The Review (But You Could Barely Say It Is One)
To be clear, I am no expert in theater reviews and I only wrote a school play once and it’s not even a musical! I am just someone who has a friend with a free ticket to giveaway, and yes I did grab it cause who would not want to go to Resorts World Manila and say that you’re watching a musical play? And of course who hates musicals? Certainly not me! I love musicals, from Sound of Music to High School Musical, well those were films but hey, they were still musicals! So let’s see…….yes I have watched musical school plays like The Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid. As for professional musicals, I’ve got The Rak of Aegis to brag about (which I would say was fantastic), other than that, I have watched none.
So there was me all excited to finally watch a professional musical stage production once again and it is not just about some unknown story but a re-incarnation of a Filipino film classic, Bituing Walang Ningning. It is the film which holds the claim to the most quoted line in Philippine history which is, “You’re nothing but a second rate, trying hard, copy-cat!” *Famous splash of water*
I have to admit, I barely knew the film before watching the play. I knew that it starred Sharon Cuneta and Cherie Gil and that it has that famous bitch line and that it was made into a TV series which starred Sarah Geronimo and Angelica Dela Cruz on the leading roles.
To give you a brief on the story, Bituing Walang Ningning has a very familiar storyline in which a wide-eyed sampaguita vendor, Dorina Pineda is obsessed with a self-centered singer, Lavinia Arguelles. Then there’s this man Nico Escobar who serves as both Lavinia’s manager and boyfriend. He eventually discovers Dorina’s talent for singing and to give Lavinia a lesson and a competition, he raised Dorina into stardom. However, fate leads him into falling in love with Dorina and making the rivalry between the two women more complicated.
Then came Antoinette Taus as Lavinia with an opening plaza musical number. I certainly saw Taus as anti-protagonist ever since and the character suited her on a certain degree. Though I just felt like that Lavinia could have more star power feels when you watch her, which I did not see on Taus. It’s really hard to put up with a Cherie Gil iconic role. Dorina, on the other hand, was played by the new comer, Monica Cuenco. On that first time she sang the folk song, ‘Usahay,’ she already had set herself apart to be recognized as a star. I liked the fact that she is a fresh face, untried, and struggling to get used to a new world exactly like the role she portrays. That makes acting on this less unfamiliar and easier for her I suppose. Nevertheless, I see undeniable charm in her that actually quite resembles that of Sarah Geronimo at times or I don’t know maybe she’s trying to imitate Geronimo on purpose.
Mark Bautista as Nico Escobar is a perfect match I would say. There were just some times in which he over dramatized his acting that it kind of felt awkward and unnatural. He was trying to sound old but it could’ve been better if he used the modern way of speaking. Ronnie Liang, the famous singer of ‘Ngiti,’ is such a charmer that I even questioned why Dorina would choose Nico over Liang’s character, Garry Diaz. I would just have to comment on Liang’s vocal performance because more than anyone, he is obviously the one most struggling on theater singing, being a pop singer has probably a lot to do with the reason why.
Compared to Rak of Aegis, Bituing Walang Ningning certainly has a bigger production but I would say that the former had better shots on making people react with its comedic edge and in which the latter tried to do but failed a few times. Nevertheless, that moment when Dorina first sang Bituing Walang Ningning with a gigantic white dress lit up by sparkling projected stars was seriously breathtaking. The huge screens as backdrops also made the entire production more interesting and appealing to one’s eyes.
The production also succeeded on reliving OPM classics of Filipino composer Willy Cruz like ‘Pangarap na Bituin,’ ‘Sana’y Maghintay ang Walang Hanggan,’ ‘Init sa Magdamag,’ ‘Kumusta ka,’ ‘ Magandang Gabi,’ ‘ and of course the titular song, ‘Bituing Walang Ningning.’ I barely knew some of these songs before, but after the show I actually found myself singing a few lines on repeat until I ended up searching for some of it online. Thankfully, Mr. Cruz’s songs were given justice. Truly, Filipinos are the best singers in the world.
Bituin Walang Ningning the Musical in the end did showcase not only the Filipino culture and identity but the world-class Filipino talent as well. For that, I would say that it is worth its 3 hour run. The leaders of the industry should get serious on investing in more high-concept entertainment like this that maintains or raise the bar of quality art forms and inspire better works to come.