The lead actors of Maynila The Musical (from left): Sheila Valderrama-Martinez (as Ligaya Paraiso), Arman Ferrer (Julio Madiaga) and Lara Maigue (also Ligaya Paraiso)

Maynila The Musical: Brocka on Joel’s mind
FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - September 27, 2017 - 4:00pm

Did you know that Joel Lamangan’s first film as an actor was the Lino Brocka classic Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag?

“Ako yung pumatay kay Bembol,” recalled Joel with a chuckle.

The heart-tugging frozen scene shows a mortally wounded Bembol Roco against a wall on a deadend street off Ongpin, his face contorted in a silent scream that reverberated through the history of Philippine Cinema, immortalizing Brocka as the only Filipino director listed in a book about “the 1001 movies you must see before you die.”

I’m not sure how Joel will recreate that iconic scene in Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, The Musical, which he’s directing, opening its five-day run on Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Kia Theater (Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City). “This musical is my homage to Lino Brocka,” continued Joel who worked with Brocka on several other projects, “and to Edgardo Reyes, writer of the novel on which Lino’s movie was based.”

As everybody must know by now, Maynila is the story of Julio Madiaga (Bembol) who flees his coastal town to look for his long-lost beloved Ligaya Paraiso (played by Hilda Koronel) who was brought to Manila by a woman who sold her to a white-slavery ring. Julio works as a construction worker in the grip of the “claws of the city lights” (mga kuko ng liwanag) and how his tortured search ends breaks the audience’s heart. It’s the third Brocka film to be revived in theater, after Bona and Insiang.

“The presentation of Maynila is different from those of Bona and Insiang,” explained Joel who, years ago, directed a play called Maynila (no relation to the Reyes novel and Brocka film) at the Gantimpala Theater. “Bona and Insiang were straight plays. More than half of the Maynila musical is made up of songs, pero may dialogue din. Everything is fantastic...the composition and musical direction by Von de Guzman, the libretto by Jose Victor Torres and Em Mendez, the production design by Jun Flavier Pablo, the lighting by Joey Nombres, and the choreography by Douglas Nierras. I’m so happy and so lucky to be working with this talented group.”

Some scenes from the movie were deleted for the musical.

“Such as the homosexual scene na dinagdag ni Lino,” noted Joel who asked the permission of Reyes’ children. (Staged by Grand Leisure Corporation with Full House Asia Productions as line producer, the musical is a brainchild of Joel and Gantimpala Theater Foundation.) “The children wanted only the novel version to be played.”

More than 100 showed up for the auditions for the lead roles, the supporting cast and the ensemble. Theater actors were tapped: Arman Ferrer as Julio Madiaga, and Sheila Valderrama-Martinez and Lara Maigue alternating as Ligaya Paraiso.

“We have to choose actors with theater experience kasi mahirap yung musical,” said Joel. “We are very happy with our choices. They have the right attitude toward work and the theater, they are willing to learn.”

Arman is a member of the Kilyawan Voice Choir who has done plays for Ateneo and Tanghalang Pilipino.

Said Sheila, “I was excited to join this production because I wanted to work with Joel.”

And Lara: “I’ve been watching Hilda Koronel in the Brocka movie over and over again and I’ve been talking to friends from UP where they worship before the shrine of Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag.”

Joel was at first “scared” of directing the musical?

“Natakot ako kasi baka hindi ko mabigyan ng katarungan ang material,” admitted Joel.

Thankfully, Joel was able to give more than justice to the musical whose theme, tackled by Reyes and Brocka more than four decades ago, is as relevant today if not more so.

“It’s still the great divide between the rich and the poor,” said Joel who, along with Lino, was an activist during that dark era in our history. “Up to now, the opportunities for the poor are much less and much smaller than those of the rich. Still existing today is the struggle to be economically sufficient. The exploitation of women, especially those from the provinces continues; they are recruited purportedly for work but they are fed to white slavers. There are still so many Julio Madiagas and Ligaya Paraisos among us. Nothing has changed since the time of Brocka.”

If Lino were alive, would Joel invite him to the musical’s Sept. 30 premiere?

“Of course, I would. Lino loved watching theater plays because, like me, he also came from theater. I would reserve a front seat for him and I’m sure he would give the musical a solo standing ovation.”

(Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, The Musical will be staged at the Kia Theater on these dates: Sept. 30 [Gala], 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Oct. 1, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Oct. 4, 8 p.m.; Oct. 5, 8 p.m.; and Oct. 6, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. For tickets, call Bards Lapid at 0917-8466704; or landlines 897-7142, 890-0853, 890-6067 or Ticketnet 911-5555.)





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