Field of Dreams

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Composer Leon Ko tells Winnie Chau how he turns his fears into reality in a new production of the football-themed musical, Field of Dreams.


Leon Ko is probably the last person you’d expect to have scored a football-themed musical. After all, the composer hates the sport. It’s ‘rough’ he says, and, from what we can gather, not exactly his cup of tea. But despite these reservations, Ko took on Field of Dreams as somewhat of a personal project. “The reason I agreed to do this show is somehow to confront my own fear by turning something I dislike very much into a musical.”

After consuming a great deal of the sport and penning 19 football-themed musical numbers, the urbane musician admits to us that he ‘doesn’t hate it so much now’, and is now bringing back his award-winning 2008 musical for another run, complete with some new refinements.

Set in colonial Hong Kong circa 1936 and faithful to historical facts, Field of Dreams, written and directed by Anthony Chan, tells the story of eight local amateur footballers who teamed up with players from mainland China to take part in the Berlin Olympics.

During the writing process, Ko purposely remained ignorant of the game’s rules and jargon, leaving those concerns to lyricist Chris Shum. As a composer, Ko’s points of reference were the rhythm and strength of passing, kicking and diving headers (the term ‘diving header’ is adopted as the musical’s Chinese title), as well as on-field squabbles among players.

Playing football onstage, even in one of the city’s largest performing arts venues, is no easy feat. There is no actual football, for example. But in most scenes, the action is portrayed by Yang Yuntao’s revolving stage choreography which, together with Ko’s employment of brass, percussion, piano and strings, more than make up for its absence.

In fact, Ko had initially set himself a rule of only using pastiches of music from the 1930s or before. Yet, he couldn’t resist the temptation of putting in some anachronistic big band jazz and a ballad belonging to the 50s for emotional accuracy. “I’m a bit influenced by [the spirit of] soundtracks: you don’t have to write music of the period,” says Ko. “But I’m stricter to myself in musicals, as songs are meant to be sung.” Ko adopts singing styles of the time, such as nan yin and Chinese trills, where vocals imitate the sound of the erhu.

But would the actors sing crudely to be true to their characters? “The timbre needn’t be beautiful but the notes must be precise,” says Ko, whose music includes vocal polyphony. He promptly demonstrates a few versions of some ending notes, rather violently, and adds ‘coarse but not chaotic’.

Field of Dreams 頂頭鎚 is performed at Cultural Centre’s Grand Theatre, Sat Jan 12-Sun Jan 20, in Cantonese with English & Chinese surtitles. Tickets: 2734 9009; urbtix.hk.

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