By Precious Lee Cundangan
Manila, Philippines, August 4, 2012 - Tanghalang Pilipino (TP), the resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), opens its 26th season with Severino Reyes' immortal Filipino sarsuwela "Walang Sugat" at CCP's Tanghalang Aurelio V. Tolentino from tonight, August 16 to 26. Highly esteemed film director Carlos Siguion-Reyna helms the production, and makes his stage directorial debut.
"I've long wanted to direct an opera or a book musical [i.e., a narrative with dialogues and integrated production numbers] on stage. In fact, I've had talks with several people, but plans didn't materialize for one reason or another - as is often the case, production funding has been an issue," says Siguion-Reyna at a press conference.
"Earlier this year, a concrete offer came when Nanding Josef [TP's artistic director] approached me to do 'Walang Sugat' for TP. He knew my film work, and had heard good things about 'Aawitan Kita sa Makati,' a concert event that has evolved into a sung-through musical narrative, which I've been directing when I can and when I'm in Manila, almost every month since 2005," he adds.
Besides painstakingly reading the script and boning up on several dramaturgical sources such as films, books, and other resources that are related during the era when the play was written as well as the timeline of the play itself, Siguion-Reyna aims to take on a fresher, darker, and more stylized version of this age old classic story.
The play is an original Filipino sarsuwela that weaves into its plot several personal and national issues that are still relevant today. This musical, called "subversive" during its time, still echoes and awakens the heroic and patriotic sentiments of its audience.
"Walang Sugat" tells the love story of Julia and Tenyong whose forbidden relationship had been further hampered by their social status, political, and religious beliefs during the height of the Philippine revolutionary movement against the Spanish colonizers in 1896-1898.
Cris Villonco plays Julia; Noel Rayos and Antonio Ferrer play Julia's love interest, the katipunero Tenyong; legendary Filipino stage actress Noemi Manikan-Gomez plays Julia's mother, Juana; stage stalwarts Bodjie Pascua and Lou Veloso play Tadeo; Red Nuestro and Jonathan Tadioan play loyal sidekick Lukas; Jenny Villegas and Jean Judith Javier play Lukas' sweetheart, Monica; Gino Ramirez plays Miguel; Veloso and Jeldon Bay play Padre Teban; and Joseph Perez plays Pedring.
Its libretto was originally penned by Severino Reyes, a forerunner of Philippine sarsuwela (Reyes is also popularly known for his short stories-turned-classic children's book "Lola Basyang").
For this production of "Walang Sugat," TP makes use of Reyes' original script with additional lines by Nick Tiongson, a leading Filipino critic. Fulgencio Tolentino, Constancio de Guzman, and Mike Velarde composed its poetic, haunting but sometimes naughty musical strains - a familiar dichotomy between arias and recitatives.
Chino Toledo, whose additional music is also featured in this production, is musical director; Nonoy Froilan is choreographer; Tuxqs Rutaquio is set designer; James Reyes of Slims Fashion and Arts School is costume designer; and Katsch Catoy is lighting designer.
About the Sarsuwela
The sarsuwela, also known as the drama simbolico, was a traditional theater genre that dominated the Philippine theater scene for over one hundred years. It was first introduced by Dario Cespedes, a Spanish producer and owner of a sarsuwela troupe in the 19th century. Its storyline was commonly based on domestic issues that often exemplified a strong sense of Filipino nationalism and anguish against the country's foreign imperialists.