I definitely knew the name of Lam-Ang, the central character of an pre-Hispanic Ilocano epic, since my high school days. It is acknowledged to be the oldest among the folk epics of Luzon. However, when I was racking my brain today to try and recall his story, I frustratingly drew a blank. So when I went to watch this new Tanghalang Pilipino show this afternoon, I had absolutely no idea what the plot was going to be.
This was Tanghalang Pilipino second stab at making an original musical out of a local ethno-epic. The first one was the Bicolano epic "Ibalong" (MY REVIEW) back in 2013. However, I am particularly excited for this show because this was only the third new original Filipino musical to debut this year, after PETA's "Charot" and Rep's "Quest for the Adarna".
Lam-ang grew up without his father Lokan, a chieftain who never came home from war. When he grew up to be a strapping young fighter, Lam-ang left his home against his mother Namongan's will to find his father. After he was able to kill the headhunters who caused his father's death, Lam-ang was anointed as their new chieftain when he got back home.
Impetuous and reckless, Lam-ang conquered his surrounding tribes with his battle savvy. However, this arrogance and blood-thirstiness was met by disdain by the gods, inundating his domain with endless rain. This forced Lam-ang to venture to Calanuitan to lay claim to their resources. Plans changed when he was smitten by their female chief Kannoyan.
Popular movie star JC Santos was an inspired choice to play the lead title role, making a most charismatic Lam-ang. Handsome of face and physique, Santos drew attention to him whenever he was onstage, even when his character turned to the dark side at one point. His singing voice was remained muscular and solid as he performed the numerous battle songs and love songs required of his role. He's also got the hero's moves and choreography down pat, which executed with elan, grace and strength. He was such a natural performer, such that it was a surprise to learn that this was only his first musical play.
Anna Luna matched Santos' stage presence as the mysterious Kannoyan. Even when she only came out in Act 2, Luna's Kannoyan attracted Lam-ang with her sense of compassionate leadership, as well as her ability to engage him in naughty banter. Tex Ordonez-de Leon played the story-teller Baglan. From the opening scene to the finale, her hypnotically robust singing voice would imbue the entire three-hour run of the show with haunting dramatic authority. Hazel Maranan lent regal pathos to Namongan in her role as grieving widow and protective mother. Raflesia Bravo played the amorous temptress Saridandan with uninhibited boldness.
Lance Reblando and Ybes Bagadiong played Lam-ang's pet rooster Taraok and dog Tangguob respectively, both with amazing consistency and playfulness. Alvin Maghanoy was a frisky Batang Lam-ang with his sense of adventure and duty even in his youth. With his imposing heft, Remus Villanueva gave Lam-ang's father Lokan an indelible image even after his death. Jonathan Tadioan played the village priest Tandang Guibuan, whose wisdom was blinded by his devotion to his gods. Paw Castillo made a lasting impression as Lam-ang's mentor Sumarang, who did not fear to fight for what he believed was right.
Tex Ordonez-de Leon, JC Santos, Anna Luna, Lance Reblando
and Jonathan Tadioan make their curtain call
Director Fitz Bitana and Jen Darlene Torres worked on the music and lyrics that gave this show its unique brand of ethnic energy. TJ Ramos's musical direction and sound design was most impressive creating a virtual wall of sound rich with voice and percussion, enveloping the audience with an immersive yet surreal atmosphere.
The set design of co-director Marco Viana may seem simple with its three inclined ramps adorned with ropes, but the lighting of Meliton Roxas gave it a living spirit. The rousing choreography of JM Cabling made full use of the whole set in his multiple battle and travel sequences. The proud native costumes by Bonsai Cielo complete the ethno-epic tapestry.
Aside from being a proud reminder of our pre-colonial heritage, writer Eljay Castro Deldoc was even able to include subtle commentary about our country's present day culture of violence in his book. This important production deserves to be re-staged and toured around the country from hereon in for Filipinos of all generations to appreciate and embrace.
"Lam-ang" has a limited two-week run at the Little Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines from December 6-15, 2019. There will only be two more shows today, at 3 pm and at 8 pm.