Photos by I.R. Arenas
Against the crumpled backdrops that mimic the moon, a spotlight waits. A man makes his way, following the light. He looks up to the night sky, turns around, and slowly salutes a crowd that’s been with him for the past two hours. It’s a quiet moment, despite the music swelling to its last, with the audience captivated and waiting with bated breath. As the lights go off, everything is silent. And in a split second, thunderous applause ensues — and it almost feels like catharsis, this story of love, loss, and the light we find.
Such has always been the reaction to musical play Mula Sa Buwan. A translation of Soc Rodrigo’s adaptation of the Edmond Rostand play Cyrano de Bergerac, Mula Sa Buwan takes us to 1940s Manila with a band of young people searching for an ideal — their buwan, if you will — at its forefront. The proceedings slowly shift to a familiar love story trope: the unrequited love of Cyrano (Nicco Manalo, alternating with Boo Gabunada), the well-meaning love of Christian (Myke Salomon, alternating with Edward Benosa), and the recipient of both: Roxane (Gab Pangilinan, alternating with Cris Go).
You have to understand that while Cyrano has wit and intellect, his looks are unconventional. Christian, on the other hand, has the looks but isn’t conventionally bright. They work together to provide Roxane the love she seems to want, a face like Christian’s with brains like Cyrano’s, with the latter giving instructions to the former. While this setup in today’s day and age poses some problems (it’s essentially catfishing, let’s be honest), the Cyrano story has received plenty of revivals over the years.
There is loss and heartbreak here, and it’s in all different kinds.
It is in this musical though, that it has found its most heartbreaking melody — with World War II starting at the end of the first act. The second act almost feels like a different musical, a stark contrast from the raucous exuberance of act one, with this assembly of characters losing their innocence to the evils of the world. There is loss and heartbreak here, and it’s in all different kinds.
Leading this powerhouse company is Nicco Manalo as Cyrano. Having played Cyrano since 2010, watching him is like a master class in performing. His Cyrano is a fully realized portrayal of a man whose love for his cadets, his country, and Roxane, powers him through even if it hurts. His nuanced performance — paired with the gorgeous prose and music by Pat Valera and William Elvin Manzano — will move you. In his last monologue, Cyrano’s heartbreak is so palpable you can almost touch it — and once the tears fall down your face, you know you were able to.
In his last monologue, Cyrano’s heartbreak is so palpable you can almost touch it — and once the tears fall down your face, you know you were able to.
The same can be said for Gab Pangilinan’s Roxane (who has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes you understand why these two men have their hearts ready for her) and Myke Salomon’s endearing take on Christian. Also stealing the show is Phi Palmos as Rosana (alternating with Ronah Rostata), whose comedic timing and powerful vocals lend to an electric rendering of a role traditionally played by a cis female. These performances and the ensemble’s, along with JM Cabling’s choreography, Meliton Roxas Jr.’s lush lighting and Ohm David’s dreamy, textured set, make up the heartbreaking masterpiece that is Mula Sa Buwan.
There are shows, and there are shows that leave you frozen in your seat, still taking in everything long after the curtain goes down. This is one of those shows. To say that the musical’s latest reincarnation is a precious piece of art is an understatement, it is as stunning as it is sincere. We live in heartbreaking times. With each day, our hope slides down into the slippery rope of despair and helplessness. But it is in times like this that it is crucial, like what Mula Sa Buwan tells us, to look up, turn around, and salute to the light in the darkness of it all.
Mula Sa Buwan is playing until Nov. 25, 2018 at Hyundai Hall, Areté, Ateneo de Manila. Tickets are available here or through Mula Sa Buwan’s Facebook page here.