12 May 2017

Weekend (sort of) double bill

Over the weekend I saw two stage performances: one a preview, the other a premiere; one by a college drama guild, the other by a professional theater outfit. Both musicals, both tell familiar tales — one concerning politics, the other, religion.

The former, Lean; the latter, Godspell.

Lean: If all else fails, there’s music

Will Gary Granada please write more musicals?

The composer injects a dose of rock with patriotic √©lan into UP Naming Mahal that any listener, regardless of alma mater, will find a connection to the anthem. Without neglecting its humor, he turns the pejorative catchphrase ‘Only in the Philippines’ into a full-on critique of the national elections in Dito lang sa Pilipinas. These, along with other rousing Granada-penned songs, I heard at the concert preview of Lean last Friday.

Give 'Lean' a chance. Support these passionate students.

Lean is short for Leandro Alejandro, the name of prominent UP student and nationalist shot dead in 1987. The musical, which revolves around his activism, premiered in 1997 and featured OPM artists Chikoy Pura, Bayang Barrios, Cookie Chua, and Noel Cabangon. On May 12 and 13 at the Adamson University Theater, UP Manila Dramatista is staging Lean to commemorate Alejandro’s 30th death anniversary and, according to director Reachie de Leon, because the narrative bears repeating.

That last thought is saddening, if you were to ask Gary. ‘Walang nagbago. We fail as a generation to change things,’ he says. ‘I hope that my (political) songs no longer resonate. I hope that my corny love songs are the ones that last.’

Makes me think — maybe there’s a need to tell the same story in a different way. The less-than-an-hour sneak peek may not be a fair approximation of the entire production, but based on the few numbers UPMD presented, Lean appears like another cursory glance at Martial Law, at corruption and injustice.

What’s certain is: Gary’s songs will be worth the trip to Taft Avenue (UPMD was kind enough to provide a copy of the original cast recording). If the performers unleashed their vocal power and gave off an energy inherent in their youth (which were missing in the preview), then Lean could well be the entertaining, eye-opening musical it aims to be.

Godspell: Fun as it unfolds

Godspell is high school musical — first thing that popped in my head as soon as I stepped out of the theater. Onstage (and off, as they mingle with the crowd) are good-looking, multi-talented artists performing catchy tunes about something somewhat meaningful. I mean it’s JC and his parables told in succession, in a cool, silly, almost wild way.

Topper Fabregas didn’t hold back on the charm, effortlessly stealing scenes. Jef Flores as Jesus makes sense, but it’s his comedic chops that makes me a believer. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo was being Menchu the whole time — brilliant. Myke Salomon (John the Baptist/Judas) and Lorenz Martinez were, to oversimplify, awesome. Caisa Borromeo seduced us. A ukulele-wielding Maronne Cruz rocked our world.

Really bad IG snap. 'Godspell' runs until May 21 at the Carlo P. Romulo Auditorium.

It was fun while it lasted. Once you cross the road, the spell — brought by the music, lights, set design, and the actors’ dynamism — is gone. Maybe a melody will linger, but the gags and (tired) lessons don’t invite revisiting. This is a show that preaches to the choir.

Which is not to say that non-Christians won’t enjoy the ride. They must prepare for minor discomforts, though. Hearing Jesus talk about God’s reward and punishment system, the verity of an afterlife might make them cringe, for example.

The best parts of the musical are those wherein the actors know that they are being funny. Because they let the audience in on the joke. The serious bits aren’t as effective — confusing to be precise. The drama towards the end, showing Jesus’ crucifixion, felt forced, like a jump in a plot that never existed to begin with. In a snap, Jesus was fine again and everyone’s back to singing in exaltation. I wanted to ask my seat mate what just happened but (believe it or not) he was dozing off! (I’m sure it wasn’t out of boredom, he probably had a long day.)

This star-studded cast (four of them earned Philstage Gawad Buhay citations the other night) is too bright for a dull material. But then I guess that’s what you’re paying for. To see the pros loosen up, exchange winks, and maybe high-five Judas during intermission.

Top Shelf