Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tanghalang Pilipino's "Walang Sugat": A Glorious Sarswela!

August 16, 2012

I have long heard about Severino Reyes' "Walang Sugat", since my elementary days in fact, as an example of a sarswela.  A sarswela is a musical play usually about romantic love, but incorporating current political issues to spice it up.  

I never thought I would ever see a staging of this legendary play, until I found out that Tanghalang Pilipino will be opening its current season with it.  That Cris Villonco will play the lead role of Julia is another reason why this musical is a must-see for me.  It was also very interesting that movie director Carlos Siguion-Reyna will be directing.  

This play was supposed to have had its Opening Gala performance at the CCP Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino last August 9, 2012.  However, because of the rains and flooding brought about by the severe monsoon rains, it had been postponed to tonight, August 16.

Without unnecessarily spoiling the story, "Walang Sugat" is the love story of Julia and Tenyong, during the last years of the oppressive Spanish occupation.  When his father was tortured to death by his Spanish captors, Tenyong decides to avenge his death by joining the revolutionary forces.  After being away for more than a year fighting the war, can Tenyong return in time to claim back Julia, who had already been promised by her mother Juana to marry the stuttering spoiled brat Miguel?  

This 3-act long play (with two intermissions) tells us this story with some beautiful love ballads, comical duets, and patriotic hymns.  The most famous hymn is of course "Bayan Ko," which is practically another national anthem for most of us.  In my ignorance, I totally did NOT know that "Bayan Ko" is part of this sarswela.  It was most stirringly performed to end the first act, and reprised in the other two acts as well as a recurrent theme song.  The libretto is by Severino Reyes, whom we know better as Lola Basyang.  The music was by Mike Guison Velarde, Jr., Fulgencio Tolentino, and Constancio de Guzman (who was the one who set Jose Corazon de Jesus' poem "Bayan Ko" to music). 

In this production, the classic costume design was by no less than National Artist for Theater and Design, Mr. Salvador Bernal.  The choreography of this show was care of the well-known premier dancer of Ballet Philippines, Nonoy Froilan, with Josefino Toledo as the musical director.  The cast was led by Cris Villonco, whose porcelain beauty and crystal clear soprano were perfect for the role of Julia, and Noel Rayos, whose dashing look and solid tenor were just the right fit for the role of Tenyong.  

The comedy aspect of this play was as vital as the drama of love and war.  The audience was really laughing out loud at the hilarious situations.  People who think this show will only be a stuffy historical drama have a fun surprise coming to them.  The comedy mostly involved the characters of the help, Lucas (Jonathan Tadioan) and Monica (Jennifer Villegas), as well as the bratty suitor Miguel (Nar Cabico) and his old lusty father Tadeo (Red Nuestro).  Even the classy Noemi Manikan-Gomez (as Julia's practical mother Juana) gets some very funny lines and songs. Their operatic singing voices were all as strong as their comedic timing.

The scene-stealer would be Jelson Bay in his role as the outspoken, frank and sassy Padre Teban.  He brought the house down when he said, "Tingnan niyo, kaming mga pari ang magiging pinakamakapangyarihan sa lipunan!" (or something like that).  It would be interesting to see other shows when veteran actors like Bodgie Pascua and Lou Veloso would play Tadeo or Padre Teban (as they alternate in these roles).  

I will admit that it was not easy to get into the story in the beginning.  I could hardly understand what was being sung in the first song.  However, as the play went on, we too get used to the tenor of the Tagalog language used and get absorbed into the story more and more.  It was a familiar love story, reminiscent of "Noli Me Tangere".  In fact, since Cris Villonco also played Maria Clara (in last year's TP production of "Noli Me Tangere"), I thought Julia is also going to the convent.  But the third act is absolutely fantastic, and the ending is positively glorious!  

I had no idea how the story would go at all, and that is the best for people watching this show for the first time.  I am not surprised why this sarswela was a hit then when it was first staged in 1902, and should be a hit in its present incarnation now.


"Walang Sugat" will only run for the last two weekends of August, 2012.  There will be 3 pm and 8 pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays, and a 3pm show on Sundays.  The final show will be on August 26, Sunday, 3pm.

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