By : FARIDUL ANWAR FARINORDIN
Stephen and Tiara in their lead roles in Puteri Gunung Ledang: The Musical.
The executive producer and leading star of the highly successful theatre musical Puteri Gunung Ledang discloses to FARIDUL ANWAR FARINORDIN the exciting changes planned for the show’s third season, and her impending adieu to her famed role.
|The cast and crew of PGL season 3.|
DATIN Seri Tiara Jacquelina was teary-eyed when she announced that the upcoming third season of Puteri Gunung Ledang the Musical (PGL) will see her playing the legendary puteri (princess), for the last time.
After six years of pouring blood, sweat and tears into the mystical character (also known as the Javanese princess Gusti Putri Retno Dumilah), saying goodbye to PGL (Enfiniti Production’s theatrical debut) doesn’t come easy.
Tiara, the show’s executive producer, has seen her “baby” become Malaysia’s favourite stage musical.
“Gusti Putri has been a big part of my life for the past six years,” she said at her home in Kuala Lumpur recently.
“Saying goodbye to her is like saying goodbye to my best friend.
“I know her very well and love her so much – I even know her scent!”
She described PGL’s achievements, locally and abroad and both as film effort and a theatre musical (it won eight awards at the 5th Annual Boh Cameronian Arts Awards in 2007), as “something my team and I had never dreamed of”.
“I have had a full adventure. I have taken it as far as I can and I hope it has contributed to the theatre industry,” she said.
PGL the Musical certainly has. Since its premiere in February 2006, it is has re-ignited our passion for local theatre.
It is a production that pushes all the right buttons. The aggressive public relations machinery, sponsorship and brilliant marketing strategy helped to a greater extent, but the bottom line is that PGL showed how it’s supposed to be done.
Directed by Zahim Al-Bakri and Adlin Aman Ramlie, the show is based on the critically acclaimed 2004 film directed by Saw Teong Hin, also starring Tiara.
The tragic love story left the audience awed, amazed and emotionally charged. Crowning the tight ensemble performance were Raja Malek’s set design, Pat Ibrahim’s choreography and Singapore composer Dick Lee’s music; simply bewitching.
The first season was extended due to popular demand and it was not a surprise when the second run opened in August that same year. Later in November, it met audiences at Singapore’s Esplanade Theatre in sold-out performances.
Back home, PGL’s successful runs left theatre-goers hungry for more.
But PGL did not only create a new generation of theatre lovers. It also raised the bar where local productions are concerned.
When Enfinity’s second theatrical production opened in 2007 and was restaged in 2008, it was clear that Malaysians had developed a discerning taste for Malaysian musicals.
One thing, however, is certain – not all formula-styled musicals work.
Following the success of PGL, many theatre companies attempted the formula with tales of love, loss, forgiveness, hope and courage.
Some were based on the life and times of political figures (Ibu Zain, Cheng Lock, Tunku and Putra, while others were inspiring stories of fame and friendship (M! The Opera and Broken Bridges). There was even a story about a singing frog (Frogway!).
A few were hurriedly put together to meet the growing demand from the new theatre lovers, and as a result, there were more misses than hits.
The recent Impak Maksima the Musical, probably inspired by PGL’s movie-to-stage formula, was a theatrical nightmare.
The audience, now aware that we are capable of producing musicals which are at par with the imported shows (Mamma Mia!, Beauty and the Beast, Cats, Saturday Night Fever and Fame), do not expect anything less. And they surely won’t forgive leading roles who can’t carry a tune.
Now, PGL has taken a life on its own. There will be more stagings, no doubt, just as how other good musicals are continuously revived and restaged for decades.
But Tiara doesn’t see herself playing the role again.
“I hope that PGL will live on. The story is so compelling and beautiful. There will be new blood in the show and I will continue to be its producer,” she said.
At the moment, Ida Mariana who plays the servant Bayan in the musical, is her understudy.
Ida, a wonderful performer with an angel’s voice, leans towards jazz and Broadway. She would fit wonderfully into the princess’ shoes.
“I don’t know what will happen, really. Ida doesn’t seem so keen,” she said. Seated next to her, Ida simply smiled.
Perhaps Tiara could have a nationwide search for Puteri in a reality TV show, something that Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber did when he was looking for the actress to play Maria for the revival production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music (the TV show was called How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?)
“That’s a good idea,” Tiara said, her eyes widening.
After all, in theatre productions abroad, it is a standard practice for a character to be played by different actors.
“In Miss Saigon, Lea Salonga is synonymous with her role as the wronged lover Kim. But it’s the story and the songs that drive a musical, not the star,” she said.
Tiara also said that she wants to move on to other things.
“I want to climb new mountains. I feel I have so much more to learn and to give back to the industry. In order for me to grow, I need new challenges,” she said.
Among other things, Tiara wants to go back to producing and acting in films, perhaps even open a performing arts school.
“It’s still premature, but yes, that is one of the things that I want to do. That’s why my company started the StarMaker boot camp.
“Steve (Stephen Rahman-Hughes, who plays Hang Tuah in the musical) and I have been talking about it, asking ourselves what we want to pass on to the next generation of actors? What would we like to see in our industry?”
She hopes to see a generation of actors who are multi-talented in the many aspects of the performing arts.
“In order to see the industry grow, we have to do something about it. We can’t just sit and whine about not having enough of this and that.
The market is ready, but we must provide the content, consistently.”
While the first PGL was being put together, Tiara and her production team went on a series of study tours to watch theatre productions abroad, from Les Miserables to The Lion King.
For the show’s third season from Feb 6 to Feb 21, her team once again went abroad to look for new inspiration in order to keep the show fresh and exciting. They came back with something good.
“The third season will have elements of magic, illusions and special effects, something that we picked up from watching shows like Wicked (there’s a scene with a flying witch) and The Lord of the Rings: the Musical (think Gollum climbing the wall),” said Tiara.
Almost the entire choreography has also been changed.
“The puteri’s solo dance at the palace is entirely new,” she said, adding that the third season will be more refined in its execution.
“It’s going to be an emotional run for me. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like on the final night,” she said.
* Puteri Gunung Ledang: The Musical season three will be staged at Istana Budaya from Feb 6 to Feb 21. Tickets are priced at RM353, RM253, RM233, RM203, RM183, RM153, RM123, RM83, RM33 and are available at www.axcess.com.my. Call 03-7711-5000.