When “Mula sa Buwan” returns on Aug. 26 at Samsung Performing Arts Theater in Circuit Makati, it will not be the same creature that played to packed houses every performance four years ago.
In turning Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” and Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo’s Filipino translation of that play into a musical, director and co-creator Pat Valera recentered the story on college-age Filipinos whose lives are upended by World War II. But, while the pre-Covid-19 version of the show highlighted its romantic and spectacular elements, Valera says this staging will underscore the spirit of defiance coursing through the musical.
In part, Valera attributes this change in direction to what he calls the “great pains” inflicted by both the pandemic and the recent presidential election. The musical, whose score he wrote with William Elvin Manzano, will still be about “wide-eyed, idealistic misfits” who “cling to their friends and the power of stories and the theater”; this time around, however, the focus will be on how these misfits dream of a better world and fight for space for their future.
Anyone familiar with the musical or its source material will know how that future turns out to be anything but bright for its characters. Hence, Valera’s rewriting of certain lines and character motivations to be reflective of this age of disinformation: in place of mere escapist entertainment, a deeper probe into our ways of (mis)remembering the past, and, in the case of the titular character, questioning the very notion of (anti-)heroism.
Of course, the changes may not be immediately apparent even to the most ardent fans of this musical, says Valera. Instead, for those who have seen the multiple hit iterations of this show that ran from 2016 to 2018, the most obvious change will be an old face becoming the new lead.
From playing the handsome but vacuous Christian in the musical’s 2018 staging at Ateneo de Manila University, Myke Salomon will now assume the part of the poetry-spouting Cyrano, in addition to serving as the show’s new musical director.
The decision did not come easy to Salomon, though. “It took me weeks to agree to play the part,” he says. “To be honest, I had lost hope. There was a point [during the last two years] when I kept asking myself whether I would still be able to do live theater. I did not want to leave the theater; theater left. That was the hardest part.”
Salomon describes the moment he agreed to do the role as a Moses-with-the-burning-bush situation: “I did not want to stay home anymore,” he says, so he decided to jump in and join the show—“atrophied” performing skills notwithstanding.
Besides, it is an almost completely new show, says Salomon. For instance, among its cast of 27, only four performers will be tackling parts they had already played in the show’s earlier runs. Salomon also shares Valera’s recalibrated vision of the show’s characters as now fighting for their own safe spaces, and, in the case of his Cyrano, as someone fighting for the displaced artists and dreamers, arguably harking back to the earlier days of the pandemic that destabilized the entire theater community.
1st since the pandemic
When it opens, “Mula sa Buwan” will become the first Filipino-language musical to do so since the pandemic started. More significantly, it will be the first production to play the recently inaugurated, 1500-seat Samsung Theater. Gab Pangilinan will return to the role of Roxane, while Markki Stroem will be the new Christian.
This return engagement has been almost a year in the making, says Valera, beginning with industry and audience surveys he co-initiated with Philstage (or the Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists Group, Inc.) in late 2021. It looks like it has widespread audience support going for it. As of July 8, the show had sold almost half the seats allotted for its 13-performance run, according to Valera.
“People are definitely coming, and because of that, we are definitely pressured.” This pressure, says Valera, has become the fuel that inspires everyone involved to give performances worthy of an industry reopening.