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Adarna In Musical Flight: A Review Of 'The Quest For The Adarna'

For its first original musical, Repertory Theater for Young Audiences has taken the Adarna avian folk legend, and turned it into an accessible, lavish musical, set in the English language

For the first time in its history, the Repertory Theater for Young Audiences (RTYA) decided to commission an original musical, and turned to Luna Griño-Inocian for the book and lyrics, and to Rony Fortich for the music. Creative Direction comes from Rep stalwart Joy Virata, and when she had to leave for the United States for pressing matters, Jamie Wilson and Naths Everett gamely took on the co-directing chores. The subject matter for this RTYA first is our very own Adarna, the bird with magical powers; and it’s now running at Onstage in Greenbelt.

Right before the first performance, Luna was brought on stage and talked about how creating this in English was especially rewarding as it meant that foreigners, children who don’t speak Pilipino, were now being given the opportunity to learn and enjoy Filipino folklore without needing translators beside them. Entitled The Quest for the Adarna, the musical smartly turns the tale into an adventure epic, with strong fairytale elements. There’s humor, family values, life lessons, and even a smidgin of women empowerment. In other words, all the right boxes for effective family entertainment are ticked. 

Rony Fortich has worked with Disney, and that provenance is evident in the music. It can get playful—there’s a song about petrified poop which had the children in the audience squealing in delight. And to get the audience firmly on its side, there’s one interactive song, the “Slice Squeeze Slip” song. And it’s uncanny how this all works so that at one level, the children in the audience are fully engaged, while the adults can still enjoy the music and the story-telling. 

There’s shadow play, puppetry, and Kuroko employed, all established traditions of Asian forms of theater; and they’re used to progress the narrative—not just as an excuse to show off. I mentioned Disney, and there are influences at play. At times, I could feel the pull of The Lion King, then bits of Mulan and Aladdin. One figure in the second act even seemed to have escaped from The Lord of the Rings. But it all works, and kudos to the cast and production team for keeping the entertainment level up.

The basic premise revolves around the three princes of Berbania (Pedro, Diego and Juan) who head to Mount Tabor to capture the mythical bird Adarna. It is rumored that only her song can heal their father, King Fernando, from the mysterious sickness that has felled him. It’s on this epic quest that the true characters of these three young princes come out. To reveal more would be a disservice to the joy of discovery as one watches the musical.

The show I caught had Carla Guevara-Laforteza playing the Adarna, and she was hilarious, really getting into the role, and acting like an overgrown chicken. Cara Barredo as Princess Maria Blanca was equally engaging, doing her bit for girl power when she shows up in the second act.

As I mentioned above, there are elements to the musical that may seem derivative to the jaded viewer, or to people such as myself who sit and watch show after show. But the true judge of how well Adarna works would be the children it was intended for. On the morning that I watched, the kids in the audience stayed awake; one was so involved he shouted to warn Prince Juan what was headed his way, and they were excited to hang out after the curtain call to take photos with the cast members. To me, that’s the true gauge of just how well Adarna works; so congratulations to the RTYA.

The Quest for the Adarna will run from September 13, 2019 to January 12, 2020 at the Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1. Tickets are available via TicketWorld.

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