I didn't take well to “Himala, the musicale” the first (and last) time I saw it in October 2004. Tremendous atmosphere, powerful singing and acting, brilliantly executed set--but in the end it didn't pull me in. Many others were, however. Here's PDI's Rina Jimenez-David:
“Watching 'Himala' with fresh eyes, I marveled at the way the musicale captured the scope of the movie, the massing of the ensemble managing to echo the 'cast of thousands' trudging through the dunes of Ilocos. And though we were craning our necks (we were seated on the second row), looking up as the main characters sang their solos near the stage's edge, we still felt pulled into their emotional territory. You can't get more intimate than that.
A large part of this is due to the musical score, which is raw and powerful, the singing parts a challenge to voice. There were times, indeed, when I worried how the actors could sing when seconds before they had hurdled the most emotional and turbulent scenes.
Fortunately, the actors prove up to the challenge.
May Bayot as Elsa is a pleasant surprise. She hardly resembles Ms Aunor, being big-boned with strong and broad features. While Ate Guy infused Elsa with vulnerability and intensity, May gives Elsa power and depth, giving the impression that there are worlds of reasons and motivations behind her visions. She manages to convey pain and desolation, anger and grief in a voice so powerful, it literally makes your skin crawl with astonishment and wonder.
Jai Sabas Aracama as Aling Saling, Elsa's mother; Cynthia Culig-Guico as Chayong, Elsa's pious friend; and Isay Alvarez as Nimia, the town whore, provide excellent support, and it helps that their songs allow them to show off acting skill as well as vocal prowess.
A find, at least for me, is Johnson-Joven Uy as Orly, the cinematographer who serves as narrator and witness. It is his job to carry the story forward, as well as to balance his character's penchant to stand back from the action with the need to assert his presence onstage.
Finally, a word on the ensemble who are so much more than backdrop or ambient sound. Their blocking and movement, thanks to choreographer Jose Jay Cruz, establish mood and emotion, setting and tone.
Production designer Gino Gonzales deserves notice as well, especially for the stage backdrop, which manages to recreate the arid setting of the Ilocos dunes as well as the stark setting of the village, allowing characters to pop in and out of the action...”
The Shanghai-bound ensemble is much leaner, but no matter. Their voices will no doubt carry the day for the flag. Haller, we're not called Asia's minstrels for nothing.