Miracle Theater: A Review of "Himala"
If there's a Filipino musical production that this early in the year seems earmarked to be the must-see of the whole season, it's Sandbox Collective and 9Works' restaging of Himala. Brilliantly directed by Ed Lacson, this musical rendering of the landmark Ishmael Bernal 1982 film, is both a mirror held up to us Filipinos in terms of our personality, foibles and strengths; while also a showcase of all that is bright and promising when it comes to Filipinos performing, singing, and creating set designs and theatrical vision. It's on it's last weekend of performances so stop reading this now, and book your seats - or pray for a 'miraculous' extended run beyond . Yes, it is that good; so if you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for?
Along with Director Lacson, writer Ricky Lee, composer Vince de Jesus, and musical arranger Joed Balsemo have stripped down the musical, turning it into something even more poignant, stark, and immersive than previous iterations of the musical. If staged proscenium-style or as a musical concert in the past; this 2018 production at Circuit Makati dispenses with the dance elements, gets rid of lapel mics, reduces the accompaniment to a single piano, and places the stage smack dab in the center of the Power Mac Spotlight performance venue. And what a world of difference this creates for us, the audience.
What does one need to know about the story? A young girl (Elsa) in a poor, drought affected rural barrio 'sees' the Virgin Mary and supposedly acquires the power to heal. Beyond that, you've either seen the film, or are in for a treat as you witness the plot unfold. While the film dates back 36 years, and the musical 15 years ago; be ready to be struck dumb by how relevant the musical still is today! About the power of faith and religion, collective hysteria, about how we commercialize any event, about greed and hypocrisy, about our penchant for gossip and/or fake news - there are a myriad of ways by which the resonance of this storyline will impact a contemporary audience.
And I haven't even begun writing about the performers. Aicelle Santos as Elsa is nothing short of magnificent; and if I have to mention a real favorite, it would be Kakki Teodoro as Nimia. Nimia is the childhood friend of Elsa who returns from Manila to barrio Cupang and sets up the local whorehouse. Personally, I found Kakki the most impressive in shifting from singing to acting and vice-versa. Her transitions from spouting lines to breaking into song were the most natural and effective. But that isn't to say I wasn't bowled over by the ensemble cast, as they uniformly hit their marks - one moment, making us feel we were literally at Ground Zero Barrio Cupang, or vicariously revel at the drought's end.
There's an intimacy to this staging that has to be experienced. Yes, the musical Himala has been staged several times in the past, but there is something fresh and innovative with how this production has come to life - and we owe it to ourselves to discover what, why, and how.