Among show-biz denizens and watchers, Girlie Rodis is well-known as the manager of the likes of Rachel Alejandro, Geneva Cruz and Gaby dela Merced (and, recently, Joanna Ampil and Rowena Vilar while the two performers are in Manila for West Side Story--hence the picture above). TV junkies would also recognize her as the recent guest judge of ABS-CBN's Pinoy Dream Academy.
But in theater, Girlie is known for something else: for co-producing, along with Celeste Legaspi, six original Filipino musicals that have collectively made a mark in local musical-theater history. In a span of over 10 years, Girlie and Celeste would produce Katy!, Kengkoy Loves Rosing, Alikabok, Larawan, Sino Ka Ba, Jose Rizal? and Fire Water Woman. Their theater company, Musical Theater Philippines (Musicat), was a unique undertaking in that it was the only local theater company exclusively dedicated to commissioning and mounting original Filipino musical material.
And they didn't go about it lightly. From their first landmark production, Katy!, which harnessed a raft of top-flight talent (Mitch Valdez, Marco Sison, Bernardo Bernardo, Celeste Legaspi, a very young Robert Sena, Pinky Marquez, the late Tenten Munoz, et al, with music by Ryan Cayabyab, libretto by Joey Javier Reyes, direction by Nestor Torre), Musicat went about its mission of creating musicals that were as consequential as they were entertaining.
Inquirer editor in chief Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, in 1989 still writing a column for the paper, said of Katy! that its makers had succeeded in creating "the prototype for the Filipino musical." Musicat would build on the same template for its five other productions--theater offerings that mined the native gifts for music, dance, drama, spectacle, verbal exuberance, heartfelt sentiment, and usually brought to life by top-caliber talent.
Kengkoy Loves Rosing starred Regine Velasquez, Janno Gibbs and Nonie Buencamino. Alikabok had Rachel Alejandro, Raul Roxas, Bodjie Pascua. Fire Water Woman showcased Jenine Desiderio, Michael Williams, Carla Martinez. And Larawan, based on National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin's play Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, had Rolando Tinio, another National Artist (for Theater and Literature), as both director and librettist, while also starring Celeste Legaspi, ZsaZsa Padilla (replaced by Rachel Alejandro in the second run), Ricky Davao, Hajji Alejandro, Dawn Zulueta, Louie Reyes, Armida Siguion Reyna, Gamaliel Viray.
Last year, however, Musicat announced that it was shutting down, unable to produce any more shows because of the prohibitive costs of doing original Filipino musicals in a changed market where, even as theater remains largely unprofitable, foreign acts have been coming in by the truckload and attracting the bulk of live patronage.
While a song like Minsan ang Minahal ay Ako (from Katy!) has become a familiar number on TV specials and the concert and choral circuits, the bulk of the Musicat songbook has not been heard again or performed live since the curtain went down on their original productions years ago. Neither Katy! nor Larawan, the two most acclaimed Musicat musicals, have ever been restaged. And copies of the original soundtracks, whether on cassette or CD, are not available commercially.
How was it like to produce these musicals? What motivated Girlie and Celeste to put up Musicat and risk their money in it? Why did it have to close? What mistakes did they make along the way? Is it true that the debts for Alikabok took 10 years to pay? Will any of the musicals be restaged again--and what would it take for them to say yes to outside offers to do it? How was it like working with the legendary Rolando Tinio and other theater luminaries? Or Nick Joaquin for that matter, who was still alive at the time Larawan went up at the CCP Main Theater? Which of the six musicals is closest to Girlie's heart, and why? And would she produce again?
I sat down with Girlie a few weeks ago for a video interview where she talked about all these things, and many more. Did you know that five years ago Katy! was almost revived, with Regine Velasquez and Ogie Alcasid as the leads? And did you know that Girlie has very generously uploaded video clips of Larawan and Katy! on her Multiply account? Yes, if we can't watch these musicals live, we can at least watch them now--in their entirety, as performed by the original cast--online, for free.
Girlie is the quintessential theater producer. She puts her money where her burning passion is, never mind if it doesn't make her rich. That's the kind of madness only people in theater and the arts can understand. Or, as she put it during the interview, "To this day I still don't own my house, but I own six librettos!"
Now, the plaudits for a successful production often go to the marquee names--the actors, the playwright, the director, the composer and/or lyricist if it's a musical. Because he or she stays in the background to tend to the less "sexy" stuff (rounding up money, begging sponsors, keeping a lid on costs, among other things), the producer typically doesn't get as much recognition from the public--unless you're, say, David Merrick or Cameron Mackintosh.
Let it be said here and now: With her six librettos and her tenacious, lifelong cheerleading for Filipino talent (she's also a founding member of the Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit, or OPM), Girlie Rodis deserves as much appreciation and credit for the wider repertoire, the richer material, the stronger heritage that Filipino musical theater is now heir to. Hey, Miss Producer (and other brave souls like her)--may your tribe increase!