OF RICKY LEE'S PLAYS
HIMALA: ISANG MUSIKAL
Theater review: Immersive ‘Himala’ will overwhelm you (09/27/2019)
Prepare to get uncomfortable when intimate moments unfold; you’re an eavesdropper to a quarrel between lovers, or a witness, even an accomplice, to a crime.
The emotive portrayals and soaring notes certainly deserve applause, but that hardly comes around. You will hesitate, for doing so feels almost intrusive to a character contemplating her life, or two friends reconciling, or a grieving man’s simmering rage.
Then the line is blurred further when the ensemble fills the performance space, at certain points spilling over to the audience area.
Director Ed Lacson tasked the ensemble to each name their character and stick to it from the start to finish, lending a sense of familiarity and affinity whenever they’re on stage (or standing beside your seat).
A boisterous scene at the “kabaret,” for instance, comes off as seeing neighbors merrymaking. It’s also easy to imagine being a customer there, if you so wish, with the audience mere feet away from the tables where beer, and women, are served.
With the exception of actually stepping on stage, experiencing The Sandbox Collective and 9 Works Theatrical’s production of “Himala: Isang Musikal” is nothing short of immersive — to the point of getting overwhelming, given its story.
Precisely because of the restraint and intimacy of many of its scenes, the decidedly bigger moments — combined with the immersive setup —can be emotionally engulfing.
That payoff is especially felt when Elsa gathers the townspeople, in a climactic scene that positions the cast in such a way that the audience, too, are attendees and witnesses of the healer’s revelation.
“Walang himala!” she says. “Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao.”
The gunshot that follows, and the resulting pandemonium, are a stirring sequence that deeply affects and makes you think well after you’ve vacated your spot in Cupang.
Lee and de Jesus, who were present during this show, agreed that the immersive aspect gave a stronger punch to the emotions already inherent in the material...
BWW Review: HIMALA Makes the Audience Witnesses to Cupang's Events (09/29/2019)
Himala: Isang Musikal may be one of the best original Filipino musicals there is. It doesn't rely on the grand, lavish, and elite packaging of theater and simply delivers vulnerability and emotional storytelling.
Manila, Philippines - It's not every day that you step inside a theatre and find yourself somewhere else. As soon as you walk inside, you are immediately transported to the quiet, barren town of Cupang. With Himala: Isang Musikal, every aspect of the stage design works so perfectly that it becomes a completely immersive experience for the audience, something you can't quite feel with a proscenium stage.
An in-the-round staging isn't one that any production can just pull off. Others fail miserably, some stage it in a way that would have also worked had it been done on a proscenium stage, and some pull it off so well that you can't imagine it working any other way, which is where Himala falls under.
The intimate setting makes it possible to hear murmurs, whispers, and bits of conversation from the people of Cupang. The audience becomes witnesses as the happenings of the town unfold. Being so close to the cast allows us to observe the nuances, reactions, and emotions of the people coming in and out of the space. It is a real and very raw staging of a piece, one that flows so naturally that none of it feels forced.
Ed Lacson Jr.'s direction is so impeccable that you can't not notice how good it is. Every detail is charged with meaning, even the smallest of sighs or brief eye contact between two actors. In terms of the storytelling and the atmosphere of the musical, it does stay truthful to the original film, but it doesn't just bank on people's nostalgia - it holds merit on its own. Even if one had never seen the film before and had no idea about it, they'll still be able to enjoy the musical, perhaps even more because the twists and turns will be just as shocking to them as they were to the Filipino audiences in 1982 when the film was first released.
BWW Review: HIMALA: ISANG MUSIKAL Tells Its Story Similar to The Original Film (02/25/2018)
Even if one is quite familiar with the plot twists and highlights of its classic story, this
production still succeeds in keeping the audience interested in and invested on how a
peculiar town and its residents embrace the "miracle" brought about by a conventional
barrio lass, named Elsa, and her ability to heal the sick, through the intercession of the
Blessed Virgin Mary.
With such a big story taking place in a Filipino town in the 1980s, creating a stage that
resembles what a desolate town looked or felt like is already challenging to pull off. But
for this production to be able to transport the audience into this barrio, called Cupang,
and taking their experience to another level with a minimalist stage and with a simple
piano accompaniment, is a marvelous feat.
Committed to this vision of making the setting of the play as organic as possible is Ed
Lacson Jr., who serves as the show's director and set designer. His work in this show
reminds us of Brilliante Mendoza (a multi-awarded director and production designer)
in Philippine cinema. Lacson's oddly dispersed stage is a composition of three spaces:
an almost-bare quadrangle at the center, where most of the action happens, and, at
each endpoint of the quadrangle's diagonal are two more "side stages" that serves as
Elsa's house and one that resembles an elevated ground or hill where she goes to pray
to the Blessed Mother.
In addition, Lacson directs his actors to also occupy or "perform" in three smaller
"pockets of space," whenever necessary. These dynamics in stage direction cleverly
stimulate from the audience that sense of curiosity within a community, a
psychosocial aspect that's important for this type of material. We vividly remember our
reaction when the song "Bulungbulungan" (What Is This I Hear?) was staged. We get to
hear pockets of conversation and observe nuances being displayed by the actors who
happen to be in close proximity to where we are seated. In another scene, a
confrontation is being staged at the other end of the theatre and we see members of
the audience instantly stretching out their necks or turning their heads toward that
area. Lacson's staging requires no "breaking of the fourth wall" just so he can make
this theatrical experience as immersive as possible. In fact, it feels as if there was no
fourth wall to begin with because the audience immediately gets to be living witnesses
or imaginary kibitzers of what transpires in this town...