Review: ‘Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady, The Musical’

May 10 2015 3:30 PM

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To follow up Philippine Educational Theater’s Association’s (PETA) production of “Rak of Aegis” is a tall order.

Next month, June 2015, “Rak” will be restaged for the nth time and its bound to attract SRO crowds anew.

From the material alone Carlo Guevarra’s one-act play “Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady, The Musical” seems Rak’s worthy successor.

Nearly two years after its play was staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), “Kung Paano” goes to PETA Theater in Quezon City with a musical version, adding one more act and 17 new members on the original cast.

“Kung Paano” is the story of downtrodden Mely, who lands in a job as maid for La Fuerza Pilipinas made up of Madre de Dios, Nena Babushka, Windang Woman, Bazooka Man, and Popoy Pusakal; who are out to save the nation from lawless elements.

They are worshipped by the masses but aloof, and ironically, English-speaking.

Mely’s sister Viva gets tangled in the war between La Fuerza and its nemesis Kayumanggilas, while she and Mely confront a past, unsettled issue.

Staging a musical play about superheroes is a challenge, given today’ stiff competition from CGI and special effects-laced movies.

These days anything is possible in the cineplex – a car flying from one building to another (“Furious 7”), a bus swinging from a bridge (“Spiderman”), and dinosaurs roaming around parks (“Jurassic Park”).

Those special effects have eventually made their way into theater – “Spiderman,” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night- Time,” among them – adding color, and texture to the story, a visual treat to justify shelling out more than US$100 for an orchestra seat in Broadway.

“Kung Paano” would have benefited from special effects given its futuristic, cut out of a comic book, Marvel-like characters. But given its production limitations, the hi-tech-iness is left to the audience’s imagination, which restricted the play’s ability to turn them into full fanboy mode.

We wish they could have borrowed the (oftentimes obtrusive and unnecessary (huge) LED screens at Resorts World used in previous shows (“The Sound of Music”, “Noli Me Tangere, The Opera”).

It would have been also helpful if they mounted a different set for the Kayumanggilas, who are locals and low-tech, to show contrast.

But no worries, “Kung Paano’s” lack of technical brevity could be easily dismissed thanks to excellent lighting and scoring – and of course, the actors’ diligent acting and singing.

Frenchie Dy, who played the lead character (she alternates with Bituin Escalante) slayed the role of a pure-of-heart maid whose contentious relationship with her sister is the musical’s main arc.

But it was Kim Molina as Viva, who stole the show. A former alternate lead in “Rak,” her voice soared, and she owned the stage.

Her solo about finding one’s identity performed before the end of Act 1 was the play’s first major emotional moment. In fact the only song in the slow and almost sleepy first half that was memorable enough.

And there lies the weakness of “Kung Paano.” Act 1 was a slow burn, and lacked emotional punch to engage the audience (spoiler alert) despite the love angle between Mely and one of the superheroes.

The second part, however, was a major turnaround.

The opening song where we learned more about members of the Kayumanggilas (“lumaki sa sisig at balut”) was a major laugh trip.

Leading the ragtag and jologs team is Senyor Blangko (a commanding Domi Espejo) “murderer” of the English language, who is joined by Henyotic, Jeryc Sans Rival, Marakas Marko and Itak-Atak, whose superpowers depend on an ingesting a concoction called Chemical Q.

In terms of drama, the trio of the siblings and their mother was an emotional chokepoint.

But it was the face-off between Mely and Viva, sans music, which gave the play its heart, albeit its teleserye peg.

It would be unfair to judge “Kung Paano’s” success based on “Rak,” because the former is an original musical while the latter rode on the coattails of Aegis’ phenomenal jukebox hits.

It’s also different from Carlo Vergara earlier project, “Zsa Zsa Zaturnah, The Musical.”

But “Kung Paano” has all the elements of a full-blooded Pinoy production, its many themes and subjects – sibling rivalry, self-redemption, breaking the rules, the growing divide between rich and poor, colonial mentality, and class war hit familiar territories. And the humor is spot-on, a couple of times green, but riotous.

With radio drowning us with music from foreign acts, if not unworthy Pinoy starlets, and local movies with gutter level humor and predictable plots being shoved in our throats “Kung Paano” is a welcome breather.

This one’s for the geeks.

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