Because of some domestic circumstances, I thought I would not be able to watch either of the two nights of this special show set on Sept. 5 and 6, 2014. However, at the last minute on the second day, tempted by the photos and rave reviews I saw on the social media, I found a way to go to the CCP to catch this first-ever revue of original Filipino musical theater shows. No way I will miss this.
Surveying the twenty or so titles on the poster, I have actually watched and written about 15 of them. The other shows on the line up like "Magsimula Ka" or "Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal" I have heard about, but never got the chance to watch yet. Of course, there are also other Filipino musicals (mostly by PETA) I have seen but are not included, "William", "D'Wonder Twins of Boac" or personal favorite "Juan Tamad" come to mind. "Ang Nawalang Kapatid" by Dulaang UP was also not on the list. Saving them for a future revue? Maybe.
After the National Anthem, the show opened with a speech by Dr. Raul Sunico, the current president of the CCP, which is celebrating its 45th year of existence this year. He introduced a surprise second speaker (whom I did not read about for the first night), none other than Ms. Lea Salonga! Frank as she was, Ms. Salonga immediately squashed with a smile from the get-go all expectations that she would sing. She talked about how she started her theater career with a performance on that very CCP stage as a 7-year old girl in a production of "The King and I".
The show began with Sheila Francisco introducing, then performing, a funny excerpt from the zarzuela "Walang Sugat" with Red Nuestro entitled "Makikiliti Kang Totoo." This was quite the strong opening number especially with the clear booming voice of Nuestro. This is the first time I've heard Francisco sing operatically, though too bad her lapel mic did not seem to be working well.
This microphone problem would haunt many other singers throughout the show, like Ebe Dancel during the "Rock Supremo" number "Lakambini" and Athena Tibi during the "Rivalry" number "Boy from La Salle". The orchestra and the louder mics of the backup singers would sometimes drown the lead vocals.
The best numbers of the revue for me are those for the Ryan Cayabyab musicals. A medley of songs from the rock musical "Lorenzo" was performed by the excellent Ryan Cayabyab Singers. Their voices effortlessly soared up to reach those punishing notes they were made to reach. A suite of songs from "Noli Me Tangere, the Musical" was performed by the ever-perfect Philippine Madrigal Singers, who were a league of their own in terms of musical elegance. The penultimate number before the grand finale was "Rama Hari" with OJ Mariano and Karylle with Robert Sena, with dancers from Ballet Philippines so gracefully athletic in interpreting the songs.
The most popular numbers among the audiences based on the loudness of spontaneous applause were those numbers by the PETA. There was a loud ovation already heard even before the "Rak of Aegis" number began, with only the title flashed on the screens onstage. The catchy song form "Batang Rizal" entitled "Pag-asa ng Bayan" was very well-received. The medley from "Himala" was so hauntingly beautiful, with stellar solo performances by May Bayot, Dulce, Isay Alvarez and Cynthia Culig-Guico. Of course, the "Caredivas" brought the house down with their glittery white drag queen ensembles and high heels while singing "Saan Ka Man Dalhin."
Even independently produced shows staged in the PETA Theater also stood out. These were the numbers from "Maxie the Musical" (with Jayvhot Galang and Jojo Riguerra) and that of "Sana Dati" (led by Victor Robinson, Caisa Borromeo and Kyla Rivera -- the three performers I did NOT see in the actual show as I saw their alternates).
Among the Tanghalang Pilipino productions, the best showcase was by "Sandosenang Sapatos" with a stellar solo by young Trixie Esteban singing "Sa Panaginip", with great support work by the rest of the company, including her imaginary friends precariously on roller skates while working the stage.
A chorus came out to sing "Ang Babaeng Malaya", a song from a movie musical I have not exactly heard of before entitled "Ang Kababaihan ng Malolos". Though it was my first time to hear it, the song was beautiful, as the choral rendition was excellent. The other choral performance of an unknown song that I liked was "Alalahanin, Gunitain" from the musical "Sinta" which I also had no idea about. I am now very curious to watch these two shows.
The song chosen by the "Bluebird of Happiness" crew to perform was the group ballad number. "Christmas Morning". The song chosen to represent "Zsazsa Zaturnnah" was also a ballad "Multo ng Nakaraan" rendered led by Wenah Nagales as Zaturnnah. I wished these two shows picked more upbeat songs from their respective shows.
The songs "Take Me to the Sky" (by Red Concepcion from "Toilet the Musical") and "Luksang Pangitain" (by Margarita Roco from "San Andres B.") similarly felt buried under the other songs with production numbers, but the singing was undoubtedly solid.
Representing "Stageshow" is the rather uncomfortably raunchy song and dance number with the naughty title "Titina" featuring Roeder with four skimpily-clad girls. While it may have been funny within the context of its show, it seemed uncomfortably out of place for this grand occasion.
My bird's eye view of the stage during the finale
The most hardworking male singer may be Myke Salomon who appeared and sang solo parts three times. He was one of those who held a mic during the "Rak of Aegis" number as Kenny. Then he opened the second act with strong version of the popular title song from the 80s musical "Magsimula Ka." As the Palestinian guy Faraj, Salomon would also have a duet with Melvin Lee (as the coy Chelsea) in another "Caredivas" song "Mysterious".
The most hardworking female performer was Isay Alvarez-Sena. She sang solos in "Rak of Aegis" ("Munting Pangarap"), "Katy" ("Aba Ba Boogie"), and "Himala" (as Nimia). She introduced and led in the finale song number "Minsan ay Minahal Mo Ako" with Dulce and Aicelle Santos, who were then joined in by the whole ensemble on the stage behind them. This meaningful song from "Katy" provided the perfect ending to the whole night's celebration of local theater talent.
After the list of composers and writers were acknowledged, Ms. Lea Salonga would join the company onstage to sing the CCP Hymn composed by Ryan Cayabyab, with lyrics by Hermie Beltran.
The vibrant orchestral accompaniment of the evening was care of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Gerard Salonga. The show was directed by Chris Millado. The Musical Director was Jed Balsamo. The stage design with those colorful LED light panels was designed by Ricardo Eric Cruz, with digital video designs by GA Fallarme.
This show proves what a very deep pool of musical stage talent we Filipinos have -- songwriters, musicians, librettists, actors and all the production crew behind them! Mabuhay ang teatrong Pilipino!
Here are the shows included in MUSIKAL! that I have seen and LINKS to what I had written about them when I saw them:
PETA's Caredivas: MY REVIEW
TP's Noli Me Tangere, the Musical: MY REVIEW
TP's Walang Sugat: MY REVIEW
Ballet Phil's Rama Hari: MY REVIEW
Rivalry: MY REVIEW
PETA's Himala: MY REVIEW
Sa Wakas: MY REVIEW
TP's Sandosenang Sapatos: MY REVIEW
Katy: MY REVIEW
PETA's Batang Rizal: MY REVIEW
Lorenzo: MY REVIEW
Trumpets' Bluebird of Happiness: MY REVIEW
Maxie the Musical: MY REVIEW
TP's San Andres B: MY REVIEW
PETA's Rak of Aegis: MY REVIEW