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Advocacy, Arts, Culture, Musical, Theater

‘Leading Lady’: A Superhero Tale on Forsaking Love Over Duty


The genius of Carlo Vergara’s one-act play and graphic novel titled ‘Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady’ comes to life in this musical extravaganza as mounted by Dalanghita Productions, Inc. In this full-length musical of the same title—the superpowers in theater, television and film industries like Vincent de Jesus and Chris Martinez as the musical director-composer and director, respectively.

Stroem as the superhero named 'Leading Man' kissing Escalante as Mely, the maid to the Fuerza Filipinas team. Photograph courtesy of Erickson Dela Cruz.

Stroem as the superhero named ‘Leading Man’ kissing Escalante as Mely, the maid to the Fuerza Filipinas team. Photograph courtesy of Erickson Dela Cruz.

Having mentioned the three big names—I would strongly say—it is worth watching. It is a display of how talented and how creative Filipinos are especially in musical theater. It is clear that Vergara highlighted or focused on the two lead characters he probably have seen in many Filipinos, particularly the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) whom for their love of their families—they would sacrifice everything just to provide better lives for their loved ones.

Two Leading Ladies Vie for Love and Acceptance.

Having Bituin Escalante assumed the role of Mely, who is in her mid-30s, a devoted daughter to her mom and a forgiving sister as well is one great choice. She effectively portrayed the role both in acting and singing parts. While Kim Molina is Viva, Mely’s sister who has this belief in life that her looks (which is her advantage over her elder sister) can go far—equally gave a powerful performance as she can be remembered in her previous role as Aileen in PETA’s ‘Rak of Aegis’.

Mely and Viva are two different women who represent the sad realities of life that are mimicked in Philippine telenovelas. Both are the leading ladies longing for love and acceptance in this cruel society of ours. Escalante and Molina are just the right stage actresses for the most coveted roles. In their confrontation scenes—they powerfully displayed such emotions that their audience would truly feel wherever they are seated. On their alternates—Frenchie Dy and Natasha Cabrera, though I haven’t seen them in this production yet, based on their previous stage gigs—I am sure they’re just as equally great.

It Features a Powerhouse Casting.

The Fuerza Filipinas is composed of Menchu Lauchengc0-Yulo as Madre de Dios (centermost), on her left is Caisa Borromeo as Windang Woman, Giannina Ocampo as Nena Babuska, and the male superheroes are (from MDD's behind--L-R) Jeff Flores as Bazooka Man, Chesko Rodriguez as Popoy Pusakal, and Markki Stroem as Leading Man. Photograph courtesy of Eduard John Pulido.

The Fuerza Filipinas is composed of Menchu Lauchengc0-Yulo as Madre de Dios (centermost), on her left is Caisa Borromeo as Windang Woman, Giannina Ocampo as Nena Babuska, and the male superheroes are (from MDD’s behind–L-R) Jeff Flores as Bazooka Man, Chesko Rodriguez as Popoy Pusakal, and Markki Stroem as Leading Man. Photograph courtesy of Eduard John Pulido.

One cannot afford to miss this show not just because of the geniuses behind it, but even with the other characters portrayed by Philippine theater big names headed by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo as Madre de Dios, the leader of Fuwerza Filipinas and May Bayot-de Castro as the mother of Mely and Viva.

Playing other superheroes named Fuerza Filipinas are Giannina Ocampo as Nena Babuska, Caisa Borromeo as Windang Woman, Jeff Flores as Bazooka Man, Chesko Rodriguez as Popoy Pusakal, and Markki Stroem as the farm boy from the US who was bestowed with a powerful ring by an ET and later on named as the Leading Man.

The most popular superheroes aren’t just the gorgeous characters as imagined by Vergara, its creator and writer. Like Mely and Viva, they were picked and were really meant to portray the said roles.

Any story won’t be interesting without villains or the antagonists as assumed by ‘Kayumanggilas’. They are composed of Nar Cabico as Senyor Blangko, Vince Lim as Henyotic, JC Santos as Jeryc Sans Rival, Red Nuestro as Maracas Marko, and Red Concepcion as Itak-Atak.

Its Message Attempts to be Impactful.

The ordinary women like Mely and Viva who had the privileged of making a difference in this world as they were both given the chance to be the leading ladies, as female superheroes who were not really born with superpowers, but with big hearts enough to show how they are both capable of loving as the most powerful force of all. But on the other hand, what seemed disturbing to me is how Mely and Viva became the ‘Leading Ladies’.

Markki Stroem as the farm boy from the US who was bestowed with a powerful ring by an ET. Photograph courtesy of Eduard John Pulido.

Markki Stroem as the farm boy from the US who was bestowed with a powerful ring by an ET. Photograph courtesy of Eduard John Pulido.

Though in the end, Viva didn’t wear a costume, Mely who was chosen by Leading Man (Stroem) to take on the ring and be the Leading Lady wore quite a substandard costume as opposed to the Fuerza Filipinas team of superheroes.

What exactly is the message that Vergara is trying to convey here? I find it discriminatory. Even the way the villains, who are pure Filipinos were also portrayed ‘negatively’. If the objective of the stage presentation is to allow the audience to see themselves in the characters, perhaps I find it rather ‘unfair’ to have the villains end without any redeeming value for themselves.

Yes, there is a ‘superhero’ in each one of us, but I think in the conclusion of the show—the villains must undergo certain positive transformations.

‘Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady’ is quite an ordeal as it is a three-hour long musical (at least the one when we first watched it during its Press Night). I just hope that the production has tweaked and tightened some scenes to avoid it a bit dragging in some parts.

De Jesus’s music is impeccable. It’s both singable and danceable especially the songs ‘We Have a Maid’ and ‘Tayo Dapat’. Audiences are expected to sing and dance along while the actors perform onstage. Rutaquio may have imagined a Kryptonite-like ambiance for its set design, and it was a novel attempt, but there were some scenes that did not work well especially with the doors when those were opened to individually introduce the Fuerza Filipinas team. Even the revolving part of the stage—it failed to provide the needed drama for some scenes. It’s not because it was manually-operated, but rather it made the characters standing on that revolving stage looking ‘conscious’ and ‘nervous’. Perhaps the only thing that made it work was when Madre de Dios disappeared in the middle of a battle scene.

I can list some disasters during the Press Night, but I choose not to enumerate anymore.

But this Vergara opus is still worth watching for. He was successful in stressing his trademark—a creator of characters that are reluctant when it comes to love. ‘Leading Lady’ is about forsaking love because of duty. It is another breakthrough after ‘Zsazsa Zaturnnah ze Muzical’.

It still runs on PETA Theater in New Manila, Quezon City until June 7. For tickets, contact +639985311389 or purchase online via TicketWorld.

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About JudeisHere

Writer-Editor-Facilitator, Creative Strategist-Marketer, Publicist and PR Practitioner, Publisher and Social Entrepreneur.

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