April 14, 2013
"Sa Wakas" had been advertised as a new Pinoy rock musical which will use the music of the band Sugarfree to tell its story, in the same manner as "Mamma Mia" was created out of ABBA songs. I have heard the name of this local band who gained prominence in the last decade but disbanded in 2011. Honestly though, I could not really name a single hit song of theirs. The thing that interested me here however is the effort of creating a musical theater production out of Pinoy rock songs. I find this exciting that is why I took time out to check it out.
Topper is a struggling high concept photographer. His fiancee Lexie is an ambitious neurosurgery resident. His other woman is Gabbi, an arts magazine editor. Topper is feeling burned out with his first relationship which he feels is getting nowhere, and then he meets this other girl who seemed to jive with his artistic inclinations. So yes, "Sa Wakas" tells a familiar story of a guy torn between two girlfriends, but aside from being told through the beautiful and meaningful lyrics of Sugarfree songs, this was told in a most unusual order of events so surprising and so touching at the same time.
I have to admit that of the 21 Sugarfree songs used for this musical, I really only knew one, which was "Hari ng Sablay." Honestly, I did not even know that that song was by Sugarfree (sorry!). The songs chosen had very poetic lyrics with generally slow somber melodies that seem to blend with each other. "Hari ng Sablay" really stood out memorably and you can hear why it was their biggest hit. The scene where this song was used in the play was also very well staged. There are other songs which sounded familiar but I did not really know very well, but they all sounded really good. The best I can remember was "Bawat Daan" (said to be especially written by Ebe Dancel for this musical) which I felt was a fitting song to close the first act with an intense trio arrangement for the three voices.
Fred Lo plays Topper. I have heard of his name but I have not really seen him in a lead role yet. I know he played the lead in the recent local production of "Rent", but I did not get to watch that one. Fred has that matinee idol look and a great pop singing voice to boot, that makes him a great choice to play Topper. He was onstage in all the scenes and was singing all the songs practically. The way he makes reaching those high notes sound so effortless was very impressive. Fred's alternate in this role is Victor Robinson III.
The actresses who played the two women in Topper's life were both new to me.
Laura Cabochan took some getting used to playing Dr. Lexie as she did not exactly have typical looks for a lead theater actress in the local scene. You do not typically see a Chinese girl in such a role, which makes it so refreshing. She was so convincing and natural as a stressed-out and competitive Neurosurgery resident doctor, with her manners and clothes. Her singing voice was strong and vibrant, and blended well with Fred Lo in songs like the dramatic "Kwarto", the sweet "Tulog Na" and the funny "Ang Pinakamagaling na Tao". I was impressed to read that she is a Summa Cum Laude graduate in Theater Arts from the Ateneo, and this play is her professional debut. Laura's alternate in this role is Caisa Borromeo.
Justine Pena had her moments as the Number 2 girlfriend Gabbi. Her best moment was the scene where she meets Topper in his photo exhibit with the song "Hari ng Sablay." She was really vibrant too in that scene on the rooftop where she and Topper got to know each other better. Her singing was generally proficient, but there are songs where her low register did not sound very good. She unfortunately also had a scene where she had such a bad costume choice, wearing that ugly "Avengers" sleeveless t-shirt with a long skirt distracted from the drama of the scene with the song "Mariposa," and was unbelievable for a girl who was supposed to have been an editor of a fashion magazine! Justine's alternate in this role is Kyla Rivera.
Hans Dimayuga took good advantage of the chance given him to step out of the Ensemble and portray Topper's elder brother working abroad. He was very vocally impressive in his featured duet with Fred Lo on the song "Dear Kuya." The other members of the Ensemble were Cassie Manalastas, Mikou David and Abi Sulit.
The subject matter of this musical is mature, and so is the treatment. There are scenes of smoking (which was sad for me to see in these young singers), some sensuality and a lot of cursing which makes it not appropriate for younger audiences. Overall though, it was the innovative way the common story was written and executed that makes this a play worth taking the time to watch. I liked the way the writing so intricately yet carefully interconnected so well with all the previous scenes. A slight medical comment though, "his aneurysm burst" would have been a better line for Lexie to say instead "he developed an aneurysm," when she was relating about a surgical mortality.
And yes, if the producer wanted to showcase the beauty of the Sugarfree compositions, it succeeds with flying colors. It will make you seek out these songs and listen to the genius of Ebe Dancel's original lyrics more closely. Sometimes the band or the ensemble was louder than the lead singers so that the lyrics could not be heard too well. A original cast CD would have sold so well at the lobby, but unfortunately there was none available.
Kudos to producer Charissa Ann Pammit and director Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan for this work to promote excellent Original Pilipino Music in the theater arena.
“Sa Wakas” runs from April 13 to 28, weekends only, 3pm and 8pm shows, at the PETA Theater Center in Quezon City. Tickets at P1000, P700 and P500 only.