KTX review: Gerald Santos soars in inspiring 'I Will' musical

Fred Hawson

Posted at Oct 18 2021 08:35 PM

"I Will: The Musical" is a new inspirational musical theater production with 24 original songs based on the life and times of doctor of the masses and aspiring politician Dr. Willie Ong. It was written, composed and directed by Antonino Rommel Ramilo. 

Ramilo began his theater career in 2012 with his first musical about the second Filipino saint, San Pedro Calungsod, which had earned its share of awards. 

The show was filmed as live on July 23, 2021 at the Music Museum without an audience, just a few days before a strict ECQ was imposed on Metro Manila. Staging a musical during the pandemic had been very challenging because of the required locked-in cast and crew with swab testing pre and post-shoot. They only had two months online rehearsals and just one week of face to face rehearsals.

Act 1 covered the period of Willie's (Gerald Santos) troubled youth, disturbed by voices in his head, feeling empty and aimless. We learn that he did not get along with his parents (Bo Cerrudo and Ima Castro) who considered it weird that he would not choose to go into business like them, even threatening to disown him. He was also an outcast student in school, bullied by cruel classmates. Because of a supportive Uncle Ed (Robert Sena), he was able to pull himself together to go into med school. 

Act 2 covered the period of his career after graduation when Dr. Willie and his new bride Dr. Liza (Paulina Yeung) decided to commit themselves to becoming a doctor for the masses. We see how his married life with his wife Dr. Liza was challenged by Dr. Willie's extreme devotion to his calling, even as she gave birth to their first child. This act also revisited the day when Dr. Willie's father died from his fight with liver cancer and how this affected Dr. Willie into becoming a better version of himself.

In Act 1, the best songs for me were: 1) "Chaos" about the confusion inside young Willie's head as he faced rejection at home and in school. Santos sang this with the faces of four male singers on the video wall behind him. 2) "Find Your Purpose," his Uncle Ed's song to convince Willie back on track in life. This was the only full solo number for Robert Sena. 3) "I Want to Go Home" was a haunting song by a patient who died under intern Willie's care. The impressive soloist here is Lance Soliman, one of the young men in the ensemble. 

In Act 2, the best songs for me were: 1) "Finally," Will and Liza's love duet when they express their love and commitment to each other. This was the best showcase for Santos and Yeung's vocals together. 2) "Our Father's Love," his father's final message to his son comparing his love to God's love. This was Bo Cerrudo's primary showcase of his range. 3) The title song "I Will," Dr. Willie promises to do his best in everything he does in life in this anthemic song that served as an appropriate and memorable finale number. 

There were some songs which had repetitive messages, like "What Are You Up To?" and "We Can't Stand You" were songs which both depicted the bullying in school. The lyrics of some songs were not entirely specific to Dr. Willie's experience. "Closer to Our Dreams" could apply to any college graduation. "Welcome to Our World" could apply to any med student. "You Fill Me Up" can apply to any profession of love by a suitor. "Am I Competing?" could apply to any wife feeling neglected by a husband immersed in his work. 

The songs featured some entertaining but occasionally distracting rhymes, like how "aptitude" was rhymed with "ineptitude," "beatitude" and "gratitude." The love songs tended to bear ultra-saccharine platitudes. "Your Eyes" was about Liza's thrill at Willie's "gaze which made me feel beautiful," and "how his eyes tell me a million things, sprinkling my life with love." There were sentiments which did not quite ring true or sincere. I was not convinced the realizations in the song "Nobody Like You" could have come from a son estranged from his father all that time. 

The singing prowess of the lead cast was unquestionable. Gerald Santos's tenor vocals soared in all his songs, be it solo, duet or group. Paulina Yeung may be a new name for me, but this young lady had already performed on Broadway as Tuptim in the recent "King and I" revival, and after listening to her crystal clear soprano, I am not surprised why. Bo Cerrudo, Ima Castro and Robert Sena all displayed the distinctive vocal qualities and stage presence that made them institutions in the local musical theater scene.

The girls in the talented ensemble included Roxy Aldiosa, Audrey Mortilla, Ivy Padilla and Alyssa Evangelista, while the boys included Vince Conrad, Jude Matthew Servilla, Lance Soliman and Khalil Tambio. They shifted characters in every scene, as the voices that bothered Dr. Willie's mind, as the classmates who bullied him in high school and abandoned him after med school, and as the poor people whom Dr. Willie served in the community. They also sang the pandemic-themed song "We Heal as One" as the first song in Act 2. 

Drs. Willie and Liza Ong were quite brave to share their personal stories, warts and all. Kudos to the efforts of director Rommel Ramilo, his cast and crew to get this original musical up and running. Some aspects of the staging and the songs may not be perfect yet. There may be benefit in streamlining some parts of the show in order to make it run more smoothly in a more engaging manner. 

However, this show does deliver its idealistic message across that anyone can recover from his past, pick themselves up and be the best he can be. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."