The original Filipino Christian gospel musical "First Name" was the brainchild of the late theater and concert director Freddie Santos (1956-2020). While Santos wrote all the lyrics, the music for each song was written by acclaimed OPM artists like Gary Valenciano, Ogie Alcasid, Ray-An Fuentes, Butch Alvarez and Bob Serrano.
Under the stage direction of Santos himself, it was first staged at the Rizal Theater back in 1988, and was a big success with young theatergoers. It would have subsequent restagings at the Music Museum in 1992, Meralco Theater in 1993. There would be an updated version staged at the SM-Mall of Asia Center Stage in 2007.
"First Name" is acknowledged as the first English-language Gospel musical in the history of Philippine theater. It was in fact the show that eventually led to the formation of Triumphant People's Evangelistic Theater Society (or Trumpets), recognized as the first professional gospel theater group in Asia, in 1990 by founder Audie Gemora.
This year while the live theater circuit still reeled from quarantine restrictions, Trumpets resurrects "First Name" again, this time adapted for an online venue. The format was a series of 10 music videos, each crafted with its own unique vision and style, linked together by expository spiels by a narrator (Tippy Dos Santos), who would explain the significance and lessons of the songs and the names of the Bible characters that inspired each song. The segments were written by Luna Grino-Inocian, and directed by Carlo Magdaluyo.
The opening number was "What's in a Name" (G. Valenciano), a song about how our names could define who we are, in a new arrangement by Jungee Mercado. The concept by Mo Zee had the dapper artist Sam Concepcion singing and dancing the bouncy percolating tune in a room with colorful murals and neon lights and backup dancers. At a break, he had a rap duet interlude featuring Samantha Libao.
Aicelle Santos followed with the song "Daughter Eve" (G. Valenciano), rearranged by Choi Padilla and John Apura, video with pop-up storybook animation directed by Cathy Asanza-Dy. This was about the first woman's guilt for her disobedience and desire to be reunited with the Father. Aicelle's pained rendition of the sad lyrics brought a tear to her eye, but the song ended with hope as her pregnant belly was revealed.
"Let Da Rain Pour Down" (R. Fuentes) was re-arranged and performed by gritty indie artist Bullet Dumas in a reggae beat and style, together with Jacques Doufort and Yuna. What made this song even more remarkable was the performance artwork of Isabella L. Gonzales (Kuh Ledesma’s daughter) who was retelling Noah's story via a painting that evolved while Dumas sang -- a true visual and aural highlight directed by Paolo Valenciano.
"Psalm 23" (R. Fuentes), about King David, was arranged by Mon Faustino as an R&B ballad sung with smooth dramatic runs by Lance Busa. "More Than His Name" (R. Fuentes) about Simon Peter in the eyes of his wife, was arranged as a piano torch ballad by Rony Fortich, sung with crystal clarity by Shiela Valderrama-Martinez. Both videos were directed by Johann de la Fuente.
"To Be Named a Disciple" (F. Santos and B. Alvarez), inspired by acts of the apostles, was arranged by Gio Levy in an upbeat comic style featuring Nanette Inventor as two characters -- one was a nun with fuchsia leggings under her habit, and the other was a rapper in a checkered hooded jacket, in an irreverent video directed by Carlo Orosa.
"Woman with No Name" (O. Alcasid), about the woman accused of adultery, was rearranged by Jeff Arcilla to be sung by Tim Pavino in a video that featured Joni Vergara and two male dancers interpreting the disturbing torment of social media bullying. "What's His Name?" (B. Serrano), about the many names by which Jesus Christ was known, was arranged by John Apura and Choi Padilla as a driving rock number interpreted by Jett Pangan. Both videos were directed by Dan Cabrera.
The next song is the one song from this musical that became its most famous hit -- "Could You Be Messiah?" (G. Valenciano). The original singer Gary Valenciano was also the one who rearranged this new version to be sung by powerhouse vocalist Morissette. The stark black and white video, which had Morissette plaintively singing the prayerful song on her knees in a big empty room, was directed by Dave Lamar.
The final song is the title song "First Name" (B. Serrano), about how Jesus was the first name and the last, was rearranged by Mon Faustino. In the video directed by Mo Zee, Christian Bautista was singing the song alone in a verdant field at sunrise. He would later be joined virtually by a choir of Trumpets singers (Audie Gemora, Sheila Francisco, Mio Infante, Joaquin Valdes, Bituin Escalante, Carla Martinez, Jake Macapagal, etc.) building up to a triumphant anthemic conclusion.
"First Name Anew" will be available for streaming on KTX for only three days, from February 27 to March 1, 2021. Tickets at P500 each.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."