Review: Lea, Lisa, Cecile sparkle on CCP stage

By Paul Henson, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 19 2012 02:58 PM | Updated as of Mar 20 2012 08:05 PM

(From left) Lea Salonga, Cecile Licad and Lisa Macuja share the stage for the first time in "The Legends, The Classics."

By Paul Henson, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines -- The lights of CCP’s Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo dim. A voiceover is heard, an allusion to Greek mythology: “The gifts of the gods are these…Charm, Splendor and Mirth! The Three Graces, muses of the Arts, embodying the finest celebration of the human experience.”

On this auspicious evening, the three goddesses have descended to share one stage: musical theater actress Lea Salonga, prima ballerina Lisa Macuja and pianist Cecile Licad. The show: "The Legends, The Classics."

Salonga’s crystal clear voice fills the hall with Ryan Cayabyab’s classic “Nais Ko”, the first verses gloriously sung a capella, then Licad joins the number with her melodious piano rendition before the music of FILarmonika swells to usher in Macuja’s rousing dance performance. With the opening number alone, the audiences know they are in for a once-in-a-lifetime treat.

The show then gives way to different suites that highlight the individual talents of Salonga, Macuja and Licad.

Macuja performs “Romeo and Juliet.” At the age of 48, with 27 years of dancing under her tutu and ballet shoes and lead roles in 300 full-length ballets in 90 cities all over the world, Macuja shows she is still the Philippines’ most brilliant prima ballerina. Her Juliet is wistful, pure, full of tenderness and, yes, heady with young love as she shares the stage with her Ballet Manila protégé Rudy De Dios in the role of Romeo.

Her performance takes on a nostalgic feel for her fans as Macuja has announced her upcoming retirement when she hits 50. Her “Swan Song Series 2012,” which includes the full-length “Don Quixote” and “Giselle” in October and “Carmen” in November are eagerly anticipated.

Broadway medley

Salonga then takes centerstage with her Broadway medley. She pays tribute to five of the most endearing lead characters in musical theater: Norma Desmond (“Sunset Boulevard”), Grizabella (“Cats”), Fantine and Eponine (“Les Miserables”) and Elphaba (“Wicked”), and does so with aplomb. She sings Eponine’s anthem “I Dreamed a Dream” with strength as with anguish, the same dramatic qualities that made her a standout in “Les Miserables” 25th anniversary concert at the O2 Arena in London.

Her vocal prowess then soars to the heavens as she takes on two of the most loved songs from “Wicked,” the musical on the re-imagined land of Oz. Her renditions of “For Good” and “Defying Gravity” were absolutely inspiring and spine-tingling.

But where is Kim from “Miss Saigon”? Oh, she was very much present. In her spiel, Salonga made special mention that it was in the halls of the CCP where she first learned the lyrics of “I’d Give My Life for You” over 20 years ago. That was during auditions for “Miss Saigon” before she bagged the title role in the Cameron Mackintosh musical. Salonga said that it was an honor to perform it again at the CCP after two decades.

Salonga is such a star that she gets applause even if she is just sipping water (delivered to her on stage by a butler who is actually a Ballet Manila dancer garbed in tuxedo). In a moment of levity, Salonga quips in reference to her water-bearing butler, “That is part of my contract.”

Licad then enthralls the audience with her piano solos: Gottschalk’s Pasquinade, Caprice Op.59 and Souvenirs d’Andalouise, Caprice de Concert Sur La Cana Op. 22. Licad is a sight to behold, a graceful performer from the moment her hands take their starting position, fingers an extension of the ivory keys, body shivering and bouncing to every note that conveys emotion, to the moment she flails her arms wildly to a rousing finish.

Her rendition of Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante Op. 22 together with FILHarmonika under the baton of Gerard Salonga was well-applauded.

Collaborative efforts

Still the most amazing numbers were the ones that combined the genius of these three ladies. Macuja’s tragic “Dying Swan” number as The Swan Queen, Odette, was absolutely dramatic with Licad on the piano and Wilfredo Pasamba on cello (he was flown in from the US just for this show).

Enchanting was Salonga’s Michel Legrand medley that included “Windmills of Your Mind” and “Piece of Sky” with the dance interpretation of Macuja and the dancers of Ballet Manila.

Indeed, this show was a fruit of the collaborative efforts of musical director Gerard Salonga, stage director Roxanne Lapus, scriptwriter Angela Blardony Ureta, and choreographers Osias Barroso, Bam Damian, Gerardo Francisco and Eileen Lopez.

It is a theatrical feast to see three accomplished talents supporting one another onstage. I’m sure not one of them would allow themselves to be outdone by the others (they wouldn’t be where they are if they weren’t competitive). Each of them made they sure that they shone brightly when it was their turn on stage.

But in this show, there were no divas, no “sapawan.” Just three world-class perfomers pushing each other to give their best and most memorable performance.

A triumphant, soaring finish was Willy Cruz’ “Sana’y Wala Nang Wakas.” A five-minute standing ovation was not enough to thank these three muses for their gifts to audiences worldwide.