Cayabyab-Lumbera’s ‘Noli’ musical to debut in Los Angeles

Cayabyab-Lumbera’s ‘Noli’ musical to debut in Los Angeles
By Walter Ang
Aug. 16, 2104
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Teatro Pilipino USA is staging a one-night-only performance of the musical "Noli Me Tangere" in Los Angeles this August, with the English supertitles provided by Palanca-award winner Chynna Roxas.

Music is by Ryan Cayabyab and libretto is by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera. The world premiere was directed by Nonon Padilla, founding artistic director of Tanghalang Pilipino, in 1995 at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The original cast included Monique Wilson as Maria Clara, Audie Gemora and John Arcilla alternating as Crisostomo Ibarra, Bernardo Bernardo and Bodjie Pascua as Damaso, and Nanette Inventor and Sheila Francisco as Dona Victorina.

TP has had two other directors stage their interpretations of the musical in Manila: Paul Morales in 2005 with set design by New York-based Clint Ramos, and Audie Gemora in 2011 with set design by Mio Infante.

Original direction
TP also toured the musical in Japan and Malaysia. For its US premiere, Olga Natividad, a former actress with TP now based in Los Angeles, is directing.

"I am restaging Nonon Padilla's original direction because I think his version is definitive in terms of this adaptation. To do it otherwise is like redoing a Hitchcock classic and failing to surpass it. Stick to Nonon's opus na lang."

Natividad was part of the ensemble of the original staging, aside from portraying lead and character roles in many other TP productions. She has acted for New York-based companies such as Theater Workshop Company, Sanford Meisner Theater, Diverscity Theatre and Ma-yi Theater Company.

"We've asked permission from the original creators to restage it the way it was, including Edna Vida's choreography. We will also be using the set and costume designs of the late Salvador `Badong' Bernal, National Artist for Theater Design. We borrowed the original costumes from Tanghalang Pilipino."

Passing the baton
Two Filipino performers now based in the US are playing the lead roles. Miguel Vera is Crisostomo Ibarra, a role he reprises from Manila restagings of the show. Vera was part of the ensemble in the West End staging of "Miss Saigon" and has also performed in other TP productions.

His children with actress Ai-Ai delas Alas, Sophia Andrea and Sean Niccolo, are part of the ensemble.

"This is a family affair. Lahat sila are part of the play," says Natividad, laughing.

Coloratura soprano Maria Cristina "Kit" Navarro plays Maria Clara. A graduate of the Philippine High School for the Arts (Theater Major), she has a Bachelor of Music Major in Voice degree from University of the Philippines and a Diploma in Musical Theater Studies from Biel Conservatory, Switzerland. She was a former member-soloist of the Philippine Madrigal Singers and the UP Filipiniana Dance Group.

The cast also includes other TP alumni.

"We have Nenen Espina, who was Cayabyab's assistant musical director. We have Angela Garcia as Sisa, Ariel Dayanghirang as Salvi, Joji Isla as Damaso," says Natividad. "Some of the cast performed in the original production or in the touring productions or in non-Padilla stagings. Not only is it a wonderful reunion, but now, they are passing the baton to the new cast of `Noli.'

"If 'Noli' becomes successful, TPU plans to produce more Filipino plays. The one-night show is meant for potential showbuyers and producers. They are interested in touring the show to other states, but we can't seal the deal until they really see it. We want to give them an alternative form of entertainment."

TPU will be performing "Noli" in Tagalog but will have English supertitles because "we considered our audience and not all of them are Pinoys," says Natividad. "Also, some of our cast members, especially the kids, do not really understand Tagalog, partly because it's deep Tagalog."

Natividad says of directing the young Filipino-American actors born in the US or those who relocated there while very young: "The Fil-Am kids are very receptive. They couldn't understand the language so basically they take visual cues and music cues, but they're trying their best to learn the language. The translation helps."

"I was really scared when Olga first contacted me," says Roxas, a former stage manager with TP now based in Guam. "I'd done translations and adaptations before, but nothing ever like this: A National Artist's interpretation of a National Hero's novel! I hope that I was able to stay faithful to and give justice to their works.

"I took time in reading and researching. I also consulted Jovy Peregrino, a Filipino teacher. I asked permission to do adaptations at some points because I'm scared I might lose the beautiful poetry of Lumbera's libretto if I do direct translations.

"I felt that I had to make the English translation poetic as well, especially with the songs' lyrics, but I veered away from making it too flowery or complex because it should be understandable by audiences who have never heard of the novel.

"This project made me appreciate the Filipino language more. Walang wika na sing-ganda at kay sarap bigkasin nang paulit-ulit."

"Noli Me Tangere: The Musical" runs Aug. 23 at Aratani Japan America Theater, 244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles. Contact or like on Facebook (Teatro-Pilipino-USA).

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Gia Macuja bags role of Imelda’s nanny in West End ‘Here Lies Love’

Gia Macuja bags role of Imelda’s nanny in West End ‘Here Lies Love’
By Walter Ang
Aug. 9, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Singer Mark Bautista has been cast in the role of Ferdinand Marcos for the West End staging of "Here Lies Love," a musical about the life of Imelda Marcos.

London-based soprano Gia Macuja-Atchison, a former actress with Repertory Philippines and sister of Ballet Manila founding artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, has been cast as Estrella Cumpas, Imelda's nanny.

The production is scheduled to begin previews on Sept. 30 and will officially open in October at Dorfman Theatre (formerly Cottesloe Theatre) in the National Theatre building.

This follows the casting of Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi in the West End revival of "Miss Saigon," along with Julia Abueva and Tanya Manalang as alternates for Kim.

Bautista was previously in (now defunct) Viva Atlantis Theatrical's "Full Monty" and Tanghalang Pilipino's "Noli Me Tangere."

Created by musician David Byrne and DJ/music producer Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook, the show premiered Off-Broadway last year and had a limited run. It won the 2013 Obie Award for Music and Lyrics and is showing again in New York this year, with New York-based Jose Llana reprising his role as Ferdinand Marcos.

Costume design is by New York-based Clint Ramos; critics have lauded his work as "vast and fabulous" (New York Times), "[providing] beautiful symmetry" (The Hollywood Reporter), and "top-notch" (New York Magazine).

Macuja's audition process started in May with the casting directors in the UK.

"I was called back six times, learning several songs and dialogue. When the American team came, I was called in three more times with a lot more dancing auditions until the final decisions were made," she says.

"It was very tough and hard going. Nakakanerbiyos sobra! As we were up against so many talented people not only from the UK but all over the world.

"I got a call from my agent and found out I was being offered the role of Estrella the day after the final auditions. I screamed for joy. Yes, singers are allowed to scream!" she says.

"After having the opportunity to perform the roles of Vietnamese Gigi and American Ellen in 'Miss Saigon,' then South African Nala in 'The Lion King' here in the West End, initially it felt a bit surreal to be singing as a Filipina about the Philippines here in the UK! What an honor! It makes me feel so proud!

"I think this is a fantastic opportunity to share something about Philippine history to the entire world," she says.

Macuja was with Rep in the '90s, playing roles such as Mary Magdalene in "Jesus Christ Superstar," Cosette in "Les Miserables" and Luisa in "The Fantasticks."

"I felt I needed to spread my wings abroad and the opportunity came for me to study," she says. She moved to London in 1997 to take a one-year post-graduate course in Musical Theatre at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

She then joined "Miss Saigon" for a year and then Walt Disney Theatrical's "The Lion King" until 2004, the same year she married violinist and conductor Robert Atchison.

"Since leaving 'The Lion King,' motherhood has kept me very busy. I have two children and the lifestyle here in England is very different from the Philippines, especially when you don't have family around to help. We have no yayas," she says.

Singing trio
Nonetheless, you can't keep a performer down for too long. She's formed a singing trio, called West End Mamas (, together with Cez Campos-Bonner and Maya Barredo-Duffy (both of whom have played Kim in "Miss Saigon").

The group performs in various London events and was in Manila earlier this year to perform in Ballet Manila's "Heart 2 Heart" and was in last year's "Ballets and Ballads."

She has also been doing some film work and is head of vocal coaching at Grosvenor School of Performing Arts.

Macuja has already started preparing for her role even before rehearsals begin.

"I have been researching and reading up on the life of Imelda. For me, whether you are portraying a fictitious character or a real one, the biggest challenge is making a character come alive given all the material you have. With Estrella, I have been told she is meant to be Imelda's `rock'. the one that just tells the truth as it was, which Imelda eventually rejects. I feel this is much more exciting because this all actually happened!"

"I have been keeping my voice in shape by doing vocal exercises as much as I can. I have also been taking regular ballet class as there is going to be a lot of dancing in the show. I am the singer, my sister is the dancer!" she adds, laughing.

"Martial Law was a very difficult time for a lot of people, including my father Cesar Macuja, who served in the Marcos government as deputy prime minister as well as undersecretary of trade, among his many other positions in government.  He was the first high-ranking government official to resign from the Marcos government before the 1986 Edsa revolution.

"When I told him I got the part, he said he was happy for me, but that it is a time in his life he would rather forget. I hope he comes to see me in `Here Lies Love' in London. I have always admired his courage to fight for what he believed in. We must not forget that there were also good and honest people during that time. My father fought for five years and won all cases brought against him."

For the New York production, visit For the West End production, visit

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