Curtains will open a month from now, but the buzz has it that theater showbuyers have been lining up for months to get a piece of the action. The main attraction is “Maxie The Musicale,” a stage adaptation of the indie film hit “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros.”
The Cinemalaya film explores the coming-of-age story of a young gay boy and his crush on a twentysomething police officer. That Maxie, the young hero, comes from a family of petty thieves who are on the radar of the crusading Victor, adds a Romeo-and-Juliet spin to the tale.
The musical’s cinematic origins and the film’s huge fan following have triggered huge interest for the theatrical production. At the same time, they have also made potential audiences ask: How faithful—or different—will “Maxie The Musicale” be vis-a-vis its source material?
Darwin Mariano, the musical’s executive producer, quotes playwright and lyricist Nicholas Pichay for an answer: “It’s the movie—and it’s not the movie.”
Fidelity could be guaranteed by the fact that Pichay was the choice of the original film producers to adapt the movie to the stage. The playwright also consulted with the the movie’s screenwriter, Michiko Yamamoto. Directing the production and providing choreography is Dexter Santos.
“We will follow the story,” says Mariano. “But we do want to maximize the fact that it’s now a stage play, and there are a lot of things you can do in the theater and not on film.”
Among them are 26 musical numbers (so far), consisting of a wide variety of styles from the boisterous “Tabo-Tabo” that has cops and criminals dancing (separately) in the showers of a prison station; the bittersweet “Pelikula” that has Maxie escaping into the fantasy world of film; and the poignant “Love Letter,” where Maxie finally confesses his feelings to Victor.
What remains intact is the spirit of the movie. “It’s about the loss of innocence,” says Mariano. “All of us have that period in our lives when we see that the world is not perfect, our parents have flaws… The story captures that very well. The movie is about love, and it’s not about the gay angle. That Maxie is a gay boy is not an issue, but the fact that he happens to belong to a family of crooks. If the main character were a little girl, the movie would have worked as well, I think.”
At the same time, Mariano concedes, “We are benefiting from a time when gay-themed material is not as scandalous anymore as it was years ago.”
Jhayvot Galang, the 14-year-old who plays Maxie, is an openly gay boy accepted by his family. His was a last-minute casting that just might spawn a star turn. For months, the producers and artistic team could not find their main hero, until a friend posted on their Facebook wall a video of the young Galang auditioning in a noontime show. What Mariano saw impressed him so much that he tracked the boy’s address to his home in San Andres, Manila, and personally asked him to audition.
“The minute he sang his first note, we knew we had our Maxie,” says Mariano. Galang was then sent to do the rounds of theater workshops to develop his acting and singing skills.
Jojo Riguerra, who plays Victor, is a model and a theater actor who has done work for Gantimpala Theater and other companies. Aside from his thespian abilities and attractive features, what sold him to the artistic team was his six-foot height.
“That was necessary to underline the disparity in the ages of Victor and Maxie,” says Mariano. Santos, who was in New York when they were casting for Victor, did the auditions through Skype.
Rehearsals are in full swing for the Nov. 9 opening, and the songs (by William Elvin Manzano, JJ Pimpinio and Janine Santos) and material are being fine-tuned. Mariano says he wants “a fun show that is movement-heavy… and with humor, power and delicacy.”
He is happy that many are responding positively to news about the musical. Along with his business associate Carlo Miguel Francia, Mariano has been an active showbuyer of productions such as Dulaang UP’s “Orosman and Zafira” and New Voice Company’s “The Vagina Monologues.” “Maxie The Musicale” is the first show they are producing, and Mariano hopes it won’t be their last.
“Right now, the economy is good, that’s why theater is growing and the middle class is watching,” he says. Beyond the businessman in him, though, is the dramatic arts buff who regularly trooped to the Cultural Center of the Philippines in his high school and college years to watch plays produced by Tanghalang Pilipino.
“We have no illusions about being groundbreaking,” Mariano says. “We don’t want to produce Broadway material because there are already many who are doing that. We want to showcase Filipino talent—and we want to produce Filipino material.”
Bit by Bit Company’s “Maxie The Musicale” runs at the Peta Center from Nov. 9 to Dec. 8. Call Ticketworld at 8919999 or click ticketworld.com.ph.