Education and Home

Behind the scenes of the musical ‘O Bayang Mahal’

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven - The Philippine Star

Last week, Operation Brotherhood Montessori Center staged the musical spectacle “O Bayang Mahal” at Teatro Maximo in our school at Angeles City, as a tribute to its 50th cityhood anniversary. Pampanga Governor “Nanay” Lilia Pineda, Lubao Mayor Mylene P. Cayabyab, and Angeles City Mayor Ed Pamintuan were the special guests.

26 theatre productions, 1985 to 2010, directed by Freddie Santos and Gus Aldeguer

The conclusion of Martial Law in 1986 inspired us to stage original musicals as fundraisers. The first project was “Tomorrowland” at Rizal Theatre in Makati, with Celia Diaz Laurel and Kris Aquino as special guests. From 1985 to 1987 hundreds of our preschoolers, graders and high school students from our four schools were auditioned by Freddie Santos. Their parents collaborated with us in the fund-raising as they vied for the honors of their children to be King and Queen with their royal court in “Tomorrowland,” “Liberty Land,” and “Montessori Land.” All these musicals were directed by Freddie Santos.

Lea Salonga and her brother Gerard studied at OB Montessori schools – from preschool in our Angeles branch to highschool at the Greenhills headquarters. They played lead roles in our theatre musicals and had their weekly TV shows. Lea was a 19-year-old college student at Ateneo when she was cast for the lead in the hit musical, Miss Saigon. It was a source of great pride for my husband Max and I when we attended its premier at the Royal Covent Garden Theatre on Drury Lane. Max bought copies of all the London papers first hour in the morning to read the raving reviews on Lea. She eventually won the prestigious Lawrence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical, a sought-after title in the London musical world. This was followed by a Tony Award when the musical made a successful run on Broadway in New York.

And so in 1991, Gus Aldeguer put together the musical “To Our Lea” to pay tribute to her when she came for a brief visit to Manila. This was staged at the PICC on Roxas Boulevard, which paved the way to two more grand productions in 1992, “Heading For Broadway I“ for our 25th school anniversary, and “The Small White Way” that featured our other star students: Aiza Seguerra, Geneva Cruz, Isabel Granada, Bamba Leelin, Paolo Contis, Nino Alejandro, IC Mendoza, Sheryl Cruz, etc.

The new millenium musical plays directed by Gus Aldeguer

Just before Year 2000, the New Millennium era, Gus Aldeguer took over directing the OB Montessori theatre productions. Between 1994 and 1997, as we celebrated our 30th school anniversary, Gus Aldeguer directed “A Woman Called Freedom,” a charming accolade to Dr. Maria Montessori’s life and “Gimme a Break” that once again showcased our child stars. We also paid tribute to our parents, among them the Reycard Duet, Inday Badiday, Ligaya Salonga, Pinky Marquez, etc. in the productions of “A Whole New World” and “Ang Galing Ng Pinoy” that also focused on our overseas workers.

Gus specialized in recreating fairy tale musicals to the delight of families. With the establishment of the Philippine Economic Zone at Clark Field Air Base, we decided to produce “Fairy Tale I” that featured 12 popular fairy tales at its huge theatre arena. Two more Fairy Tale productions followed at our new theatre auditorium in our Greenhills headquarters. The venue could accommodate 1,200 guests for stage presentations, as well as 500 guests for a sit-down dinner.

As UNESCO Secretary General in 2003, we staged the Ifugao Life Epic to highlight the campaign for the Ifugao Terraces to be delisted from the so-called Endangered World Heritage Sites. It coincided with the UNESCO celebration of World Press Freedom Day led by Director General Koichiro Matsuura together with global press luminaries and UNESCO representatives of Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America and Asia.

By this time, our costume wardrobe was bursting at the seam. Then a large contribution of elegant saris was made by our parents from India for the musical “Journey to India” (which coincided with the selection of Miss India as Miss Universe) and “Vamos A Bailar”, the Latin American song and dance fest. “Canzone” (Italian for songs) and “Heading For Broadway III” followed.

By 2008, Gus, whose health was failing, brought us back to Angeles to inaugurate its new theatre auditorium, Teatro Maximo, with the musical “Hollywood Hits” featuring Charlie Chaplin, “West Side Story,” “Oklahoma,” etc.

Learning the ropes

Since preschool, it was my youngest daughter Sara who constantly followed me and took strong interest in the various activities of our O.B. Montessori institution. As a toddler, she appeared in several episodes of my TV shows, “Montessori for the Home” and “Montessori for Everyone”; both of which became top ABS-CBN weekly family shows that were featured right after the popular Ariel Ureta noontime show thrice a week. When we started our theatre productions in 1985, Sara was a high school student who took part in “Downtown Girl” and “Chorus Girls.”

Among our children, only Sara was able to graduate from our first OBMC professional high school in the early 80s. Thereafter, she left for Los Angeles to take B.S. Psychology with a minor in Asia-Pacific studies at the Loyola Marymount University, where she graduated cum laude in 1992. Before returning to Manila, she completed the AMI Montessori Teacher Training for Elementary School at Milwaukee, Wisconsin with well-known Montessori British mentor, Ms. Margaret Stephenson.

Right after her AMI Training in the US, Sara came to work with me at OBMC, engaging herself in all its activities. The work fitted her personality like a glove since all the teachers and personnel easily adapted to her Montessori ways and her professional manner in conducting each program. Keen on Montessori projects, I let her join part of the summer teacher training program. Sara is now vice-president and chief operating officer (COO) of the Operation Brotherhood Montessori Center.

The professional collaboration of the Ramon Obusan dance group (ROFG) and the Philippine Opera Company (POC)

Early last year, Sara was able to get the professional help of award-winning Director Floy Quintos, the Ramon Obusan Dance Group (ROFG) and the Philippine Opera Company (POC) to put together “O Bayang Mahal,” a musical highlighting certain important events in Philippine history from pre–Spanish era, Spanish and American to modern times. The preparation for its repeat performance with a new cast of students from OBMC Angeles began with production meetings in April and with rehearsals that commenced in July, and ran till August. Following a rehearsal schedule, Direk Floy Quintos and his colleagues, choreographers of ROFG and POC voice coaches, were driven to our Angeles school along MacArthur highway for the next two months.

Dolly Uson and her publication staff coordinated the collaterals, set designs, tarpaulins, pictorial program magazine, and backstage work. The script was meticulously studied to include the Pampanga historical and cultural details since the musical was also dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Angeles City. Sara led the amazing feat by assigning working committees led by other able OBMC line managers to assist the two Angeles branch managers, Chit Limson and Audrey Paras. Line manager Lou Puntay headed the work of producing the costumes, accessories and props of 400 participants, like the Rayadillo high school band, the Angklung grade school ensemble, the Manuvu’s “Noong Unang Panahon,” the colorful Balinese batik, the indigenous tribal dances (Kalinga, Ifugao, Sheherada, Silat, Yakan, Idudu, Maranao, and the Maguindanao). The “Alon at Dayuhan Suite” had Chinese, Indian and Indonesian dancers, while authentic costumes were provided by ROFG for the colorful Badjaos, the elegant La Jota and the Kundiman. The Pampanga Suite had the special participaion of our Angeles parents in the Rigodon Royale. Mayor Ed found it incredible that our high school students could sing opera like professionals, especially in the suites “Himagsikang Buhay” (revolution) and “Pangakong Tutuparin” (promise to fulfill).

The highschool male emcees spoke elegantly in classic Pampango (Crissotan) and Tagalog balagtasan style, coached by the staff from the Center for Kapampangan Studies of the Holy Angel University.

The audience and our special guests were spellbound upon entering the lobby, which was recreated as Angeles Plaza with the Santo Rosario Church, the ancestral houses and the rice fields with Mount Arayat at sunrise, while the “retablo” altar with beautiful Spanish santos covered the façade of the Bistro Sta Chiara – courtesy of Mayor Pamintuan’s Tourism officials. Sara made sure of all details including Chef Wix preparing the cocktails for parents and dinner at the Bistro.

A Philippine cultural show worthy of the delightful attention of APEC in January

Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda, whose grandchildren all went to the OBMC schools, was so mesmerized together with all the parents and visitors who felt so proud of the young stage performers who did not show a flicker of exhaustion, in spite of their gruelling two-hour participation thrice from morning to evening.

She was all praises, “I have not seen such authentic Pilipino costumes since the day of my grandparents. I hope we can conserve these old fabrics and such color combinations. It’s truly our own. We can rekindle our children’s love for our history and culture. This kind of musical show is what the APEC members from 18 countries would like to see here in Angeles. Congratulations to all the O.B. Montessori personnel and their effort of love!”

(For feedback email at [email protected])

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