They work on a low budget and perform pro bono, taking time from their jobs, but they are high on artistry and quality of performance. This best describes The Creative Thespians Club. Inc., which has earned raves for its production of “Les Misérables.”
The group first presented “Les Miz” last September with 10 performances on a week-end, at the auditorium of the University of San Carlos Cultural Center. There was a clamor for a restaging and this they did Jan. 27-29 at the auditorium of Marcelo Fernan Cebu Press Center. The venue was much smaller, but the intimacy obtained more than made up for it.
“Les Misérables” is an all-sung musical by Alain Bloublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, based on the famous 19th-century novel of that title by Victor Hugo. It was first presented in London in 1985 and later in New York-Broadway in 1987. It is quite a story, which we will not summarize here because everyone should know it.
This second staging in Cebu by the Thespians was memorable in more ways than one. French Ambassador Thierry Borja de Mozota attended the opening night and praised cast and crew for their great effort. The performers were duly inspired and gave a fantastic show, as they did for the whole run of the musical.
Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia attended the Sunday matinee and watched the entire two-hour show, glued to her seat, amazed at the splendid display of talent. She led the audience in a standing ovation, and went up the stage to congratulate everyone during curtain call.
“This is world-class,” she exulted.” I am glad I came, thanks to my dear friends Marguerite Lhuillier and Mariquita Yeung, who convinced me.”
The cast, crew and staff are composed of energetic young people whose enthusiasm resulted in a very well-crafted production. The Thespians’ main aim is to promote culture by way of theater. Who is their leader?
Marguerite Lhuillier, who is most enthusiastic about the group, says they all pitch in, but of course there is a hierarchy, readable in the printed program distributed on this occasion. “I’m so impressed!” Margie exclaimed. “And not just because my granddaughter is in it.”
Pretty Adrienne Marcelle Ugarte alternated in the roles of Young Cosette and Gavroche. Her parents, Claudine and Mikel Ugarte, are most supportive, and brim with laudable praise for the group.
“Everybody is good, very good,” said Margie. “I’ve seen the play over and over again, learned the songs, seen everyone act. Kudos to all.” She and Claudine introduced us to Rene “Sonny” Alquizola II, who takes a hand in the direction. He heads the cast as Jean Valjean. The night we went, it was Allan Inoc in the role.
As Margie said, kudos to everyone in the various roles: Javert—Andrew Esplanada and Carlo Dave Yap; Fantine—Ingrid Siega, Gayle Sinadjan, Shane Reseroni and Anne Salmero; Marius—Peter Guisadio, John Fulgencio, Mark Poderoso and Jan Bartolome; Cosette—Pia Rafols, Pauline Rosales and Mary Justine Gastador; Eponine—Joanna Ang, Radiana Lapalam and Therese Villarente; M. Thenardier—Fritz Palomares and Warren Tompong; Madame Thenardier —Stella Estella, Riza Cahibaybayan and April Moncada; Enjolras—Fitzgerald Galenzoga and Junrey Alayacyac; Gavroche and Young Cosette—Veralyn Matthews and Addie Ugarte.
They all sang with good voices, acted with convincing emotion and exuded that stage presence so essential for actors to achieve. The same can be said about the ensemble that took on the roles of convicts, workers, guards, whores, students and citizens: Mary Immaculate Aringay (the group’s corporate president and events coordinator), Algen Alolor, Dawn Daan, Rhodelyn Lepalam, Rina Marie Abarquez, Iris Mantilla, John Largo, Marion Tansengco, Ma. Emilyn Idulza, Rio Delizo, Jhoie Principe, Christian Cayobit and Jerelyn Villafane.
In the staff and stage crew were Eli Razo, Christy Lañojan, Manuel Dosdos, Mark Gacho, Karen Libot, Cinderella Ruiz, Wilma Rada, Mary Jacybill Budiongon, Gerald Rabaya, Kirstein Campos, Sherra Pasicaran and Jee-an Sofocado.
What next from the Thespians? Maybe a third presentation of “Les Misérables,” says Sonny Alquizola, judging from the positive reactions and the offers to sponsor future productions.
“We’d like to do other theatrical productions,” he says. With fame for dedication and performance attained, they have developed a deeper appreciation among Cebuanos for theatrical events.
Victor Hugo is said to have been inspired to write “Les Misérables” after witnessing the arrest in a Paris street of a man who had stolen a loaf of bread because he was hungry and had to feed his own family. He was meted with harsh punishment for his petty crime.
When the story begins, we meet Jean Valjean who has served 19 years in prison for having stolen a loaf of bread. He is released, but the stigma of being an ex-convict forces him to reinvent himself.
The story evolves among the poor, and the lowest of the low. In a leaflet distributed with the program, a line says, “How did you feel when something was stolen from you?”
There was another question after that: “Would it have mattered if someone had stolen from you to feed his family?”
As we type this, the TV news has focused on a man nabbed for stealing a cell phone. In tears, he faces the camera and says, “Gui gutum ko.” ( I am hungry.)