BWW Review: MAYNILA, SA MGA KUKO NG LIWANAG (Musical) Provides Social Commentary That Still Rings True
Manila, Philippines--When the film adaptation of Edgardo Reyes's novel "Maynila, sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag," helmed by acclaimed director Lino Brocka, was first released, it was praised by critics for its brave and honest depiction of the quality (or lack thereof) of urban life during the Marcos administration. Surprisingly, even for someone who was not born yet in the '70s, this stage musical adaptation of the four-decade-old novel did not feel like a dated social commentary. It strangely (or sadly) still represents a familiar story of the Filipino poor hoping for a better life in urban Manila.
At the center of this story is a young man named Julio Madiaga (Arman Ferrer) who chooses to leave his provincial life to know the whereabouts of her one great love, Ligaya Paraiso (Shiela Valderama-Martinez). While eagerly waiting for that moment when he would chance upon her loved one, Julio works as a construction worker under the corrupt Mr. Balajadia (Jim Pebanco). There he would also meet friends who have had personal accounts of how tough it is to be poor. Among Julio's confidantes are Pol (Floyd Tena), his go-to guy when it comes to problems with work and money, Imo (Rafa Siguion-Reyna), who yearns to change the course of his life through education, and the kind-hearted and hard-working Atong (Noel Rayos), who has already accepted his simple life in the shanties.
The plights of Julio, Imo, and Atong are still true to some Filipinos at the present time, and we sense that this production acknowledges these realities. However, the danger of trying to incorporate as many social issues as it can is that it leads to a tedious and occasionally unfocused musical play.
There is also a seemingly deliberate intention to maximize the abilities of such a huge and talented cast. Mrs. Cruz (Dulce), for example, the lady supposedly responsible for the mysterious disappearance of Ligaya, gets to make a grand entrance via an all-out jazzy number, "Tengkyu, Mrs. Cruz." However, as the show progresses, we notice that her character does not really figure in any major scene of the story. Also in Act 1, the song numbers "Basta't Ikaw ay May Diskarte" and "Kung Maka-Jackpot Lang Ako" are more utilized to showcase ensemble work. Although these songs also illustrate the resilience of Filipinos in times of hardship, the staging of these numbers misses the opportunity to focus on Julio's sheer determination of surviving in the city.
The end of Act 1 proves to be one of the best moments in this production. The marching score of "Sigaw Ng Mangagawa" is wonderfully reinforced by the lighting (Joey Nombres) and sound design elements. What makes the staging even more impressive is that when the main participants of the scene, led by Perla (Aicelle Santos, who, by the way, gives a top-notch vocal performance of the song "Nasaan ang Hustisya"), leave the stage--the music continues for a few more seconds--while some members of the ensemble create this powerful tableau, set into Douglas Nierras' masterful choreography.
The much-anticipated meeting of Julio and Ligaya happens early in Act 2 with the lead actors Ferrer and Valderama-Martinez sharing a melodious duet "Kumusta Ka" (music by Von de Guzman, lyrics by Victor Torres and Em Mendez). The song is a lovely accompaniment for such a tender moment where the two lovers feel a deep sense of joy and peace.
Although the quality of her voice shines more in pop ballads such as her duets with Ferrer, Valderama-Martinez's extensive experience as a stage actor and singer is better appreciated in the song "Awit ni Ligaya." In this scene, the answers to the questions that have been disturbing Julio's character since the start of the play are finally revealed. Interestingly, whenever Valderama-Martinez pushes herself vocally to hit those high notes, her portrayal becomes more raw and her emotions more in touch with her character's anguish and heartache.
Ferrer, on the other hand, being a fairly new lead actor compared to her other co-stars, gives an uneven performance. In some scenes where another actor is center stage, he alienates himself from the scene and comes off as a mere spectator. Having said that, we trust that he is going to improve as a lead actor as this show continues its run. But insofar as his abilities as a vocalist is concerned, Ferrer is most definitely a star.
"Maynila, sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag" is an original Filipino musical presented by Grand Leisure Corporation and line produced by Fullhouse Asia Production Studios Inc.
Remaining performances are October 4 (8:00 p.m.), October 5 (8:00 p.m.), and October 6 ( 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.) at the KIA Theatre, Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City.
For tickets (P1,590-P3,710), contact Bards Lapid at mobile number 63917 8466704, landlines 632 897 7142, 890 0853, 890 6067, or visit www.ticketnet.com.ph.
Photos: Trixie Dauz