ANN/JAKARTA POST – With the number of Hollywood musical adaptations popular with local film fans, the question is: Where are Indonesia’s musicals?
Here is an experiment: Take a decent moviegoer in Indonesia and ask if they know the City of Stars song from 2016’s La La Land, parts from Disney’s animated film Moana or whichever songs come to their minds at the mention of Frozen.
They will know these movies and will even be able to sing the tune. In the traditional sense, these are movies in the musical genre; the characters express their feelings through musical numbers in exchange for words.
They are what audiences see in a musical theatre show or its adaptations, from last year’s remake of West Side Story, the famed 2012’s Les Misérables or even the panned Cats and Dear Evan Hansen.
Indonesia has them, too: 2008’s Laskar Pelangi, beloved by many, has been adapted into a successful run of musical theatres.
Usmar Ismail’s Tiga Dara in 1956 is a musical film, and – perhaps most famously – so is Sherina’s Adventure in 2000, which is loved by generations across the country.
But if those titles are the only answers most Indonesians have when asked about local musical films or theatres, one has to ask: Are they all we have?
A THIRST FOR MUSICALS
Not to say that the country is devoid of musical theatres. There was a much-talked-about showing of the Indonesian Musical Festival (FMI) late last August, which is the first-ever festival for musical theatres in Indonesia held at Ciputra Artpreneur, South Jakarta.
“The reception was beyond our expectations. It was extraordinary,” director of the event and the established EKI Dance Company Rusdy Rukmarata told The Jakarta Post on September 4.
Big local musical groups, from Jakarta Movin and TEMAN Musicals to EKI Dance Company, performed various Indonesian stories at this festival. There were Ken Dedes’, Cut Nyak Dien’s and even Soe Hok Gie’s.
The tickets, while free of charge, did not take five minutes to sell out on the first and second days.
“Whether it’s because each company already has a faithful following or because the general public just wants to watch a festive stage show like this after a long time since the pandemic, the demand is quite surprising,” he added.
Initiated by Rusdy’s dance company, the festival became a programme of the Education, Culture, Research and Technology Ministry, backed by the Jakarta Tourism and Creative Economy Agency (Disparekraf) and the Jakarta Arts Council (DKJ).
The ministry funded the show and made it free of charge because – as Rusdy is also aware – Indonesia still lacks a sustainable base of performers and audience for its musical theatres.
“Quality-wise, if we’re talking about the players, musicians and choreographers, Indonesian musicals are already quite good,” Rusdy said. He noted that many musicals are performed on college campuses, TV shows and at corporate events.
But industry-wise, he said that musical theatre in Indonesia is still far behind compared to the local movie industry.
There is yet to be an Indonesian musical theatre award like the Tony Awards in the United States (US). Regardless, the projects that have come out are always respectable.
“Even in terms of choreography, there are some of our productions which can already compete with those of the US’ Broadway or the United Kingdom’s (UK) West End,” Rusdy added.
Indonesia has a rich history of blending music and drama, like the Ramayana ballet drama or even kecak dance. But the musical theatre landscape we see right now is the modern one – a Broadway format.
“The musical theatre that people know nowadays is Broadway-style musicals. Suppose you go to the West End in London.
“In that case, it is actually the same thing because modern musical theatre is a uniquely American art form,” said musical theatre performer Lerryant “Lerry” Krisdy to the Post.
Lerry, currently finishing his study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in New York, explained how the modern musical theatre format came to be in the US before the UK started picking up the trend and other countries across the world followed suit.
“The way I see it, Indonesian people know musicals because we consume a lot of American pop culture. So it’s more because of the Internet, globalisation and watching TV that people know about these modern musicals,” he said.
MUSICALS IN POP CULTURE
“I think the musical films that we have in Indonesia are still very few,” performer and photographer Abdul Razzak Jauhar said to the Post.
As someone who loves Hairspray and has watched the Les Misérables musical film “over 15 times”, Razzak could only mention Ini Kisah Tiga Dara and Ada Cinta di SMA as other Indonesian musical films, aside from the popular Sherina’s Adventure and Laskar Pelangi.
“From what I know, Ini Kisah Tiga Dara did not have a lot of viewers either in 2016, even though it’s quite interesting and well-acted,” Razzak said. He noted that the musical numbers of the said title and Ada Cinta di SMA “could be better”.
“So I don’t know why very few musical films are produced. Is it because of the budget? The market? The audience?”
On the other hand, Sherina’s Adventure earned around INR10 billion at the box office back in 2000, pulling over a million moviegoers. “Sherina was played repeatedly at my house when I was young, and I always watched it with my siblings,” 23-year-old Nadya Khoyron told the Post.
Asked why Sherina left a lasting impact more than any other musicals she knows of, Nadya said that it was “because the song is catchy, and when you were at that age, you can relate to Sherina. It’s a musical and a children’s film”, she said. “I also feel like when movies use the musical format, they end up being a bit cringy, you know?” she assessed, mentioning several iffy musicals she had seen on television before. Lerry agreed with Nadya’s comments to an extent. If not done right, musical films can make or break the audience’s experience watching them.
“Sometimes, some people react that way, like, ‘Why are they suddenly singing?’” he said.
This is why Lerry believed that Sherina’s Adventure – which inspired its musical theatre and made future generations love musicals – did not have its cultural impact just because it is one of the few musicals we have: It is also very well-written.
“I feel the main reason Sherina works is that the story hits. The writers know how to craft the story well enough, so people did not get put off by the musical aspect,” he said.
But Lerry has high hopes for future musicals in Indonesia. Aside from FMI’s great reception, the festival is also scheduled to be an annual show. “This proves that musicals are rising in Indonesia. We just need to keep the momentum going,” he said. Rusdy also said there would be a first-ever educational institution for musical theatres in Indonesia soon.
“The word is that the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) Yogyakarta will have a musical department. They have also contacted us at EKI Dance Company to collaborate,” he said.
Most importantly, the nation needs “another musical like Sherina’s Adventure”, Lerry said.
“We need another movie that introduces the form to future generations, because do we want to have only one musical that we know as a collective? That’d be a shame!”