In a banner season for original Filipino musical theater, Black Box Production’s “Mula sa Buwan” may well be the most quintessentially Filipino.
It’s a sprawling canvas of a production—grandiloquent, unabashedly romantic, infectiously musical—wrapping an affecting love triangle in a confection of high-flown sentiment, comedy, tragedy, patriotism and noble self-sacrifice, that might appeal to an audience weaned on melodrama.
That it is actually an adaptation of foreign material—Edmond Rostand’s 19th-century verse drama “Cyrano de Bergerac,” originally translated by Soc Rodrigo but radically adapted to a historical Philippine period around World War II by director Pat Valera and William Elvin Manzano—may not have been an issue as the original hails from an era of European romanticism whose mood could resonate with florid local sensibilities.
In any case, Valera and Manzano performed an imaginative transposition to an era distant enough to evoke nostalgia but close enough for a modern audience to relate to.
The musical premiered two years ago at the Ateneo’s Irwin Theater. Now, this staging at the Hyundai Hall of the campus’ Areté complex is all-stops-out in evoking its extravaganza: textured period sets and costumes, rousing choreography, energetic ensemble vocalization, a heart-appealing storyline focusing on theater, poetry and romance (the grim wartime background notwithstanding).
The production has two standout glories. One is its music: eminently relatable, whether in moods frenetic, comedic or soulfully romantic. Highlights were, rather unexpectedly, the stirringly defiant “Manifesto,” outstandingly delivered by Phi Palmos as Rosanna, and the piece-de-resistance balcony scene “Tinig sa Dilim.”
And the second is the performances of the story’s ill-fated love triangle. Edward Benosa, as the handsome bumbler Christian, is a hapless but oddly simpatico foil to the romance’s principals.
The lovely Cris Go is incandescent as a visually and vocally ravishing Roxane. And Boo Gabunada is simply outstanding as a compleat Cyrano—irrepressible, witty, sensitive, touchingly vulnerable and, in his final extended soliloquy, a tour-de-force expression of the tragic nobility that is the spirit of the play and production.
There are still things to cavil about. The afternoon this writer watched, problems with sound quality affected the ensemble numbers.
More substantially, the nearly three-hour length feels inordinate. While the musical ensemble numbers are individually enjoyable, a reduced number might have both tightened the narrative and heightened the focus on the romance of the leads that is the soul of the play. And the backstory to the animus leading to Cyrano’s death is thin and glancing.
But these, in the end, feel like nitpicking glitches in an entrancingly feel-good theatrical paean to our best instincts. So despite the heartbreak denouement, the production uplifts the audience and drives it to a deserved standing ovation.
“Mula sa Buwan” has remaining performances today and tomorrow. Its alternate principal cast includes Nicco Manalo (Cyrano), Gab Pangilinan (Roxane) and Myke Salomon (Christian). —CONTRIBUTED
Visit mulasabuwan.ph, ticket2me.net, or the official Facebook page for tickets.