Did you know that until now I keep under lock and key copies of the Time, Newsweek, and Asiaweek issues where the first reviews of "Miss Saigon" appeared? I remember Time's exact words: "In Salonga, a star is born. Playing a plaster saint, she is stunningly real." I was a college senior in the province then. When a US-based priest came home and brought a copy of the CD soundtrack from New York--the first copy to reach Sorsogon, I believe--I recorded it several times on cassette tape and gave everyone I knew a copy. Then we spent countless hours replaying the songs and raving at Ms. Salonga's powerful vocals, especially in "This Money's Yours," the notes of which ascended to nosebleed heights (from "Do you want to be told how our village was burned?" onwards) then plunged to terrible depths ("I would rather die!"). I've not stopped being a fan since--"critic" tag be damned.
Michael Williams--wow, there's another great performer. Even now I recall his turn as Javert in Repertory Philippines' 1994 "Les Miserables" as one of the most electrifying experiences I've had in half a lifetime of theater-watching. I saw the show alone the first time, and was so enchanted by it (despite Cocoy Laurel's obvious difficulty with the role of Jean Valjean) that I went back two more times, even if I had to go in hock for the tickets (my lowly corporate pay at the time could hardly keep up with my theater- and movie-going). My best friend and I sat on the aisle because Meralco Theater was SRO. But we didn't mind--not with Mr. Williams there, and the Rep cast proving that the world was ours to conquer when it came to musical theater. (Indeed. Maya Barredo as Eponine, Jonjon Briones as Enjolras and Leo Valdez as the alternate Valjean were only some of the other performers we eventually exported to the West End. But Jaime Blanch, who made a dashing Marius--where oh where is he now?)
Isay Alvarez and Robert Sena, for their part, weren't Rep-trained. Ms. Alvarez was with the Metropolitan Theater (I think) and was part of the long-running Gines Tan musical "Magsimula Ka" before she joined "Miss Saigon." All these years, the only thing I knew about Mr. Tan's musical was the soaring title song, which Leo Valdez had made into a hit. Until last December 2006, when a friend gave me a copy of the full "Magsimula Ka" soundtrack, which he had transferred to CD from cassette tape. The sound mix is a bit askew, but the music is big, brash, sweeping--a cavalcade of 70's-flavored melodies scored in the splashy Broadway idiom. Fuck, I kept telling myself, people should hear this! (I promise to share it here, the moment I figure out how to use Nero's Wave to splice audio. Walang track breaks ang CD copy ko, hay.)
Ms. Alvarez was one of the leads, along with Dio Marco and Bobby Martino--another "Miss Saigon" original--and the supporting cast included Beverly Salviejo and Jograd Dela Torre. In the soundtrack, a young Ms. Alvarez sounds gorgeous, notably in her duet with a woman lamenting her being "lumpo." Help please, anyone familiar with "Magsimula Ka," do share your memories here and the title of this song.
Finally, Robert Sena--who rocked our musical world when he sang "Nessun Dorma" in "A Miss Called Lea," Ms. Salonga's homecoming concert after "Miss Saigon." Yep, the image is as vivid as when I first saw it on VHS tape: Mr. Sena saying he got inspired to take a crack at the song after Pavarotti had sung it in the 1991 World Cup (remember the legendary "Three Tenors" concert at the Caracalla Baths in Rome?). But when he first broached the idea to Ryan Cayabyab, the concert's musical director, "umalma si" Mr. Cayabyab. The aria is notoriously difficult to sing with its killer last note--a top B, but Mr. Sena aced it with his one-of-a-kind voice--rock na operatic. When I finally saw Mr. Sena live on stage, he was playing Ravana in "Rama at Sita" at the UP Theater. He and Jaya as Soorphanaka virtually stole the show from Ariel Rivera (as Rama) with their formidable presence and vocal fireworks.
Whew, sorry for the mouthful. Don't get me started, I could go on and on!
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