In the 70s, Manila's staging of 'The Boys in the Band' handed audiences glossaries on gayspeak 2
The telephone game: Manny Castaneda, Marco Sison, Larry Leviste, Edgar Oira and Ed Villapol wait for their turn to say 'I love you.' Image courtesy of Ed Murillo
Culture

In the 70s, Manila's staging of 'The Boys in the Band' handed audiences glossaries on gayspeak

While the producers only imagined attracting a gay audience, there was so much good buzz on the play that it attracted straights, and their families—forcing the production to turn down a few risque parts
Jerome Gomez | Oct 05 2020

Netflix recently premiered the second film adaptation of “The Boys in the Band.” Starring Jim Parsons of “Big Bang Theory”, and Zachary Quinto who plays Spock in the “Star Trek” movies, the film comes from the 1968 Mart Crowley play about a group of gay men who throw their friend a birthday party in a Manhattan apartment. By putting contemporary gay life in the spotlight, “The Boys in the Band” was considered a groundbreaking achievement when it first came out, and was supposed to have inspired the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York. 

The play was revived on Broadway in 2019 starring the same actors in the new movie, all of them out gay men. But did you know Manila was already staging the play in the early 70s? The first known production was staged at the Insular Life Theater and was helmed by “Temptation Island” director Joey Gosiengfiao. It starred, among others, Behn Cervantes, Nestor Torre, Leo Martinez, Noel Añonuevo and movie star Ronaldo Valdez. 

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The programme cover, and the page that features the creative team which includes director Tony Espejo, writer of the Taglish adaptation Joey Reyes, and stage manager Ferdie Capili.

Valdez, says Añonuevo (who played the flirtatious Larry), was perfect as the hunk “birthday present.” “He played dumb, spoke good English na hindi wersh wersh like most artistas,” adds Añonuevo. “It was said by my drama professor that Joey Gosiengfiao at that time was the best director because he blocked so well, so fluidly.” 

There was also a 1971 staging by the Mindanao State University Players Company. 

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The cast and creative team of Hotel Mirador's The Boys in The Band. Standing: Joey Reyes, Tony Espejo, Ed Villapol. Seated, from left: Soxy Topacio, Cris Vertido, Menggie Cobbarubias, Marco Sison, Edgar Oira, Larry Leviste and Manny Castañeda.

Later on, in 1977, Gantimpala Theater founder Tony Espejo would direct a dinner theater production of the play at the Hotel Mirador in Ermita (now Manila Prince Hotel). It featured a Tagalog adaptation written by future super screenwriter Jose Javier Reyes. It starred Soxy Topacio, Manny Castañeda, Menggie Cobbarubias, Cris Vertido, Larry Leviste, Ed Villapol, and this time the singer Marco Sison as the birthday gift. 

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A spread from the programme of the PICC performances featured a Chito Vijandre ad and three of the actors in the play . Image courtesy of Ed Murillo 

The idea to stage the show was from the writer and critic Nestor Torre, and Espejo who had then just returned from his studies at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. The two didn’t intend for it to be a dinner theater setup but they were convinced by Hotel Mirador public relations gal Au Cobbarubias that it would be a great companion for dinner at the hotel. Her bosses needed a bit of convincing but they eventually gave in, and after five weeks of rehearsals, the play opened July 7, 1977. 

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A glossary of 'swardspeak' was part of the dinner theater experience. 

And it was a hit. It helped that it was cheaper than the usual dinner theater fare in other hotels—Mirador charged P50 for a seat, as opposed to P80 in most other places. The creative team was expecting to draw Manila’s gay crowd but the great buzz that surrounded the sexy, naughty, funny production also roped in the straights, along with their families. A few risque parts in the dialogue would eventually had to be toned down because of this. “Alam mo naman ang swardspeak, masyadong colorful,” Espejo said in the programme write up. An accompanying bibliography of “swardisms” would be given out to audiences during the early part of the run. (Ex: inaward—was ridiculed; kuno—so they say; kimbo—the sex act). 

The Espejo show went on forever, “spanning a year of live performances then went on tour all over the country....It went on and on and on much to the surprise of the production itself,” recalls Reyes on Facebook. He says this particular staging of “The Boys in the Band” started the “trend of comedy acts and live performances as dinner entertainment.” It also said something about how Filipino audiences, even in the 70s, responded to entertainment with gay themes: we love it. Wa quieme—no bull shit. 

 

[Special thanks to Ed Murillo for the images]