“Ang tanghalang ito’y atin ngayong gabi, walang makakapigil,” is the heart-felt cry of “Mula sa Buwan”’s cast as they literally put away the ghost light that has stood steadfast, alone, on stage the past two years. After barreling through an electric opening weekend, it looks like truly nothing can stop the passion of the theater—especially not of those that make up this production.
The second of this year’s major live theater comebacks, “Mula sa Buwan” is on its third large-scale iteration now at the new Samsung Performing Arts Theater (CPAT), and it’s proving to be bigger and brighter than its previous stagings. They call it its “final version”—and the bigger cast, bolder dance numbers, grander sets and costumes, and new musical arrangements are just the tip of the iceberg.
The musical, created by Pat Valera and William Elvin Manzano, is an adaptation based on Soc Rodrigo’s Filipino translation of Edmund Rostand’s French play “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Originally a thesis play entitled “Cyrano: Isang Sarswela” in 2010, it has since evolved to the “Mula sa Buwan” hit we know today. Here, the story is set in a history we’ve probably long forgotten: 1940s Manila, on the cusp of and later amidst World War II.
While today we see our built heritage and history crumble, seasoned set designer Ohm David lets us relive it in the musical through its dreamy, almost crafts-like recreation of old Manila, where the characters’—and by extension, the audiences’—imaginations roam. Bonsai Cielo’s colorful take on ’40s fashion also adds to the historical immersion.[READ: LOOK: Historic Manila sites digitally reimagined in their pre-war glory]
Despite the old world setting, it features universal and timeless themes of love, friendship, and courage, as well as the ever-present realities of war, violence, and social discrimination. All this is packaged in a story that also emphasizes the power of words, music, art, and inclusivity in times of difficulty and suffering. Coming from a two-year (and ongoing) pandemic and a tumultuous election season, we know this power all too well.
“Mula sa Buwan” is eager to showcase so much—owing perhaps to all that has been placed on its shoulders as well. It is not only the maiden musical production of CPAT, it also carries the weight of meeting and exceeding past patrons’ and new theater-goers’ expectations.
The musical opens with a play, through a vibrant if not dizzying opening number that feels like an explosion of pent-up energy. It is quite a sight—at times overwhelming to a point. But it does succeed in bringing attention instantly to the feats this 2022 run strove to reach: more solid dance routines and a tighter vocal mix, grander backdrops and set pieces, and more period-accurate dress.
At the helm of this 27-member cast are Myke Salomon (Cyrano), Gab Pangilinan (Roxane), and Markki Stroem (Christian).
Salomon is awe-inspiring as Cyrano, completely transforming himself into the character, as each line said and sung oozes with the character’s wit and artistry. Reflective of Salomon’s genius, as he also serves as the production’s musical director and arranger this year. Interestingly, Salomon played Christian in the 2018 run.
If Cyrano is the mysterious “tinig sa dilim,” Pangilinan’s Roxane may well be the “liwanag sa dilim” (reference intended). She shines every moment she’s on stage, and her clear vocals command undivided attention. Roxane is, as she herself declares, a “prinsesang mandirigma”; she is in every instance a lady, but Pangilinan also manages to inject a graceful mischief in her. She projects a Roxane that every girl would want to be: strong and firm, knows what she wants, and won’t back down against those who belittle her, especially not men. But at the same time, she is a romantic—which also makes it unsurprising that she is the muse that has so easily captured the hearts of the two cadets.
Stroem, meanwhile, is the picture-perfect Christian. It is, admittedly, his good looks and figure that catch the eye at first, but it is his comedic banter with Cyrano and sweet serenades (and sometimes clumsy attempts at courtship) to Roxane that endear him to the audience’s heart. His earnest take on the iconic “Matatapos Din” number just seals the deal.
What also makes “Mula sa Buwan” more profound is how it has explored multifaceted relationships among the characters. It is no longer just a love triangle between the beautiful girl, her brilliant but unsightly best friend, and the handsome (but stupid) new boy in town. And ultimately it’s not even just about the three of them. “Mula sa Buwan” has involved a kaleidoscopic troop of characters, each with their own motivations and developments throughout the story. Opening weekend crowds have cheered along with Rosanna’s (Phi Palmos) tribe of dreamers and misfits, shared the kilig of Tato (Jon Abella) and Gabriel (Jillian Ita-as), and rooted for Cyrano’s ragtag cadet squad of Limon (Stephen Viñas), brothers Rosario and Gimo (Rapah Manalo and Jep Go), the noble Maestro (Abe Autea), and the cute but feisty Carissa (Ericka Peralejo).
And of course, with a large cast comes a fuller voice for the entire show. Harmonies flow all throughout, and are such a joy to just listen to, it’s such a shame there is yet to be an updated official recording of these songs.
Salomon’s arrangements also masterfully blend the classical with the modern, making even the beloved “Ikaw” or soul-pounding “Manifesto”, down to the eponymous “Mula sa Buwan” fresh even for long-time fans’ ears. And difficult the choice may be, for this writer, it is the hair-raising Act I closer “Malaya” that must be most anticipated.
The magic of art and theater
At the heart of the story are the youth who regard the arts highly. (Nawa’y lahat.) Music, dance, performance, art, and poetry, kept their souls alive as they navigated a society that was quick to disapprove, not to mention also on the verge of war.
But this reverence for the arts seems to transcend beyond the edges of the proscenium. “Mula sa Buwan,” coming fresh off of the pandemic, opens at an opportune time when people are hungry for live performances and for human interaction. Audiences have seen what theater (and local theater artists) can do during the early lockdowns, and now have the opportunity to come to see it for themselves. “Mula sa Buwan” seems to be highly aware of this, and uses it to their advantage.
The energy of being with a live audience—1,500 other hopeful souls—sighing and laughing along with each melancholic and comedic beat is proof that, even for just a few hours, the theater is truly this space to let our collective minds free, to let ourselves suspend the disbelief the “real world” so heavily imposes in these trying times.
“Mula sa Buwan” may now be bigger and better, but it retains its heartfelt charm and wit. Whether or not you view it as a love story, “Mula sa Buwan” is also ultimately a reminder that to love and to hope are not just things to wistfully aspire for. In a world full of hatred, to love and to hope are acts of defiance.
The musical is a reassurance for dreamers and hopeless (or rather, hopeful) romantics that we must continue dreaming, loving, and romanticizing life. Reality is already full of darkness as it is; let’s keep whatever little light we have shining.
Whatever it is you come here for, “Mula sa Buwan” will leave you with a renewed belief in hope, love, and joy, and perhaps, leave you wanting to shoot for the moon, too. Or if not, then at the very least, it will leave you with a renewed belief in and love for Philippine theater.
“Mula sa Buwan” runs until Sept. 11 at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater, Circuit Makati. Directed by Pat Valera, with musical direction by Myke Salomon, choreography by JM Cabling, set design by Ohm David, costume design by Bonsai Cielo, and lighting design by Meliton Roxas, Jr.
The musical stars Gab Pangilinan, Myke Salomon, Markki Stroem, MC Dela Cruz, Jon Abella, Jillian Ita-as, Phi Palmos, Stephen Viñas, Jep Go, Rapah Manalo, Abe Autea, Ericka Peralejo, Chesko Rodriguez, Mark Anthony Grantos, Khalil Tambio, Francis Gatmaytan, Ace Polias, Kinnara Mayari, Miah Canton, Shaira Opsimar, Eizel Marcelo, Mitzie Lao, Lance Reblando, Mikaela Regis, Liway Perez, Deborah Lemuel, and Keith Sumbi.
UPDATE (12/1/22): “Mula sa Buwan” once again runs at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater from December 2 to 11, with new cast member Cedric Juan playing the role of Maximo, while current cast members MC Dela Cruz and Khalil Tambio now playing the roles of Christian and Limon, respectively.