After almost three hours of tears and laughters, Mula sa Buwan ended with well-deserved thunderous rounds of applause. Yet even as the curtains closed on the night's performance, there was a lot to unpack for the sold-out crowd.
Based on the play Cyrano de Bergerac, Mula sa Buwan was created by Pat Valera and William Elvin Manzano in 2010. Its origins were made possible largely because of Cyrano’s Filipino translation by legendary playwright and renaissance man, Soc Rodrigo. Mula sa Buwan was a huge success in 2016, and has since had equally successful runs in the years after.
Valera and Manzano were able to tap into the zeitgeist by turning the play into a musical about unrequited love. Mula sa Buwan is set in the 1940s Manila, where young idealists fight for their place in a country on the brink of war. This milieu has allowed the play to explore socio-political themes in each of its iterations.
“Theater, as live and alive, must respond to what is present,” Valera told PhilSTAR L!fe in an email interview. “(Mula sa Buwan) focuses now on the band of fools whose only desire was for a better country—but are not rewarded for it.”
Valera readily admits that these hints at current events are more prominent in this year’s staging of Mula sa Buwan. I should note that this takes nothing away from the original story by Edmond Rostand. If anything, the plot is enhanced by it.
“We are all in pain, the younger generation most importantly,” Valera added. “But do we just yearn to escape? Or see the ‘moon’ for what it is, wounded? ‘Sugatang buwan, sa'yo ba ay maari pa rin tumahan?’ I think now the play asks us to confront our pains, see hope, no matter how small and fragile, and take the step.”
Roxane, Cyrano’s love interest, is ably played Gab Pangilinan. Pangilinan has an angelic voice that carries the heavy emotions her character goes through and make it resonate with the audience. This is particularly evident in her performance of “Ang Sabi Nila” in the second half of the play, when Roxane’s husband has died during the war.
Roxane in Mula sa Buwan is also a more dynamic character than in the original Cyrano de Bergerac. Pangilinan is playing an empowered woman in the 1940s—something that reflects her own persona, particularly during recent times.
“Coming in to play the role of Roxane for a second time, we had to revisit the very heart of the story and ask ourselves, ‘For the audience and the times of today, what is it that we really want to say?’” Pangilinan said. “2022 Roxane is definitely a much more empowered, headstrong woman than 2018 Roxane. And I think it also has a lot to do with how 2022 Gab is a braver, much more vocal, stronger woman than 2018 Gab.”
We are all in pain, the younger generation most importantly. But do we just yearn to escape? Or see the ‘moon’ for what it is, wounded? ‘Sugatang buwan, sa'yo ba ay maari pa rin tumahan?’ I think now the play asks us to confront our pains, see hope, no matter how small and fragile, and take the step.
Pangilinan added that as storytellers in today’s context, “it is important to tell the kind of stories that reflect who you are as a person and what it is you stand for.”
She credited the whole artistic team of Mula Sa Buwan in building the character of Roxane into a headstrong individual. “The artistic team and company are also filled with like-minded individuals who stand for the same things. And, really, it is always a privilege to be able to tell stories that go beyond ourselves.”
Myke Salomon, who plays the lead Cyrano, is a revelation here. Salomon, who has previously played the role of Cyrano’s rival, Christian, plays a stubborn and defiant, yet loving and gentle lead character. He also serves as the musical director of this year’s staging of Mula sa Buwan. Salomon tells me he almost turned down the role of Cyrano.
“We started doing pre-production preparations since January 2022 (when) the question popped if I am willing to do/try for the role of Cyrano,” Salomon recalled. “I remember my brain saying no. So I said no.”
This hasty reply was purely instinctive, Salomon added. Coming off the pandemic, he had zero hopes of ever performing on stage again. And when it started to happen, Salomon felt that the weight of playing the lead while also being the play’s musical director was too much responsibility for him to bear.
“It took weeks for me to impulsively say, ‘yes i think i can do it.’ Im willing to try. I (just) closed my eyes everyday and just enjoyed the ride and worked harder than ever,” Salomon said.
Both Salomon and Pangilinan deftly navigate the emotions of their respective roles as star-crossed lovers. So much so that even when I knew how the story would end, I was still moved by it all.
I mean, what can you say about an entire industry that was, once upon a time, put on hold due to a pandemic, but all of a sudden, allowed to move forward, to tell stories, to hope again? That’s what it felt like.
The whole production of Mula sa Buwan has worked seamlessly to create an immersive environment. The lighting and set pieces in the stage of the Samsung Performing Arts Theater in Makati were absolutely gorgeous. The choreography was breathtaking, especially in the song “Manifesto” where Phi Palmos’s powerful performance as cabaret owner Rosanna was punctuated by a lively dance involving chairs and tables. What resulted was a play that you can lose yourself into. I almost forgot that this was not at all possible just a year ago.
“We rehearsed since June (2022). It was a long process so that we can slowly go back and relearn what we forgot as theater artists, a total review of what our bodies can do,” Salomon told PhilSTAR L!fe.
“I mean, what can you say about an entire industry that was, once upon a time, put on hold due to a pandemic, but all of a sudden, allowed to move forward, to tell stories, to hope again? That’s what it felt like,” Pangilinan added.
Valera is naturally overjoyed at the success of Mula sa Buwan’s opening weekend. “The first week was indeed surprising and encouraging. But the first week is just one show a day. We'll have five shows per week in the next two weeks and we hope that the audiences come.”
Perhaps it is this added layer of shared experience with the cast and its audience, dealing with the traumas of a pandemic that has put everyone’s lives on hold for two years, that has made this year’s staging of Mula sa Buwan a triumph in and of itself. It is a final ingredient in an already rich story of yearnings of belonging, and at times not being successful in this endeavor.
But for at least three hours, we can all savor in the success of the return of theater and the wonderful worlds it offers as refuge for our weary souls.