Friday, February 13, 2009

Theater Review : Puteri Gunung Ledang – The Musical Season 3 at Istana Budaya

When I heard that the show was being restaged in KL, I was obviously excited since it was one of the best local shows that I’ve seen in the past years. A flurry of emails, SMS messages and calls were then made within the usual suspects before we finally decide on the date to go watch the show. After purchasing and waiting for the date to arrive, I finally got to see the show again last night with a few of my friends who for some was their first time see the grand spectacle. As for me personally, the performance last night left me with mixed feelings that I’m still trying to sort out.

I did not see any performances of Season 2 or the Singapore shows so my only point of reference to compare Season’s 3 show is with the Season 1 run. Considering that it has been announced that this would be the last season in which Tiara Jacquelina will be playing the title role of Puteri, I would suggest that comparing the show now with how it was in Season 1 would be a fair one to chart the progress and improvements that have been done to the show in the past 3 years.

Overall, it was clear from the start that PGL Season 3 is a more refined and polished product than it was during the first run. Sets were more elaborate and better used to showcase the actors while they were performing. Part of me missed the minimalist set design from Season 1 as it was an adventure to imagine what little we saw on stage in the bigger picture of where the scene was suppose to be placed. Having said that, this would apply more to those who have seen the earlier seasons and not to those who Season 3 is their first experience of the show.

I also felt that the acting and vocal performances, especially from the primary characters, were much improved from Season 1. Having immersed themselves in the character, for some from all of the seasons that this show has been on, the actors were able to convey the best of the nuanced performances we expect from the character. Both leads, Tiara and Stephen, performed more confidently than they did in Season 1 as well as did AC Mizal and Adlin in their respective roles. Special mention this time around would have to go to the “dancing king” Adlin whose “Titah Sultan” sequence nearly brought the house down with sheer dancing exuberance. Last but not least, I felt that Ida Marina’s portrayal of Bayan was serviceable for the character although I missed the much nuanced portrayal of Bayan by Sukania Venugopal in the first season.

The most hyped about addition in Season 3 was the new inclusion of illusions and sleight of hand in some of the scenes. For the most part, these new additions made for a richer experience watching the show. Disappearing and quick change acts that were included added a layer of welcomed mystique to the show about people who legends says had magical powers. While some did serve the purpose, others were too subtle or small to be noticed by any but those that sat near the stage. In particular, the levitating of the flower petal and the red light used to revive the spirits of the warriors in the forest could be easily missed by those seating in the cheap seats.

By the end of the show, I felt that Act 2 of the show was very well done and much stronger than it was in Season 1. I have to say that I was slightly disappointed by the changes that was in Act 1 which I felt was the most changed from how it was in the first run. I’ve always felt that Act 1 of PGL didn’t only sets the exposition for characters but also revealed the pathos that molded their characters. Most of it was inherent in their lines but some were revealed more in their portrayal of the characters. Unfortunate for me, I felt that the Act 1 yesterday felt fairly sanitized of underlying currents that added another layer to the character. This would definitely not be missed by those who are seeing for the first time but for us who experienced that magic moment in the debut season, the omission will be missed.

Case in point was the new arrangement from “Keranamu Kekasih” which I felt sounded too commercialized. I remember this sequence as being the defining moment for Tuah’s character as a lover to be parted from his love. There was an earnestness in the measured delivery with the original arrangement that seemed to be missing with the more underwhelming moment that I saw last night. There were even comments from the group that the song felt like it has been sung too many times and that the more “pop-ish” arrangement didn’t do justice to the moment.

The biggest sin of the night for me personally was the ending of Act 1 with Puteri’s “Titanic” moment. While it was a spectacle in it’s own right, ending the act with that scene diminished the emotional impact of Bayan’s sacrifice that preceded it. Of the many memorable scenes in Season 1, Bayan’s sacrifice scene was the most powerful for me and capped the act beautifully as the Puteri embarked on her journey cognizant of what she has left behind. I still keep in memory the anguish in Bayan’s voice as it broke when faced with what she had to sacrifice for the happiness of the child that she had nurtured for so long who have now started her journey into womanhood. That was very much diminished last night with the way that Act 1 ended which made it as if Bayan’s sacrifice was for naught.

Puteri Gunung Ledang – The Musical Season 3 is still a show that should be seen those who have the opportuinity. This show, if nothing else, represent one of the best examples what our local theater stage could stage given the right amount talent and funding. I still contend that the show is still a worthy showpiece of the Malaysian theater scene to show to the world and I truly hope that Enfiniti Productions might release a DVD recording of the show for fans who would like to keep the magical moment alive. I fairly certain that fans as well as those who did not get the opportuinity to watch the should would appreciate such keepsake.

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