The proceedings started around 8:15 pm, when Mr. Rico Hizon was called onstage for his welcome address. The programme called him Production Adviser. He recounted that tonight's show had its seed planted way back in 2003 when they saw a painting of National Artist for Visual Arts Benedicto Cabrera in a coffee-table book. The creative process between him, musical director Louie Ocampo and writer of book and lyrics cum stage director Freddie Santos would take the next 12 years before finally seeing the light of the stage tonight at the Theater at Solaire. Tonight was its World Premiere Gala.
The story started from Sabel's birth to her parents Miguel and Consolacion. We will be taken through the World War II, the gay '50s cabaret scene, up to a couple of decades later. We will follow Sabel from her idyllic childhood, through her darker days as a comfort woman, amazon fighter, nightclub star dancer, then destitute mother. Finally she becomes the crazy dancing street lady who in turn inspired a young painter's masterpiece. Her eventfully dramatic life rivets the audience to its many twists and turns.
Ms. Iza Calzado
The narrator was in the person of the statuesque and glamourous Ms. Iza Calzado, who donned an elegant black gown adorned with flowing peach cape. Her narration of the story would be in the form of rhyming lines delivered with a musical lilt, yet so pregnant with emotion. We would later realize that she is actually the title character of Sabel, telling the story of her life. In the ending sequences, Ms. Calzado would embody the character of mature Sabel in an exquisite, deeply moving, career-defining performance.
The story is presented onstage in the form of dances by talented dancers from the Philippine Ballet Theater. Selected soloists danced the main roles of Sabel (an outstanding Bianca Trocino), her father Miguel (Lemuel Capa), paramour Luis (Ian Ocampo) and the painter Miguelin (an athletic Matthew Davo). While they were dancing, powerful songs were being sung from the side by the rich and exciting voices of theater star par excellence Audie Gemora, belter Aicelle Santos of "Rak of Aegis" fame, veteran balladeer Bo Cerrudo, comebacking former child star Antoinette Taus and recent The Voice favorite Timmy Pavino.
Antoinette Taus and Timmy Pavino
Aicelle Santos and Bo Cerrudo
Of all the songs, the one that caught my attention first was the poignant "Look at Her" first sung by Audie Gemora after Isabel was born. The centerpiece nature of this beautiful song would be confirmed when it was reprised two more times in two more important moments of her life by Cerrudo and Pavino. This will be the song this show will be most remembered for. This is a Filipino theater song classic in the making, possibly in the tradition of "Minsan Ay Minahal Mo Ako" from "Katy!" or "Magbalik Ka Na, Mahal" from "Rama Hari".
The stage was spare in set pieces, with only several geometric panels above and in the back serving to be the screen upon which photographs and various lighting and graphic designs would be projected. This was a very efficient set by Light and Space Corporation, designed by Joselito Tecson. Those beautiful scenes when the painter was painting his artworks were executed using an amazing special visual effect I have never seen before on Philippine stage. The lighting design of Shax Siasoco was mesmerizing.
BenCab himself (in beret) joins the cast to take a bow.
Freddy Santos and Louie Ocampo joins the final bow.
As an integral part of the celebration of BenCab's 50 creative years, "Sabel: Love and Passion" will have its regular run on June 26 and 27 at the Music Museum. Do not miss it!