‘Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag’ is now a musical
Considered as one of the greatest Philippine literary works of all time, Edgardo Reyes’ Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (“In the Claws of Brightness”), will soon alight the stage as a musical.
First published in 1968, Reyes’ gripping tale follows Julio and Ligaya, two natives of Marinduque who learned the hard way of the realities of living in their dream city, Manila.
The novel earned greater prominence when it was adapted in the 1975 film Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag (“Manila in the Claws of Light”), an award-winning classic directed by the late Philippine National Artist for Cinema Lino Brocka.
Moreover, the movie launched the careers of Hilda Koronel and then-newcomer Bembol Roco, and received nods from both local and international critics.
It therefore goes without saying that adapting this noted work of art into a new medium in theater will be challenging.
But with director Joel Lamangan, whose films include “The Flor Contemplacion Story,” “Hubog” and “Bulaklak Ng Maynila,” at the helm, and the 40-year-old Gantimpala Theater Foundation as brains of the project, fans of the classic movie can—and should—have high hopes.
Soaring music, brilliant choreography
Admittedly, Lamangan found the musical adaptation challenging as the complex prose needs to synthesize into a two-act, two-hour play with complementing music and choreography.
“The characters should come out onstage as real people who have the heart and soul in everything they will do—be it dancing or singing. My goal for this project is for the live audience to feel that these actors and actresses are merely sharing concerns, complaints, frustrations and even dreams,” Lamangan noted.
To do just so, Lamangan first assembled a group of artists who will build the backbone of “Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, The Musical:” Von De Guzman, composer and musical director; Jose Victor Torres and Em Mendez, libretto; Joey Nombres, lights designer; Douglas Nierras, choreographer; and Jun Flavier Pablo, production design. Full House Asia Production Studios, Inc. acts as line producer.
Composer de Guzman shared just how Lamangan wanted the musical to be as remarkable as the story’s original forms.
“Direk Joel wanted memorable melodies for the play, so the ballads will have the feel of a George Canseco and/or Willy Cruz composition. As for the fast numbers, we have incorporated very Filipino elements of singkil, ati-atihan chants, mostly percussion-driven kind of music. And then we have the strains of kundiman in the other numbers,” he imparted.
As such, de Guzman said the cast is required to have lungs of steel.
Actors Arman Ferrer, Sheila Valderrama-Martinez, and Lara Maigue easily fit the bill.
Ferrer who plays Julio Madiaga sees the role as “a good learning experience.” Valderrama-Martinez and Maigue alternate as Julio’s love interest, Ligaya Paraiso, and are very excited to work with the noted director Lamangan.
Most daring role
As for the classic opera singer and theater actress Maigue, the role of Ligaya is one of the most daring and challenging she has done so far.
“I usually play the little girl in the opera or the teenage girl, the Maria Clara type. So playing a young woman with child is really new for me,” Maigue told The Manila Times at the sidelines of the musical’s press conference.
However, Maigue was not intimidated with Ligaya’s role.
“It being a musical, I’d consider it more adjustable for me. As you know, when it’s a musical, it can’t be too heavy going because it’s going to be hard for the audience to take in,” the 26-year-old noted.
Maigue admitted, however, that she has already sought the help of college friends in University of the Philippines Diliman, whom she refers as “worshippers” of the original novel, to prepare for her role.
Finally, the actress shared why she thinks a story of this nature will still resonate at this particular time and with a younger generation.
“What Julio and Ligaya experience are still happening in the world, and in our country. Something filthy is still happening in Manila. I just hope that this musical will be an eye-opener especially for the younger audience,” Maigue ended.