The all-star cast, Alice Reyes Dance Philippines’ dancers, and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab, presented Contra Mundum, a star-studded concert version of Ang Larawan: The Musical, held at the Manila Metropolitan Theatre last May 6, 2023.
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), Manila Metropolitan Theatre, and Culturtain Musicat have offered a one-night-only Saturday performance of the three-act musical to celebrate the 50th-anniversary of the Order of the National Artists of the Philippines and National Heritage Month. It was also streamed for free on MET’s official Facebook page.
The country’s best artists from the film, music, and theatre industry united on stage to perform the greatest Filipino stage musical ever made. The stellar cast includes Celeste Legaspi, Bituin Escalante, Dulce, Aicelle Santos, Audie Gemora, Mitch Valdez, Karylle Tatlonghari, Hajji Alejandro, Kakai Bautista, Mikki Bradshaw-Volante, Kakki Teodoro, Nyoy Volante, Menchu Lauchengo-Yulo, Agot Isidro, Bodjie Pascua, Jericho Rosales, Sandino Martin, Markki Stroem, Nanette Inventor, Jojit Lorenzo, Jaime Fabregas, Nonoy Froilan, Paulo Avelino, Roeder Camañag, Ricky Davao, Rachel Alejandro, and Bea Alonzo.
The musical was based on the National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin’s stage play, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino. It tells about two spinster sisters who are barely making ends meet despite having the ability to sell the symbolic and valuable last painting that their sick father made.
The musical play was staged several times by different theatre companies through the years, starting with its non-musical and original script presented with its English text in 1955, and it became more popular for its Tagalog musical adaptation in 1997, translated and lyrics by Rolando S. Tinio, and music by Ryan Cayabyab. The musical was even made into a film in 2017, directed by Loy Arcenas, which is an entry to the 43rd Metro Manila Film Festival that won the Best Picture award.
In Contra Mundum, the producers put a great effort to bring a top-notch stage musical, which is a pure Filipino masterpiece and a precious gem in literature, music, and arts. The concert version was brought to life with Chris Millado’s direction.
The concert had different actors who portrayed some roles in each act, showcasing different approaches to the lead characters of Candida and Paula, as well as Tony Javier and Bitoy Camacho.
Winter David’s minimalist set design and Barbie Tan-Tiongco’s wonderful lighting design complement all mise-en-scènes that were on point, making the entire show complete perfection with Joyce Garcia’s projection design. National Artist Badong Bernal, with well-known costume designers Gino Gonzales and Francis Libiran did a great job of making all the artists’ costumes fit their character’s bone structure and be realistic based on the story set in the 1940s.
Ang Larawan: The Musical is truly a must-see for everyone, especially millennials as if it is both entertaining and enlightening. Never boring, it is a spectacular musical for its wonderful music score, a high-spirited conga number led by Elsa Montes (Bea Alonzo), and inspired performances by the talented cast. It is also enlightening and informative, giving us a glimpse of Old Manila through the play’s dialogues, scenes, and songs. It shows a part of our history through a fictional tale of an impoverished family, specifically the spinster sisters, who are trying to desperately hold on to and fight for what is left behind – the painting, the house, their values – in the face of materialism, the changing times and the looming second World War.
Contra Mundum, the musical play’s concert version, is truly a tour de force in the Philippine Theatre that pays tribute to our very own art and culture. It is both a literal (the actual painting) and figurative (the Filipino artist) depiction of the Filipino artist. It is a sad commentary about starving artists who write or paint for their personal satisfaction. Their art gives them food for the soul but there is that sad realization that they also need to earn to put food on the table.
The award-winning film adaptation of the musical is now available for streaming on Netflix. It can also be streamed on iWantTFC.
Contributed by Rayne Jarabo
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