Myke Salomon began his theater career in his high school drama club, and the rest, as they say, is history. As an actor, he has performed in a number of shows– REP’s Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella, Spotlight Artists Centre’s Magsimula Ka, Atlantis Theatrical’s Aida, PETA’s Haring Lear, Care Divas, Rak of Aegis, and A Game of Trolls, Music Artes’ Godspell, and a rerun of the upcoming original musical, Mula sa Buwan.
As a musical director, he has rearranged music for some of the most popular shows in recent years– PETA’s Rak of Aegis, 3 Stars and a Sun, and Ako si Josephine, Spotlight Artists Centre’s Dirty Old Musical, and most recently, Full House Theater Company/Resorts World Manila’s Ang Huling El Bimbo.
Just recently, we sat down with him to talk about his thriving career. Here’s a condensed version of our interview.
You started as a musical theater actor, how did you end up becoming a musical director?
For me talaga, Cue Drama Club shaped me as a person, ‘yung high school theater org namin sa La Salle Greenhills. Si Ms. Virginia (Ginny) Natividad, ‘yung moderator, trusted me so much na she appointed me as Vice President or President na ng org nung 3rd year high school ako. And she tasked me to teach “West Side Story”–all the songs.
How did she know you could teach?
I don’t know, kasi maybe na-sense niya na meron akong… I was part of the LSGH band, and I was into music. Nakikita niya ‘yung mga ginagawa ko nung high school. I was the first one who joined this talent contest in high school na all a cappella lang, tapos I was doing the beatbox. Wala pang Akafellas nun. So maybe, nakita niya na ‘may alam sa music ‘to and he can hear a lot of things’.
So di-nissect ko ‘yung West Side Story, pati ‘yung quintet, tinuro ko lahat sa kanila ‘yun. It inspired me to become a musical director. Iyun ‘yung first taste ko of teaching songs to the actors.
You’re behind these big, contemporary, local jukebox musicals from bands and musicians like Aegis, Francis M., Yeng Constantino, and now Eraserheads. What’s the best or worst feedback that you’ve gotten from them?
Aegis kasi out of nowhere ‘yun e. Binato ko lang kay Maribel [Legarda]. ‘Uy, magkakaroon ng movie ng “Rock of Ages”. Gawa tayo ng Rak of Aegis.’ That’s it. It’s not actually a commissioned work. It’s just a for-fun production na ‘yun, humaba siya, sumeryoso siya.
There is a thin line between ‘let’s make an originally composed musical’ and then ‘jukebox’. For me it’s, not actually jukebox because we are reimagining every song for the narrative. So kung tribute man siya, ‘yung main objective ko lang is to transcend ‘yung mga songs ng artists into a different world, into a different context, and at the same time, promote them, meaning, just like Aegis, ang daming hindi alam ang Aegis, and they get to appreciate Aegis. I’m not actually a fan of Aegis, alam ko lang sa kanta nila “Luha”, “Halik”, “Basang-Basa sa Ulan”, and they’re overly sung in karaoke birthday parties. ‘Yun lang ‘yung alam ko sa kanila, but I get to appreciate them.
Talking about Francis M diba, i-ilan na lang ‘yung may alam ng rap niya. I want the young audience to know our music. It’s not that I’m doing a favor for them, but I want to preserve. Just like bringing back the classics like “Mula sa Buwan”, or “Noli”, “Himala”, diba ang bago para sa atin, pero thankful tayo na may nagbabalik nun kasi marami tayong nami-miss, marami tayong dapat bigyan ng importance when it comes to OPM. Kumbaga, ito na ‘yung maliit na contribution ko for OPM.
‘Yung pinaka tumatak sa akin ‘yung sinabi ni Ely [Buendia], because that’s Ely. He doesn’t say much, and that night he stayed and took pictures with everyone, and he drank with us. He stayed until midnight. Usually, he will just go away. (laughs)
Sinabi naman niya ito sa interview, na he was so scared to go because he thought the show would really suck. He was glad na pumunta siya and he fell in love with old songs again. And then after that, he has this Toyota gig na may set siya na kinanta niya ulit, may set siya na Eraserheads. I’m sure we triggered something in him kasi matagal na niyang hindi kinanta at matagal na niyang hindi napakinggan. Sinabi nga niya, ‘Oo nga pala, may mga kanta nga pala akong ganyan.’ From “Minsan”, to “Tindahan ni Aling Nena”. ‘Thank you for making me fall in love with the songs again.’
Do you feel pressure about rearranging some of the songs that Filipinos know by heart?
Yes. People might think na, coming from “Rak of Aegis”, ‘kaya na niya iyan’. They expect so much from me, but every time we do a production, we die and then live again. We go back to zero. Parati siyang challenge that if we don’t make this right…
Can you share your process of how you rearrange music?
For me, important talaga ‘yung text, na nakalatag na siya so that I know kung paano ‘yung trajectory nung musical, ‘yung pulso ng show. So malaking bagay sa akin ‘yung text. Kung hindi pa buo ‘yung text, or tentative pa siya, ang hirap buuin. Sabi ni Vince de Jesus na na-absorb ko sa kanya, ‘ang isang musikal ay isang mahabang kanta’. Hindi siya individual songs. Isa siyang mahabang kanta na kailangan i-thread mo siya. It’s one long song.
Ang hirap niya talaga kasi sa lahat ng original scripts na nahawakan ko, parati silang draft. (laughs) So I get to work with a draft script. Lahat kami on our toes, building everything. Ang hirap niya.
And importante din sa akin iyung casting. Meaning, siyempre kung nag papa-casting kami, hindi pa rin namin talaga alam iyung characters. ‘Yung collaborative part doon is the fact that the actors get to create their character. So ako, I base the songs on their strengths. Like ‘yung sa Rak, bi-nase ko talaga iyun sa original cast. What can you do, para flawless siya? So it’s not, ‘I want this song to be this high or this intense.’ I base it on what they can offer.
Which OPM bands or musicians do you think deserve the musical theater treatment?
Itchyworms, may kanya-kanyang narrative bawat song. And I think Rico Blanco can make an original one, like not coming from his past songs. He should compose a new musical! Out of the box si Rico Blanco mag-isip.
‘Rak of Aegis’ and ‘Ang Huling El Bimbo’ were very big hits. What other milestones would you want to achieve in musical theater?
I dream of making my own original musical. Pero maliban diyan, I just want to work with everyone. I want to collaborate with everyone. I want to know a lot of artists through collaborating. As long as they want to work with me, I’m fine with it.
I haven’t been thinking about myself. Kumbaga ako, ‘let’s do this, let’s do that’. Wala pa ako doon sa ‘ay, kailangan ko ng identity’. As long as may gustong gumawa, I like working with a winning team. ‘Yung everyone’s so passionate building a new thing. Kahit nagawa na nila, gusto pa rin nila na fresh. I’m addicted to that energy.
In your opinion, what is it about ‘Rak of Aegis’ that made it this incredible success year after year?
‘Yung passion to do it. ‘Yung commitment to build details from the ensemble to the creative team. Product namin ‘yun e. Every character, every joke, every pregnant pause, lahat ‘yun ambag namin to that show. And kulang na lang sumali lahat diba? Kasi nga ganun ‘yung ina-attract niyang energy e. It’s a very collaborative show. An artist gets to really express performance. Pag tumuntong ka doon sa Venezia, it’s freedom. Isang musical lang siya, pero nag-iiba siya dahil sa freedom na pinapakita ng bawat isa and their freedom to collaborate on stage. ‘Yun yung love. ‘Yun yung nagi-infect sa audience, na they want to be part of the celebration.
You’ve also played a lot of characters on stage, what to you is your most memorable role?
Sana [Christian in “Mula sa Buwan”]. It’s also a battle between “Care Divas” and “Haring Lear”. I like that production. Ang dami kong natutunan nun, from Nonon [Padilla], Teroy [Guzman], a lot of good actors in there. Nor Domingo– ‘yun ‘yung show na parang… I’m just watching.
I was Edgar. Maybe because I have mild father issues and ‘yung role kasi doon is parang pina-alis siya ng tatay niya. Pinag-bintangan siya that he was plotting something, to kill or do something bad to the father. So he left, and matagal na panahon na umalis siya doon sa tatay niya. Then I get to hug the father. I get to hug a father. And si Jack Yabut ‘yun. I always thank him, ‘thank you for being my father today.’
Nung pumunta kami sa Taiwan (we had a rerun for Taiwan) iilan lang kaming pumuntang cast, walang crew. Kami bumuo ng set. Community theater. (laughs) Kami bumuo ng lahat. As in nagd-drill kami doon. Parang 3-4 days namin binuo ‘yung set tapos may 2 days kami nag-run.
Of all the characters you’ve played, which do you think is most like you and why?
Siguro ‘yung pinaka malapit na, “Game of Trolls” [as Hector]. May ganung side ako na medyo mapang-asar ako e. Pero not in everything naman. Pero ‘yung close to wala na akong ginawang effort to build a character, siguro ‘yun.
You frequently work with PETA, known for staging political anti-Martial law shows. Why do you think it’s important for theater, films, etc. to show their politics?
Kailangan naman lahat may boses e, and if you believe doon sa boses nila, might as well use that collective voice to shape society. Sobrang importante kasi for me ng arts talaga in building a society.
Ang isang teenager or high school student or college student, nalalampasan niya iyung lahat ng mga low parts of his or her life through music. A song can save a life. A song can save a weeping soul, namatayan, and they needed strength, they needed words, they needed poetry, para bumalik sila doon sa mundo. Ang daming ganun. Ang daming mga nagme-message na ganun. Ang laking responsibility ng artists para sa society because they speak louder in behalf of the people who do not have the gift of voice; whether it’s painting, or dancing, or writing, or singing, acting.
“Desaparesidos.” Marami ring ginawa ang PETA, they did one-act plays for the Tokhang victim families, and merong mga debriefing talkbacks na nandun sila. Oo drama ‘to, pero it speaks for them, ‘yung mga families na hindi naman sila talaga papakinggan ng mga tao. So we need theater. We need movies. We need relevant material.
This year alone, we’ve had so many jukebox musicals. Why do you think they resonate so well with audiences here?
It’s familiar. Baka naf-feel lang nila talaga na whenever they see an original production na at par or beyond other Broadway musicals, they appreciate that. Parang may sense of ownership sila doon as an audience. ‘This is a Pinoy musical.’ Siguro nakaka-identify sila doon, so they like supporting it.
First foreign material na kumapit talaga sa akin, Menchu [Lauchengco-Yulo], John Arcilla, Michael Williams. “Kiss of the Spider Woman”, year 2000. Six times ko siyang pinanood. Nagre-rehearse kami nun e tapos nagre-rehearse sila sa gabi. High school ako. Kumapit sa akin ‘yun.
Parang may rebirth of Filipino musicals and plays. Kasi dati, well as a student, I don’t hear so much from Philippine theater. Ang napapanood ko lang Gantimpala, ‘yung walang kamatayang Kanser. ‘Yun lang alam ko. And feeling ko ngayon, mas maganda ‘yung marketing. I don’t know, maybe through social media mas lumiit iyung mundo when it comes to spreading news about live acts. I would like to say that it’s a collective effort of Philstage na nasy-synergize nila ‘yung resurgence. Ang saya lang, para na siyang may maliit na mundo. Hindi na siya parang high-brow.