Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Remembering 'Rama Hari'

If you're a fan of musical theater like me, surely you still have vivid memories of "Rama at Sita." That musical, staged at the UP Theater in 1999, is not easily forgotten, since no local theater production before or since has matched its incredible lavishness and opulence.

"Rama at Sita" spared no expense to snag a staggering array of top-flight talent, from its performers (Ariel Rivera, Lani Misalucha, Jaya, Robert Sena, Raymond Lauchengco, Chiqui Pineda, Nonie Buencamino, Michael Williams, Franco Laurel, Pinky Marquez, Eugene Villaluz, Mon David, John Arcilla, Carlo Orosa, Bimbo Cerrudo et al) to its behind-the-scenes creative movers (set designer and director Leo Rialp, costume designer Patis Tesoro, choreographer Agnes Locsin, sound and lights by Willy Munji and Gerry Fernandez, respectively).

The music and lyrics were a combination of new work penned by Danny Tan, Roy Iglesias and Dodjie Simon, and excerpts from "Rama Hari," the 1980 pop ballet by Alice Reyes that featured the music of Ryan Cayabyab and libretto by now-National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera.

"Rama at Sita," like its inspiration "Rama Hari," retold in song and dance the Indian epic "Ramayana." The fabled, one-time run of "Rama Hari" offered three of that decade's signature talents: a stunning Kuh Ledesma in the role of Sita, Basil Valdez as Rama and Leo Valdez as the villain Ravana. Ms. Ledesma was then on the cusp of superstardom following her stint as lead singer of the popular showband Music & Magic. Soon she'd explode with her first big hit, "Dito Ba," and the rest would be history.

"Rama Hari's" most famous song is "Magbalik Ka Na, Mahal," a song forever associated with Ms. Ledesma. Ryan Cayabyab's enchanting melody, vivified by the poetic yearning of Bienvenido Lumbera's words, made for an instant classic. Mr. Lumbera's lyrics are, in fact, some of the great wonder of "Rama Hari." In "Awit ng Pagsinta," sung to mark the union of Rama at Sita, the experience of love so great that it crosses over from the ecstatic to the ineffable is rendered in highly charged verses:

Init ng hininga, darang sa pandama
Tumatagos sa kaluluwa
Ang pansamantala'y naging walang hanggan

Bango ng champaca, awit ng pagsinta
Nalimbag sa alaala
Ingatan mo sana at nang magkabunga
Ingatan mo, ingatan mo sana!

I was too young to see "Rama Hari," but I saw "Rama at Sita" three times, even if it meant shredding my meager budget to afford the tickets. The spectacle was unforgettable, the music-making fantastic, heightened this time by Danny Tan's own melodic wizardry (his best contribution, to my mind, is "Sana'y Siya na Nga," a song as sacred as it is lovely). Not even "Miss Saigon" Manila came close to the jaw-dropping pageantry that "Rama at Sita" unveiled for Filipino audiences in 1999.

Here's the point to why I'm babbling about all these.

One, by special arrangement with Mickey Munoz of ABS-CBN, I've been given permission to post here a video clip of Kuh, Basil and Leo singing excerpts from "Rama Hari" during the birthday tribute concert to Ryan Cayabyab at the CCP in October 2004.

"Only one other Cayabyab musical, 'Rama Hari,' was featured in the program," I said in my review then. "But this one was distinguished by the appearance of [Basil] Valdez, Kuh Ledesma and Leo Valdez in the roles they had originated. Needless to say, seeing these three musical institutions in one number was a thrill." (AD 92 provided the backup vocals, while the fabulous set design was by Gino Gonzales.)

This marks the first time this video will appear on either YouTube or a blog. If you like the video, help me thank, in your comments, Mr. Munoz and ABS-CBN for the privilege.

Two, I've an even bigger surprise in store for readers of this blog relating to "Rama at Sita." The musical, I've been told, will never be restaged again. But there are other ways of letting you in on the sights and sounds of this landmark piece of Philippine theater, and the producers of "Rama at Sita" are only too happy to share the magic. It'll be something exclusive to this corner, so stand by!

For now, do enjoy this teaser.

[video copyright © ABS-CBN; "Rama Hari" poster image from KuhLedesma.net]


carlo said...

"The musical, I've been told, will never be restaged again."

Too bad! But why? One of my biggest regrets is not being able to watch Rama at Sita.

Thanks too ABS-CBN and Mr. Munoz, I at least get to watch the video.

erasmusa said...

I still remember the killer opening number. But when I picked up my jaw off the floor, I thought, wait a minute, Lion King ito ah!

Thanks for posting this :)

girard said...

god, i was so crazy over Rama at Sita. i was still a student at UP then so i got to watch the musical around five times for free by just sneaking into the theater. obviously, i loved everything about the show but what was perhaps most memorable about it was the choreography of agnes locsin. wasn't that kama sutra dance just amazing?! love it, love it!

gibbs cadiz said...

hi CARLO, you failed to catch rama at sita? stand by, buddy, got a surprise for you. :)

ey ERASMUSA, i get you! i suppose the chanting and the big orb in the background felt quite a bit like the lion king's opening, huh? but at least to me the resemblance soon passed, as rama at sita went off into an altogether different direction. :)

hi GIRARD, you were able to watch it five times for free!? wow, swerte mo! i agree, part of what made it such a sensual experience was agnes locsin's choreography. the kama sutra sequence was really a nifty touch. i've seen a few other productions attempt something similar, but rama at sita set the bar for it in terms of both good taste AND genuine eroticism. balik ka ulit dito soon, got something i'm sure you'd love! :)

lateralus said...

I also saw Rama at Sita as a school requirement in Asian Literature. Hehe. Not bad at all. That production was big and was promoted heavily (TV ADS!) for a theater project.

Come to think of it, I've been in more school plays as opposed to the number of plays that I've watched as a member of the audience. haha

Horny Peter said...

Hi Gibbs, sad lang kasi I wasn't able to see Rama at Sita, kasi naman I was too young pa then. But I saw it on TV, yung mga teasers sa ASAP ata yun or Sang Linggo nAPO sila. Basta dun ko unang nakilala si Jaya. She was thin pa that time, pero sobrang powerful ng boses.

May gusto akong song dun eh na duet ni Lani and Ariel. If I'm not mistaken Ako'y Iyong Iyo ata yung title.

Sana ulitin yung Rama at Sita para naman we can have the chance to see it too!

Anonymous said...

hi gibbs..sorry...out of topic...but i emailed you..indicating my cell number... and so far, no text reply. =(

hope to hear from you.

D. (the-one-inviting-you-to-boracay-but-now-will-settle-for-coffee-instead). =)

watson said...

I have just recently discovered the magic of theater. The earliest musical I have seen was in the Burnham Park football park in a public screening of The Sound Of Music. I was a kid then, but it was quite an experience.

Uy, let me in on the secret ha.

Anonymous said...

hey gibbs! also loved rama at sita!

btw, some of the songs from the musical (like "ako'y iyong iyo) are also posted in franco laurel's multiply site. fyi lang po. :)

Walter said...

maglalabas ba sila ng dvd? ay naku, when i watched rama at sita. kasama pala sa cast si "mahiwagang kamay na lumulutang at may hawak hawak na wireless microphone" tapos bigla siyang naaappear kapag nasisira ang lapels ng mga ibang actor. hihihihihihi.

beektur said...

i can't believe you failed to mention your personal connection to this performance (via, ehem, 92 AD). cute pa rin siya ha. kahit na, million thanks for posting this. you are the beacon of OPMusicals to the world.

my two centimos on this performance: the music was great, the performances greater, but the orchestration was a tad unrestrained. "this is a big musical. get it? get it?" kuh's voice has turned from a mellow cab sauv into a rounder, deeper bordeaux (ching). buti na lang leo restrained his otherwise on-the-edge-of-camp expression. and basil was, is and will always be basil. the fab set was 'ano yan' and what's up with the distracting dance?

more please: larawan? 1898? maybe dalagang bukid?

gibbs cadiz said...

wait, BENJ, you acted in plays? hmmm, invite me to watch when you make a comeback! :)

yes, HORNY PETER, that was Ako'y Iyung-Iyo. hold on, something big's coming that might make you happy. :)

hey ANONYMOUS, apologies, quite busy these days. :)

ey WATSON, i sure hope you get to watch more plays and musicals! :)

hi ANONYMOUS, yep, thanks for the tip. :)

BEEKTUR, mambuking ba? hehe. o ha, kuh ledesma's voice as a bordeaux. me pinot noir kaya? :)

tutubi said...

boy I also love musicals :)

the last one I saw though was something at RCBC with Jet Pangan and Michael de Mesa...forgot the title na but the score was also done by the one who did "rent"

will link you up :)

gibbs cadiz said...

hi TUTUBI, that's tick, tick, boom! also with bituin escalante, right? :) thanks, do link me up, i'll return the favor. :)

mikko said...

hi sir gibbs.

thanks po sa pagppost ng excerpts ng Rama at Sita. Grabe. All-time favorite. Kaso nasa elementary pa lang ako nung pinalabas un kaya nde ko npnood.Wala pa akong muwang nun eh.

Sana po mapalabas ung buong Rama at Sita. Kahit sa ABS-CBN.

Uhm.May nababasa po akong 'surprise' na darating regarding Rama't Sita, from you.
Ano kaya yun?haha.

Thanks.Sana may iba pang filipino-musicals na mapost. Gaya ng Larawan at Alikabok.

Thanks.More Power. God Bless!

gibbs cadiz said...

MIKKO, thanks for the comment. the surprise was that, i uploaded excerpts of a live recording of 'rama at sita' on youtube, by permission of the owners. all the highlights are there, so just search for them. enjoy! :)

mikko said...

yup.npnood ko na po lahat sa Youtube.nakakbitin nga po eh.sayang at wala pa akong masyadong alam nung ipalabas un sa UP. :)

anyway.thanks po.i'll be expecting more intereting posts from you Sir, sana puro ganito.

Thanks.God Bless. More Power!

Anonymous said...

"i didn't really saw this play but my teacher was part of the minor casts of the play rama at sita when he was still on first year highschool...and he also said that the play was really a beautiful one...it was just sad that the video was deleted already at youtue...i just want to ask if it is possible to re post it on youtube because i want to view the play...so curiuos and excited..."

re post please??


lara fran.

Candy Gourlay said...

I saw Rama Hari when it first came out because my dad was one of the production designers. In fact the original cast was Basil Valdez, a very young Lea Navarro (Noong Unang Panahon was her first recording) and Anthony Castello! It was amazing and I will never forget it. What I would do to have a recording of that musical

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