You want to know how the end of days might look, and feel, and sound like in this part of the world?
9 Works Theatrical and The Sandbox Collective’s “Himala: Isang Musikal” offers an answer at once frightening and enthralling. And like a true miracle, this returning production directed by Ed Lacson Jr. has somehow improved upon its already perfect form.
All the elements in Ricky Lee and Vincent de Jesus’ adaptation of Ishmael Bernal’s classic film about a young woman, Elsa, who claims to have seen the Virgin Mary—and the subsequent cycle of fanaticism and hysteria that descends upon her desolate town—were already in tip-top shape in last year’s run—the first fully staged production since the musical’s 2003 premiere at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
What’s most striking this time around is how seamless everything feels—no more grand distinctions, if there were any, between the big song numbers and the small book (or dialogue) scenes, the story flowing from start to end like a single, continuous breath.
Space and motion
Worth mentioning as well—something many seem to take for granted—is how rigorous of a movement piece this production is. There’s no obvious choreography to speak of here. Instead, what Lacson and assistant director JM Cabling have built this production upon is a precise and deliberate awareness of space and motion working in conjunction, so that the viewer somehow always knows exactly where to look or which character to follow at every given scene and moment.
It is this unstylized movement design that transforms many scenes in this production into exercises of gripping—and often breathtaking—crowd control, its cast of some 40 actors leading the audience by hand into an ocean of order and disorder, “immersive theater” at its finest.
The triumvirate of actresses leading this production remain in spectacular shape: Aicelle Santos (now alternating with Celine Fabie) as Elsa, Neomi Gonzales as Elsa’s chaste companion Chayong, and, as Nymia (Chayong’s polar opposite), Kakki Teodoro—this writer’s personal pick for the best featured performance by an actress in a musical last year.
Sheila Francisco (alternating with May Bayot-de Castro, who was Elsa in 2003) is now Nanay Saling, frail and painfully helpless in the uncontrollable spiral of things; while Victor Robinson III gives a performance that is completely devoid of ego and unnecessary ornamentation as Chayong’s suitor Pilo.
There are, in fact, no small roles or performances in this “Himala.” Everyone and everything in it is perfectly calibrated and timed to create a world of desperate people hungry for a savior—and willing to bend and stretch the limits of the truth to attain salvation in whatever form.
The ravishing theatrics will thrill you to the bones. After that, it is the taste of fear that remains in you: Here is where we may well be headed—a Filipino vision of the apocalypse. —CONTRIBUTED
“Himala: Isang Musikal” runs until Oct. 20 at Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati; ticketworld.com.ph