Tiara Jacquelina Raises The Bar For M’sian Theatre With 'OlaBola The Musical'

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One would expect nothing less than to witness a spectacular first show of the year put up by Malaysia’s award-winning entertainment powerhouse, Enfiniti, after a year’s worth of hard work adapting Chiu Keng Guan’s 2016 film ‘Ola Bola’.

Director Puan Sri Tiara Jacquelina is no stranger to musicals, having acted in a prestigious few to boot like Puteri Gunung Ledang, and during the opening night last night (Feb 8), at the newly renovated Istana Budaya, Malaysian Digest had the opportunity to be part of her reimagined masterpiece about the glory days of the national football team.

Stepping inside the theatre, we were transported into an atmosphere that was enlivened with cheers and uplifting beats, and the large crowd of thousands that filled Stadium Merdeka were chanting ‘Malaysia! Malaysia! Malaysia!’.

With the football field being in our wide view, we were immersed right away. Slumped in our seats, we time travelled all the way to the 1970s and 1980s when the Harimau Malaya wore their stripes boldly on the road to the Moscow Olympics.

Through the simple game of football, passion and determination drives five heroes, Brian Chan (Chow Kwok Keong or Tauke), Muhd Luqman Hafidz (Ali), Abimanyu Masilamani (Muthu or Spiderman), Kai Chalmers (Eric), Lim Jian Wen (Ong Tiam Cai or Ah Chai) to battle through their struggles for a once in a lifetime chance for glory.

The story of the multicultural team that eventually overcomes all odds and unites for the sake of the country, was further brought to life with the outstanding performances by experienced casts like Iedil Putra who plays Rahman, a sports commentator who has wits to charm the audience as well as Douglas Lim as Mr Wong, who was a natural, especially in making the crowd burst into laughter.

And while he may have been Tiara’s ‘Hang Tuah’ in Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical, seasoned West End actor, Stephen Rahman-Hughes’ role as the national team coach, Harry Mountain from the UK, was no different. He was a hero in his own right, on and off stage – for his exceptional vocals and lending a hand in the musical’s exhilarating choreography, recreating the football matches (guess it pays off to be a Liverpool fan!).

Their journey was further enhanced by the extravagant set with photo-realistic backgrounds and some graphic novel-like visuals, combined with state-of-the-art lighting. And as you’d expect, no musical is complete without singing, dancing and music, but when kicks and dribbles are incorporated into the routine with slow-motion movements, it’s really something else.

There was also unstoppable energy on stage throughout and we felt the catchy hip-hop grooves as well as the outstanding display by the b-boy dance crew added a new flavour to Malaysian theatre which certainly struck a chord with younger audiences.

Thanks to local hip-hop genius Altimet who composed songs for the soundtrack, and his collaboration on lyrics with singer-songwriter Mia Palencia proved to leave us with memorable hooks that made us sing along during the show. (Heads up, he also has an interesting role in the musical and seemed to be a favourite among screaming fans!)

Also notable to highlight the smart mashup between rap, rock and traditional sounds under the music direction of Saiful Ridzuan, better known as Duan of Seven Collared T-Shirt, was in a class of its own. We literally had a ball of a time throughout the jam-packed two-hour spectacle that we didn’t bother checking our watches to see what time it was – only to realise our show had ended slightly before midnight.

Detailed, grandeur and filled with emotions, OlaBola The Musical boasts a talented cast and crew that left their hearts out on stage and that underlying passion is one that all theatre lovers would definitely appreciate. It is as if this was the glimmer of hope that was needed for the future of the arts in our country.

Tiara’s work always excites us regardless as an actor or producer, and this time around it wasn’t any different with her directing debut that’s not shy of being a hair’s breadth away from any world-class West End musical.

Is this a level of artistry that we can be proud of to achieve? Most definitely.

If you have no plans this weekend, we’d certainly recommend watching this show. It runs from now till March 11, and tickets are priced from a reasonable RM50, so get yours at www.olabolamusical.com.