Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Bituin Escalante, Cris Villonco, The CompanY and 30-plus other artists performed in Vincent de Jesus’ concert at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, the second of CCP’s Triple Threats concert series this year. PHOTO BY ERICKSON DELA CRUZ
No beating human heart is safe when near the music of Vincent de Jesus.
Granted, the man is also an extraordinary composer of lighthearted, hopeful, even comical music. The “Kayumanggilas” number from “Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady,” for instance, which summons the “barakong” Pinoy image through wildly creative wordplay (“bansot,” “jologs,” “sakang,” “isaw and balut” uproariously crammed in a few lines), may just be the cleverest, funniest song we’ve heard in the theater this year.
But De Jesus’ heartbreak music, his assiduous exploration of pain and cruel suffering and love crushed and splintered, is of a different category altogether. At the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP) Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino last Sept. 24, the illustrious career of this
much-garlanded songwriter-actor-musical director received a thrilling, almost unbearably melancholy condensation through the aptly titled “Demented, Delightful, Deranged, De Jesus,” the second of this year’s Triple Threats concert series.
Thirty-nine artists, like pilgrims at the shrine, performed the two-hour set list, which mostly contained De Jesus’ musical theater work—“Care Divas,” “Zsazsa Zaturnnah,” “Himala, The Musical”—interwoven with selections from his album “Songs to Slash Your Wrist By” (how fitting!) and his compositions for the screen, such as the theme from Mark Meily’s “Crying Ladies.”
It was an impressive display of versatility (and even this phrase seems an inadequate modifier). For De Jesus’ body of work runs a gamut of styles and moods, from inspiring patriotism (“Pag-asa ng Bayan” from “Batang Rizal”) to brusque elation (“Babae na Ako” from “Zsazsa,” performed by Eula Valdes) to heart-tugging, brain-numbing, vaguely soul-crushing romance (“There’ll Be Trouble” from “Leading Lady,” with original cast members Giannina Ocampo, Hans Eckstein and Bituin Escalante).
And it’s that last kind that De Jesus does exceptionally well. In fact, looking back, the concert felt like a slow descent into a wellspring of tears.
“Here’s another happy song,” became the evening’s oft-spoken sardonic gag, the titles speaking for themselves as they flew by: “Hindi na Kita Mahal,” “Ako Lang ang Nagmahal,” “Sapagkat Mahal Kita,” etc.
It’s the language of betrayed lovers and disillusioned romantics that De Jesus speaks most fluently, his images sharp, the voices distinct, the metaphors savagely hard-hitting and honest.
Take this hint of hurt from “Ang Maamong Mukha ng Pag-ibig Mong Sinungaling,” which De Jesus himself performed: “Iwan mo na lang sa unan ang amoy ng iyong pagtataksil. Akin ’yan.”
Or from “Tahimik Lang,” achingly sung by Reuben Laurente, in which emotional damage masquerades as silence: “Walang tunog kapag ang luha’y pumapatak/at ang pusong sumisigaw, walang nakakarinig/at ang labing napipi, gusto mang magsumbong, tahimik lang.”
To use the expression: hashtag “hugot.” Whether in English or Filipino, the truthful clarity of De Jesus’ lyrics is never diminished.
And come those lung-busting aria—such as “Kasalanan Ko” from “Leading Lady,” which only Escalante could possibly render with such crushing anguish—one could only surrender to the sweeping sensory overload.
It’s moments like this—and “Demented, Delightful, Deranged, De Jesus” had them aplenty—when the human heart is transported to a most vulnerable, searing spot. When that happens, it’s best not to hold back; instead, one just has to surrender to this genius’ sweetly painful music. Your heart will surprisingly thank you for it.
E-mail the author at [email protected], or visit him at www.vincengregorii.blogspot.com.