Sharon Cuneta from the heart

THE Megastar, larger than life in a brilliant gown, singing her heart out to a packed Coliseum. ELOISA MATIAS

I wasn’t planning to watch the Sharon Cuneta 40th anniversary concert last Friday. I wasn’t sure I could make it in time, the office now being in Makati and the Araneta Center being right smack in the center of traffic hinterlands Cubao.

Yet somehow I made it – I stepped into the concert venue and caught my first glimpse of the Megastar, larger than life in a brilliant red gown, singing her heart out to a packed Coliseum.
Singing was not the only thing she did with her heart on her sleeve, it turns out.

Sharon Cuneta, opening up like a blooming exotic orchid before an enthralled audience, talked about her beginnings, her journey, her life, loves, heartaches and joys. She laughed out loud, she shed tears, she got the shock of her life, she poked fun at herself and she blew her nose…not once, but thrice.

She was that open and confident and real – and that, I realized, has been the secret to her success and longevity all these 40 years.

It was like watching a telenovela, but not just any telenovela — the people watching her were transfixed. They giggled with her or AT her (“Don’t laugh,” Sharon chided laughingly as she made her way up to center stage and found her ballgown a little inconvenient), and I even caught glimpses of tears being dabbed surreptitiously away.

SHARON Cuneta with Eloisa Matias, who conceptualized the Megastar’s 40th anniversary concert held last week.

Sharon’s enduring appeal lies in her ability to give of herself wholly. It was evident in her colorful, tumultuous love lives, in her on-again, off-again weight challenges, in her powerful acting moments and, most of all, in her singing.

When Sharon sings, the venue turns quiet. No matter how talkative she’s been in between numbers, or how spellbound the audience felt with the last duet with one of her power guests, they sat back and listened as her voice floated and filled the venue.

To quote Ian Reyno, who gushed about her concert afterwards: “It was like liquid gold sliding out of her throat, similar in depth and range to the low, vibrating hum and harmony of a finely tuned classical guitar. Her crystal-clear alto was altogether sultry, smooth, whole, just like how she sounded the first time she ever stepped onstage decades ago. It was, yes, simply incredible.”

After talking about her travails during those years she felt she was no longer the Megastar, Sharon revealed that she had prayed and asked God to make her voice the most brilliant it had ever been for her 40th anniversary concert.

Her prayers were answered because she was flawless.

Her guests were of the highest musical calibre as she: Kuh Ledesma and Zsa Zsa Padilla, Gary V and Martin Nievera and Regine Velasquez. She also sang with two of her leading men in movies: Christopher de Leon (her lifelong “crush”) and Richard Gomez (whose appearance rocked the house down and left Sharon quite breathless). She called singer/songwriter Rey Valera onstage to sing with her his popular “Kahit Maputi Na Ang Buhok Ko,” thanking him profusely for all of his songs she sang and for the songs he wrote for her. She repeatedly acknowledged all the people who had been instrumental in her career, including Mina del Rosario, wife of Viva boss Vic del Rosario, and the late composer Willy Cruz.

The whole show was vintage Sharon, I thought – it was a showcase of all that she is and have been to her countless fans.

The reason I decided to watch the show, in the end, was the thought that it was the 40th anniversary of a living legend in music and movies. I mean, there is truly no one else like Sharon Cuneta – and not just because her “Sharonians” include those who stayed with her through thick and thin, but also a silent horde who love her singing – and that, I have on good authority, includes the President of the Philippines.

Another major reason was I wanted to see what magic my Bicolano schoolmate Eloisa Matias would do to create this giant of a production. Eloisa is the older sister of my batchmate in high school, and she worked with the Megastar throughout the defunct The Sharon Cuneta Show (TSCS).

On the day of the concert, Eloisa posted on her Facebook wall: “This is a bit long. Please allow me this indulgence as today is the day we had been preparing for since the start of this year…no, actually since I met Sharon 30 years ago.’’

Eloisa said that when she presented her concept for Sharon’s show to her management and producing team, Artist House, headed by Sandra Chavez, Helen Chavez and Maria Isabel Chavez-Leyco, they “approved everything and from then on, everything was just tying loose ends, enhancing things, quickening the pace and aiming for an incredible cohesion.”

This “cohesion” took some doing, I bet.

Watching the show, I was amazed at how they were able to pack everything in three hours and package it up with a gorgeous stage.

Sharon was shining, shimmering and splendid on that stage.

“How do you pack 40 glorious years in three hours?!?!” Eloisa wrote. “The answer is …YOU DON’T because YOU CAN’T!!! The accolades and what Sharon has achieved and contributed in this industry is not enough even if we had three concert nights. So what do you do!? YOU ANSWER the question why she is mega and why she is still on top of her game after 40 years. I have four answers to that:

“1. She is the ONLY artist and star who has been consistently supported by ALL social classes in everything that she did.

“2. She is the only icon who makes icons. (Example when she sang the songs of Rey Valera, he became an icon. So did Willy Cruz and all her endorsements. Everything and everyone associated with her (including me) are given instant respect and credibility because she believed in them/in me.

“3. Sharon is the only actress who in her entire career (of 40 years) never took second lead. She was first billing in every single movie she has done (the only movie with shared billing was that of FPJ).

“4. The most important thing is Sharon’s amazing capacity to always bounce back (from a career or personal low) and be on an even higher plane than where she left off.”

Eloisa also rattled off the big names who made up the whole show: top musical directors in the industry Ryan Cayabyab, Mel Villena and Louie Ocampo, accompanied by the ABS-CBN Orchestra and AMP band. Three of the top event and concert directors — Paolo Valenciano and Rowell Santiago, both as stage/technical directors and script consultants, and Arnel Natividad to do the live coverage – also joined the #SharonMy40Years team.

“Then, you suggest a set design that has never been done in the history of concerts and let Mio Infante conceptualize and materialize it. All suppliers were scratching their heads in the beginning, not saying it can’t be done but thinking aloud… ‘OMG how are we going to do that!’” Eloisa shared.

“Wait till you see the visual delight created by the lighting design of Shakira Villa Symes and the visual design of GA Fallarme and Videosonic peeps. You get a dream team to help you execute your craziness… video producers Victor C. Villa-Real and Claire Villa-Real and a staff who loves and knows Sharon’s history more than I do (hahahaha) and the best technical team headed by Aio Hernandez and Rina Villanueva, Mart Miranda as visual/LED consultant, then all you can do is just trust your life with the best suppliers,” she further revealed.

“As her music researcher and music/album/concert producer for 30 years, choosing the songs was easy, thinking of musical concepts was easy, knowing her parameters was easy, knowing where she would falter and where she would soar was easy… why??? Because after 30 years I realized, next to my family and kids, I breathed Sharon,” Eloisa confessed.

“So was mounting this concert easy? Hell, NO!!!! It was the most difficult thing I have done in my career…yet the easiest, the lightest, the happiest and the most fulfilling thing in my resume and in my heart,” she added.

For the audience, too, that night, it was a glorious ride with Sharon once more, back through all four decades and into the future, where she promises more things to come from her revived career. Truly, Sharon may have felt she was over at some point in her life, but that night, it sure felt like she never really left.

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