Happenings, Theater
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Musical Review: HIMALA by The Sandbox Collective x 9 Works Theatrical

Watching Himala: Ang Musikal taught me two things. First, that I hadn’t seen it before. Second, YES—the hype was real.

Everyone said it was an experience that would stay with you, but I didn’t want to pin my hopes on other people’s opinions. After watching the play for myself, I can say that it was a musical experience unlike any I’ve witnessed before. It was disturbing and painful and beautifully made, and I hope more people get to enjoy it.

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From the moment I entered the Power Mac Center Spotlight and walked into the remote barrio called Cupang, I felt that charged hush in the air. The seats were arranged theater-in-the-round style, with the audience separated from the small, open stage by simple wooden fences and sparse stalks of leaves. As people wandered into the center, there were no performers, only townspeople of Cupang dealing with their personal struggles in the midst of drought. I had a front-row seat to Elsa’s confession to their priest about seeing the Virgin Mary. I watched from the sidelines as Elsa’s healing powers made her a celebrity, and I witnessed Cupang and its villagers change and descend into chaos with the onslaught of tourists.

At times, it was confusing. I’d hear a voice from a distant corner then peer at the opposite direction when another group comes bustling in. But it grounded me further into the reality of the scene, making me feel like I was there—a bystander taking it all in with a mounting sense of dread at what was to come. There were times Elsa and her best friend Chayong were just inches away from me, and I felt like I was intruding on their private conversation and their pain.

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Yes, director Ed Lacson Jr‘s staging was immersive and unique. The intimacy of it challenged the actors to stay rooted in their characters, and they delivered. Whether it was Kakki Teodoro providing dark humor as Nimia, Neomi Gonzales being the dutiful and devout Chayong, Sandino Martin struggling to find the means to work abroad, or Floyd Tena trying to keep the peace as priest—each of the people onstage told their own personal story and helped build the collective tragedy of Cupang. Aicelle Santos stepped into Elsa’s skin with so much conviction that I had no doubt she had found the essence of the controversial lead. Despite the relative silence of her character, Bituin Escalante portrayed Elsa’s mother with quiet strength and steadfast love that especially shone through in her solo.

One of my favorite parts about Himala was how sound—and sometimes the lack of it—was as much a character as the people. Having only a lone piano as accompaniment highlighted the emotion in the actor’s voices. And by going mic-free, their voices sounded crisper and purer, showing off the compelling lyrics of musical director Vince DeJesus.

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I used to wonder why the most memorable musicals are the saddest, most dramatic ones. But while I love happy musicals and that light, bubbly feeling they give me, I realized that the highs of their happy ever afters pale next to the vast, aching lows of tragic theater. Sadness and heartbreak and those other emotions that fall on the dark end of the spectrum pierce deeper and leave an ache long after the cut.

Himala resonated all the more because it was so genuinely Filipino and hit so close to home. Even though it was based on the 1982 film, it still felt relevant. The struggles of the characters still hold true—the yearning to belong, the need for something to believe in, the desperation to survive. At times, I wanted to look away or stand up and yell at everyone to snap back to their senses. It made me think about how easy it is to get caught up in the frenzy of the crowd and to judge when you’re on the outside looking in.

But Himala showed that many individual stories make up a headline, and these stories involve people who, like us, have their own dreams and problems. Its parting song reminded me that we are miracles in ourselves and that we are capable of making miracles. It’s a heavy, powerful message that could just help change the world. It left me asking myself, “What miracles can I create for others?”

Definitely a must-watch.

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HimalaCharacterPosters2 Ricky Lee and Vincent DeJesus’ Himala: Isang Musikal will be showing at the Power MAC Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati until March 4, 2018.

For inquiries and tickets, contact 0917.5545560, 586.7105, sab@thesandboxcollective.com, or Ticketworld at 891.9999. For a list of show buyers and contact details, please visit The Sandbox Collective or 9 Works Theatrical online. 

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