Musikal II, the 53rd anniversary gala by the Cultural Center of the Philippines mounted on 10 September, was a bittersweet event.
Directed by musical theater veteran Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Musikal II showcased vignettes from original Filipino productions staged from 2015 to 2021, featuring leading artists from various theater companies.
Surprisingly, the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (CCP Main Theater) was jampacked, with hundreds of people still lining up at Main Theater Lobby entrance 20 minutes way past showtime at 8 p.m. The long queue prompted organizers to start the show late, an extremely rare occurrence at CCP, while ushers scampered to accommodate the unexpected crowd overflow.
If the audience’s enthusiasm was any indication, it appears the Filipino theatergoing public is hungry, if not raring, to watch live theater performances again. Current health and safety protocols still won’t the 100-percent reopening of theater venues.
The gala was also a joyous occasion for diehard live theatergoers to be reunited under one roof. There was a “class reunion” atmosphere.
Despite the festive mood, Musikal II had a somber undertow. It signaled the three-month countdown to the two-year closure of the CCP building for much-needed repair and retrofitting. “Essential rejuvenation,” was how CCP board of trustees chair Jaime C. Laya called it.
To “heighten” the nostalgia for live performances, the set design for the opening numbers showed a theater suddenly abandoned after rehearsals were discontinued following the first Luzon-wide lockdown on 15 March 2020 due to Covid-19.
The two-hour Musikal II, a celebration and homage to the return of local live theater, opened with “Muling Gisingin,” an original work composed specifically for the show by Vince de Jesus; “Blue Jeans” from Eto Na!, Musikal nAPO; “Awit ng Pamamaalam” from Kanser, the Musical; “Remember Your Promise” from Felix Starro, a show by the New York-based Asian theater group Ma-Yi Theater; and “Hindi Simple Ang Buhay” from Ang Larawan.
The audience, many of whom were probably unfamiliar with the productions from which the songs were culled from, seemed lukewarm initially. But tenor Arman Ferrer’s thundering rendition of “Pag-ibig ni Lapulapu” from Lapulapu, ang Datu ng Mactan — which marked the reopening of the Metropolitan Theater of Manila — energized the crowd.
But it was Sandino Martin, along with the ensemble and Ballet Philippines dancers, who rocked the house with “Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko” from BP’s 2016 production of the same name. This has a sold-out run, proving that even ballet enthusiasts loved the songs of the Filipino band VST & Company from the 1970s.
The quartet of Neomi Gonzales, Anna Luna, Jojit Lorenzo, and Sandino Martin, and their solid performance of “Maleta” from Changing Partners, was another well-received number, an acknowledgment that notions about love — it can be a burden no matter the partner configurations — are constantly evolving among Filipinos.
Tanya Manalang, Reb Atadero, Topper Fabregas, and Vic Robinson also sent Eraserheads fans swooning with a rendition of “Alapaap” from Ang Huling El Bimbo, The Musical.
Carla Guevara Laforteza, together with the ensemble, gave a fierce performance of “Triumph of Love” from The Quest for The Adarna.
Bituin Escalante turned out as Musikal II’s greatest performer, bringing the house down with the soulful scorcher “Kasalanan Ko” from Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady.
Ricci Chan and the ensemble would follow it up with a vibrant “Kayumanggilas” from the same musical.
The songs “Sabay sa Ihip ng Hangin / Anong Sumpa Ito” from Himala, the Musical, featuring Neomi Gonzales, Floyd Tena and the ensemble; “Maglayag Tayo” from Daluyong ng Diwa, performed by Bayang Barrios, Alexa Salcedo, Paw Castillo and the ensemble; and “Nandito Pa Rin Ako” by the whole cast, wrapped up the show.
That there were just a few recognizable songs was Musikal II’s shortcoming. But the sheer talent assembled on stage, and the palpable verve and excitement emanating from the performers who were clearly galvanized by the chance to do live musical theater again, more than made up for the unfamiliar musical patches.
All in all, it was a grand, fluidly crafted affair to celebrate the CCP’s 53rd anniversary as a bastion of musical theater.
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