On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Love story that reaches out to all

Rather than stick to a conventional but financially safe approach, Sheila and Tiara Jacquelina have adopted innovative but risky steps to make themselves different and thus make Malaysians sit up and notice them. 

Sheila is known for her classy, jazzy genre while Tiara Jacquelina has created history – Puteri Gunung Ledang: The Musical has enjoyed a successful encore season. 

It is a record in the making for Malaysian theatre to have a second season after the first one; and more so when every night has been sold-out. 

The principal cast has remained the same with Tiara Jacquelina as the gutsy Puteri and Stephen Rahman Hughes as Hang Tuah, the warrior. 

Like the first season, the organisers have noticed that at least 30% of the audience have consistently been non-Malays. 

There are many who watched the movie – and also both runs of the musical – and have not become tired of this RM1.8mil production. It has already set the record for being the longest-running local musical. 

Everyone loves a love story. This one is about forbidden love between Hang Tuah and the mystical princess Gusti Raden Ajeng Retino Damilah. 

When the princess rejected the advances of Sultan Mahmud, she was banished to Gunung Ledang, or Mount Ophir as it is sometimes called. 

As a way of saying no to him, she insisted that she would marry the Sultan only if he built a golden bridge and a silver bridge linking her mountain to his palace. He was also to send her seven trays of mosquito hearts, seven jars of virgins' tears as well as a bowl containing the blood of the Sultan's son. 

The story goes, until today, that the spirit of the princess continues to roam the mountain in Johor. 

But the musical is a truly Malaysian work. The creative team comprises talents like Roslan Aziz, Zahim Albakri, Saw Teong Him and Mac Chan while the musicians are equally multi-racial with names like Jason Voo, Abdul Malek Kanasabathy, Eric Lee, Pearly Ng and Mohd Rizad Mohd Kasim. 

More than 30,000 people watched the first season, and this season's run attracted another 26,000 people. But all are predominantly from the Klang Valley. 

It is a shame because the musical deserves a bigger audience. People, especially those in Penang and Johor Baru, would love to watch it but there are simply no theatres with good acoustic and lighting systems in those cities.  

But Singapore always recognises a good thing when it sees one. While we debate whether we should extend the business hours of clubs in Kuala Lumpur to cater to tourists, we are not even thinking of securing government backing for musicals. 

Singapore is doing just that. They carry out massive publicity campaigns on their world-class theatre shows and concerts but in Malaysia, it is just a private venture. Unless you have deep pockets or you have sponsorship from mobile phone companies, you are entering a risky business. 

Which businessman would want to put a multi-million ringgit deal for a night's concert where you can run foul of the Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry for even the slightest flaw? 

Well, a 20-man delegation watched PGL: The Musical last week, approached the organisers, and insisted on signing the papers on the spot. There was no need for the series of endless meetings that we are famous for. 

So, PGL: The Musical will soon be performed at the Esplanade in Singapore. This is the sad part. Many Malaysians still haven't watched the musical and are still sceptical when told that it is of West End standard. 

They find it hard to believe – after all it is only a local production – and in any case, we can find millions of ringgit to build a sports training centre in Britain but we will never put money to build good theatres. 

Malaysians who missed the show will now have to travel to Singapore to see it, which is really a pity. Let's hope it will do a third season in Kuala Lumpur, perhaps during the school holidays next year as part of our run-up to the 50th Merdeka anniversary. 

This is a show we can be proud of. Just before the musical's curtains went up last week, the audience stood up to sing the Negaraku. I could feel goose pimples as the crowd sang the national anthem. 

Patriotism does not mean putting up the Jalur Gemilang for the municipal council officers to see. To put it simply, many wrap the national flag around their hearts and we love Malaysia just as much. 

And it is not just listening to politicians but supporting a local project, sometimes just a musical or a CD, but let's do a good job instead of just making empty rhetoric that we want to be of world-class standard.