MANILA -- "Cyrano de Bergerac" is a classic French play by Edmond Rostand written in 1987. Since then, the play had been translated into and performed in English and other languages, and adapted into stage musical versions as well. There have been a number of film versions, the latest of which was "Cyrano" (Joe Wright, 2021) starring Peter Dinklage; as well as adaptations where the story was transposed to modern times and/or gender-swapped, the latest of which was "The Half of It" (Alice Wu, 2020).
"Mula sa Buwan" is the Filipino musical adaptation of Cyrano's story by Pat Valera (book and lyrics) and William Elvin Manzano (original music and lyrics) based on Soc Rodrigo's Filipino translation of Rostand's original verses. It has itself undergone a number of reworkings since its first staging in 2010 at the University of Asia and the Pacific by the Dulaang Rock Opera Company. These tweaks in the book were done in order to make the material more relevant to the prevailing social climate.
It had gained more popularity when it was staged at the Ateneo de Manila University twice by Black Box Productions. In 2016, it was staged at the Irwin Lee Theater, with Nicco Manalo and Boo Gabunada alternating as Cyrano, KL Dizon as Roxane, and Fred Lo and Edward Benosa alternating as Christian. In 2018, it was restaged at the Hyundai Hall of Arete, with Manalo and Gabunada again alternating as Cyrano, Gab Pangilinan and Cris Go alternating as Roxane, and Edward Benosa and Myke Salomon alternating as Christian.
For this current production, the Barefoot Theatre Collaborative brings the beloved work to a much bigger venue -- the new and beautiful Samsung Performing Arts Theater in Circuit Makati, which has a seating capacity almost twice that of Hyundai Hall.
The dashing Markki Stroem joins the cast as Christian. The ever-incandescent Gab Pangilinan reprises her role as Roxane. From playing Christian in 2018, musical director Myke Salomon now dons the iconic prosthetic nose to play the lead role of Cyrano.
The main supporting characters include the fabulous Rosanna (Phi Palmos), the transgender cabaret owner who supported projects to promote equal representation and freedom of expression; the haughty Maximo (MC de la Cruz), the raffish rich young man who dared to challenge Cyrano; the loyal Tato (Jon Abella), Cyrano's best friend; and the sweet Gabriel (Jillian Ita-as), Roxane's best friend and Tato's love interest.
The cadets under Cyrano were played by Abe Autea, Jep Go, Rapah Manalo, Stephen Viñas and the diminutive Ericka Peralejo. The ensemble of townspeople includes: Miah Canton, Francis Gatmaytan, Mitzie Lao, Deborah Lemuel, Mark Anthony Grantos, Eizel Marcelo, Kinnara Mayari , Ace Polias, Liway Perez, Lance Reblando, Mikaela Regis, Chesko Rodriguez, Keith Sumbi, Shaira Opsimar and Khalil Tambio
Set designer Ohm David transformed the spacious stage of the Samsung Performing Arts Theater into a lively city street corner with a makeshift stage for the first song number "Ang Tanghalang Ito," then he would bring us into Rosanna's cabaret, where she sang her spirited "Manifesto." David's main backdrop was a wall of crumpled white fabric, which conveyed different moods depending on the colors of Meliton Roxas's lights. A full moon and a sky full of twinkling stars would occasionally appear up there to create a most beautiful effect.
The costumes designed by Bonsai Cielo transported the audience back to 1940s Manila before and after World War II took its toll. As most of the boys were in their khakis, the girls' were in rainbow-colored dresses which flowed as the they spun around in JM Cabling's vibrant choreography. Roxane's dresses were made for standing out in the crowd, with their bright primary colors that reflect her moods. For Rosanna's featured number, Palmos rocked an ensemble of polka-dot sleeveless blouse, purple pants and red shoes.
The first act on its own took about two hours already, with 10 song numbers that introduced the three main characters and built up the love triangle they will be engaged. the mood of the this act was generally upbeat (the boisterous "Ang Ilong"), with a healthy dose of sweet nothings for romantics to sigh on (the longing of "Ikaw"). The final song of the act, "Malaya," was sung when the war reached the city, as the Philippine flag waved with the red on top, dramatically switched abruptly with the Japanese Rising Sun flag at blackout.
In stark contrast with the high energy of Act 1, the second act had a more somber atmosphere as themes of war and mortality took over. This hour-long act only had four songs, all with titles that dealt with the misery of war, the loss of loved ones, and hope for a better tomorrow. These are "Awit ng Mga Naiwan," Christian's soaring anthem "Matatapos Din," "Tahan Na," and "Ang Sabi Nila," Roxane's song about her difficulty of moving on from a lost love, the emotional highlight for Gab Pangilinan's sparkling soprano.
If you are not familiar with Cyrano's story, it may not be easy to get into the musical at first with the flowery Tagalog used. However once the main love triangle gets going, you will be hooked. The romantic chemistry of real-life couple Salomon and Pangilinan is undeniable even though their characters were not exactly lovers, as Stroem gamely played third wheel. Abella and Ita-as were delightful as second couple Tato and Gabriel, also eliciting thrilled shrieks from the audience. MC dela Cruz registered strongly as the bad boy Maximo.
I was not able to see any of the Ateneo stagings of this musical, so I would not be able to compare this staging from the previous or if there were any major changes made. Myke Salomon had a light, child-like, and congenial portrayal of Cyrano that kept the story, especially the grim second act, from becoming totally maudlin and depressing. As "Ang Huling El Bimbo" set Salomon apart as musical director par excellence, "Mula sa Buwan finally confirmed Salomon to be a true leading man. This multi-talented man has truly arrived.
'Mula sa Buwan' runs from August 26 to September 11 at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater, Circuit Makati.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."