Musical on Lapulapu at revitalized Manila Metropolitan Theater

A new musical on the most celebrated and mythicized yet least known figure in Philippine history goes onstage in a revitalized cultural icon venue.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) is presenting Lapulapu, Ang Datu ng Mactan (Lapulapu, the Chieftain of Mactan) through various social media platforms.

At present, it cannot be mounted with a live audience due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and restriction on mass gathering as well as the closure of theaters and performance venues.

Tenor Armand Ferrer as Mactan chieftain Lapulapu (left). ‘Balanghays’ appear in dreams of Ferdinand Magellan. / PHOTOGRAPHs COURTESY OF NCCA

So, the NCCA decided to record a performance at the newly-rehabilitated Manila Metropolitan Theater (Met) in early October and stream it on 24 October.

Lapulapu, one of the highlights of the Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines, is part of the global celebration of the 500th anniversary of the circumnavigation of the world by the Magellan-Elcano expedition and was originally set to be staged on 27 April, the anniversary of the Battle of Mactan between the warriors of local chieftain Lapulapu, whom many consider as one of the very first figures to refuse colonization, and Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan with another local chieftain Humabon. The presentation was rescheduled to June, and was finally slated for October.

Lapulapu defeats Magellan.

Also as celebration of the Year of Filipino Pre-Colonial Ancestors and the National Indigenous Peoples’ Month, Lapulapu is the first theatrical production at the Met since it closed its doors in 1996 and a precursor to the reopening of the architectural landmark in December, its anniversary month.

The Met, designed by prominent Filipino architect Juan Arellano in Art Deco style, was inaugurated on 10 December 1931.

The Lapulapu production was spearheaded by NCCA chairperson and Cultural Center of the Philippines president Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso, who serves as the project’s artistic director. Award-winning poet and lawyer Nicolas B. Pichay was commissioned for the libretto.

“Fashioning a libretto and writing a script from historical accounts requires a sensitivity and sensibility different from writing freely from the imagination. Obviously, reading a lot about what has been written about the event and the personages involved is crucial. It also requires of the playwright the formulation of a point of view that reflects the national spirit,” Pichay commented.

“In writing historical drama, I have realized that history and drama are the most compatible dramatic bedfellows one can find. The basic elements of drama

— character, conflict, argument, climax, resolution, insight — are main staples of the historical accounts that excite, inspire, and provoke me,” he added. “The other kind — the historical accounts that merely list dates and events, although informative — are not the easiest to like because, lacking in emotional account, they come across as cold and clinical. Writing historical drama is the same way. The challenge of the playwright is to bring out from within a known set of facts, an argument or an insight — which may or may not be in the historical records — that serves to enrich our understanding of history and ourselves as a people. In this production, I learned when to stick to the facts and when to invoke artistic license.”

Spanish galleons and Philippine balangays. / PhotographS courtesy of NCCA

Pichay collaborated with historians from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), led by its chairman Dr. Rene R. Escalante, who is also the vice chairperson and executive director of the National Quincentennial Committee (NQC), which is leading the Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines, to clarify some historical details.”

Lapulapu uses metafictional techniques to explore “how history — and what people choose to be the lessons from it — contribute to the cultural identity and the patriotic strength of any nation.” It recounts events that led to the Battle at Mactan in 1521 and the circumnavigation of the world “from multiple and sometimes contradictory points of view, as told by the enigmatic Datu Lapulapu, symbol of Philippine resistance to all forms of oppression; Datu Humabon, his ‘frenemy;’ a Babaylan, seer of the world; Enrique de Malacca, possibly the first Filipino to circumnavigate the world; Magellan, the Portuguese-Spanish adventurer; Antonio Pigafetta, his historian; Sebastian Elcano, his second; and most of all, the people of Limasawa and Mactan,” according to Pichay.

Lapulapu is directed by University of the Philippines professor Dexter M. Santos, who has worked on many plays such as the musical Ang Huling El Bimbo and the komedya Orosman at Zafira.

“Time and time again, the power of theater persists. It has evolved through wars, natural disasters and, yes, even pandemics. No matter what, the artist will find ways to express, create and deliver,” he said. “Mounting Lapulapu, Ang Datu ng Mactan was a daunting task. Despite this, overflowing generosity and commitment of the whole company made this journey possible. In spite of the strict observance of safety protocols, every moment during the whole process was heartfelt and meaningful.”

Humamay embraces Christianity, becomes Reyna Juana and dances the sinulog.

The play is set to music by Krina Cayabyab, using a wide range of musical styles including indigenous chants, opera, kundiman or Tagalog ballad, pop and folk. The choreography is by Stephen Viñas and Kenneth Torres. Gino Gonzales is costume and production designer.

“Production design is an essential element of a musical. It must convey the energy of song and dance, even as it must speak the truth of the source material — whether the play is set in history or contemporary times,” Pichay said.

“In Lapulapu, Ang Datu ng Mactan, costume designer Gino Gonzales, assisted by stylist, Norman Penaflorida pored over prints like the Boxer Codex to take inspiration for the show’s overall vibe.

And they came up with a pan-ethnic depiction of people in the play so as to include all in the story of one,” he said. “Particular attention was placed on the headdresses of both the male and female characters. The inclusion of the belt with gold weights for the man, played by Brian Moreno); and the gold hair ornaments and neck pieces for the woman, played Louise Meneses, are details that give a sense of authenticity and personality to the characters without making them overly dressed.”

The production team also includes Adriana Agcaoili as creative director, Dennis Marasigan as lighting director and GA Fallarme as video designer.

Leading the cast is award-winning tenor and theater actor Arman Ferrer, who plays the main protagonist Lapulapu.

“It’s an honor to be able to perform at the Manila Metropolitan Theater. It was a venue of legendary performances, singers and actors. As a classical singer, stories about the Met echoed in the conservatories of music. To be able to sing and perform at the same stage where these legends have performed is really something special and memorable. I’m beyond grateful for this opportunity.

An honor,” Ferrer said.

Also in the cast are Andre Tiangco, who essays the role of Ferdinand Magellan; Red Nuestro as Rajah Humabon; Cara Barredo, Reyna Juana; Natasha Cabrera, Babaylan; Paw Castillo, Enrique de Malacca; Robert Barbers, Juan Sebastian de Elcano; Al Gatmaitan, Antonio Pigafetta; and Ivan Niccolo Nery, Pope Alexander XI and Padre Pedro de Valderrama. Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray and historian Xiao Chua will make special appearances.

Lapulapu, Ang Datu ng Mactan will be streamed on the Facebook pages of the Manila Metropolitan Theater, the NCCA, Radio Television Malacañang, the NHCP, the NCQ, and other partner institutions on 24 October at 6 p.m.

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