The sarsuwela “Walang Sugat” (1902) is our most durable musical play, written by Severino Reyes of Lola Basyang fame and composer Fulgencio Tolentino, who taught music at the Ateneo de Manila. “Walang Sugat” is a crowning achievement of Philippine musical theater, is often revived and was even made into a film.
“When the audience saw ‘Walang Sugat,’ they all cheered wildly, catapulting the sarsuwela into a box-office hit for the Gran Compania de la Zarzuela of Don Severino,” Tanghalang Pilipino artistic director Nonon Padilla wrote in 1992. It remains popular to this day.
The sarsuwela is set during the revolutionary war against Spain in 1896-1898, with the hero Tenyong joining the revolutionary forces to avenge the death of his father. He is reported missing and possibly dead in action, and his heartbroken sweetheart Julia reluctantly agrees to marry her bumbling suitor Miguel. At the end, however, Tenyong reappears, not dead, not even wounded (thus the title “Walang Sugat”), and a grand finale ensues with patriotic overtones.
After almost three years, the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) is back with a live show. And it is a wild, wacky spoof of the Reyes-Tolentino blockbuster titled “Walang Aray!”; the sexual overtone is obvious. And it has the blessings of Jun Reyes, the great-grandson of the playwright.
“Walang Aray!” is written by Rody Vera, with original music by Vince Lim. The director is Ian Segarra. It was first a film script by Vera commissioned by filmmaker Jun Reyes, shelved for a long time, morphed after many revisions into a play with music by Lim, and presented by Peta as a lab play in 2018-2019.
Now it has been given a new life with a rambunctious, well-attended press preview and media launch at the Peta-Phinma Theater in Quezon City recently. For this event, Tenyong was played by Gio Gahol (who is also the choreographer) and Julia by Marynor Madamesila. The production is apparently being fined-tuned, however, and so only Acts I and II—which already took almost three hours—were presented that night.
The full-length musical play will be presented Feb. 17–May 14 at the Peta Theater Center and the leads will be played by Star Magic’s KD Estrada and Alexa Ilacad. Jarred Jaicten played suitor Miguel as a narcissistic, iron-pumping hunk and Carlon Matobato was the servant, an obligatory comic relief in a sarsuwela. There were also the obligatory evil friars.
The past merges with the present in this tale. It is supposed to b a play-within-a-play (with the director shouting for star Julia during rehearsals) but this angle is not fully explored. The dialogue is free-wheeling Manila Taglish, and there are many production numbers. Choreography by Gahol is sprightly and the music by Lim is a fusion of different elements. The leads are supported by ebullient triple threats (singers-actors-dancers).
There were a lot of one-liners that night which the audience (media persons reinforced by representatives of Peta partners Indie.Go Media and Star Magic) relished. And there was a patriotic anthem at the end, a bow to Peta advocacy.
Now, what would Don Severino have said about this slam-bang, satirical take on his famous story? The answer was supplied by his descendant Jun Reyes: “He would be absolutely amazed, he would make it more relevant. I think he will be very happy.”
During the press conference after the performance, the media paid a lot of attention to Estrada and Ilacad, who had worked abroad, and were more at home in English than in Filipino. But they were working on this, and the leads that night, Gahol and Madamesila, indicated their colleagues would give a good account of themselves in the national language—or in the Manila “millennial” version of it.
“It’s necessary after what we went through, not only the pandemic but also the elections, to do something irreverent and funny,” said Peta regular director Maribel Legarda. But it’s not just having fun, she added.
“Peta believes that good comedy makes you think and reflect, and ‘Walang Aray!’ does exactly that.” —CONTRIBUTED