Tanghalang Pilipino (TP), resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, will open its 27th season (2013-2014) with “Sandosenang Sapatos,” a children’s musical based on Luis Gatmaitan’s Palanca Award-winning children’s book.
TP recently dominated the 2011 Philstage Gawad Buhay! for its productions last season. “Walang Kukurap” was adjudged Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Play, and “Doc Resureccion, Gagamutin ang Bayan” won Outstanding Play and Outstanding Original Script by Layeta Bucoy.
Meanwhile, the Mario O’Hara musical “Stageshow” won Outstanding Musical Production, Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Musical, Female Lead Performance in a Musical by Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, Female Featured Performance in a Musical by Mailes Kanapi, Male Featured Performance in a Musical by Rody Vera, Outstanding Sound Design by TJ Ramos, Outstanding Choreography by Denisa Reyes, Outstanding Stage Direction by Chris Millado, and Outstanding Book or Original Libretto by the late O’ Hara.
“‘Sandosenang Sapatos’ is a play “about a shoemaker who dreams of having a ballerina daughter but ends up with a crippled daughter. Audiences will see how he shows her his love,” says TP associate artistic director Tuxqs Rutaquio, who will direct the show using the adaptation by Bucoy with music by Noel Cabangon and Jed Balsamo.
“The musical was commissioned by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People in cooperation with CCP as part of the celebration of the 28th National Children’s Book Day in July,” he adds.
Nat’l Children’s Book Day is celebrated every third week of July to commemorate the anniversary of the publication of Jose Rizal’s “The Monkey and the Turtle” in Trubner’s Oriental Record in London.
Sea princess and singing mermaid
The cast features members of the Actors Company, TP’s resident pool of actors. Jonathan Tadioan plays the father, May Bayot is the mother, and Trixie Esteban is Susie, the crippled daughter.
TP board member and Inquirer columnist Tessa Prieto-Valdes will have a special guest role in the show. Prieto-Valdes goes by the nickname Sea Princess, while it was a singing mermaid that inspired Balsamo to enter the world of composing music for performances.
Balsamo learned piano from his mother. In high school, he came across the soundtrack of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” After listening to the cassette tape, he realized he wanted to create music for narratives.
“This was the time when I fell in love with film music and started a modest collection of available soundtracks from the best composers like John Williams, Alan Menken, Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman, James Horner, John Barry, Marc Shaiman, Alan Silvestri, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Michael Kamen.”
While an American soundtrack may have spurred him to create music, his first two attempts in high school were grounded in Philippine stories. Balsamo composed music for a stage adaptation of National Artist for Theater Rolando Tinio’s “May Katwiran Ang Katwiran” and Jay Rey Alovera’s “Damaso,” a musical focusing on the main antagonist of Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere.”
He continued to create works while studying Composition and Piano at St. Scholastica’s College, where he graduated cum laude.
Balsamo hit the ground running when he started working professionally: as a keyboardist for the Manila and Asia (Hong Kong and Singapore) tour of “Miss Saigon” and as the piano arranger for TP’s “Himala The Musical.”
Aside from musicals, he also composes for choirs and orchestras. He’s currently the resident music director of Ballet Philippines. He received a 2011 PGB nomination for his music composition for BP’s “Crisostomo Ibarra” and won the 2012 Gawad Buhay! for Outstanding Musical Direction for his work together with Ryan Cayabyab in BP’s “Rama, Hari.”
‘Maximizing the minimum’
Composing music for children’s musicals is not new to Balsamo, who is also “Sandosenang’s” musical director. He did TP’s “Mulan” in 2007 and “Dugtongdugtong na Sumbong (Ang Hukuman ni Sinukuan)” in 2010.
“Composing a children’s musical is probably one of the toughest jobs for a composer. You should not oversimplify melodic ideas for the sake of recall or clarity, yet the music still has to be catchy and relevant.”
He favors a wide range of melodic lines and complex chords, so the challenge for him was to create something that “has depth yet appeals to most kids and the young-at-heart.”
Balsamo used to wonder why he would receive commissions to do children’s musicals. “Directors or producers know that I am more of the serious, dramatic type. I realized that these served as opportunities for me to further learn to ‘maximize the minimum,’ to simplify things to what is essential yet without being too boring or predictable.”
For this production, Balsamo was tasked to collaborate with folk singer and composer Noel Cabangon.
“Merging our work into a cohesive and unified single unit was not that difficult. He likes to highlight our individual strong points as composers. I got to see his composing process and it has expanded my views on the craft of songwriting.”
Gerald Mercado choreographs, with sound design by TJ Ramos, lighting design is by John Batalla, costumes by James Reyes and Leeroy New, and set design by Rutaquio.
“Sandosenang Sapatos” runs July 13-21 at Tanghalang Huseng Batute, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Shows at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. All shows are open for sponsors and showbuyers. Contact 8321125 loc. 1620 to 1621, 2183791, 09177500107 and 09189593949. Tickets also available through Ticketworld at 8919999 or www.ticketworld.com.ph.