Song, dance and divisive politics take centre stage in Indonesian musical ahead of national vote

Polarisasi Musikal (Polarisation the Musical) told a cautionary tale of how divisive Indonesian politics can be. - POLARISASI MUSIKAL

JAKARTA: A politically themed musical had Indonesians talking, just days before the country goes to the polls.

Polarisasi Musikal (Polarisation the Musical), an almost three-hour production, ran from Feb 2 to Feb 4 and was watched by more than 5,000 people over six shows.

It had 16 original songs, dance numbers and set design as well.

Staged at the Graha Bhakti Budaya theatre in central Jakarta, it told a cautionary tale of how divisive Indonesian politics can be, with a central message about how voters should be mindful when they cast their ballot, making sure they know who they are electing.

It was a deliberate decision to stage Polarisasi so close to Indonesia’s elections, said the show’s directors and brothers, Jovial and Andovi Da Lopez, who are 30 and 33 respectively, as they wanted to do their part to encourage young people to vote in the upcoming election.

Indonesia heads to the polls on Feb 14, when about 205 million people will elect their next president, vice-president, as well as other leaders. Those aged under 40 form the majority of the electorate.

“A lot of young people these days seem to think: ‘I don’t care’. They don’t understand the historical context in which people fought and died for us to have the right to vote,” said Andovi.

“I really hope that through this musical and other art forms, we can get people interested.”

The show was packed with issues relevant to the current election. One example was how one of the two presidential candidates grappled with using social media bots to drum up online support.

In another scene, a student active on TikTok grapples with a label of being a buzzer. Buzzers, otherwise known as cyber troops and trolls, are paid to manipulate public opinion of the candidates.

Identity politics, including how some candidates use race and religion to win over voters, also featured heavily in Polarisasi.

What many might be surprised to learn, Jovial pointed out, is that the script was written in December 2022, way before Indonesia was gripped by election fever. Presidential candidates began campaigning officially only on Nov 28, 2023.

Dynastic politics, race, religion and the misuse of technology are recurring challenges in Indonesia’s politically divided landscape.

This week, TikTok Indonesia said it removed 11 million instances of false information, including content related to elections, from its platform.

Jovial said the musical tried to delve into these topics and poke fun at them in the hope that audiences can then make informed decisions on whom to vote for.

“We wanted to make a musical about what’s happening behind the elections. That’s the message we actually wanted to show people the most,” he said.

While that all sounds very serious, the Da Lopez brothers included humour and funny references, such as K-pop dances, caricatures of Indonesian political bigwigs and influencers, and even parodies of actions by the current candidates.

Such inclusions were very deliberate because not only did they entertain, but they also helped to move the story along and made sure the show’s key messages remained in the minds of the audience long after curtain call, said Andovi.

“Apart from the humour and light-hearted bits being entertaining, it is also to show how ridiculous certain aspects of politics can be,” he said, adding that audiences would be able to critically assess political issues through humour.

The show received rave reviews from netizens, but staging a musical of such high quality and scale has not been easy, said the brothers, who are known in the country for their content on YouTube.

This includes DPR Musical, another politically themed production about Indonesia’s People’s Representative Council of Indonesia (DPR). They also wrote, directed and starred in Epic Rap Battle Prabowo v Jokowi 2019, a parody of the previous presidential election that has been viewed 58 million times.

The team spent close to a year preparing for Polarisasi. Besides attending rehearsals, they were also busy meeting and convincing sponsors to invest in their show.

But the road to the musical’s opening night was not easy. Even with the support from sponsors, Andovi had to sell his car to fund the production.

A career in theatre does not pay enough given how the industry is so new and undeveloped, said Jovial.

“Most of our actors, singers, dancers have day jobs. So we always had to practise at night.”

But seeing it all come together has been worth the sacrifices, and the brothers said many people thanked them for the show and for piquing their interest in politics.

They want to make sure that more people watch it, and are currently looking for more financial support.

Their dream? To take their show overseas, and Andovi said Singapore would be a great fit, given the large number of people who can understand Bahasa Indonesia there.

Noting that Hamilton, the award-winning Broadway musical about the rise of United States’ founding father Alexander Hamilton, will be playing at the Sands Theatre in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands in April, Andovi said it would be an honour to be able to perform in the same venue as the international hit.

“If I can say we’ve played on the same stage as a Hamilton production – that’s the ultimate dream.” - The Straits Times/ANN

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Indonesia , musical , elections


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