musical at Istana Budaya from 8 February to 11 March 2018. Purchase your tickets at http://www.galactix.asia/olabola-musical, and visit http://www.olabolamusical.com for more information.