Tanghalang Pilipino mounts Mario O’Hara’s last play, ‘Stageshow,’ opening Oct. 10

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In the days of yore, the comedian Canuplin made a name for himself in the entertainment world, modeling his antics after the great Charlie Chaplin, “the eternal tramp.”

Alas, he was not very original, and his star began to fade as the bodabil (vaudeville) and the stageshow eras became history.

During the early 1980s, the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) came out with an acclaimed play about the rise and fall of Canuplin. He was even featured in Celebrity magazine, edited by Rosario A. Garcellano and Norma Olizon.

Writer Jo-an Maglipon interviewed Canuplin in his humble home for an in-depth article and, as recalled by Garcellano, Maglipon brought Canuplin a bagful of mangoes. The elderly comedian was profuse in his thanks, then instructed a young relative: “Itabi mo ito, ang ating hapunan (take this, it is our dinner).”

The late Canuplin was one of many stars who survived bodabil and the stageshow, then fell into hard times, performing from province to province, barrio to barrio, carnivals (perya), plazas, festivals, and decrepit theaters in Manila and the regions.

They would do comedy skits, song-and-dance numbers, dramas, variety shows, Pasyon (Passion Play) excerpts. As their fortune declined, some of the women became burlesque queens and circus freaks.

Celebrities

Of course, there were those who became celebrities, like Bayani Casimiro, German Moreno, Elizabeth Ramsey, Oscar Obligacion, Chichay, Bentot, and Pugo and Tugo.

The songs of Sylvia la Torre and Pilita Corrales were also part of that era, from the 1950s to the mid-1980s.

Sylvia was a formally trained soprano (University of Santo Tomas Conservatory) who had a knack for comedy, and so she became a popular TV star.

Pilita was a “classy” Spanish-speaking mestiza from Cebu, which also had a strong stageshow and perya tradition.

Many, however, were not that fortunate and had limited education. Their twilight years were marked by hardships and penury.

Official entry

Their stories have been made into a play, titled “Stageshow,” by the late actor-writer-director Mario O’Hara. It will be mounted by Tanghalang Pilipino, the resident drama group of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, at Tanghalang Aurelio V. Tolentino (Little Theater).

Playdates are Oct. 10-14 and Oct. 17-21 (tel. 8321125 local 1620/1). There will be 3 p.m. matinees on certain dates.

Gala night is on Oct. 13; it will be a tribute to surviving stageshow veterans.

“Stageshow” is also an official entry to the National Theater Festival in November.

Direction is by Chris Millado, with musical direction by Jeffrey Hernandez; choreography by Denisa Reyes; set design by Leeroy New; costume design by Brenda Fajardo; and lighting design by Katsch Catoy.

Notable leads, support

The leads are the husband-and-wife team Nonie and Shamaine Centenera Buencamino (with Roeder Camañag and Liesl Batucan as alternates).

Buencamino and Centenera play Tirso and Esther, respectively, lovers for a time who are reunited 35 years later.

There is a supporting cast of notables such as May Bayot, Mae Paner, Angelina Kanapi, Lou Veloso, Rody Vera and Jonathan Tadioan.

And there will be one-night surprise numbers, like director Joel Lamangan as the Singing Cowboy; and Isay Alvarez acting out her forthcoming role as bodabil queen Katy de la Cruz.

Dances of the era will be performed, like the mambo, tap dance, bebop and the twist.

“I took a strong cue from the storytelling of Mario,” Millado said. “Drama-drama, then songs and dances, back and forth.”

“Imagine aging from 20 to 60,” exclaimed Centenera. “It’s demanding physically and acting it out… and we are not that familiar with the dances.”

“I had to learn how to tap-dance again,” put in Buencamino. “And then the mambo… parang (it’s like) Mario is playing a joke on the actors, pero masaya (it’s fun and lively)!”

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