culture / Entertainment / music / News / Review / Theater

A peek into the former president’s life

By Nickie Wang

What else don’t we know about the life of Corazon Aquino? As one of the most influential icons in the Philippine modern history, her life is already like an open book in all sense of the word. Her life is even discussed in schools from the time a student is introduced to the world of history, civics and culture.

Cory, the Musical, a stage production inspired by the life of no other than former President Aquino, tells nothing but the old and common facts about the first woman to be ever elected in the highest position in the government.

We had the chance to see the production at the Meralco Theater and what we saw and learned were information and facts already known to everyone. Nothing in the  musical delved deeply on the life of the internationally-recognized leader.

We were told that the musical is not the normal comedy type of production usually staged to imitate politicians and influential people so we didn’t expect to laugh but we did anticipate a musical that would arouse our senses since it’s already a re-run. The musical was first staged in November last year. This serious musical is based on the real-life story of former President Aquino; from her childhood until the 1986 Edsa Revolution. The 70-member cast was headlined by former Miss Saigon star Isay Alvarez as Mrs. Aquino, Robert Seña as Ferdinand Marcos, Pinky Marquez as Imelda, and Sherwyn Sozon as Ninoy Aquino.

The musical started with Cory praying to God through a song that was forgettable in a sense that it did not create a connection with the audience except for the expressive interpretation of Alvarez. The dramatic moment of Cory in her bedroom lead to a series of flashbacks and narratives.

If we were to summarize the almost three-hour musical, we would have to say that it’s a disharmony of bad music, not so creative story, poor technical, good actors and somehow impressive lighting.

The story is not creative enough because it just highlighted chunks of what we already know about Cory and Ninoy. We suggest that Cory and Ninoy, the Musical, as an alternative title to it is more fitting and appropriate since Ninoy was also given equal prominence in the musical.

Nobody at the audience said like, “Oh so that’s what happened,” or “I never knew that, it’s interesting!”

As the production squeezed in all possible stories that could narrate the biography of Cory, director Nestor Torre forgot that people who would watch the show have already been educated about the Philippine history and reiterating almost all of them just to be factual is like sacrificing creativity. The audience was bombarded with quantity of details. However, these details could have been better if the director gave it a more dramatic treatment and not by just instructing the cast to recite them as if the actors are just reading some passages from a history book.

The looking-back style of retelling a life story was a good attempt but we have to remember that the storyteller must go back to the current time when he or she started opening the book of his or her life. Otherwise thinking audience would ask: “What happened to that scene?” Torre was too excited to showcase the triumph of the former president that the hospital chapel scene, where the story flashback started, was left suspended. Instead, he ended the story with a bright yellow rally celebrating the victory of Cory and left the former leader’s prayer as an ill colon cancer patient unanswered.

The chapel scene was also the start of many technical problems that infested the whole production. At that same setting, little children in angel costumes were given headmics that malfunctioned all the way to the end of their act. One of the angels was definitely given more exposure because her mic sounded louder than the others. It was also distracting as headmic feedbacks irked the audience all throughout the show.

Technical problems are inevitable during live performances so we have to give credit to the actors who handled such situation effortlessly. In a scene where the Aquino family was in a picnic, we don’t know if it was really an a cappella number or there was indeed a problem with the sound, because when Noynoy, the only son, was strumming a guitar, the instrument didn’t produce any sound to accompany the singing of the family. The actor who played Noynoy surely didn’t know how to play the musical instrument so he held it with his back facing the audience.

The technical staff, however, made good use of lightings. They were able to bring the lifeless props alive through an imaginative use of lights that set the mood when everything else on the stage seemed less ostentatious.

Actors Isay Alvarez and Sherwyn Sozon gave striking performances. Alvarez particularly gave justice to the role which could have been mishandled if given to other actors. She didn’t just look exactly like Mrs. Aquino on stage but she was able to imitate even the gestures and famous head movements of the first lady president. Sozon, on the other hand, played it well, actually he’s exceptional. His portrayal of Cory’s better half opened a new bevy of Ninoy followers. For some reasons, young people were reintroduced to the great man whose portrait appears on the P500 bill.

The antagonist couple Imelda and Macoy looked lovely as they were portrayed by Pinky Marquez and Robert Seña. If the Marcoses were present at the musical, it wouldn’t be awkward or too harsh for them to stay on their seats and watch the whole production for it didn’t accentuate all the bad issues about them. Although it tackled Cory’s life, the musical was ironically a safe ground for the former dictator’s family.

All in all, we don’t see Cory, the Musical as a poor production if we didn’t have the knowledge that it’s done by professionals and not by college students who could produce or stage the same musical in a theater at their university. Or we guess we just didn’t get the point that the songs used in the musical, which were written by Senator Aquilino Pimentel’s wife, Lourdes, have their own audience and they don’t include the young ones who serve as the next in line to retell the story of Cory and her great contributions to the country and to the world.

(photo credit: rene gaviola)

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