They created a whole flooded village in “Rak of Aegis,” but the folks behind the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) are set to conjure a much bigger world onstage with the futuristic Pinasland in “3 Stars and a Sun,” its latest musical.
In “3 Stars and a Sun,” set 70 years from now, Pinasland is covered by a “Stormdome”—a “geodesic sphere… custom-engineered to withstand hurricane-force winds and heavy loads of rain and other extreme weather,” thus making the country, or what’s left habitable of it, a virtual fallout shelter. The dome is covered by solar panels, there are hidden cameras everywhere and the underside is illuminated by LED lights.
Director Nor Domingo says, “The environment is controlled. ’Yung konsepto ko is, everyone has to look uniform, like a commune or a prison, so there’s a feeling of control; there’s a controlling figure, an omnipresent person watching everything.”
That dystopic, totalitarian state is the backdrop for a musical that features the music of the late Francis Magalona—a juxtaposition that Domingo says carries its own complexities.
“It’s hard to make ‘3 Stars and a Sun’ happy and fun with the music of Francis M.,” he says, noting that many of Magalona’s songs are nationalistic and inspirational. But many of them also carry sharp insights and critical observations of the Filipino environment, so playwrights Mixcaela Villalon and Rody Vera have their work cut out for them to fashion an instructive and entertaining narrative out of the late great rap artist’s musical legacy.
Darker and more apocalyptic, “3 Stars and a Sun” will definitely be no “Rak of Aegis,” Peta’s runaway musical-comedy hit for the last two years that showcased the powerful pop-rock music of the Aegis band. And in any case, Domingo is not interested in redoing “Rak.”
“I consciously don’t want to bring it there. I don’t want it to be a rehash, just with different songs,” he says.
For “3 Stars,” set to run Feb. 4-March 6 at Peta Theater Center, the story revolves around two cliques in a corner of Pinasland the size of Quezon City. A petty fight between kids from developed Lumino City led by slacker Chino (Paolo Valenciano alternating with Gio Gahol) and those from rough Diliman City led by troublemaker Sol (Nicco Manalo and Gold Villar) exposes the immense problems simmering in Pinasland.
“The people will be questioning the status quo, why they are there,” says Domingo. “And they will begin to wonder if maybe there is something better outside.”
The play is meant to inspire audiences, especially the young ones, not to be indifferent, he adds, “The dome will represent not just repression but also the shell that we put ourselves in, that we should break out of to see what else is out there. Many kids, all they look at nowadays is this [holds up his phone]; this is their world. They don’t look out.”
The story will use 20 Francis M. songs, including the hits “Mga Kababayan,” “Kabataan para sa Kinabukasan,” “Mga Praning.”
“The songs of Francis M. will be all over the place,” says Domingo. “Some songs will have slight adjustments in the lyrics just so they fit, but the spirit of the material will still be there; and there are songs that we use with the original lyrics but in a different context.”
And—“Lahat magra-rap,” he says; all the actors had to undergo a tough audition, performing either “Mga Kababayan Ko” or “Girl Be Mine,” and the very challenging “Jolog.”
“It was not like your regular audition where they’re very comfortable singing. This is rap. “Pinili namin ’yung pinakamahirap. Kapag nagawa mo ’yan, I think you can do the rest.”
The cast includes Che Ramos-Cosio and Carla Guevara-Laforteza, Bodjie Pascua and Raffy Tejada, Giannina Ocampo and Justine Peña, Anna Luna and Jet Barrun, John Moran and Nar Cabico, Lee Viloria and EJ Pepito, Anj Heruela and Gab Pangilinan, and Jef Flores and Norbs Portales.
Completing the ensemble are Jason Barcial, Raflesia Bravo, Yesh Burce, Lance Busa, Roi Calilong, Gimbey dela Cruz, Nica Santiago and Ian Segarra.
The musical director is Myke Salomon, who won a Gawad Buhay! trophy for the same job in “Rak of Aegis.” Production design is by Gino Gonzales, lighting design by Shoko Matsumoto and Ian Torqueza, sound design by Teresa Barrozo and choreography by Delphine Buencamino.
Domingo admits he wasn’t always a fan of Francis M., whom he initially thought was a copycat of American performers. It became admiration soon enough, and one that grew as Francis M. inspired appreciation for Filipino rap and Pinoy talent in general, and the social consciousness he infused in his work.
“Especially after his death, you realize how big his impact is not just on Philippine rap and hip-hop. See all his influences —Gloc 9, Death Threat, Abra—they all look up to him.”
The fact that they need to do justice to the iconic Man from Manila is the big challenge, says Domingo.
“[It is] a tribute to Francis M.’s music, an homage. Our goal is for you to hear Francis M. and his spirit—and through him, we begin to think of our country’s future. Doon ko gustong dalhin ’yung play.”
Peta’s “3 Stars and a Sun” runs Feb. 4-March 6 at the Peta-Phinma Theater at the Peta Theater Center. Call 725-6244 or visit petatheater.com and ticketworld.com.ph.