MANILA -- Singer-actor Arman Ferrer could have played Jesus Christ any time in his stellar stage acting career. Interestingly, now that he’s 33, the offer for Ferrer to portray Jesus Christ came. And as written in Biblical history, Jesus Christ was also 33 when He was crucified on the cross.
The age similarity may simply be a coincidence, but for Ferrer, he deems it important that playing Jesus in Metropolitan Theater’s “Pasyong Pilipino” came at this point in his career.
After “Lapu Lapu,” where Ferrer first stepped on the stage of the Met last October, he performed at the opening of the Met last December and played Joseph with Lara Maigue as Virgin Mary in the “Panuluyan: Dula-Dasal Pamasko.”
This time, Ferrer graces the Met stage anew in “Pasyong Pilipino.” He is taking on the role of Jesus Christ for the first time in the Lenten special.
“Funny because last December, I played the father of Jesus Christ in ‘Panuluyan,’ staged at the Met,” Ferrer said. “This time, I’m playing Jesus Christ in ‘Pasyong Pilipino’.”
The same “Pasyong Pilipino” staged at the Met last March 25 was recorded and will be streamed on April 13. That will also be the one shown on a wide screen at the Rizal Park open-air auditorium that same day.
“Pasyong Pilipino” will be streamed online in the Met page, as well as in the NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) page.
“Pasyong Pilipino” was culled from the original “Pasyong Mahal,” by Gaspar Aquino de Belen and translated by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera. The TV version was translated by National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio.
Original music is by Fr. Eduardo Hontiveros, SJ arranged for “Pasyong Pilipino” by Ferdinand Bautista, who’s also the musical director for the Joseph Ratzinger Choir and the orchestra.
Director of the Pansol Choir is Mark Anthony Carpio, with arrangement by Louie Angelo Oca.
“The material is only limited, so the music had to be rearranged,” Ferrer said.
Natasha Cabrera, who was also Babaylan in “Lapu Lapu,” plays the Virgin Mary. Another "Lapu Lapu" castmember Al Gatmaitan is Pontio Pilato. Juan Bartolome is Pedro, Jerylle Bantuan is Judas.
Direction is by Dennis Marasigan, concept by Aaron Veloso, TV direction by CJ Andaluz, costume design and make-up by Norman Peñaflorida, lighting design by Katsch Catoy, technical direction by Charlotte Despuez, and sound direction by Ryan Sangui.
It was not the first time for Ferrer to work with Marasigan, who also directed the Christmas presentation, “Panuluyan,” staged by the Met.
Marasigan was also the assistant director of Ricky Davao in the Cultural Center of the Philippines tribute to poet Jose Corazon de Jesus or Huseng Batute, “Awit at Tula: Ang Pagbabalik Tanaw sa Unang Hari ng Balagtasan,” in 2020, of which Ferrer was part of the cast.
“Pasyong Pilipino” is a full production with orchestra that provided live music during the maiden staging last March 25 at the Met.
“The music was recorded as live, not canned, so wala siyang take 2,” said Ferrer. “Whatever you hear in the show, it was just one take.”
In a span of six months, Ferrer has done four successive productions with the Met and staged at the Met.
“I’m just thankful with the Met because they are willing to work with me and they are inviting me to perform,” he said. “It’s always a privilege and honor to sing at a very historic and cultural place like the Met.”
The music of “Pasyong Pilipino” is done in a sing-song manner. “When you get used to the melody, it’s easier,” Ferrer said. “What’s harder is that since it is always the same, you have to make sure the feelings will not be the same.
“Dapat sincere ang delivery. The only way for the audience to understand it and appreciate ‘Pasyon,’ they have to understand and feel what you’re saying.
“When it comes to old, traditional music, medyo mahirap kasi to sing sa ‘Pasyon.’ People might find it boring. It’s our responsibility to make sure it will not sound boring and it will still be interesting.”
To date, Ferrer has played a gamut of roles onstage – from romantic leads to a brave warrior. The most challenging for him were “Lapu Lapu” and Emilio Aguinaldo in “Mabining Mandirigma,” staged by Tanghalang Pilipino in 2019.
“Every time I stepped on the stage at the Met, it was always an unbelievable feeling,” Ferrer shared. “From a music major, you only experienced the Met as a student through books and films. Then mga kwento-kwento.
“Now that I’m really performing onstage at the Met, it’s really surreal and very, very special for me. I always treat every performance as my last. You’re only as good as your last performance. I will always give my best when it comes to performing, whatever venue.
“I think that art should be served firstly. It’s always good to perform in these historic and special places. But again, we have to serve the art, especially art that tackles our culture.”
Ferrer delivered “very, very little acting” in “Pasyong Pilipino. “The biggest challenge is how to portray Jesus sincerely as possible,” he explained. “The passion of Jesus, for me, is the most difficult time in Jesus’ life.
“In His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, He really didn’t want to die. Nobody wants to go through that passion. As Jesus, He was still human. He endured all the pain, all the sufferings. But He did it and he prayed to God.”
“Pasyong Pilipino” ran for a little over two hours. “It’s the whole passion, from the last supper to the crucifixion,” Ferrer informed. “Maraming-maraming nangyari.”
However, the crucifixion was a mere symbolism. Besides, Ferrer said he was reluctant to show some skin, although that’s inevitable.
“I don’t want people to get distracted with the skin showing and they might focus there,” Ferrer explained. “I’m just very careful especially that this is a sacred work.”
“There are symbolisms of flagellation, the cross, crowning of thorns, very basic. I didn’t even wear a wig. I didn’t put on facial hair. This is concert version, so we did all symbolisms."