Veteran actor-turned-producer Christopher de Leon recounts the difficulties he faced as the producer of the rock musical Lorenzo. Before the preview last week, Christopher told the media: “First and foremost, it's a big production. It's very hard to get sponsors, so all out na ako dito." Despite the challenges the production may have faced, these were not apparent during the musical’s much-anticipated press preview.
Lorenzo is a rock opera musical about the life of two Lorenzos who lived in different time periods: Laurence (played by OJ Mariano), an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) on death row in an Arab country, and St. Lorenzo Ruiz (played by Lorenz Martinez), the first Filipino saint.
Written by Juan Ekis and Paul Dumol with the collaboration of Joem Antonio, Lorenzo is a “musical-within-a-play” in three acts. Sitting in a prison cell awaiting his execution, Laurence tells his story to a reporter (Camille Lopez-Molina). Laurence, who had once been active in the theater scene, imagines writing a musical about San Lorenzo Ruiz.
The parallel lives of Laurence and Lorenzo are presented side by side: Saint Lorenzo Ruiz’ escape to Japan which led to his martyrdom and Laurence’s imprisonment in an Arab country. The play also depicts the murder that they committed, which led to imprisonment; their spiritual struggles; doubts; and finally redemption. The reporter transcribes Laurence’s ideas in the hopes of staging the musical after his execution.
Lorenzo has three acts. In Act One, Laurence narrates how Lorenzo Ruiz kills a Spaniard and becomes a fugitive from the law. In order to escape, Lorenzo Ruiz accidentally joins a group of merchants en route to Japan. Unbeknownst to him, the merchants are actually Christian friars who would eventually be persecuted and tortured in Japan.
Photo by Allan Sancon
Act Two fleshes out the details of Laurence’s crime in the Middle East. Laurence wonders about the circumstances that led Lorenzo Ruiz to kill a Spaniard. Was it premeditated murder, or self-defense? Was it a crime of passion? Act Two is more exciting than Act One. It delves into the pivotal acts of murder that changed both their lives.
In Act Three, Laurence tells the reporter about his own conversion story. Laurence mirrors his own spiritual battles with Lorenzo Ruiz’ own struggles. Act Three could have been tighter. The long drawn-out ending dilutes the impact of the story.
The “musical-within-a-play” structure is novel and interesting. The parallels between Laurence’s and Lorenzo’s lives are clearly seen. However, the juxtaposition between Lorenzo Ruiz’ life and the lives of OFWs seems a bit forced. The musical’s take on the current OFW situation is not clear.
There are a lot of Japanese elements from the Noh-inspired costumes, movement and music, to the manga comics projected on screen, the zentai suit (skin-tight garment that covers the entire body) worn by one of the dancers, and even the huge awesome robot that appears on stage.
Photo by Allan Sancon
Production designer Gino Gonzales’ Noh-inspired costumes are works of art. Outrageous and artistic, the costumes are a mix of modern and traditional elements. The villains wear grand flowing robes and exaggerated Lady Gaga-like shoulder pads. The masks, heavy make-up and covered faces of the Japanese characters make them seem imposing.
Photo by Allan Sancon
The set is genius. It is composed of balikbayan boxes stacked one on top of the other to form a wall. At times, the actors punch through the wall of boxes to create windows and doors. The balikbayan boxes allude to OFWs. At the same time, the wall of brown balikbayan boxes creates a claustrophobic drab atmosphere reminiscent of a prison.
Nonon Padilla’s direction is dynamic and eclectic. There are things happening upstage, downstage, even along the aisles, thus creating depth. There are Brechtian touches all throughout the musical. Brechtian Theater uses techniques that prevent the audience from losing itself completely in the narrative, instead making it a conscious critical observer. There are times when Laurence interrupts the scene to give the stage hands some directions. This is meant to maintain emotional distance and remind the audience that they are watching a play. In the middle of emotional scenes, there are surprising bursts of comedy. There is even a “curtain call” before the actual curtain call when a disco ball drops as Lorenzo and the friars break out their dance moves. The Brechtian style fits into the show’s “musical-within-a-play” structure and provides moments that are unexpected and yet entertaining.
The original music composed by Ryan Cayabyab is an extension of the characters’ dialogue. The music which is rock and epic, and yet tender and haunting at times reveals the mood of each scene. The use of traditional Japanese musical instruments creates ominous moments when needed.
The actors’ vocal skills are tapped fully in the challenging musical pieces. The musical numbers are thoroughly impressive.
Lorenz Maritnez has the difficult job of playing Saint Lorenzo Ruiz. He showcases the gamut of conflicting emotions San Lorenzo must have felt. OJ Mariano gives a powerful portrayal of a prisoner on death row. There are times where he is just watching the unfolding “musical” of Lorenzo’s life from one side of the stage, yet he maintains his strong stage presence. Some of the actors who gave stand-out performances include Terence Guillermo as Lazaro the leper; Sheila Valderrama as Rosario, Lorenzo Ruiz’ wife; and Noel Rayos as the villain Rodrigues.
Lorenzo is a paradox. Historically accurate and yet highly imaginative, conventional but also stylized, religious and yet irreverent as well, Lorenzo is as intriguing as the man himself.
Lorenzo runs until September 12, 13 and 14 at 1pm and 6pm. It is being staged at the SDA Theatre, located at the 5th floor De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, P. Ocampo St., Malate, Manila.
Tickets are available through TicketWorld or the Lorenzo official website www.lorenzorocks.com.