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‘Rama Hari’ is the Philippines’ ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘Phantom of the Opera’ — Arman Ferrer |

Arts and Culture

‘Rama Hari’ is the Philippines’ ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘Phantom of the Opera’ — Arman Ferrer

Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo -

MANILA, Philippines — Arman Ferrer, whom veteran actor Audie Gemora considers as the best male singer in the Philippines today, believes that “Rama, Hari,” the rock opera ballet that is the collaborative work of five National Artists, is the Philippines’ “Les Miserables” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

At a recent press conference for the upcoming runs of “Rama, Hari,” Arman recalled when one of the National Artists who worked on the musical, Ryan Cayabyab, messaged him to take on the musical’s titular male lead, Rama.

“You should at least do Rama in your lifetime,” Arman recalled what Ryan told him.

“Kasi I think, Rama, Sita, lahat ng characters sa ‘Rama, Hari’ coveted role sya ng mga tao. I think kailangan daanan ko s’ya, para s’yang Marius, Valjean, Phantom, kung ilalagay natin sa Broadway, so kailangan madaanan ko s’ya,” he said, explaining how very much coveted a role is in “Rama, Hari” like the lead stars in Broadway and West End greats.

“And of course, ‘yung mga gumanap nito nu’ng original, we have Basil Valdez, Leo Valdez, ‘di ba ‘yung mga greats? We have OJ (Mariano), Christian (Bautista), lahat na! Bimbo Cerrudo… So it’s nice na madadaanan mo s’ya kasi dinaanan s’ya ng mga teachers, predecessors mo and to be part of that team is an honor.”

Ferrer alternates with Vien King in the lead role, and they will perform alongside dancers Ronelson Yadao and Ejay Arisola.

Karylle Tatlonghari, Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, and fresh-face talent Nica Tupas alternate in the role of Rama’s beloved wife, Sita, with dance counterparts, Monica Gana, and Katrene San Miguel.

“Seeing my baby self there in 2012 is kind of fun also,” said Karylle of her 2012 “Rama, Hari” performance with Christian.

According to her, one of the songs from the musical was her “song in the shower.”

“So I think, all my neighbors know this song,” she quipped.

“I think, Sita has sank in deeper through the years, so I would really want to play her again… I’m also trying to learn what is she in that level na hindi ko siguro na-arok dati.”

Gemora saw the past “Rama, Hari” shows and while he vouched for all of them, he assured watchers that their version this time would be different.

“Nagmarka talaga. It was unforgettable, those performances… It was an amazing performance, I could never forget,” he said of the past shows, where one of them even had a long-play album (LP).

“What’s going to be different in the play this time around, we talked about how it is with dancers and singers… these are primarily actors. We forget that we are actors who sing. So what we bring to the plate with this restaging is being able to bring life to the characters first and foremost before we even think about the singing and movement,” said the theater icon who takes on the role of King Dasaratha. 

Also joining the cast are Katrine Sunga and Maron Rozelle Mabana in the dual role of King Dasaratha's Third Wife, Kaikeyi, and the Golden Doe, while Miah Canton, and Raflesia Bravo take on the dual role of Kaikeyi's evil adviser, Kooni, and Ravana's demon sister Soorpanakha.

“What you’re going to hear here, that’s the original from 1980,” said Cayabyab, National Artist for Music. He is also proud of the live music to be performed by The Orchestra of the Filipino Youth, trained by conductor Gerard Salonga and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

For “Rama, Hari,” Cayabyab worked together with National Artists Alice Reyes for Direction and Choreography, Salvador Bernal for Production Design, and Bienvenido Lumbera for the lyrics and libretto with English Translations by Rolando Tinio.

“It took us a long time to work on this because I want it to be really cohesive and (for the story) to hold (together). It was a wonderful experience,” shared Reyes.

“As everybody says, there is a little bit of them in the portrayal, so it’s different every time. You have the spirits of the creative team, but when they’re onstage, they take over.” 

Reyes, who worked with Salvador “Badong” Bernal so many times, said the costumes at this year’s run have remained faithful to the National Artist for Theater and Design’s original stylized Oriental designs.

“The only problem with Badong is that he has a very operatic mind and opera means a lot of money,” she jested.

Inspired by the ancient Sanskrit epic, “Ramayana,” the ballet tells of the adventures of Rama, prince and incarnation of the god Vishnu, who comes down to earth to save the world from Ravana, the most powerful of demons and in time falls in love with Sita, daughter of the king of Mithila, Janaka, and eventually marries her. The evil Ravana attempts to tear the two apart only to find himself defeated and his demonic plans thwarted.

Quite coincidentally, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s a new musical genre was born, referred to as OPM, or Original Pilipino Music; and herein lies the uniqueness in the adaptation of the legend having the distinction of being the first OPM music and dance theater masterpiece.

“Rama, Hari” is presented by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, in partnership with the Metropolitan Theater, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and with the generous support of Birch Tree Adult Boost. It features the artists of Alice Reyes Dance Philippines (ARDP)  and the CCP’s Professional Artist Support Program (PASP), with dance trainees from Guang Ming College, Philippine High School for the Arts, De La Salle College of Saint Benilde, and other independent performers.

Show schedule:

  • September 15, Friday, 7:30 p.m., Metropolitan Theater
  • September 16, Saturday, 2:00 p.m., Metropolitan Theater
  • September 16, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Metropolitan Theater
  • September 22, Friday, 7:30 p.m., Samsung Performing Arts Theater
  • September 23, Saturday, 2:00 p.m., Samsung Performing Arts Theater
  • September 23, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Samsung Performing Arts Theater

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