In situating the story locally, some changes were made to the Tagalog translation, loosely following the now classic version of the late senator and playwright Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo.
There is a moment near the end of Part 1 of the musical Mula sa Buwan when Cyrano de Bergerac (Myke Solomon) tries to delay Maximo (MC de la Cruz) from discovering that Roxane (Gab Pangilinan) and Christian (Markki Stroem) are getting married. He bursts into song, explaining that he is not of this earth, but hails from the moon — mula sa buwan.
For a moment, you think that Cyrano has finally snapped; in a sense, he has. Pushing Christian into Roxane’s arms must be a difficult choice — putting Roxane’s happiness ahead of his, that is. It also stresses that being in love can make you mad.
The moon is at the center of this new production of the musical, the fifth incarnation since it was premiered in 2010 as simply Cyrano, Isang Sarswela. Through the years, it has been improved on and expanded, and this production by Barefoot Theatre Collaborative at the Samsung Performance Arts Theater in Circuit Makati is considered by its makers to be the final, definite form.
The theater’s spacious stage is filled with moving props of buildings, sentry walls, a balcony, a forest and a cemetery with the moon, or a rough likeness of a lunar landscape, as the backdrop. As scenes change, actors push in properties that bring us closer to the musical’s milieu — Manila on the brink of World War II. It is an inspired change from Edmund Rostand’s original, although in the French play, the threat of an attack by enemy forces is always imminent. You also lose out here the presence of the bourgeoisie; the sole authority figure here is an ROTC commander. Transforming the actors’ guild in Act 2 into an implied LGBT organization also doesn’t affect greatly the dialogue.
In situating the story locally, some changes were made to the Tagalog translation, loosely following the now classic version of the late senator and playwright Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo. I was fortunate to have watched this version in 1989 when it was staged by Tony Mabesa for Tanghalang Pilipino. It was the matinee cast of Jose Mari Avellana as Cyrano, with then Shamaine Centenera as Roxane and Nonie Buencamino as Christian. The poetry of Rodrigo’s translation, published in 1955, have stayed in my memory all these years that I looked forward to the version of the balcony scene in Mula sa Buwan. It was a good thing that musical collaborators Pat Valera, the show’s director, and William Manzano opted to play it straight — not staging it as a duet or a trio. You can hear every word over the background music.
This is in contrast to Cyrano’s entrance song when he describes his nose in a variety of situations. Set as a rock ’n roll ditty, it introduces the title character in a catchy song and dance number. It works in a way with the energetic dancing, but you don’t hear much of the words. It’s a good thing the souvenir program reprints the lyrics to most of the songs.
With Cyrano onstage for the entire duration of the play, it requires an actor who has not just the stamina but also the musicality and the chops for all that singing and dancing. Kudos to Solomon for his masterful performance. He now owns the role of Cyrano, making his character more earthbound and relatable to a relatively young audience. But I do miss the character’s heroic turns, especially when he dismisses Monchito from the stage. In this version, it becomes a whimsical joke of sorts.
Pangilinan shows off a secure singing voice, her vocalise an example of limpid soprano. It is not until later when Roxane has solos that she is able to show off her dramatic prowess. On the other hand, Stroem seems miscast in this musical, his first all-Filipino role; but then his Christian is a probinsiyano, a newbie in the city. He and Solomon are a capable duo in the balcony scene, and his solo “Matatapos Din,” sung to inspire the cadets to carry on their fight against the Japanese, is a worthy turn.
It was a delightful afternoon at the theater, and the audience of 1,500 definitely approved of this show. Now, if someone can just stage Cyrano as a straight play in either English or Pilipino, that will just be heavenly.
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