MANILA -- Gratitude may have been pop star-theater actor Gerald Santos's middle name.
As a way of saying thank you for the blessings he has received the past couple of years, he is reprising the lead role in the musical "San Pedro Calungsod." It was a passion project he toured for two years before his big break in the international theater scene via "Miss Saigon."
"San Pedro Calungsod" premiered in November 2014 at SM Sky Dome in SM North Edsa that served as a kick-off performance for a two-year tour in key cities in the Visayas and Mindanao.
This time, the musical will make a few rounds in Metro Manila, starting this Friday, January 24, at the humungous 12,000-seat Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City, in partnership with Apec Schools for its scholarship programs.
Come February 22 and 29, it will be staged at St. Cecilia's Hall in St. Scholastica's College, Manila. In between, on February 25, there will be a one-night-only staging at the Music Museum in Greenhills, San Juan City.
"It's our first time to tour it here in Metro Manila kasi nga after the Sky Dome premiere, mga two nights lang yun, derecho na kami sa Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Koronadal City, Cebu, marami pang iba. Tuloy tuloy na," Santos told ABS-CBN News.
"This is my way of saying thank you to God for the blessings I've received. Nakokonekta namin because God has blessed me in spreading positivity, the good news, His words to the people and to the kids. Our target audience are the students, from grade school to college, and of course, theater followers here," he added.
We all know he played Thuy in the UK and European tours of "Miss Saigon" and had a successful homecoming concert in May last year at the 1,760-seat The Theatre at Solaire, where he performed a mix of Broadway hits and standards and got a positive reception not only from his fans but theater lovers as well.
In the latter part of 2019, he got to play the role of Anthony Hope in Bobby Garcia's re-imagining of the Stephen Sondheim classic "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," which had a successful three-week run, from October 11 to 27 also at The Theatre in Solaire and a two-week run, from November 28 to December 8, at the 1,680-seat Sands Theatre in Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
Santos is thankful for the lessons he learned from his co-actors, especially Lea Salonga and Jett Pangan.
"After 'Sweeney Todd' I also had a benefit concert in Resorts World. Am thankful about that. Also lots of invites sa mga Christmas parties. Maraming blessings talaga," Santos said, panting, as if catching his breath from all the major projects he did.
Rigors of touring
But it was with "Pedro Calungsod" where he honed his voice and acting skills for a musical theater. In the provinces, the number of audience members filling up the venues ranged from 5,000 to 10,000. It also tested his stamina. For instance, in Davao, he had to perform three shows in one day.
After the tour, he thought he won't make it to the audition for "Miss Saigon."
"Two days before I auditioned, we just finished 'yung tour sa Davao and Albay. Wala akong boses noon. Somehow it's a miracle kasi noong audition day, lumabas ang boses ko. Naabot ko 'yung boses ni Thuy na napakataas. We think na it's an intervention, reward din ni Lord sa akin, sa amin for spreading the good word," he said.
For "Miss Saigon," which toured from 2017 to 2019 in Great Britain, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Switzerland, he did 553 performances out of the 605 shows.
Among the cities covered were Leicester, Birmingham, Dublin, Cardiff, Ediburgh, Southampton, Manchester, Bristol, Bradford, Plymouth, Norwich, Sunderland, Zurich and Cologne. In those 22 months of touring, there were some venues where they had eight performances spread throughout the week.
Santos had nothing but divine gratitude for the experience, plus the rewards of traveling to places he thought he wouldn't reach at a young age and the camaraderie he had with his fellow actors.
Camaraderie also came up when Santos talked about the cast of "Sweeney Todd," especially when they were in Singapore.
"We got closer pa sa Singapore. Comfortable na kami sa isa't isa and gamay na gamay na namin 'yung role. Nakakapag-experiment na kami. During the day namamasyal lang kami. On some nights, we went out for a few drinks kung libre the next day. Sobra ko sila naka-bonding," he said.
He made special mention of enjoying Pangan's "daddy-tito jokes". "Bentang benta sa akin. Sakay na sakay ako," Santos said, though he declined to give an example of Pangan's joke.
He was hanging out mostly with older actors like Salonga, Ima Castro and baritone Andrew Fernando.
"Supposedly sa mga youngsters ako sumama. Pero dun sa apat ako sumama kahit ang aga nila umuuwi. One time, Ate Lea told me, 'Hoy Gerald bakit sa amin ka sumasama, kailangan na namin talagang umuwi, ikaw kaya mo pa 'yan'," he recalled.
Taking care of his voice
Going home after a performance that usually lasted until near midnight, Santos made sure he always had seven to eight hours of sleep a day.
"'Yung adrenaline mo siyempre andun pa rin even past midnight. I sleep around 1 a.m., minsan 3 a.m. but it's okay kasi I wake up late din. I also watch what I eat. Avoid muna 'yung chocolates, dairy products, cheese, milk. I am allergic to peanut butter," he said.
For a time, he considered himself a gym rat, doing up to four hours of cardio and body-building exercises a day.
"There's a certain high from exercise. My confidence level, tumataas. Mas mataas ang self-esteem. You feel good about yourself because you are taking care of yourself. You know you are fit, you can perform and even sa lahat ng mga daily activities mo.
"Nag-plateau na rin 'yung katawan ko. From 2013 to 2018, religiously I went to the gym but I stopped. After these five shows of 'Pedro Calungsod' balik uli ako," he said.
Lessons from Pedro Calungsod
The teenage martyr Pedro Calungsod was canonized on October 21, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. He became the second Filipino saint, after San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila.
Though there were meager information about Calungsod's life, what was put on record was that he was born in the Visayas and became a catechist. He accompanied a Spanish missionary, the Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores in the Marianas, then known as Ladrones Islands.
Because of Father Diego's failing eyesight, Calungsod was also his constant guide. They were able to convert some natives into Christianity which reportedly earned the ire of a local chieftain. Based on records, Calungsod was killed on April 2, 1672.
The libretto in English of "San Pedro Calungsod," the musical, is written by Antonino Rommel Ramilo, who also functions as director. He and Santos collaborated in writing the music. For this recent run, TJ Ramos was invited as vocal coach and music supervisor.
Other members of the creative team are Peggy Rico Solis (production manager), Jun Pablo (set designer), Alpauline Grace Pena (stage manager), Catherine Faith Binas (assistant stage manager), Luis Galang (technical director and lighting designer), Morris Philip Mercado (sound engineer), and Catherine Faith Binas (choreographer).
The musical is produced by Prinstar Music Philippines. Reprising his role as Father Diego de San Vitores is theater veteran Kuya Manzano, who recently acted in Philippine Stagers Foundation’s “Sindak 1941” and Repertory Philippines’ “Miong.”
Other members of the cast are Vince Layson Vicentuan as Choco, Heidi Arima as the mother of Pedro, Hutch Perales as Matapang, and Jhay R. Baccol as Hirao. Playing young missiornaries are Jude Matthew Servilla, Josh Ocampo, Juris Ocampo and Vince Conrad.
Members of the ensemble are Jessa Padilla, Marion Dizon, Jonna Sibonga, Renren Tiongson, Christine Wico Laforteza and Jerome Ferguson.
In those two years playing Pedro Calungsod, it can be said Santos has internalized the virtues of the young Filipino saint.
"Number one 'yung sacrifice, 'yung selfless love. He protected Father Diego from harm. At the same time, 'yung pagiging loving and playful and fun niya as a person. Napaka-loving niyang anak sa magulang. 'Yung faith niya, napaka-strong at such a very young age, somehow nakukuha ko 'yun, na i-internalize ko 'yun. Kasama na 'yung humility."
The rest of the year is going to be busier for Santos. He is going to be part of the film "Togs" by director-playwright-screenwriter Njel de Mesa.
"It's another passion project for me. 'Togs' is short for tugtugan. So may kantahan siya. I play a struggling musician artist, someone who is just getting by. Nag-wo-work siya sa isang studio. I won't divulge much. Basta rom-com siya," Santos said.
He is also finishing his solo album under Star Music and planning a major concert in May to be followed by a series of shows in the UK and Europe. He is determined to release the yet-to-be-titled album before the major concert.
"Tuloy-tuloy na 'yan," Santos said, smiling at all the good things coming his way.
In the meantime, he needs to play a saint.