It was not meant to entertain. It was meant to break hearts.
All throughout college, watching musicals was my thing. It helped me made sense of the world I was living in, and why I had chosen the course I did – Creative Writing, FYI, because job security is for pussies – and stuck through it. But mostly, and very, very honestly, I just love musicals. I love the spectacle of it all. The art. The music.
I haven’t watched a musical in a while. The last was Les Miserables on Broadway during a layover of my mom’s in New York. Ramin Karimloo played Jean Valjean, and it was divine.
I haven’t watched a play in a while, either. The last was Almost, Maine with a few friends for my birthday. It wasn’t that great, but it was charming. It was sweet.
When I saw the teasers for Mula Sa Buwan circulate all over Facebook, I knew I just had to watch it. A different kind of musical, it advertised. I grabbed the first friend I could, and dragged her with me to the theater.
It wasn’t a different kind of musical. It was a musical of the past that we have forgotten, but we should start remembering.
Mula Sa Buwan is a sarsuwela. For those who do not know what a sarsuwela is, it is a type of play the Philippines’ first colonizers passed on to its people. It involves singing and dancing. It involves dated references to address socially relevant issues through a language no longer on the tongues of people today. It involves slapstick comedy, jokes, and just a lot of merry-making. Basically, it’s a musical from a bygone era.
But still, it wasn’t just a musical. Mula sa Buwan started off by kicking the stereotypical idea that the handsome-guy-must-get-the-girl right in the butt. There was a Marius and Cosette moment right there as the cast introduced the main players of the game. But the handsome Christian (Edward Benosa) was not the hero of the story, although the luminescent Roxanne (KL Dizon) was the leading lady. It was Cyrano (Nicco Manalo), someone who by all means was ‘ugly.’
When you ask practically anyone in the country what physical traits they would look for in an ideal partner, a sharp, handsome nose would probably be on the list. Cyrano’s nose falls on the sharp side of things, but it has fallen too far into it that it can never be considered ‘handsome.’
This is our hero. He’s smart. He’s brave. He’s in love with a girl he can never have because he’s not exactly what anyone would call handsome.
The story of Mula Sa Buwan is by no means new. There have been tons of ugly ducklings in novels and films alike. Do they get the girl? Not unless they get a big transformation sequence that would morph them into what the typical idea of a dashing man is in this world.
That never happens to Cyrano, and so – SPOILER ALERT! – he never did the girl. At least, not for himself. But he did get her for Christian who, in Cyrano’s words, was a living embodiment that the world was fair. Cyrano may be ‘ugly,’ but boy is he a poet. On the other hand, the dashing Christian could not handle even a single sentence. Most of the comedy came from this set-up.
It was hilarious, there was no doubt about it. The way Christian tried to get Roxanne on his own, the way he and Cyrano teamed up to make Roxanne happy. It was a riot.
The first half of the musical was nothing less than that. It was a riot you wanted to be a part of. The stage glowed, and the music was divine. Maiinggit ang bukang liwayway… It’s still in my head. (Click on THIS LINK so that it can be stuck in your head, too!) Anyone who witnessed the first half of this wonderful production would be left at such a high when the stage lights began to dim to signal the intermission.
I, along with everyone else in the theater, I assume, was brought down from that unbelievable high the moment the second, more somber half began to play.
Cyrano, Christian, and all of their fellow cadets have gone to war. It was dark. It was depressing. And just as Cyrano and Christian could not keep up their act around Roxanne for long, neither could Mula Sa Buwan. Unlike the two men, though, the narrative of the musical did so purposefully.
The musical began with a comment that sarsuwelas should not be flowery, should not project an unrealistic image to its audience. Well, no matter how bright and beautiful the stage was, Mula Sa Buwan did not. It ended with that very same sentiment, but not on the high note it began with, and such is life.
The second half of the musical did not entertain. It was not meant to. It was meant to break hearts. Christian died. Cyrano went insane. Their secret stayed for fourteen years, only to be revealed at the very last moment. It was Cyrano’s words that Roxanne fell in love with, not Christian’s. The trope of the handsome guy getting his beautiful girl is such a cliché, but it’s true. Guys like Cyrano don’t get the girl no matter how poetic or brave or selfless they may be, and so Cyrano doesn’t get Roxanne.
All I could say after the curtains closed for one last time was this – we got it. We have what it takes to make good musicals. Really good musicals. I’ve already seen it for myself when I watched productions like Rak of Aegis. Not so much, Rivalry: Ateneo-La Salle the Musical.
Mula Sa Buwan was – is! – a passion project. It shows from the amount of heart that seeped through the words of the book and the notes of the music, all the way to the choreography of the dancers on stage. I have no bad words for it. The only problem it has, I would say, is its audience. Who will watch Mula Sa Buwan? I don’t really know. Not a lot of people, I assume. But who should watch it though? Everyone.