March 15, 2013
"Himala" is recognized as one of the best Filipino movies of all time. This 1982 film, directed by Ishmael Bernal, written by Ricky Lee and starring Ms. Nora Aunor, tells the story of a barrio lass Elsa who was apparently blessed to witness an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It further explores the effects and implications of this visionary experience to Elsa's family, her friends, her neighbors and her hometown of Cupang.
In 2003, a musical play based on "Himala" was produced, directed by Soxie Topacio, written by Ricky Lee with music by Vincent de Jesus. It would turn out to be one of the most iconic original Filipino musicals of all time. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, PETA stages "Himala: A Celebration of the Musical". Advanced publicity calls it a concert with the well-loved songs from the 2003 musical. Upon watching it today, I would not really call it a concert only. For me, it looked like an actual re-staging of the musical. The show did not only consist of singing and orchestral accompaniment, but it had a set, props, lighting, choreography, acting, the works!
Elsa was played by Ms. May Bayot-de Castro. In certain angles, she actually looked like a bigger version of the Superstar. Her voice was not technically perfect this night, but it perfectly conveyed the tumult of emotion being experienced by her character. Her dramatic songs were wrought with deep feelings and she delivers. I confess that I was sort of distracted that Ms. Bayot looked too hefty and mature to be the young innocent visionary. There was a physical disconnect of sorts which may have diminished my full appreciation of her performance.
All the female supporting characters all performed so well! Ms. Isay Alvarez-Sena played Nimia, Elsa's childhood friend turned prostitute. She sang her featured song, the witty "Kami ang Tunay na Birhen" with naughty glee. Being the only bad girl there set her apart from the rest. Elsa's best friend and aide Chayong was played by Ms. Cynthia Culig-Guico. This is the first time I have seen her, and she looked a little mature to be the girlfriend of Myke Salomon. However, she had that that fragile look and vulnerable nature that made her so realistically tragic. Her soprano singing was beautifully resonant. Ms. Dulce played Elsa's mother Aling Saling. Her amazingly solid full-bodied voice can really project over the amplified piano and the chorus behind her (a problem of many of her cast mates).
There were also three male supporting characters. OJ Mariano played Orly, a film maker who wanted to film Elsa's vision and ended up capturing more than what he originally planned. He had a very good-sounding pop tenor as we know, however many times, his singing would be drowned out by the piano. We just saw him in "Rivalry". Next month, he will be in "The Full Monty". Very hard-working guy. Myke Salomon played Pilo, the suitor of Chayong. He can really hit those high notes as well, and his singing has really improved since I saw him first in "Care Divas" and "Aida." The parish priest was played by Melvin Lee. Honestly I did not recognize him at all since the only image of Melvin Lee I had was from "Care Divas" and "Sabel" both PETA shows where he dressed in drag. I also did not know that he had a solid tenor voice!
The singing of the company playing various characters in the town was also remarkably excellent. Standing out among them were Red Nuestro and Onyl Torres. The chorus was composed of Viva Voce (led by Glenda Liao and Ivan Nery) and the UST Singers Alumni. Fantastic singing and harmonies all around! There was always a solid wall of melodic voices which surrounded the auditorium throughout sung parts of the show.
The musical played exactly as I recalled the highlights of original film. If you remember a certain scene of chilling violence in the second half of the film, it is also here in a most nightmarish dance interpretation in the Act 2. Fans of original Filipino music and theater should catch this very special show as the singing and musical accompaniment led by Jed Balsamo on the piano were all of top-notch quality. I have always heard Vincent de Jesus songs to be so happy, funny and witty ("Juan Tamad," "Care Divas", etc) , but "Himala" showcases his very serious, solemn side. Aside from the souvenir program, they are also selling the original sheet music book of the "Himala" songs, as well as a limited edition CD soundtrack. An event like this would likely take another 10 years to come back. Do catch it this time!
“Himala A 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Musical” will be staged at PETA Theater Center on March 15, 17, 22, and 24 at 8 p.m. and March 16 and 23, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are P650 (balcony), P1,000 (orchestra) and P2,000 (elevated orchestra). For ticket inquiries, contact PETA at 725-6244, 0917-5765400, 0918-9005370 or TicketWorld at 891-9999.