Mark Bautista, theater’s new leading man

SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil - The Philippine Star

“He is attractive and he has a good voice,” was what everybody said of Mark Bautista when he emerged, literally fresh off a cargo boat from Cagayan de Oro, among the finalists of the Star for a Night singing contest 12 years ago. And everybody thought, he might be able to make it.

Well, Mark did make it. But given how Fate can play tricks on its subject and her propensity for presenting things not as they seem to be, his rise to stardom took a circuitous way that surprised and continues to surprise Mark himself.

Though he only had one theater experience while in school, and that is as one of the stagehands, Mark nowadays is one of Philippine theater’s leading, leading men. Those who want to see how he does this should watch the rerun of Bituing Walang Ningning, The Musical at the Newport Performing Arts Theater of Resorts World Manila.

Mark plays the role of Nico in the show. He is the manager and lover of the superstar Lavinia and who later falls in love with his new discovery Dorina. The part was played by Christopher de Leon in the movie version that starred Sharon Cuneta and Cherie Gil. That he would be assigned a role originated by the legendary Christopher was what sealed his new image as a theater heartthrob.

He does it very well. Great looks, competent acting and that voice. Of course, it helps that he gets to sing the beautiful ballads of Willy Cruz in the show like Mahawi Man Ang Ulap, Sa Duyan Ng Pag-ibig and Sana’y Maghintay Ang Walang Hanggan. But the bottom line is still that voice of his, full, confident and hauntingly romantic.

With Monica Cuenco who plays Dorina (originated by Sharon Cuneta in the original film of the same title)

How he got to this point is very interesting. Daring was what got him the role of Crisostomo Ibarra in the Bienvenido Lumbera/ Ryan Cayabyab musical Noli Me Tangere. Terrified of performing in a musical, but wanting the challenge, Mark spent his holiday in Europe learning the script and the difficult songs. He turned out to be a natural with an innate intensity that radiated to the audience every moment he was on stage.

More daring, and I mean in really huge doses, got him the role of Jerry Lukowski in the Viva-Atlantis production of The Full Monty. The part was turned down by several singer-actors who chickened out of doing the full monty. That means stripping to the buff. Mark sang and danced and stripped and pulled through with flying colors.

Still, he remained ambivalent about the theater and was one of those who chose to stay away from the packed Miss Saigon auditions held in Manila. A few years later, he did go and auditioned for the part of Thuy in London. He got the role but decided against doing it as the range required by the songs might prove too much for his voice. Still, that experience was another proof that he is indeed meant for the theater.

A lot happened to Mark, theater-wise in between those two Miss Saigon auditions. Egged on by Lea’s mother Ligaya Salonga, he did audition for a foreign show. This was Here Lies Love, the David Byrne and Fatboy Slim disco take on the life of Imelda Marcos. With very little effort, just a sexy rendition of Tom Jones’ Kiss, Mark bagged the role of Ferdinand Marcos. He went on to spend six months at the Public Theater in London performing to a sold-out house every night.

Then Resorts World and Viva decided to mount the musical version of Bituing Walang Ningning. By that time, it had become a no-brainer. Mark, fresh from his London success, should play Nico. Co-starring Cris Villonco as Lavinia and newcomer Monica Cuenco, as Dorina, the musical proved to be an easy crowd-pleaser. The first run last June was so successful that it was decided to bring it back for more performances this month.

And because a musical is always a work-in-progress, audiences will not only be surprised but also glad about all the new nips and tucks and at times total overhaul that director and scriptwriter Freddie Santos subjected the show to. Among these is having the very appropriately and delightfully bratty Antoinette Taus take over the role of Lavinia, while Cris is on vacation in Europe.

The new Bituin will run all weekends until January 2016. This does not mean though that Mark will not be doing anything else. On his free days, he will continue to accept singing engagements. He is also getting ready to record new songs and to do some acting in films and television. It is a sure bet he will do well in all of them. But as of this moment, he is a theater actor and he is at his best as Nico in Bituing Walang Ningning.

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