Friday, May 23, 2008

Rare video: Ana Feleo and Tex Ordonez in 'Contra Mundum' duet from 'Larawan, The Musical'

Two of the best voices in Philippine musical theater today sing Kakalabanin Natin ang Mundo, a song from Musical Theater Philippines' Larawan, The Musical. This was performed during Philstage's birthday tribute to National Artist for Theater Daisy Hontiveros-Avellana last February 2008. (Sorry for the eternal long shot, couldn't get any nearer.)

A backgrounder: Ms. Avellana was the first Candida in both the stage and film versions of Nick Joaquin's play, Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, on which Larawan, The Musical is based. Naty Crame Rogers (still an active actress in her '80s, having just appeared in Tanghalang Ateneo's May Day Eve, another Joaquin work), played the role of Paula, Candida's younger sister.

What you will see flashing on the background screen as Ana and Tex sing their duet are excerpts from the landmark film version of Portrait, directed by Ms. Avellana's late husband, National Artist for Theater Lamberto Avellana, with Ms. Avellana and Ms. Crame Rogers immortalizing their signature stage roles on celluloid. (The live piano accompaniment is by Jed Balsamo.)

The musical itself is no less pedigreed, with music by Ryan Cayabyab and libretto by another National Artist (this time for both Theater and Literature), the late Rolando Tinio. Tragically, Mr. Tinio died a week or so before the triumphant opening of the musical, which starred Celeste Legaspi as Candida, Zsa Zsa Padilla as Paula and Ricky Davao as Tony Javier.

Larawan arguably ranks as one of most star-studded original Filipino musicals ever mounted. Aside from the three leads, the other performers included Hajji Alejandro, Roeder Camanag, Louie Reyes, Eugene Villaluz, Carla Martinez, Dawn Zulueta and Mikee Cojuangco. The “Old Guard” chorus alone consisted of Fides Cuyugan-Asencio, Armida Siguion-Reyna, Nomer Son, Robert Natividad and Gamaliel Viray--all boldface names in Philippine opera.

And Mikee Cojuangco's alternate was a young singer-actress named Madonna Decena--who, many years later, would floor the judges of Britain's Got Talent with her audition, and achieve her own measure of international fame via YouTube.

Zsa Zsa Padilla, whose work in Larawan received glowing reviews, also sang the part of Paula in the original cast album. In the musical's second run, however, she was no longer available. If I recall correctly, Leah Navarro was announced as her replacement, but was dropped a few weeks before the show, causing the usual mini-tempest in show-biz talk shows.

Rachel Alejandro then stepped into the role, joining the other cast members who were reprising their parts. There was one more addition--Abby Viduya aka Priscilla Almeda (yes, the very daring Seiko Films bold star), then dipping her toes in legitimate musical theater for the first time.

This was the run I caught at CCP's Main Theater. It was my first time to watch Dawn Zulueta, Priscilla Almeda and Rachel Alejandro on stage, singing, and it's no exaggeration to say that, overall, I was very much taken in. (This is also the first time those names are appearing together in one sentence, I think.) Ms. Viduya/Almeda could sing, Ms. Zulueta was an exotic comic presence as Elsa Montes the “Conga Queen,” and Ms. Alejandro, though quite young-looking for the part, delivered a powerfully sung Paula, her glistening alto blending seamlessly with Celeste Legaspi's dramatic soprano.

The song featured in this video, Kakalabanin Natin ang Mundo, is the spinster sisters' cry of liberation near the end of the musical, when they've come to terms with their impoverished lot, and are finally resolved not to give up their crumbling Intramuros home--their one tenuous link to a faded era of gracious living marked by art, beauty, poetry, gentility. To a crassly commercial world, they fling their defiant challenge: “Kung ang tao sa ngayon/Nasa isip puro pera/At hindi na uso'ng poesiya/Di na bale'ng magkagera!” Contra mundum, indeed.

PLUS: Celeste Legaspi and Zsa Zsa Padilla's version of this song, from the original cast album of Larawan, The Musical:


Oliver Oliveros said...

Sounds very much like Ryan C's 'Magnificat.'

gibbs cadiz said...

hi OLIVER! really? does that mean mr. C. plagiarized his own work? :)

beektur said...

As much as I love Ryan Cayabyab's pop music, including "The Coconut Nut", there's always something about his musicals that turn me off. I always feel that they never achieve musical coherence nor emotional resonance. That sounds true of his oratorios.

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