A solitary note from a grand piano pierces the darkness. Anold woman makes her way slowly across the stage, as if floating on air. There are no elaborate sets or costumes—only vivid lighting, theextraordinary singing voices of the actors and not-so-simple dance sequencesthat tell the complex story of Himala theMusicale.
The play boasts a brilliant script written by Ricky Lee and haunting musicalcompositions from Vince De Jesus, as well as riveting performances by the cast. Himalathe Musicale was the Philippines' sole entry to the Asian ContemporaryTheater Festival in Shanghai, People's Republic of China. According toTanghalang Pilipino, this is the first time the Philippines will participate in the festival.
This third annual Asian Contemporary Theater Festivalfeatures entries from Australia, Japan, Turkey, Hungary, Korea, Indonesia,Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Pakistan, India and, of course, China. In awelcome move, representatives from Taiwan and Hong Kong will also beparticipating.
According to ShanghaiDaily.com, an English-languagenewspaper supervised by the Chinese government, the three-week festivalshowcases groups from around the world that will stage more than 50performances of 21 plays, ranging from experimental musicals and traditionaloperas to puppetry and physical theater.
To quote the publication's description of the Filipinopresentation Himala: "If you are into Philippine singers in a myriad ofShanghai's bars and pubs, don't miss the Philippine musical ‘Himala' by the country'sTanghalang Filipino Theater."
In an interview with ShanghaiDaily.com, Yu Rongjun,marketing manager of Shanghai Drama Arts Center and director of the festival,said that the plays were chosen because "Each work represents the theatricaldevelopment of the country."
A few days before leaving for China, Tanghalang Pilipinoperformed the abridged version of Himala for the benefit of the pressand representatives of embassies in the country.
PHILIPPINE PRIDE. There's no doubt thatMay Bayot, Isay Alvarez, Cynthia Culig-Guico, and Lionel Guico have all giventheir best in bringing the storyto life. More is at stakethan the adulation of theater goers. Tanghalang Pilipino hastaken upon itself to tap the best thespians who will showcase the versatilityand immense talents of Filipinos.
"All our actors jumped at the chance of performing forFilipinos abroad, even if they're not getting paid," said company managerYvette P. Macayan. "They all realize that part of Tanghalang Pilipino's missionis to serve the Filipino community, wherever they may be."
Yvette tells PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) that ontheir first performance night (November 22), the crowd gave Tanghalang Pilipinoa standing ovation. She also narrated that the group encountered difficulties,especially in overcoming the language barrier, while staying in Shanghai,China. The 11-strong cast is due to arrive in Manila on Sunday, November 25.
In Himala the Musicale, Elsa (May Bayot) claims tohave seen the Virgin Mary during an eclipse and starts healing the people ofBarrio Cupang. Elsa's childhood friend Nimia (Isay Alvarez) becomes aprostitute for the Disco Heaven cabaret while Chayong (Cynthia Culig-Guico)devotes herself to Elsa and her cause.
May Bayot was named best theater actress during the 2003 Aliw Awards.She has been active in the entertainment scene since the late ‘80s andconsistently gives powerful vocal performances. She gives justice to the rolethat propelled Nora Aunor to stardom. In the stage version of Himala, itis May Bayot's skillful, live vocal performance and understated acting that isexpected to thrill audiences abroad.
Isay Alvarez plays her role in Himala as seductively as she did in MissSaigon. She plays the role of Nimia, Elsa's childhood friend who isled into a life of prostitution. Isay has managed to keep her svelte figure toconvincingly play the role of a seductress. She gyrates her hips andshows off her thighs as if enticing the viewers to come join her in the DiscoHeaven cabaret. Viewers will look at her, listen to her, as she commands their attention. Isay delivers provocative lines and says the slang word for the "heaven between her legs," eliciting loudlaughter from the crowd.
Orly the filmmaker who documents the "miracles" of Elsa isportrayed by Lionel Guico. He bears witness to the rise and fall of Elsa thevisionary. He points out why Himala is such a powerful stagepresentation. "It's in the work, the words. You don't notice that it's thestrong music that also carries the emotions. I can't say enough about VincentDe Jesus' music and the wonderful choreography of Jose Jay Cruz."