The Sandbox Collective and 9 Works Theatrical are re-staging Ricky Lee and Vincent DeJesus’ Himala: Isang Musikal based on the 1982 critically acclaimed classic by the late Ishmael Bernal.
After the presscon, I’ve never been more excited to see a musical. Especially that the root material was a film I’ve been watching in Cinema One (formely Pinoy Blockbuster Channel) when I was a child every lazy afternoon. In case you hadn’t already known, Himala‘s story centers on Elsa who claims to have the power of healing after the Blessed Virgin Mary appears to her. News of her miracles spread within and beyond her hometown Cupang attracting thousands of sick and curious followers. This causes an irreversible disturbance to the once sleepy town.
A Film, A Book and A Musical
As Director Ed Lacson, Jr. would put it, “This story wouldn’t exist anywhere else in the world.” It’s very Pinoy. This may be one reason why Himala became so iconic and timeless in Filipino culture, proven by the different iterations in various media through the years.
In 1982, Himala skyrocketed Nora Aunor to legend status after she exclaimed “Walang himala!” on top of a hill before thousands of extras. Fast-forward to 2003, partnering with the film was first adapted to a musical. The initial idea was to create a sequel to Himala but due to Nora’s schedule, it didn’t come to fruition. Instead, based on the original material, Himala: Isang Musikal was born. It was so well-received that another run was held in 2004.
Following the release of Ricky Lee’s coffee table book in 2012, a concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of the musical was also held at the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) starring the cast of the original musical in 2013.
This year, marking the 15th anniversary of the musical and 35 years since the original film, comes a re-staging of Himala: Isang Musikal. Himala is more relevant than ever. The themes of extreme fanaticism and blind faith still ring true today. A whole new generation is waiting to be changed and touched by the iconic story of Elsa.
It was serendipity that brought Himala: Isang Musikal to Ed Lacson Jr.’s hands. Ed first mentioned his interest to direct his dream project to musical director Vincent DeJesus during a drinking session after a run of a production he was part of. Vince gave him the go-signal but he didn’t take it seriously.
A couple of days later, he was surprised to receive a call from Vince setting a meeting at his house. This happened more than two years ago. Without a producer, the musical remained a passion project. That is until last year when Ed designed the stage of Newsies and A Christmas Carol. He crossed paths with 9WT Managing Director Santi Santamaria and the Sandbox Collective Operations Director, Anna Santamaria, and the rest was history.
As Told by Ricky Lee
Speaking of history, writer Ricky Lee also shared some background on the movie Himala. He wrote the film just after he got out of prison during Martial Law in 1975. His experiences in incarceration reflected in his masterpiece. Many production houses rejected the script. But eventually Experimental Cinema of the Philippines produced the film as an entry to the 1982 Metro Manila Film Festival, where it ended up winning numerous awards including Best Screenplay.
Ricky Lee also recalled the time when Himala was being filmed. Director Ishmael Bernal wanted the sick characters to be portrayed by actual people with illnesses. The more physical symptoms of the disease, the better. He shared how Joel Lamangan (who played pari) gently (and funnily) rejected an asthmatic extra because “hindi halata ang sakit niya.”
Aicelle Santos is Elsa
I’ve been a fan of Aicelle Santos since her Pinoy Pop Superstar days and it’s nice to see her once again in the theatre. Her transition from recording artist to Awit Award-winning thespian has been a delight to witness for years. Following Nora Aunor and May Bayot (the Elsa in the original musical), Himala: Isang Musikal will be a big challenge for Aicelle.
During the press conference, Aicelle shared her experience the moment she got the call. She just gave herself three minutes to be ecstatic about getting the part. But after she calmed down and the news sank in, kinabahan and natakot na siya. She’s still finding the Elsa within her. We all know she’ll do well. Go Aicelle!
Tedious Audition Process
It was a conscious effort for the team behind Himala: Isang Musikal to look for a new cast. Casting was a one-year process as they wanted to find the perfect people who can handle the technical requirements of Vincent de Jesus’ libretto and possess the vulnerability to fully immerse in their roles. As the cast attested during the press conference this musical is no ordinary challenge.
Kakki Teodoro, who plays former-prostitute Nimia, shared a rather stressful time during the whole audition process. She had to rebook a flight going home just to be at the callbacks. It was worth it as she got one of her dream roles since watching the Himala concert at PETA.
Himala: Isang Musikal may have its roots in the past but the show also marks many firsts. Although producers The Sandbox Collective and 9 Works Theatrical have been working hand in hand through the years, Himala is their first official partnership. Himala is also Sandbox’s first production since 2015 hit No Filter. Moreover, this is also their first musical all in the Filipino language.
The audience who will watch the show will probably experience another first. There will be no full musical accompaniment: only the piano and the raw voices of the actors will fill the stage.
Himala: Isang Musikal opens on February 10 until March 4
Himala has changed a lot of lives as a film and as a musical 15 years ago. With its story, characters and music, it will change a whole new generation more.
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A surprise for my good friend Marcus (currently in UK) from Aicelle Santos, Elsa of Sandbox and 9 Works Theatrical’s Himala- Isang Musikal. 🙌🏻SURPRISE! 😆 Hahaha! I could still remember how we would always talk about @aicellesantos’ Pinoy Pop Superstar performance. 🤣Thanks so much Aicelle for accommodating! ❤️❤️❤️ Himala- Isang Musikal will run on February 10 to March 8 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati. Get your tickets now! #Sandbox9WTHimala #Himala #VideoGreeting #ManilaTheaterScene #AicelleSantos #SandboxCollective #9workstheatrical
Himala: Isang Musikal stars Aicelle Santos as Elsa, Kakki Teodoro as Nina, Neomi Gonzales as Elsa’s childhood friend Chayong, Sandino Martin as Chayong’s former lover Pilo, Bituin Escalante as Elsa’s mother Nanay Saling, David Ezra as Orly the filmmaker, Floyd Tena as town priest and Omar Uddin as a child.
Joining the cast are Jenny Villegas, Glenda Liao, Cristy Peredo, Matel Patayon, Sigrid Balbas, Hazel Maranan, Raflesia Bravo, Roxy Aldiosa, EJ Pepito, Joshua Cabiladas, Kits Falcis, Roby Malubay, Gary Junsay, Mano Domingo, Neil Tolentino and Jasper Jimenez.
Rounding out the cast are Onyl Torres, Chuck Hipol, Ivan Panganiban, Alfritz Blanche, Ronna Gubba, Nel Gumalog, Katreen Dela Cruz, CK Manlili, Anjanette Vargas, Hannah Grefaroa, Joshua Isidera, Nhoel Obsequio, Eizel Marcelo and Andrew Estacio.
Himala: Isang Musikal is an original musical with book and lyrics by Ricky Lee, and music and lyrics by Vince de Jesus, with direction and set design by Ed Lacson Jr., musical arrangement by Jed Balsamo, lighting design by Barbie Tan-Tiongco and costume design by Carlo Pagunaling.
Heading the production team are executive producer Santi Santamaria, Anna Santamaria as operations director, Sab Jose as marketing & PR director, Erwin Romulo as creative consultant, Maine Manalansan as design director, Jonjon Martin as PR manager, Perky Parong as production manager and Pat Gascon as stage manager.
Ricky Lee and Vincent DeJesus’ Himala: Isang Musikal will be showing at the Power MAC Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati from February 10 to March 4, 2018. For inquiries and tickets, contact 0917.5545560, 586.7105, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ticketworld at 891.9999.
Did you watch the original Himala? Are you also excited to see it in musical form as Himala: Isang Musikal?