The pandemic has forcefully pushed us into circumstances that we would never have imagined. Thing is, we’ve been talking about it in the past two years and we still continue to see how it put everything on hold. The impact of it interrupting the daily cycle of human lives continues to be felt—leaving no other option for us but to linger in the comfort of our own homes and watch everything go virtual. And this reality has included the vast expanse of the world of performing arts, which encompasses music and theater productions, or any live event for that matter.
But now that everything is gradually bouncing back to its natural state after two years of convoluted interference, things that we used to be doing in the outside world are starting to be close at hand and normal again—evident to the announcement of several plays physically firing up the stage again.
One of them is the highly-anticipated comeback of the hit musical play “Mula Sa Buwan”. This musical theater show is based on Edmond Rostand’s timeless classic Cyrano de Bergerac, that was then translated by Soc Rodrigo in Filipino.
Now, set in a 1940s version of Manila, the musical features wide-eyed dreamers, fools, and misfits amid harana, kundiman, in a display of passion and genuine friendships. They dream and fight for their place in an ever-changing city with wit, stories, and music. When war strikes, however, love, ideals, and truth are all put to the test, and the young are now forced to “grow up.”
In the comely direction and playwright of Pat Valera, he tells Rank Magazine the genesis and the trajectory of “Mula sa Buwan”, a musical play that has withstood years of successful runs, even though he had no experience of writing one before, nor an deep interest in one.
“Cyrano de Bergerac was a play I’ve known since high school. So, I was thinking how can I make it into something more relevant, also, particularly to the young right now. So, I thought, ‘Hey! Maybe we can make it into a musical?'”
Although admitting to having never produced a musical prior, the resonance that he got from watching the classic French play is what further urged him to make one. Mirrored into what it is now, the play was also actually inspired by himself.
“I felt something there that resonated with me as well, which made it the current version of ‘Mula sa Buwan’ right now—which is really to talk about the hopes and dreams of the young, as I was then branded as foolish, too idealistic, and so over the moon,” Valera expounds.
The play, with one successful iteration after another, was also instrumental in showcasing significant issues—making it integral to the production to in stage a relevant story with scenes that the audiences could relate to.
“What I want to say is that there is a wish with every playwright, that what I wrote then wouldn’t be urgent in the future. That’s why we do plays, that’s why it’s live theater; we want to discuss themes that are urgent today.”
“It starts funny, then it’s very endearing, then it’s heartbreaking,” he notes. “But then after watching the play, they will realize na there’s something about ideals or what I fight for as well.”
Due to the restrictions brought by the pandemic, Valera admits that the homecoming or performing live again seems like a new space, generating self-doubt not only for himself but also for everyone part of the production.
“We’re also very doubtful, parang totoo ba to? Alam ko pa ba ito? Yun yung homecoming sa amin. We haven’t really landed yet; we haven’t really settled down in our home.”
The theater production marked its performances in theaters in 2016 and 2017 at the Henry Lee Irwin Theater and at the Hyundai Hall of Ateneo de Manila University in November and December of 2018. Since it is already four years since it was last watched, the upcoming roll this month of this musical has a lot of new things to look forward to.
“There are a lot of changes, of course. Number one, we have a new home, as we speak, at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater here [in] Circuit Makati. We are the first musical in residence to open in a 1,500-seater theater. We have upgraded our sets. We have new costumes. We have revisited our choreography. We have a bigger cast—a cast of 27 right now. We also have new arrangements by Myke Salomon. We made some changes [in the script] so that it reflects the more current spirit of the young,” he adds.
Touching about the process of casting for the actors who will give life to the characters in the story, Valera reiterates that production is not fueled by popularity or a certain number of followers but on the ability of the actor to be the vessel of such stories.
“We’re not the type to cast because you are ‘sikat’ or you have this much followers in Instagram. It’s always about talent, dedication, and heart…Of course you have to sing and dance well too,” he says.
Since 2016, JM Cabling, the head choreographer of the production, has been tasked with establishing the synchronization and coordination of the performances behind the entertaining dancing choreography.
For this year’s run, Cabling took creative liberties to employ certain tweaks to enhance the play’s quality in order to guarantee a strong, triumphant return. “Nag-request ako kay Pat na mas malaki ‘yung cast, tapos mas maraming dancers this time, trained dancers, para sa ganon mas maipakita namin ‘yung gusto naming gawin talaga thru choreography,” he divulges.
Highlighting how things have changed from then to now, he highlights the gift of time to plan and coach some performers who aren’t as skilled at dancing. “Mas kailangan ko kasing ipag-jell ‘yung energy nila para hindi halata na ‘Ito dancer ‘to, ito hindi ‘to sumasayaw’ . So, mas marami kaming time talaga na i-hone ‘yung world na binubuo namin dito sa ‘Mula Sa Buwan’.”
Despite the fact that Cabling is eager to train everyone who wants the roles and is willing to accept them, he has nonetheless asked for a select group of dancers with high technical skills in order to speed up the process.
With high hopes, Cabling boldly discussed how the variations evolved and how strong the choreography is at this point in terms of the world-building that they are doing. “Ngayon, mas nakapag-research na rin ako kahit papaano doon sa mga type of dances na p’wede naming i-incorporate dito sa 1940s [setting] of Mula sa Buwan. Ganon pa rin naman, you’ll get the same kilig, you’ll get the same wow-factor, you’ll get the same spectacle, but mas markado, mas deliberate, mas sure ‘yung lahat ng gagawin namin ngayon.”
Four long and storied years since the production was on full display, the same ethos applies on the cast, old and new, who have taken on the titanic job of being one of the first live productions to stage a comeback for Philippine theater as a whole, not to mention appealing to a solid following who’s eagerly anticipating to see the production take the stage.
MC dela Cruz as Maximo
The narrative of a man who, despite being rejected, continued to battle for Roxane’s love in the midst of a war will be told by MC dela Cruz as Maximo.
Having worked on “Mula Sa Buwan‘s” stagings in 2016 and 2018, dela Cruz feels as though he is returning home with this reopening. “This is, I think, one of my first professional productions and ito talaga ‘yung parang nag-hone sa’kin as an actor na ‘pag ginagawa ko ang ‘Mula sa Buwan,’ nakikita ko ang sarili ko na nagpro-progress in my craft.”
The pandemic-induced long slumber caused him to come to some realizations, which led to changes in his character.
“I think ‘yung makikita niyong Maximo ngayon is more mature in terms of his characterization and I feel na mas mapapakita ko kung papaano siya magmahal.”
As they return to rehearsals, dela Cruz finds these new beginnings difficult to believe. Even after working in the industry for a considerable amount of time, he still anticipates being “speechless” when he is on stage in front of live audiences and made the joke that he might forget his lines in the heat of the moment.
“Sobrang miss na miss ko kasi ‘yung theater, ‘yung stage and wala talaga kasing kapantay na feeling in my everyday life na makakapantay sa kung ano ‘yung nararamdaman ko pag nagpe-perform ako sa theater.”
Jon Abella as Tato
Rising after the rage of the pandemic, Jon Abella will give life again to the story of Tato, the best friend of Cyrano.
“Kumabaga siya ‘yung nakakakita nung different sides ni Cyrano na pinu-put up niya in front of the cadets and in front of everyone. Kumabaga hindi lang siya makata sa mata ni Tato [Cyrano], kundi siya ay mapagmahal na kaibigan,” he shares.
Abella believes that the pandemic has caused them all to look for someone to rely on, and that the theatre, together with his fearless co-actors, provided that. “It’s ‘welcome home,’ ganon ‘yung pakiramdam niya sa’kin. I think hanggang sa mag-close kami. But ‘home’ is the word that I would choose, ‘yun ‘yung nagre-resonate for me.”
Having previously performed many heavy roles and even revisited his dancer side before being away from the theater for an extended period of time, for Abella, this is his first role after the long lull brought by the pandemic and in turn, he had time to reflect on himself.
When asked to define his character as Tato, “Isa siyang black coffee, walang gatas, walang asukal, black coffee. Pero ‘pag nasobrahan ka naman, naa-agit ka, you’re on edge, that’s Tato. He’s on edge because he’s got a lot of roles to fill in din. But this time around, hindi ko ipagkakait sa kaniya ang mag-enjoy at makasama muli ang mga mahal niya sa entablado.“
Jillian Ita-as as Gabriel
As her debut in the “Mula Sa Buwan” stage, Jillian Ita-as will play the character of Gabrielle, the best friend of Roxane and the love interest of Tato.
“What I feel she brings into the universe is [that] she is a total contrast to Roxane. So if Roxane is smart and strong, she’s more of the wide-eyed hopeless romantic.”
Ita-as spent a lot of time researching the 1940s in order to play her part flawlessly. He also did the typical route taken by theatrical actor such as keeping up with voice and dancing lessons, and cardio.
Although she has made these preparations, the trauma and grief that the pandemic has caused still persists and acts like an unseen enemy. Following three shows that got canceled in a flash, the uncertainty still lingers. “To slowly comeback, it’s nakaka-excite but also nakaka-overwhelm and not to mention, nakaka-nerbyos siya talaga to put up a show in a still raging pandemic. I know it’s been said and done, but it really feels like coming home. As in when we all step on that stage, there’s really a feeling of coming home.”
Ita-as holds the viewpoint that theater serves as a window into the struggles society faces in daily life. She urges everyone to just sit down in a spot and experience everything without any distractions to bring out the mental state of being aware of what is occurring around you since she is aware that everything in the world just repeats itself.
“To me ‘yun ‘yung mahalaga about working in theater, you ground people back to see different views of what’s happening outside and also what could be internally happening din sa kanila.“
Phi Palmos as Rosanna
“Basically she’s the queen of the misfits. She’s the mother hen kumbaga.”
To play the character of Rosanna, an outcast herself who became the mother and safe haven for all the misfits and outcasts, Phi Palmos is playing a role of a lifetime.
Despite the fact that she has been given the part, Palmos admits it took a lot of bravery for him to go to Rosanna’s casting call, knowing he was eyeing for a female role—in essence been played by female characters in the show’s multiple runs.
“They welcomed the idea and then I got the part and I think isa ‘yun sa pinaka-masaya talaga. It’s also really memorable for me because I really felt during that time that I’m really representing something that’s so much bigger than me whenever I step on stage. So, to be doing that role again in this different time na post-COVID—[although] may COVID pa naman—but at least in this new normal, with all the discussion about LGBTQIA+ representation and all of that, there’s a different layer in doing the role now.” he discusses.
Back in 2018, Palmos shared the part of Rosanna with Ronah Rostata, but now that she is happily married, he has been handed the role fully. “Ngayon nag-decide talaga kami na outright, Rosanna is gay—she’s a feminine, Rosanna is her mothers’ name. That’s how I invented the character and all of that. So, mas labas na ‘yung kaniyang tunay na pagkatao in this version, so doon palang mas kita na natin ‘yung pagbabago. Because when we were doing it in 2018 the attack is more androgynous na parang ‘Is he is she? I don’t know’ because I was wearing a suit. But now, it’s really different, it’s really out there—and I think it’s more empowering in that sense. And also, that something na important right now because slowly we’re going back, were coming back.”
Markki Stroem as Christian
“Well, they call him a fool, but he’s a dreamer.”
That is exactly how Markki Stroem defines his character as Christian, one who needs to return to and resume living the life that his parents lived, which includes having children, living alone and finding the ideal woman to begin a family with.
Spending time watching various Cyrano’s recreations, Stroem is on a mission to differentiate himself from other versions of Christian by developing his own characterization, be it in his mannerisms or even giving him a last name, to give his interpretation a fresh new take to the character.
“I did that also before for a couple of other shows where there was an original actor, and I had to step in and create something different because I don’t wanna be the same as how I was portrayed before, I wanna give it my own flair.”
Stroem aims to play the part whose milieu was set in the 1940s but to give more current sensibilities. This is where he hopes to inject a more well-rounded approach on the character to show how people can relate to someone who is perhaps a little “simple-minded.”
Gab Pangilinan as Roxane
Playing the lead female role of Roxane is the 30-year-old theater artist, actress, singer, social media personality, and entertainer, Gab Pangilinan.
Centered as the common love interest of Cyrano and Christian in the play, Roxane is a character who has a grand imagination and is a woman who bluntly speaks her truth.
“Apart from being the ultimate hopeless romantic, she’s also a woman in the 1940s who believes it is her right to speak her mind,” she shares. “She was very straightforward and she was a go-getter, and for a woman [like that] in the ’40s, I think that’s like a huge deal.”
As we will think of it, Pangilinan has already been the lead face of many theatrical shows, including the hit jukebox musical “Ang Huling El Bimbo“, so it’s not surprising for her to be one of the main faces of this again.
She did, however, reveal that when she auditioned for this play, she was not looking for the lead roles, and she even stated that it doesn’t matter what name she wears on stage as long as she can play for this reinterpretation of a classic.
“I first saw ‘Mula Sa Buwan‘ in 2016, and when I saw it, ‘yung thought ko talaga sa utak ko was ‘Kahit ano pa ‘yan, basta makakasama ako dyan,’ as in I don’t care what role I play, I just want to be part of this production. And then nung 2018, I got to audition. And this was actually before I auditioned for ‘Ang Huling El Bimbo.’ So, I was able to play the role of Roxane in 2018, and it was the best. Roxane, to be honest, is one of my favorite roles so nung nagka-plano talaga na i-rerun siya or i-reproduce siya, oo andito ako,” she gushes.
Touching on performing live after being cooped up for two years in the virtual world, Pangilinan shares their fond excitement at being able to comeback as a performer.
“Now, we’re all excited to comeback but sobra ‘yung alaga namin sa isa’t-isa, I guess. And that’s a comfort, especially after over two years of not being able to do what we love to do. So, every day in the rehearsal space is a gift, every day is such an inspiration to be around like-minded people finally after over two years of being at home and just watching things happening outside.”
When asked why people should watch “Mula sa Buwan“, she says, “I feel like because we’re one of the first musicals or we’re one of the first theater productions to come back after the pandemic, I think people are just so hungry for more stories that will allow them to keep dreaming, and will allow them to keep hoping and to keep seeing that light at the end of the tunnel lalo na ngayon na hindi na natin alam anong nangyayari sa mundo. Gumuho man ang mundo, at least meron pa rin tayong makakapitan, which is the stories that we tell and I feel like ‘Mula Sa Buwan‘ will really make that mark in every person that gets to watch it. I feel that I could say that, I have the right to say that, because it did make a mark for me personally as an audience member and even more so that I have the privilege to tell it.”
Myke Salomon as Cyrano
“Remember being away from the gym for ten years and going back on the first day lifting weights—it’s nothing compared to that—it’s harder.”
The music direction in “Mula Sa Buwan” are well-renowned for creating distinct moods in each scene, and Myke Salomon is the genius behind that. Being both the musical director and actor playing Cyrano at the same time, Salomon recalls the first phase of their rehearsals as being quite challenging.
For him, along with his co-actors, Salomon cherishes every day as a precious as the last with the veil of uncertainty still persists, and not knowing if there will be a tomorrow for them or not due to the intense fright that the COVID-19 has imprinted on them.
But despite the ordeal, Salomon continues to regard his work with enthusiasm since he is eager to know Cyrano’s perspective, weaving an entirely new worldview for his character having previously played the role of Christian. Wearing two hats of musical director and actor for him is no new feat, having done the same in shows like “Rak of Aegis” and “Ang Huling El Bimbo”, but his interest in this one was still piqued, calling this challenge a “happy burden”.
“This version is different from the past run so I think it will be the first time that you will get to see the new version of Cyrano, and the new version of ‘Mula Sa Buwan.'”
In spite of his optimistic outlook, he acknowledges that in contrast to what he is doing in “Mula Sa Buwan”, from his prior projects, he had the opportunity to create the music first before being asked to step in as an alternate. “Ayun ‘yung advantage ko dati kasi I get to see my alternate, ayun ‘yung love ko sa process na ‘yun na may alternate kasi nakikita ko ‘yung mounting nung scene and everything, so meron akong nakukuhang maganda do’n at tina-try kong i-incorporate.”
Sharing the lengthy meeting he had with the writer and the director, Salomon reveals navigating some bumpy roads in order to make their work matter to the viewers. “Bawat bar na pumapasok, bawat harmony na ginagawa namin, dapat meron silang maramdaman and kailangan ma-move sila sa silya nila.”
“Since it’s the first quarter of the return of Philippine musical theater sa ating city, meron siyang responsibility, health-wise, na maging successful siya and sana mapanood ng maraming tao dahil a theater production o ang isang dula ay isang celebration of human existence. For me, it’s the highest form of communication, ito ‘yung pinaka-mataas na antas ng pagchi-chikahan, so pagchismisan natin ang mga magagandang bagay.” he beams.
Salomon was incredibly energized and had chills all over his body the first time they had the rehearsal and projected his voice after utilizing his voice only for Zoom meetings for a while. “Sana ma-share namin ‘yung energy na ‘yon—makapagkwento kami uli sa mga tao, because every soul needs a relevant story.”
The pandemic almost destroyed the theater; it almost killed hopes and dreams, and sent these creative performances into a tailspin of misery. All of the productions were forced throughout those torturous years to put their passion in the arts out of sight and stow away their skills from the audience they once had.
What they went through cannot be adequately described by grief.
However, save for the select few, theater was already dying in the public’s eyes before the pandemic; all it did was make us aware of it. And seeing as how they are opening the curtains again, why don’t we take the initiative to open our window for them as well? Let’s foster untapped potential as how we perceive constellations in the night sky, witness artistic portrayals of relevant unbridled occurrences orbiting the universe, and preserve the art of authentic storytelling in “Mula Sa Buwan.”
With additional text by Leo Balante
Rank Magazine is a Premier Media Partner of #MulaSaBuwan2022. Begin your prodigious voyage to the moon by buying tickets now at Ticketworld or just head over to https://www.mulasabuwan.com/tickets for more information.