BWW Review: MULA SA BUWAN's Retelling of 'Cyrano' Captivates the Pinoy Audience
Manila, Philippines--With a creative vision accompanied by an infectious musical score and punctuated by powerful and authentic performances, "Mula sa Buwan," no wonder, is shaping up to be a musical that will be well-remembered long after its final bow. Now in its third and (as they promoted it) last run, I saw the show three times to make up for the missed opportunity of seeing it the previous years. My fondness for this musical just keeps on growing each time I see it and I feel very strongly that a show of this nature is not meant to disappear forever.
The original source materials, a five-act play by Edmond Rostand titled "Cyrano de Bergerac" and a translation of it in Filipino (and in Philippine context) by Soc Rodrigo, were ingeniously adapted as a stage musical by book writer (and the show's director) Pat Valera. As he mentioned in one of his appearances during the curtain call, this was a passion project of his for more than five years. Valera's vision of the show is right for the Filipino audience. He uses Cyrano's (the show's main protagonist) most precious quality, his eloquence, as a way to captivate, and not alienate, the audience. Together with William Elvin Manzano's affecting score, this production is a fitting showcase of what lengths of emotions can be unearthed and elaborated with a good proficiency in writing and speaking the Filipino language.
Coming into the show the first time with little to no background about the story of Cyrano (Nicco Manalo), the first couple of minutes is a puzzlement of sorts. Thankfully, the momentum starts to build after Roxane (Gab Pangilinan) confesses to Cyrano his interest in getting to know a stranger, named Christian (Myke Salomon). The most seamless part of the show, and my personal favorite, begins just before Act 1 closes, where Christian, with the guidance of Cyrano, woos and serenades the beautiful Roxane who is at her house one night. Then an interesting development in the story happens: Roxane's suitor, Maximo (MC Dela Cruz) is determined to marry her that same night, and so, just like a loyal friend, Cyrano, together with a bunch of his cadets and some villagers, mounts a silly, yet satisfyingly enjoyable distraction scheme to the tune of "Mula sa Buwan." I do not know if this is a conscious decision made by Valera and Manzano, but not having to explain or even mention the title in the first half of the show works perfectly in this case because it resulted in keeping the audiences invested in the plot. This production plays around with a lot of metaphors and so it is a good call to prolong the injection of the title song just before the second act.
In Valera's adaptation, Cyrano is depicted as an ROTC cadet officer in the mid-1940s, the time when the Philippines got involved in the war between America and Japan. Cyrano's company of cadets are a unique breed; they are famous for their penchant for poetry, music, and performance. Cyrano is such a demanding role for any actor, having had the talent to memorize an enormous amount of archaic dialogue and to access so many layers of emotions throughout the show. Manalo reprises his role as Cyrano in the third run (Boo Gabunada is his alternate) and I am grateful to have witnessed his performance. Point-blank, this role is rightfully his. As his character pronounces at the start of the play, even if it is just make-believe, the actor playing the role should be truthful and have the credibility to play it.
Unlike Manalo who built this show with Valera, Salomon and Pangilinan are new additions to this cast, playing the roles of Christian (Edward Benosa at certain performances) and Roxane (Cris Go at certain performances). Pangilinan has been in the Manila theater scene for a while now, usually as an ensemble member or an actor in a featured role, so we are delighted to finally see her do a material that makes good use of her skills, especially in singing. Her successful stint in Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group's "Side Show" a few months ago gave us a taste of what an amazing vocalist she is. Her rendition of the "Mula Sa Buwan's" 11 o'clock number, "Ang Sabi Nila," is simple yet straight from the heart.
Compared to Cyrano and Roxane, the role of Christian is, in a sense, considered a featured role. Regardless, Salomon, who is better known as the go-to musical director for jukebox musicals (Rak of Aegis, Ako si Josephine, Ang Huling El Bimbo), puts his own stamp into this role and then some. In portraying the role of the third party, if you may, Salomon is careful not to depict Christian as the bad guy, because he is not. In fact, the dilemma in the love story between Christian and Roxane begins with Cyrano's idea and, frankly, selfishness. Ultimately, when he realizes that Roxane has fallen so deeply in love with him because of his letters to her, Christian does the bold step of allowing Cyrano to be open about his feeling for (spoiler alert) his wife.
Of course, this musical owes a huge part of its success from the indelible musical score (music by Manzano, lyrics by Manzano and Valera), most of them ballads that appeal to both musical theater enthusiasts and radio music listeners. Even with only 13 songs (most musical have more), this seems to be a sufficient amount for this type of material as I could not remember a moment in the show that was begging to be sung.
The warm reception "Mula sa Buwan" has been getting all these years has very little to do with the popularity of the main protagonist and the original source material. In fact, "Mula sa Buwan" works as a stage musical because it has found a way to deliver the universal message of the story of Cyrano appealing to the Filipino audience. In the well-applauded finale, when the entire company gathers around the tanghalan (a performance space for a makata or poet like Cyrano) and Cyrano reappears for one final salute, the audience is reminded that, just like everyone else, no one is a permanent resident on earth. Valera closes the show in a manner that Cyrano would have liked to be remembered--not with sadness or grief.
"Mula sa Buwan" runs now until Sunday, November 25, 2018, at the Hyundai Hall in Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City. Get your tickets from Ticket2Me.net.
Photos: I.R. Arenas