The monumental Marco Polo /Int’l Bamboo Organ Festival
SUNDRY STROKES (The Philippine Star) - February 15, 2014 - 12:00am

The book, lyrics and music of Marco Polo, recently staged at Meralco Theater, are by the exceptionally talented, versatile veteran actor-singer Roger Saldo Chua. What scant recorded fact there is on Marco Polo was intertwined with fiction and fantasy by Chua’s fertile, fervid imagination, with a monumental musical ensuing.

The plot recounts the travels of Venetians Marco Polo, his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo on their return to faraway Shangtu in Cathay in 1271. Their journey is interrupted by internecine wars in both East and West – there is a glimpse of the Crusades – and as they reach Central Asia, Marco Polo is smitten by Princess Kogajin, daughter of Emperor Kublai Khan.

The rest of the story is on how the love affair progresses despite the vigorous objections of certain members of the royal family, Marco Polo being a foreigner and a commoner.

Interpreting the musical was a huge, disciplined cast, ranging from principal actors-singers to walk-on players. Judging from the excellent collective performance of the vast assemblage, what rigorous, intensive rehearsals must have been required!

David Bianco was spritely, engaging as the young adventurer Marco Polo who later becomes a persistent, persuasive suitor, a warrior and a civil servant. Stephanie Reese sensitively and endearingly portrayed Princess Kogajin. She and Bianco were deeply touching as lovers, marvelously singing together.

Outstanding likewise for their verve and exuberance were the rest of the principals: Pinky Marquez as Empress Wu, dynamic Chinggoy Alonso as Rustigielo, Doge and Chief Monk, Miguel Faustmann as Maffeo and Brent Metkin as Niccolo, Nicky Trivino as Princess Toragana and Enrhil Serguino as Lord Khogatal.

The walang kupas tenor George Yang as Emperor Kublai was regal and dignified in the riveting civil service examination he gives Marco Polo, testing the latter’s conversance with Confucius’ sayings.

The unique diagram was on square, elevated platforms with stairs requiring the players’ utmost agility.

In retrospect or hindsight, Marco Polo was a rather long musical with its surfeit of characters, scenes, ensemble entrances and exits, and an over-developed love theme. Although Act I compelled and sustained interest, the final scenes of Act II almost wended their way toward tedium.

However, the plus side was overwhelming. Comparisons may be odious but Marco Polo nearly matched the tremendous impact of “Wicked” with its own dazzling light effects, set designs and props which continuously changed; its glamorous, resplendent costumes relevant to period and locale; Rose Borromeo’s beautiful dances which enhanced Oriental ambiance; more “singable” songs. And as previously mentioned, with its excellent, first-rate actors and singers accompanied by an orchestra conducted by Daniel Bartolome who was in total rapport with the singers’ vocal demands. The show had just about everything, including duels!

Judging from what I had seen these past decades, Marco Polo as presented by the Artists Theater Company was the grandest, most spectacular musical yet staged locally. With a few revisions, Roger Chua’s company, in due time, should be heading for Broadway and other theater capitals of the world.

*      *      *

The 39th International Bamboo Organ Festival is scheduled for Feb. 20 to 26 at 8 p.m. in St. Joseph Parish Church, Las Piñas. Executive director of the Festival, Leo Renier, announces herewith the concert programs along with a brief explanation.

The main concert (Feb. 20, gala), 21 and 25 presents the music of the Spanish Golden Age brought by the Spanish missionaries in the 16th century. We do not have the instruments typical of that period except the 10-stringed Spanish guitar, the organ, the flute recorders and the voices (Villancico Vocal Ensemble and Las Piñas Boys Choir) conducted by Eudenice Palaruan.

The second event is the organ recital of British-American Colin Andrews on the bamboo organ and the auditorium organ of St. Joseph’s Academy, the first pipe organ designed and built by Filipino Celwyn Tagle 20 years ago. He will soon build an organ for the Cathedral of Vladivostok, Russia.

The third concert (Feb. 25) will feature the Tiples de Sto. Domingo (Eugene delos Santos) and the Las Piñas Boys Choir (Armando Salarza). Palaruan arranged the music of Manoling Francisco, Ed Hontiveros and Arnel Aquino for the concert. Other works are by Joy Nilo and Jed Balsamo. Austrian Johann Trummer and Salarza will be the organists.

 

ALTHOUGH ACT I BOYS CHOIR FEB LAS PI MARCO MARCO POLO POLO PRINCESS KOGAJIN
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