Art imitates life when it comes to Monica Cuenco, the singer-actress who has been chosen to portray Sharon Cunetaâ??s Dorina in Bituing Walang Ningning the Musical.
In the original 1985 movie, Sharonâ??s character Dorina has a scene wherein she performs at a wake. In real life, Monica has also experienced singing at a wake in order to make ends meet.
The 20-year old Cebuana had a rough start in life when she lost her father to cardiac arrest when she was 4 and her mother to cervical cancer 11 years ago.
Monica then lived with her aunt in Ormoc City where she found ways to earn money.
Being orphaned at an early age drove her to accept singing engagements when she was a teenager. Monica says that singing at a wake is her most memorable experience because it reminds her of her mom.
â??Pinakamemorable ko po yung kumanta po ako sa wake. Kasi, nung pinakauna akong kumanta sa wake, e, namatay kasi yung mom ko nun. At, pag may nakikita po akong patay, para na rin akong nagiging crying lady. Kasi pag kumakanta po ako, umiiyak rin po ako. Yun po. Sunod-sunod na po yung naging engagement ko: wedding, wake, tapos birthday party.â??
Just like her stage counterpart (Dorina sold sampaguita), Monica used to sell puto cheese with her sister back in Cebu so they could support their studies. In fact, press people and guests at the event were able to sample this puto cheese.
However, due to financial problems, Monica was only able to finish high school. â??Nag-stop na po ako gawa ako na lang po yung nagfi-finance sa sarili ko everytime na may kakailanganin ako. Pero nagtapos po ako ng high school. Itong elementary and high school, hindi na po ako humihingi sa ate ko. Nagseself-support po ako.â??
Winning the competition did not only give Monica her big break, it also paved the way for her reunion with her â??ateâ?? whom she has not seen in 11 years.
The chinita singer reveals that she comes from a big family. â??Actually po, 8 po kami. Pero, ako lang po yung isang anak sa mommy namin. Bale, stepsisters and stepbrothers ko po sila. Pero yung pinaka-close ko po is yung sister ko po. Hindi kami nagkabond for 11 years. And siya yung nag-alaga sa â??kin talaga since I was a kid. she always sends me to school. And then, nung time na namatay yung mom ko, dun na po kami nagkahiwalay. So yun po, nung nagkasama na po kami, kung meron mang pinakaproud na tao sa mundo, siya na po yun.â??
ON THE MEGASTAR AND THE POPSTAR PRINCESS. Monica has the huge challenge of meeting the expectations of those who might compare her performance as Dorina to the original 1985 movie and the TV adaptation aired by ABS-CBN in 2006.
Megastar Sharon Cuneta brought life to the fan-turned-singer in the original movie while Popstar Princess Sarah Geronimo reprised the role on television.
Monica admitted, â??Actually sobrang nakaka-pressure siya kasi alam natin na sobrang napakagaling ni Miss Sharon lalo na ni Miss Sarah, napaka-talented nila. Pero I always tell myself na every time na mag-perform ako I always put God first and sinasabi ko kay Lord na siya na bahala sa akin. Yung part ko na gagawin ko best ko ang maaalay ko sa kanya. Ayokong lumabas ang mga tao na hindi sila satisfied sa performance.â??
The Bituing Walang Ningning the Musical production isnâ??t the first time that Monica experienced being in the limelight.
Using her real name Monica Cuenco Sacay, the then 15-year-old aspiring singer joined ABS-CBNâ??s 2011 talent search Star Power: Sharonâ??s Search for the Next Female Pop Superstar.
Monica was named as second runner-up in Star Power next to Krissel Valdez (first runner-up) and Angeline Quinto (grand winner).
â??Actually nung time na yun yun yung hiningi ko kay God na ibigay sa akin yung pangarap ko na maging isang sikat na singer,â?? recalled Monica.
After briefly being part of ASAP, the reality show alumna decided to go back to her hometown to pursue her studies.
â??Siguro bumalik ako ng Cebu kasi hindi ko keri yung mga challenges. Ang daming mga pangyayari na hindi ko pa siya masyado na-sink in and sobrang challenging nung competition na yun lalong lalo na kina Ate Angeline at Ate K-La [Rivera].â??
TRYING HER LUCK ONSTAGE. Aside from earning the lead role in Bituing Walang Ningning the Musical, Monica also bagged an exclusive movie and recording contract with VIVA Communications, Inc. worth P1 million. She is also considered a contract artist for Full House Theater Company Entertainment and Productions Inc.
Monica feels very thankful to Mr. Vic del Rosario, head of Viva Records. â??Sinasabi ko po, parang naka-jackpot po ako. Yung sa roleta, nakuha ko yung grand prize. Parang sinabi ko na, nagpapasalamat ako at yung tiwala niya sa akin. Sobrang dami ng nagawa ni Boss Vic sa akin at ayokong i-fail siya sa expectations niya sa akin. Sobrang blessed lang po ako na naging part ako ng Viva family po.â??
Mark Bautista is cast as Nico Escobar, her leading man in this musical. The GMA-7 actor plays the role originally portrayed by Christopher de Leon in the movie.
Meanwhile, Cris Villonco is cast as Lavinia Arguelles, the rival singer originally played by Cherie Gil.
(Read more: Mark Bautista and Cris Villonco topbill Bituing Walang Ningning The Musical)
Monica candidly admits that she felt awkward while conducting a pictorial with her leading man, whom she refers to as â??Kuya Mark.â??
â??Nung una po, nung nagpictorial po kami, hindi po talaga ako makatingin kay Kuya Mark tapos parang inaapproach ko yung mga photographers, sinasabi kong, Kuya, pwede po bang huwag muna akong tumingin kay Kuya Mark, doon po muna sa camera? Tapos po, â??pag ready na po ako, titingin na po ako kay Kuya Mark. Kasi, nahihiya ako na kinikilig na sobrang awkward.â??
Mark recently performed in Londonâ??s West End for Here Lies Love, a musical about Imelda Marcos.
WHY MONICA CUENCO WAS CHOSEN. Monica was able to beat over 50 other auditionees who tried out for the role of Dorina.
The big boss of Viva Records, Vic Del Rosario himself, believes greatly in Monicaâ??s potential.
â??By doing the musical, we have discovered a possible superstar in Monica. In the next three to five years, she may be one of the hottest multimedia stars in the Philippines. And I guessâ?¦abangan nila yun for the next few years.â??
When asked about their basis for having chosen her, a member of the audition panel said, â??Weâ??re looking for somebody that fits the role. But, what I personally saw in Monica, is her innocence. This is a musical so singing is quite important and her personal life story, kung saan pwede niyang paghugutan for the role. She has all the ingredients. Although she has not done theater, we believe that she will do well.â??
This will not be the first time the partnership of Resorts World and Viva Records will help discover an aspiring star like Monica. Mr. Del Rosario stressed, â??When we were discussing this with Resorts World, the problem also is we really have to discover new talents. Thatâ??s why this is part of the program of Resorts World and Viva to basically discover new talents through their musical productions.â??
Other cast members are Cris Villonco as Lavinia and Ronnie Liang. Thespians Michael Williams and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo will also be playing important roles in Bituing Walang Ningning the Musical. The production is slated to open this June.