Singer-actress Celeste Legaspi and talent manager Girlie Rodis comprise a formidable pair when it comes to producing. Known as Culturtain Musicat Productions, their company is most famous for mounting successful runs of “Katy! the Musical” in 1988 (with a revival in 2013), a biographical musical based on the life of Katy de la Cruz in the Philippine vaudeville era, and ‘Ang Larawan the Musical’ in 1997 (with a rerun in 1998), the musical based on National Artist Nick Joaquin’s play, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino.
Legaspi and Rodis calls Ang Larawan their passion project, having worked on the material for well over 20 years. Their journey began when Legaspi personally approached Joaquin and asked his permission to mount a Filipino musical adaptation of his play. Joaquin agreed with one condition, that National Artist Rolando Tinio would do the translation. “Rolando, I think in 3 weeks came up with the translation,” Legaspi said. “That’s how geniuses work, I guess!”
Ang Larawan is set in Intramuros before WWII, focusing on the plight of unmarried sisters Candida and Paula Marasigan. They are the daughters of high-profile painter Don Lorenzo Marasigan. Legaspi already played the role of Candida when the play was staged by Tanghalang Pilipino in 1992. She again played Candida (opposite Zsa Zsa Padilla’s Paula) in the 1997 musical. Sadly, Tinio would never see the musical he helped create as he passed away 10 days before the musical opened. The music was written by Ryan Cayabyab.
The musical was restaged in 1998, and theater veteran and singer Rachel Alejandro (who was co-executive producer during the first run) took over the role of Paula at 21 years old, almost 20 years younger than her character. Alejandro fondly recalls, “One of the things that I’ll never forget is being up there on stage and Nick Joaquin himself being in the audience shouting at me, ‘You’re too young!’”
Many years later, while Legaspi was already on what she calls “retirement mode”, Rodis convinced her to make the stage musical into a musical film.
Road to the MMFF
For the Ang Larawan film, West End and Filipino theater actress Joanna Ampil plays the role of Candida opposite Alejandro who plays Paula. Other cast members include some of the best actors in the theater scene, including Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Nonie Buencamino, Sandino Martin, Cris Villonco, Aicelle Santos, and TV and film stars Paulo Avelino and Rayver Cruz.
“The first time that I heard the music of Ryan Cayabyab with the libretto of Rolando, I told Girlie this is our masterpiece,” said Legaspi. “Katy was wonderful. It was a lot of fun. But this is our masterpiece.”
The film gained a lot of public support when it was announced last June that it was rejected for the Metro Manila Film Festival’s (MMFF) during the festival’s first round that based selections off screenplays. Legaspi and Rodis will try their luck again on the second round of selections, now based on the finished films. Chosen entries will be announced on November 17.
“I think the biggest challenge right now is for us to get into the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) because it is our duty as producers to show Ang Larawan to the biggest audience that we can find, and that’s really the biggest audience that we can find this year.”, said Legaspi. “If we don’t get into the Metro Manila Film Festival this year, then we’ll have to show it in February.”
What kept them motivated all these years? “I think you know if you met Nick Joaquin you would want to reintroduce him to future generations because he was just so… he just got it. About what we are as Filipinos. That’s why it’s Portrait of an Artist as a Filipino.” Rodis wistfully explains. “How do we reintroduce them to love literature? To love Philippine literature? You have to reintroduce his greatest work and that’s what has kept us motivated.”
Legaspi enthusiastically mentions why she thinks it’s their responsibility to spread the work. “Because of the way the project evolved, we also have Rolando Tinio. And that combination is really, really precious beyond words. To have Nick Joaquin, and Rolando Tinio, and then you add pa Ryan Cayabyab. Grabe iyung package. It’s our responsibility to keep on going, finding enough money and getting the best for it. That’s what really motivates us. Who else has been given this kind of package to be responsible for—Nick Joaquin, Rolando Tinio, and Ryan Cayabyab. So this is our responsibility.”
Ang Larawan Book
While audiences wait for it to come to the big screen, they can purchase Ang Larawan: From Stage to Screen, a book which shows the development of Nick Joaquin’s original English play, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, to Rolando Tinio’s libretto of Ang Larawan the Musical, to the screenplay of Ang Larawan the Movie edited by Legaspi’s daughter Waya Gallardo. The book will be available in National Bookstore soon.
“Our national artists are here in this book. There are geniuses here.”, says Legaspi.
Unorthodox One-Year Rehearsal Process
Making the film was far from easy, having to raise 25 million to make it (a tall order compared to the 2 million they needed to raise for ‘Katy! the Musical’, and 6 million to raise for ‘Ang Larawan the Musical’) and spending 4 years developing and editing the work. Those 4 years also included a grueling one-year rehearsal process, helmed by none other than renowned director Loy Arcenas. He went through a year of rehearsals with the cast to make sure they got everything from script, to blocking, to their characters’ objectives, before they even started filming.
Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo recounts the experience with warm nostalgia. “The filming experience I actually miss because it was the most wonderful and amazing process. Loy is such an amazing director and such a visionary that we would have tedious rehearsals.”, said Lauchengco-Yulo. “We had a year practically of rehearsing it. We knew the movie inside out. We were blocked, we staged it, we had run-throughs, so when we got to the actual filming, it was a breeze because we knew exactly what we were doing, everything memorized. We knew exactly what the objectives were. It was just a matter of positioning, where to go, what to do, but the subtext, the objectives, everything was already there. So it was wonderful. And the entire cast was so supportive and helpful.”
Most people might be surprised that this is actually her first foray into film. “It was like the most amazing experience I’ve ever had shooting a film, and this is my first film, (laughs) so I have nothing to compare it to. But if this is the basis for shooting a film then I’m on it. I will sign up for any film that is with these wonderful, amazing people. Just working with Rachel, Nonie, and Joanna, was a breeze.” Will she ever do Ang Larawan again on stage given a chance? “In a heartbeat.”, she says without hesitation.
Legaspi recalls that they had to look for a venue that would shelter them for a year. “We were very lucky that Mother Lily gave us that shelter. But it really made a whole lot of difference. When we finally got to the Villavicencio house in Taal in Batangas where we shot the film, everybody was comfortable with the material, and the material is difficult. So that’s a lot of help for actors. Loy Arcenas is quite a unique director.”
We hope that we hear good news come November 17.