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Willie Nepâs old passion  gets new platforms
While the legitimate stage is in hiatus, Willie Nepomuceno is bringing his art of impressions and gift of cathartic laughter to online radio and the world wide web.
Photo from Willie Nep’s Facebook page

Willie Nep’s old passion gets new platforms

Nenet Galang-Pereña (The Philippine Star) - June 17, 2021 - 12:00am

The global pandemic which has brought the entertainment industry to its knees cannot stop the national treasure and legend of his time, Willie Nepomuceno, from pursuing an old passion: the art of impressions. Just like gold icons Tom Jones, Neil Sedaka, Jim Paredes, Mitch Valdez, et. al., who continue to entertain humanity in the confines of their homes and studios, Willie Nep is rising to the occasion. While the legitimate stage is in hiatus, he is bringing his gift of much-needed cathartic laughter via new platforms: online radio and the world wide web.

The new modalities have their pros and cons. Plus factors are the travel time saved and convenience enjoyed by guests being interviewed in their own habitats. But technical glitches are inevitable, with poor connectivity and brown outs ruining segments if not entire episodes. Aggravating, too, are the ambient noises of cocks crowing, dogs barking, cars and motorbikes rumbling, as well as video bombers popping on screen — gaffes that become viral comic relief memes later.

Recently, Willie Nep guested at DWBL’s OKS (Oras ng Kaalaman at Saya) Radio with his daughter Frieda, for a series on father and sons/daughters, and talked about his humble beginnings and prodigious rise to King of Impressionist Art in the Philippines. With Facebook livestreaming and cloud online recording via YouTube, OKS Radio is now on its eight year, migrating from its ninth floor studio at Paragon Plaza, Mandaluyong to the residence of its host, Teddy Pereña, during the lockdown period.

Willie Nep recounted how his long surname was shortened to Nepoink during his Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) stint, then became Nepo and finally, Nep. Fondly, he remembered his hopeful days at ABS-CBN, waiting in the wings for a TV show break to carve his niche in. No less than El Capitan Geny Lopez promised him one, but Martial Law closed down the network and the show never saw the light of day. But it was the dictatorship which immortalized his name, as twice, when Marcos was beleaguered by People Power and flight was imminent, he publicly announced: “It is I, your president, not Willie Nep.”

Frieda Nep, a certified Fr. James Reuter baby, who honed her craft in theater arts at St. Paul’s Manila and Repertory Philippines, has instigated her own following with unforgettable impressions of Kris Aquino, Grace Poe, Janet Napoles, among others, though she was not really primed by her father, who would rather she follow the roads more taken. She has proud memories of her time to shine with her father, especially at the Music Museum in Greenhills, where politics seamlessly meld with the performing arts.

Willie Nep was a hit, too, at Boomers’ Banquet, a webcast conjured by three radio stalwarts: Bob Novales, George Boone and Teddy, as an agora of “all memories all the time, anything and everything we grew up with,” via Streamyard, a livefeed studio broadcasting app mounted through Facebook, YouTube and Spotify.

Long time TV voice over announcers and radio disc jockeys Bob and George teamed up with veteran ad and PR man Teddy to bring out stories which Willie Nep was only too happy to reminisce. To begin with, his Fine Arts college days at the onset of Martial Law, when the protest theaters were blooming in UP Diliman amid the repression of the Marcos regime, because this was the time he learned “tumayo at manindigan, patigasin ang sarili” (to stand up for his convictions, maintain integrity and steel oneself despite pressures) and not to succumb to temptations. “Otherwise, these will haunt you forever,” the veteran social commentator mused.

Laughter is still the best antidote for our communal sorrows at this time when a pandemic is decimating our ranks, and there is no adequate response to address basic survival needs.

“Tinatawanan lang natin pero ang sakit sa dibdib (We resort to laughter but what pain we endure),” he disclosed. This lamentation brought the conversation to the nobility of his art.

For Willie Nep, a good impression goes far beyond impersonation — not duplicating a character, but bringing to fore and communicating his/her essence. In a flash, he brought out his improv mustache and cap for his classic Dolphy impression. Like with his sketch for OKS Radio, Willie Nep’s trademark Pidol barbs at human follies, spiced with impish chuckles, rocked those tuned in to the podcast. The court jester chastising the asinine king, as only Willie Nep can.

Yet, he bemoaned the seeming futility of satire to the powers that be. “Nakakapagod na (It is tiresome),” the head which has metamorphosed into kings and king makers, shakes with disdain. Having created master impressions of a succession of Philippine presidents, he has distilled hamartia from scepters wielding disaster for Filipinos. But the power of satire for moral suasion and rhetorical supplication has been lost, as rulers have become inured to the sufferings of a people left perpetually inchoate in their search for liberation.

To make a difference, is how Willie Nep simplifies his mantra. He prays for this pandemic to end, and for healing to commence. “Kalat-kalat na tayo, dapat tayong mabuo (We are deeply divided, we need to be one again),” vowed the sardonic sage. Albeit reluctantly, but gallantly riding his horse from the proscenium to the digital stage, we can only anticipate a full concert is in the cavalry charge.

WILLIE NEPOMUCENO
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