After nearly 3 decades, Piolo returns to theater with 'Ibarra'

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Apr 19 2023 03:59 PM | Updated as of Apr 19 2023 04:09 PM

 Photo from Piolo Pascual's Instagram page
Photo from Piolo Pascual's Instagram page

MANILA -- The public has seen Piolo Pascual in many memorable films in the past, widely-followed TV series, shows, even concerts. But he has never done a stage musical in his professional life.

Pascual can finally tick this off his bucket list come June 8, when he debuts on the professional stage in “Ibarra,” as the idealist-turned-revolutionary Crisostomo Ibarra.

Acting onstage was interestingly one of the earliest ventures of Pascual when he was still a student at the University of Sto. Tomas, where he joined Teatro Tomasino, the theater company of the university.

Pascual recalled being in the production, “Juan de la Cruz in New York City,” nearly three decades ago.

“There were offers from different theater guilds through the years,” Pascual told ABS-CBN News. “There were adaptations of different Broadway shows, but nothing fit into my schedule.

“Finally, when ‘Ibarra’ came this pandemic, I told myself I wanted to do a musical that is local, original and I was wishing, I was hoping it would be ‘Noli Me Tangere.’

“I really wanted to play Crisostomo Ibarra. So, when this was offered to me, I said ‘yes’ right away, without even thinking what I got myself into.

“I always get jitters every time I would do something new and different. This was something that I missed, performing for the live audience.

“Appearing on TV and in film, I’m used to that. But doing live theater is something that I always wanted to do again. And doing a musical is something I haven’t done before.”

Returning to theater is a 360-degree turn for Pascual. “More than,” he laughed. “I don’t mean to brag, but I’m super happy that I get to do different medium of the arts.

“As an artist, it feels so fulfilling to get out of your comfort zone, step out of your box and do something you’ve never done before. I don’t know what I went through, but for sure I’ll be enjoying it.”

And he’s working with real theater professionals. “Kaya nga ako nanginginig performing with them,” Pascual admitted. “I get intimidated by Carla [Guevarra Laforteza].”

He was coached by the husband-and-wife tandem of Pablo and Camille Molina for his musical role in “Ibarra.”

“I got so used to singing pop music, but when I first started rehearsing for ‘Ibarra,’ I told my mom, ‘Mommy, pang stage yata talaga ako,’" he said. “Naiba agad ‘yung way of singing ko. It was a welcome change for me. I was privileged to be coached by Pablo and Camille [Molina].”

Pascual pointed out the history of Jose Rizal is a good reminder for every Filipino to remember our heritage and history.

“Everyone of us is a Crisostomo Ibarra who is fighting for revolution, who is fighting for freedom and independence,” Pascual stressed. “So, I will speak on behalf of everyone that we have an Ibarra in each of us.” 

Back in 2020, “Ibarra” director Frannie Zamora expressed his desire to revive Jomar Fleras’ “Noli Me Tangere.” However, the original producer Jun Pablo, passed away in 2022.

“Jomar and I saw each other in the wake,” Zamora recalled. “The following week, I received a call from Jomar who asked me, ‘Can we mount ‘Noli Me Tangere’ again?’

“Sure, I said. But if we would restage ‘Noli’ ang gusto ko lang si Piolo. I watched all his movies, to be honest. After we did a Zoom last January, we got Piolo’s commitment for the staging of ‘Ibarra’.” 

When Pascual gave his nod to play Crisostomo Ibarra, Zamora was thrilled and elated. “Para kong tumama sa lotto when Piolo said yes,” Zamora said. “He didn’t even ask about any talent fee.

“As long as the rehearsals would fit into Piolo’s schedule, he will attend. That was what we agreed upon with Cornerstone Entertainment [Pascual’s management company].”

Choreography and co-direction is Paul Alexander Morales. “We are working really hard to give you the best performance that we can come up with,” Morales said.

“Piolo is giving his star power to Philippine theater. Having somebody like him to join the production is a big plus factor for us.

Tanghalang Una Obra is producing “Ibarra” in time for the 125th year of Philippine Independence on June 12 and the birth month of national hero Jose Rizal on June 19. 

The cast includes Myramae Meneses as Maria Clara, Carla Guevarra-Laforteza as Doña Victorina, Nicole Laurel Asencio as Sisa; John Joven Uy as Pilosopo Tasio, Kevin Posadas as Elias, Meldea Chua as Doña Consolacion, Neil Tolentino as Don Tiburcio; Carlos Canlas as Padre Alferez, Floyd Tena as Padre Damaso, while his son JD Tena is Basilio, Elian Santos is Crispin, Jeffrey Hidalgo as Elias and Carlo Mañalac is Padre Salvi.

Composer and musical director Joed Balsamo admitted it is the dream of any composer for his compositions to be sang by esteemed artists.

“Who will not be delighted if you have this cast who will perform my version of ‘Noli Me Tangere?,” Balsamo said.

“At first, I thought there were characters and songs that would be removed. But since this is now from the point of view of Crisostomo Ibarra, we had to tweak some lines to show Ibarra’s viewpoint. From the original 33 songs, the songs are now 37."

Before, “Noli Me Tangere” merely used minus one as accompaniment. “Ibarra” will use a 13-piece ensemble from the Manila Symphony Orchestra.