Cast playing the Harimau Malaya team in action

WHILE Ola Bola The Movie is inspiring and capable of moving one to tears, Ola Bola The Musical is equally so, only more dramatic, stylish and spellbinding.

Director Puan Sri Tiara Jacquelina delivered what she promised when the curtains unveiled this much-anticipated musical based on Chiu Keng Guan’s 2016 blockbuster about the national footballers’ battle to enter the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

Last Feb 7, Ola Bola The Musical heralded the reopening of the newly renovated Panggung Sari at Istana Budaya, Jalan Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur and the moment audiences stepped into the hall, they were transported into a virtual Stadium Merdeka — large LED screens formed a semi-circle along the stage, portraying a stadium filled with cheering fans, supported by a surround sound system.

The state-of-the-art technology used for the first time in Istana Budaya was as good as Tiara had promised. Sometimes the screens acted as the background, but they also displayed graphic illustrations that helped the story-telling, especially in the second half.

Here, the screens enhanced the moods of key players, depicting life-like roaring tigers springing for the kill in the final match against South Korea.

The cast, young but talented, sang, rapped, danced and acted their hearts out from the word “go”. Luqman Hafidz and Lim Jian Wen easily reprised their roles as footballers Ahmad Ali and Ong Tiam Cai respectively, while Brian Chan (team captain “Towkay” Chow Kok Keong), Abimanyu Masilamani (goalkeeper “Spider-Man” Muthu Kumar) and Kai Chalmers (new striker “Balak” Eric Yong) also played their parts commendably, thanks to their five years’ theatre experience.

Iedil Putra Alaudin (of Interchange and Terbaik Dari Langit fame) was excellent as commentator Rahman Ramli, and was the first to get a big hand when he stepped on stage. His wit captivated everyone and his original take on the character (inspired by the famous sportscaster and artiste Datuk Rahim Razali) was as good as actor Bront Palarae’s in the movie.

Iedil gave enthusiastic commentaries that constantly touched fans’ hearts. He had a fantastic way with words — getting “copy” and “kopi” for his superiors — and he wonderfully celebrated the arrival of British coach Harry Mountain (a spot-on Stephen Rahman-Hughes) with the song Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

Of the new characters, Nazura Hanum tickled as the footballers’ nagging bureaucrat boss Cik Kiah while comedian Douglas Lim was a class act as the critical kopitiam owner Mr Wong. His best line was one where he described skipper Kok Keong as a man who loved red cards — because they signified prosperity!

As for the emotional characters, Nave VJ nailed it as Muthu’s father who discouraged his eldest son from getting involved in the beautiful game, and Melissa Ong was sympathetic as Kok Keong’s long-suffering sister Chow Mei Ling who resented him for “holding-back” her dream of studying in the UK.

A scene showing Mr Wong’s customers watching TV.

Hip-hop icon Altimet was a crowd favourite, too, and got a standing ovation the moment he appeared. Playing “ultimate nightmare” Sarjan Ahmad, the footballers’ boot camp captain, he looked fierce as a military officer and was brutal when he commanded them with his rapping that was enhanced by cartoons of their training.

Altimet also did a fantastic job creating the musical’s 20 songs together with Mia Palencia. These perfectly set each scene and the tense rapping aptly reflected the players’ anger, especially hot-headed Ali’s.

The most powerful tunes were Luar Biasa, Heart Of A Tiger and Believe Again. These pumped up the audiences’ love and sympathy for the players and also brought tears to their eyes. All of the games were beautifully choreographed by Stephen, and saw slow motion movements tied to street dance, breakdance and slow-motion waltzes.

As for the script, it was truly Malaysian, with the characters speaking English, Malay, Cantonese and Tamil. Best of all, traditional tunes such as Bangau Oh Bangau and Lompat Si Katak Lompat were given a new twist to amplify fans’ appreciation of the players.

Two weaknesses cropped up though — in one scene Ah Cai appeared irritating, despite having gained patience from Sarjan Ahmad’s bootcamp. In another, Muthu’s father sounded mean saying that the brilliant goalie was no longer his boy.

But nothing dampened the spirits of Tiara’s ensemble and the audience gave a roaring applause at the end of the 150-minute show.

Ola Bola The Musical truly injected pride in fans, who cheered and sang with their dream team. It cemented in their minds the message of unity, friendship and teamwork. Heart-tugging lyrics, fascinating choreography and stellar acting combined to make it an all-time masterpiece.

Kudos to the 200-strong cast and crew for a performance that was truly luar biasa (extraordinary).

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