POSTSCRIPT / December 16, 2014 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Pope Francis musical wows theater goers

ANGELES CITY — Superb! World-class! Impressive! Fantastic! Kasanting na!

These were some of the remarks we heard among the theater-goers who packed the Holy Angel University theater here last Friday for the matinee of the Pampanga-produced stage musical “I Love Pope Francis – The Musicale” in English.

After the show, excited fans crowded around Andy Alviz, the production’s creator and director, in praise of his sensitive but down-to-earth handling of the humane and humble aspects of the life of Pope Francis.

Adding to the audience’s awe was the fact that the acting and singing were performed by mostly amateur (volunteer) thespians of Pampanga. Despite their costumes, we spotted a few prominent Kapampangan matrons who surprised us with their terpsichorean talent.

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THE ROAD TO ROME: We grabbed a ticket to the matinee after we were intrigued by earlier admiring critique of this modern zarzuela in its maiden staging last Nov. 29 at the same 1,000-seat theater.

We wanted to see how the home-grown troupe — a mix of mature and budding actors with two actors barely in their teens — did it. We were only distracted by minor technical glitzes such as the sound system that occasionally muted some parts of the 24 original songs being performed.

The show downloaded snapshots of the life of the Pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, from his youth in Buenos Aires, where he even worked as a bouncer before entering the priesthood, to the time he became known as a “bishop of the street” for identifying with the poor, to his rise to the papacy.

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PASTORAL VISIT: An ingenious insertion gave a foreshadowing of a caring shepherd’s visit to the Philippines in January, especially to typhoon-ravaged Tacloban, via an allegorical pastoral drop-in on a symbolic poor barrio of “San Felipe” (sounds like Filipinas?).

To me, that moving episode – all in lyrical songs — was the high point of the entire show, made more palpable by the exquisite acting and singing of the plain folk of San Felipe and the shepherd’s immersing himself among his flock to comfort them.

It was this humanity of Pope Francis, the leader of more than a billion Catholics in the world, and the people’s positive response to what he says and does that this stage production captured vividly. This probably explains the audience’s ecstatic reaction to the musical.

(Those who want to watch the show may catch it on Jan. 10 at the HAU theater. We heard a gala show at the Cultural Center of the Philippines is still being worked out in cooperation with Rotary International.)

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ELECTRIC AIR: The excited air of anticipation, even before the doors of the theater were opened to the waiting crowd, was felt in the audience, many of whom may have been told of the “happy experience” by those who watched the maiden staging on Nov. 29.

The songs, by the way, are all in universal English – with an occasional Kapampangan remark cleverly thrown to accent the flavor of the street-level dialogue.

As the two-hour show (with intermission) built up, the crowd-connection became electric. Some irrepressible souls in the audience would clap, at times roar, rise and wave their hands with the cast. (It was all right – our Pope Francis would forgive that bouncy behavior.)

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LOCAL TALENT: Last Friday’s dominantly home crowd was obviously proud that a local cast, made up mostly of amateur thespians consisting of students, a priest, lay leaders and society matrons, could produce a musical that could approximate those staged in theaters abroad.

What needs fixing, if I may point them out, are such technical hitches as the fading sound system, the pang-zarzuela set, the distraction of stray light, and the wayward spotlights searching for the character to spot on. But as engineering problems, those are easy to solve.

For partial credit, let me pick up the names in the playbill which says that the musical is by Andy Alviz and Randy del Rosario; music and lyrics by Alviz, with additional material by Fr. Deo Galang; musical direction by Recy Pineda, Gie Lansang, Alviz and Del Rosario; musical arrangement by Jake Abella; executive producer is Tess Laus; production design by Jing Torno; and lighting design by Dennis Benedicto.

I feel guilty not mentioning anyone in the cast for fear of omitting the many others who deserve notice. Many of the main singers were notably superb, it would be a mortal sin to inadvertently omit even just one!

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AETA BENEFICIARIES: Alviz honed his craft in theater production during his long stint as resident choreographer of the popular Miss Saigon, a musical dominated by Filipino talents, such as Lea Salonga.

Alviz told members of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) in one of our Friday forums that he collaborated the musical with writer-lyricist Randy del Rosario under the aegis of Teatru Kapampangan.

The duo was also behind such highly-acclaimed musicals as Ima, Beauty Parlor, Perry the Musical, Ciniong, and Tulaok (a Lenten musical produced for the Pampango cultural group ArtiSta.Rita).

Bookings are also now being arranged for the musical’s run next year in Cebu, Iloilo and other cities in the country and, probably, in London and, finally, in Rome, Alviz said.

Part of the proceeds of the musical’s presentation will go to Teatru Kapampangan’s beneficiary – the AeTahanan, a dormitory in Sta. Rita town in Pampanga that houses Aetas taking up college courses.

Whatever you do to the least of my brethren….

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 16, 2014)

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