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Freeman Cebu Entertainment

English legend ‘King Arthur’ re-imagined for Cebuano audience in musical play

Januar Junior Aguja - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines —  How do you tell the story of the English legend King Arthur for a Cebuano audience?

That’s the aim of the Cebu-based theater production company Alba Music Productions as they re-imagine the tale of King Arthur through “The Path to Avalon - King Arthur The Musical”, which will have a unique Filipino flavor to the English legend.

The musical play will be performed by an all-Bisaya cast, with young Cebuano actors Shim Dagatan and Felmar Bruces playing the titular role of King Arthur, while Eljen Juezan Bernales portrays the character’s younger version.

Ahead of its two-day run on November 26 & 27 at the Center Stage of SM Seaside City Cebu, Alba Music Productions held a media conference last November 12 in the same venue.

Arnel Pahang, tasked to play Sir Ector of Camelot, said that “Avalon” explores humanity with universal themes of guilt, intrigue, drama, mystery, love and forgiveness.

“There’s a lot of things we can relate to about King Arthur. It’s a story about us and that’s why we did his story in this production,” said Pahang.

Based on a script by UK playwright Trevor A. Holmes with musical compositions by Jim Donnachie, it is the first translation in Cebuano.

Directed by Roldan Ardines, the play was conceptualized on March 2021 from an idea that Donnachie received in an email about possibly adapting the tale of King Arthur as a musical. The Scottish musician, who has composed pop songs, was intrigued by the idea as it would allow him to explore orchestral music.

“My friend played one of his orchestral music and I was curious about how he did that, which was through his keyboard. I want to try this and it was this curiosity that inspired the musical direction of the show,” revealed Donnachie, who had flown in all the way from Scotland.

Donnachie, who admits he has limited experience writing for musicals, looks up to Andrew Lloyd Webber as one of his inspirations in composing the music for the play. He found the experience of writing the musical performances for the play to be a lot easier than he anticipated.

“I would write down a melody and lyrics and send it to Trevor. Within a day or two, he will send me his notes for his story and I would change the melody and lyrics based on his notes,” he shared.

“I found it easier than working for other musicians. Just being in a room with myself and just sharing my compositions with Trevor, it worked so well.”

Some of the songs from the musical play were performed by the cast at the media conference to give a glimpse of what the public can expect.

The first song was “Queen of Heaven” performed by young Cebuana actresses Alexa Faye Vito and Yesha Suralta who will both play the role of Valaria.

The second song was “Temptation”, a duet performed by Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere. Genreid Estrada and Luke Timothy Bascara will be playing Lancelot while Iohanni Marie Beltran and Ma. Shaina Mahipos will take on Guinevere.

The third song was “Beyond Tomorrow”, performed by King Arthur, King Leodegrance, Lancelot and Guinevere. King Leodegrance will be played by Zennith Rivera.

The fourth song was “Stronger Together”, which was an ensemble performance led by King Arthur and his young counterpart.

The cast revealed their reasons for joining the musical play.

Dagatan said he desired to be part of a musical show, and “Avalon” is the first time he gets to star in one – and be a lead at that.

“The production put their faith in me and they helped me a lot. That’s what’s good about this production because we know each other and it’s been an honor to be working with these talented people,” he shared.

As for Estrada who plays Lancelot with Luke Timothy, he was excited to play a complex character. “He does things throughout the show that were difficult because he is an adulterer and a knight who has to show off how a knight should be,” he explained.

Vito and Suralta’s role as Valaria was a last-minute change to the play as their performances impressed Donnachie so much that the character of Valaria was created for them.

“Our character was never part of the first draft of the script. When we did our workshops, Sir Jim saw the potential of Alexa and me,” Suralta revealed. “We were supposed to be orphans who had a song and then it evolved to the young version of the Lady of the Lake.”

While Cebuano audiences can expect a story about complex human emotions, “Avalon” is a G-rated musical play, so families are encouraged to bring their children along.

“It’s very entertaining in the sense that you are not going to be bored such as in a straight play where you hear conversations only,” said Pahang. “There are a lot of scene changes so once you watch it for two hours, audiences of all ages will be entertained.”

It was important for the production to have a cast with Cebuano sensibilities despite the play being set in British medieval times.

“While I am an advocate for Cebuano culture, what I realized is that it doesn’t matter if it’s a Western play as long as we have an all-Filipino cast that would be a great picture of integration where we bring our Filipino talents into the global arena,” Ardines said.

The cast will be speaking in neutral accents to ensure that the audience can understand what’s going on, as opposed to sticking to the accuracy of the play’s time period.

Cebuanos can likewise look forward to identifying with the story of King Arthur despite being set far away from the Philippines according to Ligaya Rabago who plays The Lady of the Lake.

“King Arthur isn’t really far-off from our own setting in the Philippines because we have heroes and soldiers like Lapu-Lapu and the lumads. We all see these characters in the musical play in our own Philippine setting,” said Rabago.

“When I researched my role, she has a lot of personalities and I noticed how she is a fairy and we have our own encantadias here in the Philippines. Just because it’s a foreign play doesn’t mean we can’t relate it to the Philippine setting.”

After the musical play’s presentations, Donnachie hopes that “Avalon” will expand beyond Cebu to promote Filipino talent. “If we make a good play here in Cebu, we will spread it and market it to different cities,” he said.

“The Path to Avalon – King Arthur the Musical” will have three presentations on Nov. 26 & 27 at the Center Stage of SM Seaside City Cebu at 1 pm, 4 pm, and 7 pm. Tickets can be purchased at Ticket2Me, with prices ranging from P500 to P1,000. Students, persons with disabilities (PWDs), and senior citizens can avail of the P350 discounted rate.

KING ARTHUR

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