‘I heart Manila’By Emmie G. Velarde
Philippine Daily Inquirer
If you took to the dissecting table just the “fun” aspect of this show, you still might declare it a rare species. It has song, dance and impersonation deftly strung together; but no director, musical director or the customary script. It dared open on Sept. 26, during the run of two big theatrical productions, and yet moved enough sponsors to book at least 10 more dates.
“I (Heart) Manila (Kasi Nga, It’s More Fun in the Philippines),” at Music Museum in Greenhills, was put together by resolute troupers Jon Santos, Bo Cerrudo, The CompanY and Whiplash with obvious affection for the endeavor, on top of the givens—skill and wits.
Moy Ortiz of The CompanY is credited with the vocal arrangements; Santos, the continuity script; Cerrudo, arrangement of the new music; Whiplash, the choreography.
The (Heart) part is what makes this one head and shoulders above most local shows. Talk about body parts: To suit the package, Santos has reconditioned pertinent routines that physically transform him into various personalities, throwing in some fresh fittings.
GMA waxes sentimental over the city where Malacañang is found: “Dito ako lumaki … actually, hindi ako lumaki.” President Siyerrap offers a toast to her with scotch on the rocks, “pero with ice.”
Gov Vee (Vilma Santos) now takes swipes at Ate Guy (Nora Aunor): “Bumalik pa kasi.” She greets the Solid Vilmanians and everyone down the line—Liquid, Gaseous, Biodegradable and (addressing empty seats) Invisible Vilmanians, and orders red wine for them. For Noranians, “Water —no ice.”
Among Santos’ other incarnations who drop in for cameos, mostly on video, are Imelda, pineapl.de.ap, P-Nyoy, Krissy Aquino, Sen. Meeryam, Armida Makareyna and Be My Lady Gaga. This parade has sufficed as main content for Santos’ previous presentations. But because “I (Heart)” is “a love letter to Manila,” it has to have more than laughs.
The artist-producers say it is a “giving back” to the city of their youth. “Give back” would sound melodramatic, even hypocritical, coming from the wrong people. Well, Santos, Cerrudo, The CompanY and Whiplash have been loved in the biz long enough to actually have something to give back.
On another level of giving, Whiplash members run up and down the hall before the show, distributing items now listed under Pinoy iconography and pop culture, like Big Shot bubble gum and White Rabbit candies.
The show opens with video footages of Jon as 10 different persons, followed by an upbeat overture of songs about Manila featuring the whole cast. On the screen behind them are images of the world-famous Edsa traffic and of how the country’s main thoroughfare looked before it was choked by … billboards!
Bo and The CompanY tackle “Kanlungan” next, with guest guitarist Gino Madrid. Here the visuals seriously compete with the music: photos of places in Old Manila and how each one looks now—a street in Sampaloc, the University of Sto. Tomas campus, Plaza Sta. Cruz, Luneta/Rizal Park, Dewey/Roxas Boulevard.
“Sine Suite” features movie themes. Of the four Willy Cruz/Baby Gil hits in this exquisite medley, “Init sa Magdamag” proves to be Cerrudo’s first showcase. He never sounded better; his voice soars over the faulty sound system that often hampers The CompanY’s.
Santos’ Lady Gaga Suite, it turns out, is the gut and spleen of “I (Heart),” the mirror that the show aims to be, through which Pinoys may see themselves and laugh. Be My Lady Gaga wonders if she could be First Lady Gaga. She loves it here. She loves Edsa, “the world’s largest parking lot—and mall. You can shop while in your car—water, peanuts, flowers, doggie bubble heads for the dashboard …”
BM Lady Gaga loves Pinoys just as much: “You’re the cleanest people I know—you even wash your pan de sal in coffee before eating it!” And then the bittersweet main point, to the tune of “Born This Way”: “You’re so kawawa and yet/ You just forgive and forget/ Pero OK lang, baby/ You were born this way.”
A harried exchange between Cerrudo onstage and Armida Makareyna on video introduces a Filipino classics medley by Cerrudo, another shining moment for the charismatic balladeer.
Yet another Cerrudo moment, “Noypi,” ends a feverish disco portion. Onscreen, scenes illustrating Pinoy resiliency and celebrating heroes—both the famous, like Jose Rizal; and the nameless, like a child saving his puppy in a storm.
Santos’ closing monologue packs the big punch: “We should reconnect with the city that we call home … can we bloom and bear fruit if we are not rooted? When we celebrate where we’re from, we celebrate who we are.”
But before a single teardrop can fall, Santos changes gears, extolling the very name “Manila”: “How wonderful it sounds! I-compare mo naman sa Dildo in Newfoundland, Titty Hill in England, or Vagina in Russia.” So there.
“Big Beautiful Country” comes on, segueing into OPM concert favorites “Swerte Swerte Lang,” “Limang Dipang Tao,” “Manila” and Cerrudo’s final feat, “Hahanapin Ko.”
A resounding, spontaneous standing ovation ends in dancing. There are no cries for more; everybody’s slaphappy.
“I (Heart) Manila” goes back onstage tonight and all Wednesdays of November, plus Nov. 22 and 23.
Photos by Raul Montesa
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