By Alwin M. Ignacio

There is love for freedom and the truth, love for a thwarted justice system, love for family and kin, love at first sight and romance, love that is unrequited, love for quick and hedonism, and most of all, love for country.

Our very own, Rachel Ann Go

Seated inside the orchestra section of the posh Theatre of the Solaire,

this correspondent, together with the rest of Manila’s jet set crowd, felt the excitement that cannot be contained when we heard the first few bars of its familiar overture. It was so potent and palpable. Tears welled in my eyes because it was a definite fact, the much revered musical. Les Miserables, won’t be a disappointment.

My first brush with this mammoth and ageless musical produced by Sir Cameron Mackintosh happened when Repertory Philippines staged it at the Meralco Theater.

That time, I was a Miserables virgin and to those in the know, you may correct me if I am wrong, the Philippines was the first Asian country that earned Mackintosh’s stamp of approval to stage the iconic musical theater production. In fairness to the team led by the late great Zeneida Amador, Rep pulled all the strings and the tops, assembled the Philippines’ brightest theater luminaries (artistic and production wise), and to all of us who viewed the spectacular spectacle were hooked, crying even as we all witnessed the novel of Victor Hugo coming alive on the legitimate stage.

Les Miz holds a special place in the hearts of most Filipinos because Lea Salonga, sang “On My Own” as her audition piece which nailed her the part of Kim in Miss Saigon. Salonga, also performed Eponine and Fantine in Broadway. Another Philippine theater treasure, Joana Ampil played the parts, as well.

Aside from its 10th and 25th concert anniversaries that we all watched on YouTube, its glorious motion picture incarnation, which even earned an Academy Award nomination for best picture, featured Hollywood A-listers such as Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Samantha Barks, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne, to mention a few.

Why Les Miserables worked so well because it emotionally resonated to the majority of musical theater lovers in particular and to its adoring public in general. Clocking at less than three hours, we are presented with all forms of love.

Another important ingredient of Les Miz was the musical compositions of Claude-Michel Schönberg, with the book and libretto he co-authored with Alain Boublil.

All the musical numbers and the songs were so integral to the movement of the narrative. Every song evoked and stirred emotions, especially the grand numbers such as “One Day More” and “Do You Here The People” – it hit you at your most vulnerable core – your heart. .

This Manila touring production at the Theatre of the Solaire can only be described in one word – SPECTACULAR! And yes, it is worth every peso.

From all the legendary songs that were all heart-wrenching, soul-stirring, and tear-nducing, the massive sets and how they were effectively used, plus the breath-taking back drops, the larger-than-life paintings made by Victor Hugo himself.

The lighting design, further heightened the drama of pivotal scenes, making the passage of time crucial and more poignant to the movement of the story.

All the actors, not only gave life, but they gave soul to their respective characters. Simon Gleeson as Jean Valjean and Earl Carpenter as Inspector Javert, were of equal footing. Their vocal and acting duels were perfection with truly inspiring.

The tragic supporting heroines did not disappoint, Kerrie Ann Greenland as Eponine, gave a fresh renditon to “On My Own.” She sang it with the ambivalent mix of anger, disappointment, longing, tenderness and resolve.

The Philippines’ pride, Rachelle Ann Go as Fantine, in her voice, one felt her agony and desperation. It was coming from the darkest and loneliest places in her heart that is why when she reached the part of the anthem that said, “I have a dreamed my life would be so different from this hell I’m living…,” as part of the audience, I had goose bumps with her spine tingling rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream.” it had bravura and gravitas, a truly powerful Les Miz moment.

Noteworthy to mention were the performances of Paul Wilkins as Marius and Emily Langridge as Coseette. Langridge’s mezzo soprano voice was in top form and she reached her high notes with so much gusto. Paul’s tenor was totally robust.

You cannot help but feel emotional while you watch Les Miserables. All the songs, especially the highlighted story arcs – the oppression, inequality and injustice, and the power of love – are still relevant in today’s headlines. When you come out of the theater, you bring home its many lessons and glories and they remain in your heart.

PS to the Les Miserables

To all who tropped and watched Les Miz, and to all those who are planning to watch the musical, my prayer and hope is that you feel the same fervor and excitement when a Pinoy theater production is running.

Please be the first to watch, buy tickets and souvenir programs. Spread the word to your friends and acquaintances and entice them to watch a Filipino play. Let us also make our Philippine theater industry throbbing, vibrant with sold out performances. Please don’t look the other way and turn blind withthe reality that we have a wealth of world class Filipino productions.

Also, this is an appeal to the sensibilities of telecommunication giants and the other corporate sponsors who gave their all out support to the Mackintosh musical, please send your love to Filipino plays as well by providing with cash sponsorships and not just “in kind” or ex-deal agreements. Please put an end to this “colonial preference.” Be fair to Filipino made play productions. Be generous and invest on them.

To National Commission for Culture and the Arts who happens to be the lead agency for the seven arts, why don’t you give an outright, annual production grant of P2 million per company who are part of PHILSTAGE? The members of PHILSTAGE are the most professional and legitimate theater companies in the Philippines and this “impossible dream grant” will be utilized to create, develop and produce world class Filipino productions for public consumption.

Let me say this in Filipino, “Oo, imported musicals are great PERO MAS PANALO KUNG TATANGKILIKIN AT MAMAHALIN NATIN ANG SARILING ATIN.”

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