Last night, I saw Himala, isang musikal, the musical of Ricky Lee and Vince De Jesus produced by 9 Works Theatricals and The Sandbox Collective. It’s the last weekend and I wish they would extend because it’s a magnificent show.
I’m so glad that The Sandbox Collective artistic director (and good friend) Toff de Venecia kept asking me when I was going to catch the show because I’ve been so busy that I kept putting it off. I finally made a decision to watch last night and I’m so glad I did because I still have so much work and I would have put it off again, otherwise.
I never saw the film that it was based but I still had expectations. The film stars Nora Aunor and the famous lines from the movie Walang himala! (there are no miracles) is so clear in my head that I was expecting to see a character-driven play about Elsa, a young woman who can do miracles and heal people, which changes the town of Cupang.
But Himala, isang musikal is not a character-driven play. The main character here is the town of Cupang and how this one phenomenon or event changes the whole soul of the town. Director Ed Lacson Jr. uses the full range of his artistic genius to really transport the audience into the heart of the town of Cupang and also deep into the darkness of human nature.
Set as theater in the round, seeing the other faces and bodies of the other members of the audience adds to the already large ensemble creating this feeling of bigness. This town feels big and the brilliant direction turns the whole PowerMac Center Spotlight blackbox into the town. While things are happening at the center, there are whispers and talks happening in all sides giving this feeling that you are really in the heart of this town.
But it’s in the quiet moments when things get powerful, these intimate moments of any one character’s reflection or confession. Vince de Jesus’ music is big and massive (despite the score played only by Ejay Yatco on a piano). Ejay’s musical direction makes full use of his large ensemble to create vocal wall of sounds during the chorale part to create the feeling of a massive musical onslaught as the chorus sings from all corners of the blackbox theater creating a sense surround, almost Dolby-Atmos like sonic wave coursing through the town.
While Aicelle Santos is a powerhouse as Elsa, everyone else is magnificent from Bituin Escalante, Sandino Martin, and Naomi Gonzales but it’s Kakki Teodoro who is the inevitable standout at Nemia, a local who has returned from the city and changed by her experiences there. In last night’s show, it was Teodoro who truly shined.
What’s amazing about this show is how it rings so true to our times, considering this musical has been written over 30 years ago. A lot of its themes are still prevalent now as it was back then. It’s timely and relevant and it’s about false idols and the penchant of Filipinos for putting their hope and salvation on others rather than in themselves. It’s about blind faith and greed and opportunism.
It’s about the darkest parts of the human soul and how impenetrable this darkness is when put side-by-side with anything that’s pure.
It punctures holes in society’s need for heroes and saviors and raises the questions as to why we cannot help ourselves with the things that matter the most.
I really, really hope that it extends its run and gets more and more people to come and watch. That it has major discounted prices for students and that more and more people learn the truth about miracles and themselves.
There are no miracles, the show tries to tell us, not the ones we think and hope for, but this show is a miracle. I am so glad it has done so well, with full houses in its last weeks and standing ovations all around. It is so deserved. So very deserved.