70s musical hit comes to life again



Once very popular in the ‘70s as Holy Week entertainment, Godspell, the musical, is back—and not because foul-mouthed, anti-Catholic Church Rodrigo Duterte is ready to assume the presidency of this country. It’s just that the show’s producers think that it’ time the evangelical musical be brought back to the largely Catholic Philippines this June.

Anton Juan, director of the upcoming Philippine edition, contemplated doing the play six years ago, which inspired him in 2009 to stage the Tagalog/Filipino play Hinabing Pakpak ng Ating mga Anak, which he eventually also filmed. It was only sometime last year that he firmed up the task of putting up Stephen Schwarts’ Godspell with the producers of MusicArtes.

The “off-season” staging of the evangelizing Godspell, is from June 17 to 19 and 24 to 26. The venue is the theater at RCBC Plaza named after a very diplomatic statesman, Carlos P. Romulo, who once headed the United Nations, which Duterte recently castigated brutally for its “inutility.”

Godspell is a reenactment of several parables spun by Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the gospel of Matthew. As catechists and evangelists tell us, Jesus The Teacher had to use parables to soften up the harshness of the lessons on upright, just, and humane behavior. He had to teach the multitude, a mélange of the merely curious, the apathetic, the judgmental, the opportunistic, and the humble who were willing to learn, share, and live a just life.

“In the play, all of us will address each other by our real first names except for Jef Flores whom we will call ‘Jesus’ and OJ Mariano whom we will address first as John (the Baptist) and later as Judas (Iscariot). So I will be Menchu all throughout the play,” explained Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo at the press huddle for the production.

Godspell is about actors who bonded among themselves and move around parts of the United States wherever their resources could bring them for their flash mob performances on a Jesus’ parable or two. Menchu learned from research that the musical’s creator, John-Michael Tebelak, was a graduate student who was an evangelist at heart when he wrote and directed the play off-Broadway.

In that afternoon huddle, Juan really snatched time to thank Lauchengco-Yulo for agreeing to be in the play and to be directed by him. He was sitting aty the sidelines, listening to the cast field questions from the press when he quickly stood up to interrupt the proceedings. He crowed about how thankful he was to the stunning, svelte 50-year-old actress who has long been considered “The First Lady of Philippine Musical Theater.”

She sweetly quipped back, “That’s just acknowledging the fact that I am the oldest in the cast!”

Yes, she must really be the most experienced in the cast (a plus factor for the production) for she seemed to be the only one aware that Godspell further boosted the popularity of rock singer Boy Camara. The singer became a musical theater star in the early ‘70s, a year after he played the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar, mounted 24 times at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Juan is aware, though, of Boy Camara, as well as of other versions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, directed by, among other directors, the late Behn Cervantes.

“You should watch the actual production so you can catch Menchu rapping and dancing. We’re making her do a lot of crazy things in this production, and to her credit, she has never argued with anyone on why she should not do any of it.”

And by “we,” Juan meant choreographer Dexter Santos and youthful musical director EJ Yatco. Santos, who directs plays and musicals himself, has a reputation for “not knowing how to create uncomplicated steps and body movement.” Yatco, on the other hand, created music of seven genres for the production.

“One musical number took us four days of rehearsals to complete–both vocals and choreo, and without musical accompaniment because it’s all in a capella,” said Lauchengco-Yulo at how challenging and exciting Juan’s Godspell will be.

Others in the cast are Topper Fabregas, Red Concepcion, Poppert Bernadas, Rhenwyn Gabalonzo, Caisa Borromeo, Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, Maronne Cruz, Abi Sulit, and Gab Pangilinan. But they will not be the only components of the production that will be worth watching.

“Even the videos to be flashed at various points of the production will be worth watching and will be integral to the show. They will be scenes of social, economic, and political realities in many parts of the world. They are scenes that call for social justice which, for me, is Jesus Christ’s palpable, liberating theology. Jesus Christ was not–is not– concerned with doctrines but with social justice for the marginalized and victimized,” stressed the director of the multi-media production Godspell .


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