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Celebrating Our ‘525,600 Minutes’ at Philstage’s Gawad Buhay Awards Night

Philstage’s Gawad Buhay Awards Night is the closest thing we have to Broadway’s Tony Awards or the West End’s Olivier Awards. It celebrates the previous year’s outstanding achievements in theater, and recognizes these achievements both in musical theater, and in drama. Besides the obvious “biggies” of Best Production, Direction, and Acting, it rightly bestows recognition to such technical aspects as Best in Lighting Design, Set Design, Sound, and Wardrobe. As such, it’s the love-in of the Performing Arts world—and while there is an insider’s element to the proceedings, it’s nice to note how all this is happening amidst the upsurge of interest and popular support for these theatrical productions.



The audience of the Gawad Buhay is admittedly comprised of those working in theater; then there are the critics, writers and die-hard enthusiasts that make the jurors and members of Gawad Buhay, and a smattering of public support. Hopefully, in years to come, if the support we experienced this last year grows even stronger, there may be more incidental public support and enthusiasm for this event. As it stands, it is the red-letter day of our local theater world; when nominations can often mean as much as winning the prize itself.



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The overriding theme this year was “Generations,” how the duo of presenters were often a mix of a veteran thespian with a younger version. And it made for interesting combinations, from mentor with student, father and son, and young artist paired with his or her inspiration/industry idol. Loved how this showcased the passing of the torch element, while also highlighting how these stalwarts of the theater world were still relevant and producing some of their finest work. 



The big winner of the night in the Musical category had to be Sandbox and 9 Works’ re-staging of Himala: Isang Musikal. It took home 8 trophies including Best Ensemble Performance and Best Direction for a Musical; plus gifting top prizes to Aicelle Santos for Female Lead Performance, and Bituin Escalante for Female Featured Performance In a Musical. 


Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! and Ang Huling El Bimbo were the other big winners in the Musical category, and kudos to Myke Salomon for Outstanding Musical Direction as he confessed he can’t read musical notes. Jobim Javier, son of Danny Javier, copped the Male Lead Performance in a Musical. 



The Best Play went to PETA’s Night, Mother; with Sherry Lara taking home Female Lead Performance in a Play. And Cris Villonco for A Doll’s House, Part 2 stood tall for Outstanding Direction for a Play, and in a worthy news story angle, had directed her uncle Film Director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna who now took home the Male Lead Performance in a Play.


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The night was evidently one of sharing, of popular choices, and creating interesting storylines for the post-Awards night coverage. My only disappointing takeaway of the night was how in the acceptance speech of one winner, she had to mention someone in the industry who hadn’t believed in her. Somehow, I felt this wasn’t the night to bring out past bitterness over slights, or displaying fragile egos. 


Ultimately, this was a night of celebration, and proof positive of just how healthy and alive our Philippine Theater world has become. May it continue as such!



Photos courtesy of Philip Cu-Unjieng