MANILA, Philippines -- An all-star gathering of some of the country's top musical artists formally opened the SM Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena on Saturday night with a celebration of original Pilipino music.
At a time when foreign acts have been dominating the concert scene for the past couple of years, "Icons at the Arena" was a reminder of the excellence of both Filipino singers and their music.
But at the same time, the show also showed how OPM -- or to be more accurate, OPM pop -- seemed to have stalled, with current or even fairly recent local songs under-represented in the two-hour show.
Among these was the medley of current TV theme songs composed by the prolific Ogie Alcasid -- "Huwag Ka Lang Mawawala" from "Walang Hanggan," performed by Richard Poon, "Sino Ako" from "My Binondo Girl," performed by Juris Fernandez, "Ikaw ang Pangarap" from "Lobo," performed by Jed Madela and "Kailangan Kita" from "Walang Hanggan," performed by Piolo Pascual.
Although numerous OPM classics have been written for the silver screen (check out the Viva catalogue in the 1980s), this medley showed the shift to TV, stressing the role played by networks in keeping OPM afloat.
Curiously, despite co-host Jim Paredes extolling Pinoy bands as the future of OPM, the concert featured only one rock number -- "Noypi" -- with Bamboo Manalac, the lone representive of the most vibrant sector of OPM today. "Noypi" is also the one true Filipino anthem from this century to be included in the concert repertoire.
OPM's greatest hits
The rest of the show was devoted to OPM's greatest hits from the '70s and '80s, starting with a re-arranged, slightly jazzed up version of "Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika," performed by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra in its major public debut.
Despite a slight terminal glitch when the white curtains failed to fully fall at the start of the show, the opening set the right mood early on, with Ryan Cayabyab conducting the orchestra.
The concert's main draw really was the assembly of numerous OPM icons from the past, performing with relatively newer singers. A tribute to singer-songwriter Jose Mari Chan started with vocal group The Company performing Chan's first hit, "Can We Just Stop and Talk Awhile," followed by "Tell Me Your Name" from Christian Bautista. Chan then emerged with his monster hit "Beautiful Girl."
While the spiels of Paredes and co-host Pops Fernandez look at the history of OPM, the medleys that follow don't necessarily include these songs.
For instance, while the hosts talk about Filipina divas from Pilita Corrales to the jukebox queens of the '70s and current-day biriteras like Sarah Geronimo and Angeline Quinto, the medley that followed paid tribute to Louie Ocampo, as performed by powerhouse singers Rachel Alejandro ("Yakapin Mo Ako"), Dulce ("Ikaw Lang ang Mamahalin") and Verni Verga ("Kahit Isang Saglit"). The medley ended with all three performing "Ikaw."
A spiel about novelty singers Yoyoy Villame and Fred Panopio was followed by a comedy sketch with the duo of Wally Bayola and Jose Manalo plus Pokwang, which ended with Joey Reyes' "Ngumiti Tumawa Magsaya Kumanta."
The comedy trio easily stole the show with their wacky interpretations of current events, such as Pokwang's take on Dionesia Pacquiao asking for a rematch after his son, Manny, lost to American Timothy Bradley.
Manalo and Bayola were also spot on in their impersonations of newsmen Rey Langit and Mike Enriquez and even singers Gary Valenciano and Martin Nievera. No wonder Manalo and Bayola packed the equally cavernous Araneta Coliseum with their comedy concert.
But "Icons at the Arena" did deliver on its title's promise. Folk superstar Freddie Aguilar performed his biggest hit "Anak," his acoustic guitar-playing still as crisp as ever.
Regine Velasquez, performing with husband Ogie Alcasid, showed that she can still hit the high notes of her hit "Kailangan Ko'y Ikaw" after she took a hiatus since giving birth to her first child.
International sensations Lea Salonga and Arnel Pineda performed a medley of OPM songs with English lyrics -- "Don't Know What To Do, Don't Know What To Say," "I think I'm in Love," "Hold On," "Till I Met You" and "You."
Of course, OPM concerts these days must include a medley of the songs of Cayabyab, Willy Cruz and George Canseco, mostly written in the 1980s. Three generations of balladeers -- Basil Valdez, Martin Nievera and Erik Santos -- tackled these huge numbers in the concert -- "Nais Ko," "May Minamahal," "Paano," "Paano Ba ang Mangarap,""Pangarap na Bituin," "Tunay na Ligaya," "Kailangan Kita" and "Sana'y Wala Ng Wakas."
"We should have more of these. Sana magka-repeat pa ito because it's a really great show," Alcasid told ABS-CBN news.
After the show, Madela also expressed happiness for being able to perform alongside respected singers.
"Sharing the stage with such icons and representing OPM is such an honor," he said.
Tribute to mall magnate
But the concert wasn't just an homage to OPM but also a tribute to mall tycoon Henry Sy, Sr., chairman of the SM group.
Gary Valenciano had a video performance of a new song dedicated to the SM patriarch.
Sy's son, Hans Sy, president of SM Prime Holdings Inc., also delivered a speech honoring the vision of his father, who was in the audience, along with his other children.
"In recent years we saw the rise of the supermalls, innovations in retail and banking, growth in our country's architectural landscape by way of real estate and now we are witnessing the historic launch of the Mall of Asia Arena, an ultra-modern sports and entertainment facility dedicated to the artistry and unparelleled skill of the Filipinos," Hans Sy said.
The concert ended with most of the performers singing the inspirational number, "The Impossible Dream," which we surmise is a favorite of the elder Sy since it isn't a Filipino song.
MOA Arena marketing head Allan Florendo explained that the new venue is expected to be a destination where viewers can experience total entertainment.
"The experience will be before, during and after, from the time they buy tickets until after the show," he said.
Florendo also said that the MoA Arena has already become the choice for concert, sporting, and corporate events and is fully booked until the end of 2012.
Upcoming shows for the Arena include Nicki Minaj, Cirque du Soleil, the UAAP Opening and NBA Legends where Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and Jason Williams will be playing against a selected team.