I went to see “Himala, Isang Musikal” on its last matinee.
I almost begged off. After an enormous Sunday lunch, a little siesta seemed really tempting. Besides, we were on an all-time high celebrating my grandson’s huge win in the Philippine Open. He took the trophy home for the second time in three years, and we were ecstatic. It was hard to break away.
But I had promised. I did not see the movie with Nora Aunor playing Elsa. And I so wanted to see the play. We rushed out right after dessert. I was apprehensive about the venue, the Power Mac Center Spotlight in Circuit Makati. We Wazed it and made it just in time. Sunday, no traffic.
The black-box theater is nestled in an impressive, still-to-be-completed mammoth complex built on a 21-hectare mixed-use development on the former Sta. Ana Racetrack property. The Power Mac Center Spotlight is a partnership between Ayala Land and Power Mac Center.
My daughters and I picked up our tickets at the door. They were sold out. In the lobby, there was an air of excited anticipation.
I didn’t know what to expect. The theater is a bleacher-type comfortably air-conditioned room with a capacity of more or less 300 people.
Pure, authentic best
There was no stage. They built rugged-looking low fences to set a barrier between the audience and the performers. Our seats were in the front row. The action took place right there, where we sat. It was like we were part of the brilliant cast. Talk about up close and personal!
There were no microphones. There was no orchestra; just a piano. No special effects. No voice enhancers. No distracting spotlights. We listened to the voices of a bunch of super talented singers/actors, at their purest and most authentic best. We felt their passion and suffered their pain as the tragedy unfolded. It was incredible!
Multi-awarded writer Ricky Lee wrote the original script for the movie in 1982. Critics have rated Aunor’s work in the film as the best in her career.
It took three years to make the musical. The libretto was a collaboration of the author with musical director Vince de Jesus, who was only 15 when he saw the original film. Lee was there that afternoon, seated beside National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera.
Aicelle Santos played Elsa. What a performance. What a voice. I’ve been an ardent fan since “Maynila, sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, The Musical.” In the role of Nanay Saling was the inimitable Bituin Escalante. Outstanding!
I was deeply moved by the performance of Kakki Teodoro. She was Elsa’s childhood friend Nimia, who owns a brothel in Cupang. Neomi Gonzales was Chayong, Elsa’s bosom friend, and Sandino Martin—I saw him in the movie “Ang Larawan”—played Pilo, her lover. David Ezra was Orly, the confounded filmmaker from Manila. Ed Lacson Jr. directed the musical.
A thunderous standing ovation exploded at the end of the play. Emotions were stirred by the powerful dialogue and poignant music and had to be expressed. Many were in tears. I was a mess, my mascara dribbling down my chin.
On my feet with the rest of the audience, my mind still tried to digest the play, seeking to understand the images of blind faith and fanaticism. The faces of the greedy and grappling opportunists taking advantage of the poor looked all too familiar. The story was set in an obscure godforsaken town, but it could happen anywhere. It could happen today.
Congratulations to Sandbox Collective and 9 Works Theatrical, producers of the hauntingly moving musical drama. Kudos to Pangasinan 4th District Representative Christopher “Toff” de Venecia, the tireless artistic director of Sandbox Collective. His parents, Speaker Joe and Gina de Venecia, were there in beaming support of their son’s theatrical endeavors.
There is so much talent in this land. We have world-class writers, composers, actors and singers. I left the theater that afternoon with a dream in my heart: that one day, Manila, like New York City, will be a theater destination. In that dream, I see people from all over the world lining up and paying top dollar for tickets and waiting outside the stage door to meet our stars. Just like we do on Broadway. Why not?
The other day, I went to a restaurant and a young man held the door open for me. I was surprised. And pleased, to be sure. I asked myself, was it because I’m a woman or because I am old? Whatever, it felt good. After I thanked him, I wanted to add, “Your parents raised you well.” But he had left.
When was the last time a man offered you his seat? Does your husband, son or boyfriend, stand when you enter the room? That’s the way it was in the good old “once upon a time.”
But times have changed.
There is too much in the news about misogyny and sexual objectification of women. We are disrespected, and no one seems to care. It’s all a big joke. Only a few dare raise a fuss.
But how does one stand up and shake a fist at the powers that be? Impossible!
Can we change what’s happening out there? We can try. With the next generation. While they are still little. I say we start at home.