MANILA -- (UPDATED) Just as theater actors were getting ready to stage a new musical, “Lapu Lapu,” originally scheduled to be presented last August 30, another lockdown was declared.
The performers were left with no choice but to wait for the new quarantine measure to ease, so they can start their rehearsals for the musical production.
“Our life was taken away from us last year,” classical singer and stage actor Arman Ferrer told ABS-CBN News. “It’s very, very emotional for us. For more than a year now, we have no work. For freelance actors, being onstage is our bread and butter.”
So when the offer to play brave warrior Lapu Lapu came, Ferrer embraced the chance to do “Lapu Lapu” the musical, the first production to be staged at the newly renovated Metropolitan Theater (Met).
“Because of the pandemic, everything stopped for us,” Ferrer lamented. “We don’t have any work. We’re really praying for work. We’ve been praying for something like this. Doing ‘Lapu Lapu’ is a blessing.”
On October 24, Ferrer will play the title role in “Lapu Lapu” the musical that will premiere on live stream.
There was a plan to do one, live invitational opening show with selected audience practicing social distancing and other safety protocols. However, quarantine measures did not allow the live opening at the Met. The rest of the performances will run online.
Last September 26, Ferrer and the 22-member cast of “Lapu Lapu” started their lock-in rehearsals in a bubble. What they initially planned to wrap up in two weeks concluded in only 12 days.
On the 13th day, the cast recorded the musical, that will run for an hour and 20 minutes, with no intermission. They recorded in a breeze.
“The challenge was to mount the musical with only two weeks of actual rehearsals,” Ferrer said. “We only got to the venue last week of September, when we started our lockdown rehearsals.
“It’s a challenge to mount a full-length musical like this in less than two weeks of rehearsals. The main platform is online. The musical is not cut-to-cut like a film. It was recorded straight, one entire show.”
Playing a role like Lapu Lapu couldn’t have come at a better time than now for Ferrer, who is presently buffed. Last year, at the start of this pandemic, the singer-actor was compelled to work out for no reason at all.
“When we do a role, we always want it to be life-like, as close as possible to the character,” Ferrer pointed out. “Buti na lang, nakapag-work-out ako and I’m physically prepared to do Lapu Lapu.”
Directed by Dexter Santos, who also worked on “Ang Huling El Bimbo,” “Lapu Lapu” boasts of original music by Krina Cayabyab.
“The music is beautiful,” Ferrer beamed. “Krina is a genius. There’s the transition to ethnic music, kundiman and pop. This is an original musical. Wala kaming basis. They did everything from scratch. It’s a total musical presentation.”
Ferrer feels truly honored to perform at the Met, where his illustrious predecessors as a classical singer took centerstage. Setting foot on the same stage gives him mixed emotions. From Gamaliel Viray, Irma Potenciano and Gloria Coronel, they all graced the Met stage.
“It’s unbelievable and amazing,” Ferrer maintained. “Finally, we had a chance to perform again onstage. It was a surreal feeling even when we were rehearsing. It was great to hear, ‘break a leg, mike up, stage left, stage right.’ All of those things.
“We’ve been closed for one and a half year already. We really missed being in that environment. It’s stressful, because we did the rehearsals in less than two weeks. But then again, it’s the kind of stress that we missed.”
Being idle from performing onstage also taught Ferrer important things. “It’s a very, very, beautiful feeling to be onstage again. Now, I don’t take things for granted. You miss small things. Even saying, ‘Stand by,’ you miss those things when theater was gone.
“I think it is more special now. Tinanggal sa amin ng matagal, we now longed for it. We appreciate it more now.”
On the final day of rehearsals for “Lapu Lapu,” the members of the cast were in tears or some were teary-eyed. “Theater is our home,” Ferrer insisted. “Even without an audience, the whole team really worked hard for this.
“Sir Dexter pushed us really hard. The music by Krina is really beautiful. All the actors were really hard-working and dedicated. The patience involved. The generosity of every actor while performing was very special.”
Asked by the NCCA how he would describe the experience of being part of the musical in one word, Ferrer simply refused to say anything.
“It’s so hard to do it,” he insisted. “There were a lot of things that happened in a matter of two weeks. It was just really overwhelming.”
“Lapu Lapu” is really special in a lot of aspects. “It’s historical because it marks the re-opening of the Met after 25 years,” Ferrer pointed out. “It’s the first musical staged during the pandemic. It’s also the commemoration of 500 years of Christianity.
“It’s an honor and a big responsibility for us actors to really do our best. It’s really an honor for me to open the Met. During the days, Met was the center of classical singing. I’m paying tribute to my predecessors as a classical singer. They all performed at the Met.
“For me to be singing on the same stage where they performed in, it’s surreal. At the UP College of Music, when we saw those videos, it was a lifetime ago. It’s a milestone when it comes to the Met’s history. It’s also a step forward for us [theater actors].”
Gino Gonzales created the costumes and did Lapu Lapu’s iconic vest, hoop earrings, spear, bolo and shield. Nick Pichay wrote the script. Choreography is by Stephen Vinas and Kenneth Torres.
The cast includes Andre Tiangco as Ferdinand Magellan, Al Gatmaitan as Antonio Pigafetta, Red Nuestro as Rajah Humabon, with Cara Barredo as Reyna Juana, Paw Castillo as Enrique de Malacca, Natasha Cabrera as Babalaylan, Matthew Barbers as Juan Sebastian de Elcano and Ivan Nerry playing dual roles as Papa Alexander and Padre Pedro de Valderrama.
“We initially started to rehearse through Zoom, from reading the script to rehearsing the lines,” Ferrer said. “It was so hard to rehearse on Zoom. It was very, very limited. We couldn’t really see our co-actors.
“We couldn’t even sing together because of the latency. Only until we can go to the Met where we can rehearse together. That was part of the challenge.”
They were supposed to devote two weeks in August to lockdown rehearsals. By that time, everybody should have been vaccinated. “Usually, it takes a month to prepare, then one full week of technical rehearsals,” Ferrer said.
In the last musical that Ferrer did, Atlantis Productions’ “Sweeney Todd” in 2019, with Lea Salonga and Jett Pangan, they had a month of actual rehearsals. Ferrer also previously did “Maynila: Sa Kuko ng Liwanag,” “Beautiful: The Carole King Story” and “Binondo: The Chinoy Musical.”
“I was telling my fellow actors, we were praying for this [‘Lapu Lapu’],” Ferrer said. “We were praying for work. Binigyan tayo ng venue, but with challenges. We need to help each other. Let’s just do our best. Panindigan na natin.”