The musical adaptation of the Lino Brocka classic Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag can be considered a timely and relevant reminder from Filipino theater artists about the situation of the country.
While we are known as a country of singers, the thespians who went on stage at the Kia Theater in Cubao, Quezon City proved they were not just there to sing in tune, but to actually give emphatic performances that combined emotive singing, finely choreographed dancing, and effectively internalized acting.
ANTICIPATED ADAPTATION. Audiences came in droves to watch the opening night, anticipating a ground-breaking spectacle directed by Joel Lamangan.
Incidentally, Joel was one of the actors of the 1975 Lino Brocka-directed film Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag based on Edgardo M. Reyes's novel of the same title.
This two-act musical is set in the 1970s but its message remains timeless. In a lot of ways, this musical adaptation paved the way for today's generation to see the classic movie tale starred in by Bembol Roco and Hilda Koronel in a new, more relatable light.
During the press preview, Arman Ferrer reprised the role of Bembol while Shiela Valderama brought life to the character previously portrayed by Hilda.
In this well-orchestrated live musical, numbers were done with a level of artistry that would make Pinoys proud.
CLASS ACT. Lead actor Arman Ferrer brings life to Julio, a probinsyano who comes to Manila in order to rescue the love of his life, Ligaya. During the press preview, the lead female star was played by Shiela Valderama (Lara Maigue is cast as the alternate actress).
Arman is initially tentative on stage but he eventually warms up to his role. You'd be captivated by his naturally kind-hearted and driven character.
Ex-La Diva and part-time Eat Bulaga host Aicelle Santos, arguably the most popular face among the performers, delivered the goods as ordered. She played the character of Perla (sister to a friend of Julio) with ease and charm while singing her parts with power.
Somehow, Aicelle vocally outshone actress Shiela Valderama who played the lead female character Ligaya.
But that is not to belittle Shiela's performance since she did a good job, too. There may be other actresses more fit for the role of a girl from the province whose dreams are shattered in Manila, yet she embodied her character with aplomb.
The first act digs deep into the still-relevant city life struggles affecting blue collar workers, especially those coming from the provinces.
The group performances are made more delightful because of visually delightful synchronized dancing under the guidance of Douglas Nierras.
The songs, composed by musical director Von de Guzman, with libretto by Jose Victor Torres and Em Mendez, make use of key words like "deskarte" and "jackpot" to push the narrative, to good effect. The melodies are catchy and upbeat and the lyrics are easy to comprehend as the songs are being performed.
The songs will cut through you while imparting messages about the plight of laborers and marginalized members of society.
SOCIALLY RELEVANT MUSICAL. The latter half of the play focuses on the love angle between Julio and Ligaya. Theirs is a classic story of a young man searching for his lady love after she left the province in order to escape poverty.
The thespians who play the support characters are also worth mentioning, particularly Dulce as the pimp Mrs. Cruz and Jim Pebanco as the ruthlessly unfair workers' supervisor.
The musical is a dream come true for Direk Joel Lamangan through the support of the Gantimpala Theater Foundation, the Grand Leisure Corporation, and with Full House Asia Productions as line producer.
It even bears the trademark elements of a Direk Joel production, particularly when a funeral procession suddenly turns into a rally complete with a red flag being waved in the air.
The stage design is realistic, particularly the construction site that serves as Julio's workplace. The artistry of production designer Jun Flavier Pablo and lighting director Joey Nombres enhances the theater experience.
Maynila Sa Kuko Ng Mga Liwanag, The Musical proves that theatrical productions can entertain audiences while providing social commentary.
Performances are scheduled this Friday, October 6, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. For tickets, call Bards Lapid at 0917-8466704; or via landlines 897-7142, 890-0853, 890-6067 or Ticketnet 911-5555.)
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.