REVIEW: ‘Musikal II’ dives into the multiverse of Filipino musicals
Musikal II was a special concert to celebrate the 53rd anniversary of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. But beyond a showcase of Filipino musicals over the past eight years, Musikal II was a deep dive into what makes these shows so beloved by audiences and the common threads that unite the artistic community with everyone else.
Director Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo was inspired by Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, a musical where a group of veteran actors gathers in a crumbling Broadway theater to reminisce on productions past and where they confront the ghosts of their younger selves. The convergence of memory and reality reveals the lives of the characters and their complicated relationships.
Musikal II thus begins with a group of actors on their way to a rehearsal who decide to visit the old theater that had been closed down for two years because of the pandemic. As they enter the dusty venue, they reminisce on the shows they had been a part of in the past eight years. They lament the loss of their art and their livelihood during the lockdown, singing of how shows had to be consigned to darkness and silence while the country waited for the restrictions on live theater to be lifted.
All the members of the ensemble performed their roles as creditably as one can expect from veteran artists but it seemed like no acting was required for this scenario as surely every artist in the country has been longing to perform on stage once more. Every line uttered felt like a natural expression of this yearning for the return of live theater.
The characters show their eagerness to perform on stage in front of a live audience again while also worrying that they have become rusty after two years trapped at home. This moment of doubt is short-lived, however, overshadowed by the excitement of performing with friends again. They discuss their favorite Filipino musicals and the journey begins.
The ensemble enters what may be called the “multiverse” of Filipino musicals, populated by diverse characters who traverse different genres like sci-fi, superhero, fantasy, steampunk, rock, historical fiction, and more. It is a testament to Filipino creativity that similar themes can be explored in a multitude of ways.
Yulo and musical directors Vincent DeJesus and Ejay Yatco wove a coherent story from disparate elements, expertly identifying the cross-cutting themes that transcend genres. The creative team was able to dig into the core of each musical to find the common threads of identity, destiny, love, separation, betrayal, heroism, truth, triumph, and hope.
The seamless transitions between the musical numbers showed that a musical about fictional superheroes may not be too different from the one about historical figures, how the themes of heartbreak and separation can resonate with audiences whether the story is between iconic characters from Philippine literature, star-crossed lovers in Binondo and China, or modern-day couples.
Musikal II also struck a delicate balance between tragedy and comedy, interspersing lighter and happier musical numbers between the heavier excerpts. Watching the buoyant “Alapaap” (Ang Huling El Bimbo) is a relief after the heaviness of “Maleta” (Changing Partners) and “Bittersweet Sky” (Fr(iction). The jubilant “Maglayag Tayo (Daluyong ng Diwa) is an uplifting number to follow the heartrending medley of “Sabay sa Ihip ng Hangin/Anong Sumpa Ito” from Himala: Isang Musical.
A highlight of the piece was the powerful medley of “Minsan May Tahanan”/“Bali-Baling Kaluluwa”/“Mabuhay ang Tanghalan”/“Mag-isip Bilang Pilpino” from Dekada ‘70, A Game of Trolls, Aurelio Sedisyoso, and Mabining Mandirigma. It made sense to combine this historical quartet of plays, with two focusing on historical figures and the other two on the fight against Martial Law. More than any other piece in the production, this medley was theater holding a mirror to reality and showing the disturbing reflections to the audience.
The songs evoked different ghosts from the past, the ghosts of those who sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom and justice, brutal reminders of how the struggle for these continues to rage in every generation. “Mabuhay ang Tanghalan” (Aurelio Sedisyoso) also hits very differently in the current circumstances.
The message of heroism in the face of tyranny rang loud and clear. The cries for truth and justice demanded to be heard in the din of historical revisionism and fake news.
The number elicited emotional reactions from the audience. This writer noted several members of the audience wiping tears from their eyes and observed certain members of the audience even walking out during the performance. While such reactions can be interpreted in many ways, it cannot be denied that the medley provoked something in the audience.
There was a solidarity in the theater that night as every member of the audience unabashedly applauded every number, propelled by the sheer desire for live theater again. The two original songs by DeJesus, “Muling Gisingin” and “Nandito Pa Rin Ako,” reiterated the resilience of Philippine theater and its ability to rise from the ashes of any catastrophe.
Musikal II is neither the first nor the only production to be staged after the lockdown, but it is still one of the few shows that have defied the odds enough to push through. And for audiences who have been craving theater for two years, every show is a celebration and a confirmation that live theater is back.
In revisiting past triumphs, Musikal II sets the stage for future success. The clamor for more live theater, for more Filipino stories put to music, song, and dance cannot be denied. And now that the curtains have risen once more, audiences can look forward to more Filipino musicals exposing the truth, in all its beauty and brutality.
The show featured excerpts from the following musicals: A Game of Trolls, Ang Huling El Bimbo, Ang Larawan, Aurelio Sedisyoso, Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko, Binondo: A Tsinoy Musical, Changing Partners, Daluyong ng Diwa, Dekada ’70, Ding, Ang Bato!, Eto na! Musikal nAPO!, Felix Starro (Off-Broadway), F(r)iction, Guadalupe the Musical, Himala: Isang Musikal, Kanser the Musical, Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady, Lapulapu: Ang Datu ng Mactan, Mabining Mandirigma, and The Quest for the Adarna.
Watch the full show here:
Tickets: Free Show Dates: September 10 ‘22 Venue: Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Roxas Blvd, Pasay Running Time: Approx. 1 hour and 45 minutes (no intermission) Credits: Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo(Director),Vincent DeJesus, Ejay Yatco (Musical Directors), Ejay Yatco (Conductor), Ricardo Eric Cruz (Set Design), John Batalla (Light Design), Aji Manalo (Sound Design), Dong Calingacion (Technical Director), Daniel Cabrera, PJ Rebullida (Choreographers), Daniel Gregorio (Costume Consultant), Clottie Gealoogo-Lucero, Zhamanta Angelique Kyle Pescadero (Production Managers), Eduardo Murillo (Stage Manager), Roan Cornejo, Joey David, Emma Doverte, Lemuel Inocencio (Assistant Stage Managers), Edz Ferrer Tabor (Safety Officer) Cast: Roxy Aldiosa, Cara Barredo, Paula Paguio, Mikee Baskiñas, Raflesia Bravo, Kakki Teodoro, Joshua Cabiladas, Ricci Chan, Red Nuestro, Alfritz Blanche, Jasper John Jimenez, Davy Narciso, Ralph Oliva, John Christian Pineda, Renzo Suson, Karen Tee (Ensemble); Stacy Abarca, Reb Atadero, Bayang Barrios, Delphine Buencamino, Paw Castillo, Bituin Escalante, Topper Fabregas, Upeng Galang Fernandez, Arman Ferrer, Neomi Gonzales, Carla Guevara Laforteza, Jojit Lorenzo, Anna Luna, Tanya Manalang, Hazel Grace Maranan, Sandino Martin, Shiela Valderrama Martinez, Juliene Mendoza, Vic Robinson, Alexa Salcedo, Floyd Tena (Guest Artists); Mark Balucay, Maisie Briones, Aldrian Ocampo, Julafer Fegarido, Gia Gequinto, Earvin Guillermo, Paloma Laforteza, Jemima Reyes, Joanne Sartorio (Ballet Philippines); Kim Abrogena (Philippine Ballet Theatre), Elpidio Magat, Brian Sevilla (Ballet Manila); Jordan Amaca, Joselito Daria Biato Jr., Julienne Bonacua, Xavier Ernest John Celestial, Patrick John Espanto, Daphne Esperanza Josefa Jocson, Joseph Christian Panganiban, Jayson Rivera, Earvin Robert Rosacay, Anna Janine Samaniego, Ranielle Sarmiento, Nix Krishna Zamora (Orchestra) Company: Cultural Center of the Philippines