Monica’s star to sparkle in Bituing Walang Ningning: The Musical

Patricia Esteves - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines -  “You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying hard, copycat!” Remember this line? And who would ever forget it? It’s probably one of the most memorable lines in the history of Philippine cinema.

The cat fight scene between superstar diva Lavinia Arguelles and her loyal fan Dorina Pineda who aspires to be like her in the iconic movie Bituing Walang Ningning, is probably seared into the memory of every Filipino moviegoer, imitated and spoofed for the past 30 years.

In the scene, Lavinia (played by the classy Cherie Gil) was terribly pissed off with Dorina (portrayed by the Megastar Sharon Cuneta) because of her potential to be bigger than her, thus uttering the stinging line and then splashing water on her face.

The Nerissa Cabral classic, which was originally a Komiks series, was made into a movie and shown on March 16, 1985 to critical and commercial success.

It was made into a teleserye in 2006 starring Sarah Geronimo and Ryan Agoncillo and now, for the first time, it will be made into a musical, created and produced by Resorts World Manila.

Instead of choosing a specific theater actress to play the Dorina character, Resorts World tweaked things a little and conducted auditions for aspirants at the Resorts World Manila  last Feb. 28, March 1 and March 6.

Thousands of hopefuls flocked to the mall and after intense, grueling auditions, the judges finally chose Cebu native Monica Cuenco to play the coveted lead role of Dorina.

Monica has been singing at the age of three and has joined various nationwide singing competitions, including Little Big Star-Cebu and Star Power which was hosted by Sharon Cuneta in 2010. In fact, she emerged second to grand prize winner Angeline Quinto.

 “When I heard about the auditions, I got excited because I love the movie and it’s my favorite. When I went here, I was a little discouraged because I saw a long line of girls who were prettier than me and were vocally outstanding. They were all singing one song Bituing Walang Ningning. I thought I didn’t have a chance,” Monica said during the press launch of  Bituing Walang Ningning: The Musical last Wednesday.

“But, in my heart, I really wanted the role. And the so I prayed to God and gave my best during the auditions. I’m very happy and excited for this opportunity. This is my dream come true,” Monica told entertainment journalists.

She said she feels an affinity toward the character of Dorina, who in the movie, comes from a poor family and sells Sampaguita to eke out a living.

Monica with (from left) Cris Villonco and Mark Bautista

Monica recounted that she, too, had a difficult life growing up as an orphan since she was eight. It was her aunt who took care of her and her brother and raised them in Ormoc City in Leyte.

“My father died when I was four and my mom came next when I was eight.  Mama (my aunt) took us under her wing and did everything for us. She has become an inspiration to me, supporting my dreams of becoming a singer. Whenever I lose hope, I turn to them and to God for strength,” she said.

Life was hard in the province and to make both ends meet, Monica would sell puto with cheese and siopao in the supermarket and even at school. Naturally gifted with a soulful voice, Monica would sing to her customers so she could sell more puto.

Para bumili sila sa akin, nag-pro-promo ako na kakantahan ko sila ng isang song kasama ang mga puto cheese ko. Yun marami akong nabebenta,” Monica says.

Plus, she would join various singing competitions to raise additional money for her and her brother.

 That is why Monica feels Bituing Walang Ningning is the movie of her life. 

“I feel that  Dorina and I have parallel lives. In the movie, she didn’t let poverty and negative people hinder her from achieving her dreams. I feel the same way, through God’s help and my determination and talent, I ‘m focused toward achieving my dream,” she said.

During the presscon, Monica admitted to feeling nervous about playing the lead role but tried to shrug off her shyness, thinking that this is what she has been waiting for all her life.

“I realize that I have big shoes to fill. All I can  promise is that I will do my best for everyone, for the audience to come out of the theater satisfied each time,” she said.

As the grand winner, Monica received a P1M in an exclusive movie and recording contract with VIVA Communications.

Her co-stars Mark Bautista who will play her love interest, Nico Escobar and Cris Villonco as her greatest nemesis Lavinia, are very supportive of her.

 Mark, fresh from his success in the London musical Here Lies Love, promises an entirely different and outstanding show in Bituing Walang Ningning.

“I’m a fan of the film and this musical will be grand and larger than life. The audience will definitely enjoy because we will sing songs from the beloved movie live,” he said.

Mark admitted that he still feels the jitters eventhough he has already done many musicals and performed for an international crowd.

“You know Filipino audiences are critical, meticulous and have high standards because maraming magagaling talaga kumanta dito. But I realized that ganun din naman ang international audience, when I was in London, I encountered a theater-goer who wouldn’t clap during scenes when we were asking them to clap for Here Lies Love, so I guess, you just have to do your best and try not to please people para there’s no pressure and you will enjoy the show as well,” Mark said.

Cris, a seasoned stage actress, said she welcomes her role as a kontrabida in a musical this time.

People are used to seeing me in Miss Goody Goody roles. I’ve always played the ingénue, a kind woman because of my baby face. In reality, I’m really mataray. This role is a great change theatrically,” Cris said.

Since she’s already a pro in theater, she was asked about the kind of mentoring she’d like to impart to Monica, Cris said: “Naku, kung ang sarili ko ngang lola (Armida Siguion-Reyna), tinatarayan ako pag nagkakamali ako sa stage. Well… but seriously, I leave it up to Michael Williams and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo to do the mentoring. They’re my mentors and I know that they will take care of the mentoring to all of us.”

The musical will be shown in June at the Newport Performing  Arts Theater.









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