OUR FIRST REVIEW IS OUT!!!!!
Sunday June 1, 2008
A legend returns
By MARTIN VENGADESAN
If anyone can do justice to the memory of P. Ramlee, it’s a long-time impersonator who has made a name for himself by imitating the inimitable legend.
AN absolutely inspired bit of casting has breathed new life into P. Ramlee The Musical making it a joyous occasion that ought to touch even the most hard-hearted and unsentimental of theatre goers.
While there is no doubting the polished skill of Sean Ghazi who played the role with aplomb during its first run last year, long-time P. Ramlee impersonator Musly Ramlee has taken the musical to a whole new level with his boyish enthusiasm.
The late Tan Sri P. Ramlee was above all someone who loved life and lived it with passion, combining a sharp talent and fierce work ethic with the ability to make rash and naive decisions, often in pursuit of a woman or his dreams.
Liza Hanim as Saloma and Musly Ramlee playing P. Ramlee to perfection.
Musly Ramlee may have just stepped into the role with six weeks of rehearsal time but he has been a P. Ramlee impersonator for many years and he makes that work for him in a big way.
Audience, critics and, according to insider accounts, even the cast members themselves, were all won over by his charming portrayal of one of our nation’s favourite sons.
But he was far from the only reason that P. Ramlee The Musical was such an engrossing watch. There were sterling turns from Melissa Saila as his explosive second wife Norizan and Liza Hanim as the sweet but flirtatious third wife Saloma, while comic relief came from Joseph Gonzales as veteran director B.S. Rajhans and Colin Kirton and Douglas Lim, who played the Shaw brothers.
I also really have to take my hat off to set designer Raja Malik and his entire team. Working in tandem with lighting designer Teo Kuang Han, the full magnitude of the Istana Budaya’s potential was realised. The set switches were immaculate, and we were treated to seamless transitions with split screens, train stations, a swinging nightclub and more.
The cinematic vibe of the whole production was enhanced by the fact that the story was told in flashbacks, and interspersed with newspaper clippings and television footage.
The scene where Ramlee sneaks into a cinema to watch a movie that we the audience can also see was just one example of the clever use of set and light design.
Frankly, I couldn’t help but think of how favourably P. Ramlee compared with last year’s Cheng Lock (if only because the thought of Ramlee bursting into song was a lot more plausible than the prospect of the late Tun Tan doing so!).
Sure, there was the odd moment of nervousness from the performers and occasionally (especially in the earlier stages of the performance) not every singer could be heard clearly but, by and large, this was gripping stuff.
And that’s no mean feat considering that the whole thing ran for more than three hours!
While some may baulk at such a length, one can only imagine how difficult it is to try and condense the great man’s life into so short a span of time.
His romances alone, with childhood love Azizah (played this time by Emelda Rosmila Hamid who replaced Datuk Siti Nurhaliza), first wife Junaidah (Atilia Haron), Norizan and Saloma were enough to keep us busy.
The story of Ramlee’s life unfolded very well, with different flashpoints such as his youth in Penang, early struggles in Singapore, later triumphs as a star and final years in Kuala Lumpur all given their due.
As far the music and choreography go, I have no complaints either. Veteran producer Roslan Aziz (who helmed Sheila Majid’s P. Ramlee tribute album Lagenda back in the early 90s) has replaced Indonesia’s Erwin Gutawa in arranging the music written by Dick Lee and the songs helped set the scene.
Despite the pizzazz of the jazz-tinged music, they simply couldn’t compare with the affection with which the audiences treated every Ramlee original. Whenever the familiar strains of a classic like Azizah or Getaran Jiwa was heard, the audiences simply went wild (and, apparently, this happened during the musicals’ recent run in Singapore too).
While many of the songs were moving ballads that told of Ramlee’s romantic nature (and my, were they handled well by Musly), his progress as a star was told largely in song by Gonzales, Kirton and Lim and by a series of paparazzi sketches.
I must confess my Malay is sufficiently weak that I did spend most of the show with my neck craned just to catch the subtitles that were screened above the stage, but that’s a minor complaint as I have to laud the producers for thinking of everything.
I’ve never really been a fan of Ramlee’s music (until now, perhaps) and I can only imagine what an essential experience this musical would be for his fans. That they managed to evoke a bygone era that we should remember fondly, is another plus.
Ironically, in his keenness to pay tribute to the master, Musly Ramlee, the hitherto unknown 40-year-old father of four from Bagan Datoh, Perak (who won a Bintang P. Ramlee competition as far back as 1996) may have just become Malaysia’s newest star.
# P. Ramlee The Musical will be staged nightly at Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur, until June 14 at 8.30pm, with additional 3pm matinees during weekends. For more information, visit www.pramleethemusical.com. For ticketing information, call 03-7711 5000 or go to www.axcess.com.my.