Saints and sinners

Desert dream: The Sandbox Collective's reimagining of Himala puts the spotlight on the life and (hard) times in Barrio Cupang. Photo by Adrian Begonia

Saints and sinners
Helene Enriquez (The Philippine Star) - February 23, 2018 - 12:00am

‘Himala: Isang Musikal' is the miracle we've been waiting for.

MANILA, Philippines — I’m at a loss for words. And for a writer to admit that is truly something. I can’t even try to be witty about this, guys. Himala: Isang Musikal felt like some sort of baptism through fire. A spiritual odyssey, but not “cathartic”— because you will not find relief here.

Based on the classic 1982 film starring Nora Aunor, Himala: Isang Musikal tells the story of Elsa, a young girl who claimed to have seen the apparition of the Virgin Mary. The people of Cupang then started seeking her refuge to save them from their troubles.

From the first notes of the piano that open the show, I felt every hair on my body prickle. Was it anticipation? Excitement? Fear? Vincent DeJesus’ music is ethereal — invasive. It seeps deep into your bones and chills you to the core. The music of Himala is an entire world on its own. That, coupled with the company’s voices, which were resonant, powerful, and filled with intention? One minute into the show and I was transported to a place recognizable, and yet completely otherworldly. I found myself asking, “Where am I?”

The entire cast is stellar, every character from Elsa to even a random passerby a complete acting powerhouse. There are no actors here, only the people of Baryo Cupang — real, raw and flawed. Every character’s emotions leave the air sticky and heavy; it’s almost hard to breathe. Every performance leaves you gasping for air. Neomi Gonzales is heartbreaking as the faithful Chayong, Kakki Teodoro compelling as the rebellious Nimia, Sandino Martin haunting as the broken Pilo, David Ezra intriguing as the obsessive filmmaker Orly, and Bituin Escalante a true force to be reckoned with as Aling Saling. Aicelle Santos is a complete revelation, with a career-defining performance as Elsa.

Ed Lacson Jr.’s vision is transcendent. Everything that happens onstage is necessary, every image striking. The staging might be bare, but it never feels less than. In fact, it feels so brimming with meaning that even the silences are overwhelming. I found myself so often in tears, not because Himala was a tearjerker in the traditional sense, but because of the sheer force of it. You will not be able to take your eyes off the stage for a second. Every movement, every word, every breath is charged with some ambiguous motivation you’re just aching to figure out.

A deep sense of terror pervades Himala, something far more frightening than the monsters and murderers of horror films. This is Philippine theater at its finest. With this staging, Himala in all its violent beauty has proven itself the quintessential Filipino musical.

* * *

Himala: Isang Musikal runs at the Power Mac Center Spotlight until March 4. For ticket information, visit ticketworld.com.ph.

HIMALA: ISANG MUSIKAL KAKKI TEODORO NEOMI GONZALES NORA AUNOR SANDINO MARTIN
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