Freeman Cebu Entertainment

Musical ‘Star and Cloud’ pays tribute to founder of Fo Guang Shan

Januar Junior Aguja - The Freeman

When Jude Gitamondoc introduced his latest musical “Star and Cloud” to critics last January 29 at the Siddartha

Theater in Guang Ming College, the songwriter-composer said he was “afraid” to speak in the voice of its subject matter:

Venerable Master Hsing Yun, founder of Taiwan-based Buddhist organization Fo Guang Shan.

“Master Hsing Yun is such an [important person] in the Fo Guang Shan community. I didn’t want to fabricate conversations that wouldn’t be true to his spirit, so I lifted a lot of material directly from his personal writings, interviews, speeches, and verses,” Gitamondoc told The FREEMAN, adding that elements of the biography “Bright Star, Luminous Cloud” by Fu Zhiying were also adapted to the stage.

“Star and Cloud: The Musical” focuses on the life of Master Hsing Yun who as a child, was introduced to Buddhism by his grandmother when he was still called by his birth name Guoshen. This was during a turbulent time in China’s history that included the Nanjing Massacre when he and his mother attempted to find his father in dangerous circumstances to no avail.

After entering a monastic life at 12 years old and adopting his current name as an adult which means “star and cloud”, Hsing Yun fled from mainland China to Taiwan when the Chinese Communist Party took over against the opposing party Kuomintang.

Due to communist paranoia in Taiwan, he was detained for 23 days when he first arrived. After his release, he built Fo Guang Shan and became one of the most important figures not only within the worldwide Buddhist community, but also in Taiwan history.

The production’s cast is led by Gabriel Gomez who plays the titular role. Neil Jabido and Simeon Lawas, who portray younger versions of Hsing Yun, are credited as Jinjue in his teenage years and the birth name Guoshen, respectively, to indicate the different phases of his life.

“Star and Cloud” will have February 3 and 4 shows at the Siddhartha Teather in Guang Ming College with a matinee at 3 pm and a gala at 7 pm.

Legacy that lives on

After Hsing Yun passed away February 5 of last year at his temple, Gitamondoc saw this as an opportunity to finish the musical that has been 14 years in the making.

“That time, there was hesitancy to produce it because in Chinese culture, they don’t normally advertise their values. It wasn’t the right time to produce a show like that when he was still alive so I think the right time is now because Fo Guang Shan is still grieving his loss,” he explained.

“The usual idea of Buddhism is when a teacher leaves this world, his presence is felt through the members. Master Hsing Yun may have left us, but his spirit lives on through his teachings. A lot of inspiration came after personal stories about him came out when he passed away because there was this need to grieve so people can remember him.”

Hsing Yun was able to see the musical in its early stages in 2010 when it was still an excerpt of songs. After the success and critical acclaim of “Siddhartha: The Musical”, members of Fo Guang Shan asked Gitamondoc to make a musical based on Hsing Yun.

“This was a difficult process for me because I am not a Buddhist and I didn’t know Master Hsing Yun. Unlike Siddhartha, who is a popular icon worldwide, Hsing Yun is more well-known among his circle in the community of Fo Guang Shan so I had to immerse myself there,” added Gitamondoc, who traveled to Taiwan to research about him.

Gomez, who played the titular character in the 2010 version, recalled how difficult it was to present the musical to Hsing Yun due to his busy schedule. To ensure they get the chance to perform in front of Hsing Yun, the team volunteered to distribute food to the monks in the temple when he was there.

“I had little idea of who Master Hsing Yun was that time and I sang right beside him. Even with him facing his back and giving a little glance to the side, I already felt the incredible amount of energy that he was putting out to the world. It hit me that because of this man, everything has been built. It was such an honor for me to play a fraction of his life,” he said.

The three actors worked together on making their depictions of Hsing Yun cohesive, including his mannerisms.

“It’s a challenge for me since a lot in the audience are his disciples,” said Jabido. “They know them very well more than I do.’

Not just for Buddhists

“Star and Cloud” doesn’t want to deliver its story merely to Buddhists as they want those of other faiths to watch the show for its lessons. Most of those running the show are not Buddhists, including Gitamondoc, who also penned a musical based on Argentine Catholic icon Ceferino Namuncurá, which had its revival run last November.

Many of the members were also part of the Siddhartha family whose community of thespians gather at Guang Ming College. Here, they can hone their craft, hence, many attribute the Buddhist temple as an important place in their acting careers, regardless of their religion.

“This is a person who for all his life was looking for a home, which I realized that’s the heart of the piece. It’s a person who lost his father, looked for him, and eventually that led him to becoming a monk,” said Gitamondoc. “Instead of looking for a home, he built one for a lot of people. I think that’s what people need to hear nowadays.”

“It’s so nice to see that simple kindness could be a musical. We don’t need to be drawn to the sensational aspect. We can think of the good things in life and create a musical out of it and make it a story worth telling.”

Gomez, a Roman Catholic, added, “Buddha basically teaches us how to live a beautiful, freer life. This musical about Master Hsing Yun is for everyone because it teaches you how to be good, speak good words, think good thoughts, and do good deeds.”

*Purchase tickets to “Star and Cloud: The Musical” by contacting 0915 452 7549 or messaging the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/starandcloudthemusical.

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