From Istana Budaya, with love: A James Bond celebration

Legendary songstress Salamiah Hassan will personify the voice of Dame Shirley Bassey.

Legendary songstress Salamiah Hassan will personify the voice of Dame Shirley Bassey.

The Licence To Thrill: A Bond Concert promises good music from West End stars and local divas like the legendary Salamiah Hassan. 

It has been 52 years since the first James Bond film (Dr No in 1962) was released in cinemas and besides the dashing protagonist, the opening sequences, leading ladies and spy action, what we also remember best from these flicks is the music.

Bond fans are in for a treat when a musical tribute to the world’s most loved secret agent takes place at Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur, from Nov 14-16.

Audience members can relive the espionage moments of secret agent 007 via Licence To Thrill: A Bond Concert. Expect to hear music from the 1960s such as Dame Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger, 1970s classics including Diamonds Are Forever (Bassey), 1980s favourites such as For Your Eyes Only (Sheena Easton) and Licence To Kill (Gladys Knight); and this decade’s hit song Skyfall, (Adele). After all, the best Bond songs are as potent and memorable as any great musical theatre song.

According Brian Johnson Lowe, director of Limelight Entertainment, which was set up early this year, the music of James Bond was chosen as it transcends all generations.

'There is so much intensity when you listen to the music and that plays a big role,' says Jaclyn Victor.
Jaclyn Victor

“We’re the new kids on the block and this is our first production. We wanted to do something big. When we gauged the audience’s appetite, we decided to do an international show. It’s a risk we’re taking,” says Lowe at a recent press conference for Licence To Thrill: A Bond Concert in Kuala Lumpur. He watched all 23 of the Bond movies to prepare for the concert.

West End stars David Shannon and Simon Bailey will also lend their voices, along with the legendary Salamiah Hassan, Jaclyn Victor and Nikki Palikat.

Shannon has played leading roles in The Phantom Of The Opera, Les Miserables, Sweeney Todd and Miss Saigon while Bailey’s credits include We Will Rock You, Les Miserables, The Phantom Of The Opera and Romeo And Juliet: The Musical. He recently concluded touring The Phantom Of The Opera: 25th Anniversary concert tour and I Can’t Sing: The X-Factor Musical. Both men have performed in Malaysia previously.

“We’ve taken into account all the theatrical tributes to James Bond songs so this concert will be different. There will be no movie clips shown but we have compartmentalised the songs into different eras,” adds Lowe.

Last September, Dewan Filharmonik Petronas rolled out a string-laden tribute called The Music Of James Bond, with American singer Debbie Gravitte as special guest. For Licence To Thrill: A Bond Concert, the divas on stage will be local talent.

“We initially shortlisted a few singers from different Bond generations. For example, Salamiah needs no introduction and she personifies the voice of Bassey, while Jaclyn fits the contemporary singer mould. The only one we had to audition was for the present Bond generation. Nikki simply wowed us when she sang Skyfall.”

Ready to wow: (Clockwise from top left) Well-known Malaysian singers Nikki Palikat, Jaclyn Victor and Salamiah Hassan are in the musical, Licence To Thrill: A Bond Concert.
Brian Johnson Lowe, director of Limelight Entertainment, says the music of James Bond transcends all generations.

The Malaysian singers are pleased to be involved in this project. None of them have performed or sung Bond songs before. Since rehearsals have yet to start, they have been busy watching YouTube videos of the original artists to get a better feel of the songs. Each singer will do three solos and the rest, duets and medleys.

“There is so much intensity when you listen to the music and that plays a big role. I haven’t been singing that much lately so I’ve been busy practising in my car – that way, no one can throw me out!” says Jaclyn, who recently tied the knot, but is still in high demand in the entertainment scene.

Her husband is Puerto Rican singer, Shawn Rivera of Grammy-nominated American R&B group, Az Yet, known for its cover of Chicago’s Hard To Say I’m Sorry.

“Bond songs have such strong melodies. The story is there somewhere but you need to strip it out from the song,” adds Nikki.

For Salamiah, it’s an honour that people still want to hear her sing in a major concert. In January this year, her career-spanning concert entitled Gelombang Salamiah Hassan at Istana Budaya was a huge hit. Salamiah ran through six segments during that concert series. She is more than excited to be back on the Istana Budaya stage for a side of James Bond thrills.

“I’m 62, you know!” she gushes, before adding, “I sing because I don’t have a big load of responsibility anymore since both my kids are grown up.”

“When I was young, I was a fan of Sean Connery and I was intrigued by (actress) Ursula Andress (who played the Bond girl Honey Rider in Dr No).”

However, Salamiah is quick to point out that she is no Shirley Bassey, so do not expect her to sing or dress like the diva.

Nikki Palikat, a finalist in the first season of Malaysian Idol, vowed at the audition for Licence to Thrill: A Bond Concert, with her rendition of Adele's Skyfall.
Nikki Palikat

“I can’t dress like Shirley Bassey! My style is a bit different, a bit more Malaysian, so I’ve asked my designer to tone it down to fit my taste. I’m doing a lot of homework so I can deliver my best. Oh, and I’m the shortest Bond singer in the world!” says the songstress, divulging that she will be belting out Diamonds Are Forever and The Look Of Love.

The 90-minute concert will be directed by Melissa Teoh, whose portfolio includes directing The Woman In Black. Keyboardist/composer Lee Sze Wan, who has performed with Anuar Zain, Datuk Siti Nurhaliza and Kris Dayanti, will handling the music while Aswara Dance Company’s Mohd Yunus Ismail is the choreographer.

> Licence to Thrill: A Bond Concert runs from Nov 14-16 at Istana Budaya, Jalan Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur. Tickets prices range RM78 to RM988 (premium). You can purchase them at the Istana Budaya box office, selected Rock Corner Music outlets, Victoria Music outlets or through For enquiries, call 03-8775 4666.