Saturday night proved to be a fun night for my sister and I, along with some friends from high school and my previous job, as we all trooped to PETA Theater to be part of Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady‘s opening weekend. Since we have been re-introduced to the world of original Filipino musicals by way of Maxie: The Musicale in 2013, we have always looked forward to new productions and tried our very best to set some time and money aside for a dose (or twelve) of theater culture. For this year, this is the second original Filipino musical I’ve seen, the first being Ballet Philippines’ Manhid: The Pinoy Superhero Musical, which was staged at the CCP Main Theatre from February to March.
And now we have been treated to a second superhero musical, and oh, how I loved it.
Dalanghita Productions’ Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady, is a musical adaptation of Carlo Vergara’s one-act play and graphic novel of the same title. If the name Carlo Vergara rings a bell, that might perhaps be because you are familiar with another epicly awesome superhero he brought to life: Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah.
The musical tells the story of 35-year old Mely (Bituin Escalante, alternating with Frenchie Dy) who, in the first number, likens her life to a basahan (rag). Because her family isn’t well off, she has tried taking on different jobs to make ends meet. Her younger sister, Viva (Natasha Cabrera, alternating with Kim Molina), isn’t very helpful in this respect–she’s more of a free spirit, and actually described as lazy–so Mely has always carried the burden of being the family breadwinner. Fortunately, she gets a job as a maid for a group of superheroes who call themselves Fuerza Filipinas, and this is where her life starts to change.
Admittedly, when I’d read a quick synopsis of this musical, I couldn’t help but giggle and think about the Rex Navarrete skit Maritess and the Superfriends. But even as Leading Lady had its fair share of hilarious moments, it’s the genuine heart of the musical that makes it relatable and unforgettable.
The plot was simple enough to follow. Mely ventured to look for work, and she did find one . . . only, she didn’t expect to be employed by a bunch of revered superheroes who couldn’t do simple household chores on account of their being too busy saving the world. On her first day, she is introduced to the Fuwerza Filipinas–Madre de Dios (Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo), Nena Babushka (Giannina Ocampo), Windang Woman (Caisa Borromeo), Popoy Pusakal (Chesko Rodriguez), BazookaMan (Jeff Flores), and Leading Man (Markki Stroem, alternating with Hans Eckstein)–and instantly given a Maid Manual to study. Being the maid of Fuwerza Filipinas requires high amounts of discretion after all, and above all things, Mely drills this rule in her brain: You shall not get personally involved with any member of the Fuwerza.
Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. Of course Leading Man will ruin things with his nicely chiseled jawline, sinful abs, velvety voice, and even more attractive personality. Tsk, tsk. How ever could you escape that?
But the loveline isn’t the only plot point driving the story. In fact, and correct me if I’m wrong, but the bigger conflict lies in the fact that another group of men with superpowers–the Kayumanggilas–is hell-bent on crushing Fuwerza to the ground, and they will stop at nothing to take over the superheroes’ pedestal. Not even a relationship between sisters Mely and Viva which is already strained from the beginning.
So how does one exactly become a leading lady? I came to the theater thinking of the stereotypical leading lady who gets rescued by a leading man, but I was very, very wrong. And for that, Leading Lady earns points.
I have seen three PETA plays since I started my pagbabalik-loob in 2013: Maxie the Musicale, Rak of Aegis, and Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady. The grittiness and functionality of Maxie‘s stage design really impressed me because they were able to maximize such small (and I say small because they made the stage appear like the slums where Maxie’s story happens) space and make it work together with the storytelling. And then Rak of Aegis‘s stage design came and ruined my entire life. In a good way. (I’m not going to go into detail because they deserve their own post. In June.)
In Leading Lady, the stage was very minimalist. I found myself staring at the stage around 15 minutes before the show started, predicting what will happen where. Because there is very little to see, it was always a pleasant surprise to watch every scene unfold, and every actor make use of the stage. The lighting direction was very smart, in that it helped evoke accurate emotions at the right moments.
I wouldn’t have expected anything less from musical director and composer Vincent de Jesus, and with the work he’d done for this musical, one would think Leading Lady is a classic from way back (like Manhid is). It deserves to become a classic, though. Each song is inspired, yes, even the funnier ones (you seriously have to watch out for Fuwerza and Kayumanggilas’ songs), tugging different heartstrings at any given moment. I would love to own an original soundtrack if only to be able to savor all those beautiful words.
The choreography was spot on. There were times I would just stare at the ensemble move and forget to listen to the songs because their movements hypnotized me enough to forget I was supposed to do two things at the same time. I think I enjoyed the scenes with Fuwerza’s character introductions most because we are given a different personality when it came to song treatment, and that was fun. Oh and yes, Kayumanggilas’ introductory number was also easily a crowd favorite. Ka-LSS!
Enjoyable as it was, Leading Lady also had its flaws. For one, I think that the story could be condensed a bit more. I know that I barely noticed I’ve been sitting in the theater for almost three hours because I’m easy to please like that, but making the story more compact and cohesive will make the musical a lot more solid in terms of storytelling. (I’ll go as far as saying Rak of Aegis also suffered the same thing during its first run, but it only kept on improving through its second and third revisiting, owing mostly to a more tightly-woven storyline.)
That being said, the messages Leading Lady tried to instill in us through this production did not in any way get lost in its lengthy execution. There’s class struggle, there’s family drama, and there’s that constant individual need to achieve something that would make our lives worthwhile. And while it might have been the promise of superheroes that made you come to the theater, you leave it knowing that these superheroes are with us in our daily lives. A mother who cares for her children. A woman who works for her family. A younger sister who aspires to become a better person. We are, all of us, superheroes in this respect, and that’s an inspiring message to carry in our hearts all the time.
We saw the play in its opening weekend, and I constantly got bothered by the technical mishaps during the staging. There were times when we could clearly hear static coming from somewhere, and I always was tricked into thinking there was some radio transmission coming in for Fuwerza’s information. There were also times when I had to strain my ears because the actors’ microphones had gone off. Now if this is because some members of the audience didn’t turn their phones off during the show, shame on you guys.
Overall Rating: ★★★★☆
I want to thank Leading Lady for: letting me discover the wonder that is Markki Stroem. Boy can sing and melt hearts, OH MY GOD!
My favorite Leading Lady character is: Senyor Blangko, hands down. Like a flower, he ismelled!
If I had the moolah, I will watch it again for: Frenchie Dy’s take on Mely, Kim Molina’s take on Viva, Vince Lim’s take on Henyotic, the “We Have a Maid” and “Kayumanggilas” songs, and really just the overall experience of being graced with the cast’s energy again
Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady is being staged at the PETA Theater (#5 Eymard Drive, New Manila) until June 7, 2015. Tickets are available at Ticketworld or you may contact Dalanghita Productions on Facebook.