REVIEW: 'Mula sa Buwan' shines brighter this time around

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Adapting Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac" with a local flavor, the musical "Mula sa Buwan" is characterized with its romanticism, from its set design to its dialogue. Screenshot from MULA SA BUWAN/YOUTUBE OFFICIAL

Adapting Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac" with a local flavor, the musical "Mula sa Buwan" is characterized with its romanticism, from its set design to its dialogue.

The musical is written and directed by Pat Valera with the original music by William Elvin Manzano. It follows a squad of cadets led by the poetic Cyrano (Myke Salomon), as they traverse each of their own romances and passions in a period of idealism. For Cyrano, his heart is captured by his childhood friend Roxanne (Gab Pangilinan). But Roxanne is enamored by the newly arrived Christian (Markki Stroem). The three, as all of the characters, are thrown into an upheaval as the threat of a looming war finally arrives.

"Mula sa Buwan" has lived a life of its own. Starting as a limited production early in the 2010s, it staged its first full run in 2016 at the Ateneo de Manila University's Irving Hall. After another run in Ateneo in 2018, it graduated to be staged in its grandest production yet.

The 2018 run of "Mula sa Buwan" had heart, but it also had many flaws. It followed a structure typical of musicals. The first act is an idyllic scenario, where characters and relationships are established and the central conflict, a love triangle, is set in motion. The second act served as a rupture, where an external actor, war in this case, forcing the characters into maturity; the central conflict having to be addressed with the rupture looming in the background.

The story was simple, if not too formulaic to be forgettable. The production design setting up the milieu is far more commendable. However, its venue, the Hyundai Hall in Ateneo, did not serve "Mula sa Buwan" to its advantage. The sound system and its limited stage space even hamper the play's biggest strengths: the aforementioned production design, its dialogue, and most of all, the singing. A fatal oversight for a musical indeed.

However, ever since watching this rendition of "Mula sa Buwan," the songs continue to be the hook that keeps me wanting to get back to the musical. Songs like "Ang Sabi Nila," "Ikaw," and "Tinig sa Dilim" harken to the tenderness of the kundiman. I imagine it is the same with a lot of people, especially those who got to see "Mula sa Buwan" earlier with its 2016 run in a smaller venue.

Clamor for a new run for "Mula sa Buwan" continued, until hopes were shattered when the pandemic happened. When "Ang Huling El Bimbo" was released publicly for streaming when everyone was indoors during the pandemic, theater nerds were wondering whether "Mula sa Buwan" was next to be released for streaming. However, aside from accessibility (nonetheless a very important value for any work of art) streaming did not do fairly for “El Bimbo” The filmed version of the play stripped down a lot of elements that made it distinct and effective. Burdened by an already controversial narrative, its spectacle was also hindered for full impact. Simply put, theater needs to be seen live on-stage.

But anxiety mixed with excitement over the prospect of seeing "Mula sa Buwan" again online because of the precedent set by "Ang Huling El Bimbo."

"By focusing more on the characters and the main conflict of unrecognized love and less on war, we invest our hearts to its heart."

But alas, another run of "Mula sa Buwan" was finally announced. It was not a taped version for online streaming. This time, it was staged at the new Samsung Performing Arts Theater. This marks the biggest local theater production to be mounted since the pandemic began.

For theater, every show is always different. Shortcomings of previous shows are retooled to enhance further ones. For "Mula sa Buwan," a bigger production yet a more restrained focus on the milieu is a clever sleight that vastly improved itself. By focusing more on the characters and the main conflict of unrecognized love and less on war, we invest our hearts to its heart.

Everytime Phi Palmos gets the spotlight as Rosanna, the house gets electrified. This is evident the moment the first notes in his entrance with "Manifesto" is sung. He is rivaled only by Gab Pangilinan, especially in her climactic solo "Ang Sabi Nila.” Pangilinan gives her best to give justice to Roxanne's ordeals. While she gave the character the most life through her vocals, I only wish that she was given more character depth.

Gab Pangilinan in "Mula Sa Buwan." Photo from MULA SA BUWAN/FACEBOOK

Even though previous actors who played Cyrano captured the character's playful yet somber demeanor better, Myke Salomon is able to imbue his very own confident guile to the lead character. He also translates Cyrano's singing voice best.

Markki Stroem depicts Christian's charming awkwardness better than Salomon. But Salomon has the better presence. Stroem sticks out too much apart from the rest of the ensemble only because of his chiseled foreign features, which are no fault of his own.

Is the grander production a distraction? Some may agree. However, what's set in the mere background does not render it functionless. The massive set design, elaborate costumes, and even the milieu of war all play together to create a full experience simply by being there. Such is the spectacle of theater.

Still, the sound system remained a problem. For a musical, one would assume that making sure this is at its most optimal is top priority. However, when the performances are underway, it's hard not to be sucked in at the moment.

With a December run set in place, time would only tell what other improvements "Mula sa Buwan" would make in order to tell its most optimal story of love. Real-life behind the scenes romance like the engagement of its two leads, Pangilinan and Salomon would surely help to enhance the emotion set forth on-stage.

Visit mulasabuwan.com for updates on the show’s December run.