Of mists and magic: An insight into the brains behind the beauty

Yesterday I was finally able to meet with some of the production team of Puteri Gunung Ledang: The Musical; it helps to be part of one of the title sponsors and the neice of one of the stage managers, as that got me some face time with a few of the key members of the production team.

So after three hours of sitting in the cafeteria of Istana Budaya and about ten minutes with each person I was able to interview, this is most of what I got:

Dato’ Zahim Albakri — Director


“When we started Season 1, it was all very raw; we took what we could from the book, the movie script, and whatever research we could do. We’ve come a long way since then, and we’re always thinking of how we can make it better. One of the obstacles of making changes and additions to this season was that we tried to keep what the audiences loved, but in order to add to and enhance the show, some things needed to be taken out, and people remember that, even the little, little things.

“What sets PGL apart from other local productions — besides the obvious* — is that we took our time to get everything right: the story, the music, the design, everything. We wanted the development of the production to be solid, and it was a collaborative effort. The problem is that people here love to rush things, they want it yesterday, and that results in a lack of detail because they overlook stuff.

“I would like to see this production travel… take it on tour. But there are a lot of variables to consider, like the language — do we stick to Malay or change it to English for the international audiences? And schools are asking for the script so that they can have their own production of PGL, which is great, because it shows what an impact this has had on the community.”

* He couldn’t suppress a grin when he said this. Love the underline meaning there.

Raja Maliq — Production Designer


“Everytime we wanted to restage PGL, Tiara would challenge us to come up with something new, something better. After Seasons 1 and 2, I went to London and watched Zorro The Musical, with music by the Gypsy Kings and illusions and all, and I thought that PGL is mystical and magical, and it would be something different if we had illusions and special effects in Season 3.

“The magic of this production is the synergy, the way the team works together. The best experience for me is working with the crew backstage; they are so dedicated and they always do their best.

“You know, I’ve never seen the show from the audience’s viewpoint. I’m sure it’s great and all, but I don’t want to jinx myself!”

Pat Ibrahim — Choreographer


“The difference with working in this season is that I worked with only one director, which gave me more room for my own staging, and I was able to do different things, like the dance that Puteri does for the Sultan in Act 1, and the Sultan’s dance sequence in Act 2 (when he knows he’s going to marry her), which was actually intended to provide comic relief, because the scenes leading up to that were getting quite serious and dramatic.

“For the film, Tiara and I did our research on traditional dance in Indonesia, which gave us ideas for both the Javanese and Malaccan dances, even though they have their distinct differences. I was able to create a lot of it based on discussions with the directors, who told me what they wanted and I just adapted the choreography to it.

“This may sound a bit corny, but I feel like this is what I was meant to do. If you believe in something, you stick to your guns and do it. It’s most satisfying to see something so big come out of little ideas that people just sat around and threw out. And even though it’s come this far, it’s still very much a learning process for me.

“Oh, and the one thing you must always remember is that no one is indispensable!”

Anslem Roy – Illusionist


“This is my first time working on a production like this. I worked on musicals in Korea, Japan and China, I did Ayumi Hamasaki’s shows in Japan and Missy Elliot’s when she came to Genting, so when Enfiniti (Productions) called me and said they wanted to meet with me to discuss creating illusions and special effects for Season 3 after they went to London (and saw what productions out there were doing), I think they wanted to see if a Malaysian could do it!

“Since I wasn’t part of the team during the inception stage, I had to make sure my designs worked around what was already there. I had to be careful not to make this look like a magic show; it had to be just enough to make sense and be relevant to the show and the story, even right down to the mist or smoke in the mountain scene, which made this one of the most difficult productions I’ve worked on. But I’m thrilled to bits that it has worked out this way.

“My biggest challenge is trying to change the mindset of people working in theater here. There are people who will not like what you produce and think it’s too much or too little, but once they see the full effect of it, they start to open their minds just a little bit more.”

Ng Mei Chuen – Assistant Stage Manager (My Auntie Mei!)


“This is the first large-scale production to be made in this country, and everyone always has to be on their toes, to make sure they have all the props ready at hand, to know their cues and manage every scene with as little interruption as possible.

“This time around, we had the magic bit thrown in, which added to the challenges because everyone had to be more on their toes to make sure everything actually works, and that raised the stakes, because with safety issues (due to the kerosene used for the pyrotechnics), there is less room than ever for mistakes.

“I liked working on P.Ramlee: The Musical, which has its own magic, but working for PGL is a completely different experience, because it’s very stylized, the language is different, and all that gives it a sense of novelty.

Eeeyyyeeerrrr… why you take my picture when I look like this now?!”

*          *          *

Unfortunately, Dick Lee, the composer, and Roslan Aziz, the musical director, were not around, and Adlin Aman Ramlie, the scriptwiter and lyricist, was too busy getting into his Sultan Mahmud getup, so I didn’t get to meet any of them. And stipulations set by the production company did not allow me to go backstage or meet Tiara Jacquelina and Stephen Rahman-Hughes, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

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