Tell the story | Inquirer Entertainment

Tell the story

By: - Columnist
/ 02:00 AM December 08, 2016

“Pinoy Boyband Superstar” contestant Russell Reyes

“Pinoy Boyband Superstar” contestant Russell Reyes

Allow me please to refer back to my guilty pleasure, “Pinoy Boyband Superstar,” for this nugget of wisdom. Kindly indulge me; I promise there’s a point coming.

During the show’s Middle Rounds, there were three aspirants who were singled out because of their lack of proficiency in Filipino: Russell Reyes, James Ryan Cesena and Sef Hynard.


Each of them was tasked to learn and perform a song in Filipino. For the purpose of this article, I’ve picked Russell’s performance of “Kung Ako na Lang Sana,” originally recorded by the great Bituin Escalante. (Speaking of which, congratulations to Bituin, Frenchie Dy and Radha on “The Big Big Show” last Saturday night.)


Russell went onstage to sing for the four judges, and turned out a vocally sound and strong performance.

At first sight, he looked like a shoo-in for the next round, until judge Vice Ganda asked him directly and to the point: “What does the second verse mean?” Russell was unable to give him an answer. After he was thanked and sent backstage, the judges convened and discussed what just happened.

Vice pointed out that yes, Russell learned the musical elements of the song, but he didn’t really fully comprehend what the song meant. Knowing what you’re singing is totally important because beyond the notes, there’s also a story that needs to be told.

There is so much more to singing a song than just making sure you aren’t sharp or flat. In almost every song, there’s a treasure waiting to be discovered.

Embedded in the lyrics, there’s a story waiting to be told, whether it’s one of love, heartache, joy or pain. And this is just in the world of pop music. Imagine this rule in the realm of musical theater.

Take the musical, “Les Misérables,” and the character of Fantine, who sings “I Dreamed a Dream.”


The lyrics, “I dreamed a dream in time gone by, when hope was high and life worth living,” out of context, sounds romantic enough. However, Fantine is singing about a man who left her destitute and alone to care for a very young daughter at a time in history when having a child out of wedlock turned any single mother into a social pariah.

Every single Fantine I’ve heard, watched or worked with—Patti LuPone, Randy Graff, Ruthie Henshall, Rachel York, Grania Renihan, Lisa Capps and Debra Byrne—have lent so much heart to this heartbreaking character.

The song, “Burn,” from the blockbuster hit, “Hamilton,” is sung by Alexander Hamilton’s wife Eliza. It is her response to a sex scandal, the revelation of the affair between Hamilton and Maria Reynolds.

“I saved all the letters you wrote me, from the moment I read them I knew you were mine, you said you were mine, I thought you were mine…,” followed by:

“You published the letters she wrote you, you told the whole world how you brought this girl into our bed, in clearing your name, you have ruined our lives.”

Hearing Phillipa Soo sing this, telling this story of a husband’s betrayal, and how she now refuses to have history know her side of the story … the sound of her voice, coupled with those painful lyrics and melody (both by the genius who is Lin-Manuel Miranda), sends shock waves into the heart of whoever listens to her.

Finally, there is “Days and Days,” from the musical, “Fun Home.” (A big thanks to everyone who came to see it! We’ll be having a limited repeat run from March 10 to 19, 2017.) I must laud the amazing Judy Kuhn for reducing me into a pool of tears with her rendition of this song.

As we were creating the production in Manila, director Bobby Garcia asked me to step out of the rehearsal room to have a private conversation in order to help me prepare to sing this song. Bobby and I have been friends for many years, so to say he knows me well is an understatement.

He knew exactly what to tell me: “Pretend that you’re your mother singing this song to you.” I won’t reveal much more, except to say that at every performance, that’s what I did.

Lisa Kron’s lyrics set to Jeanine Tesori’s music was such a treasure to perform every night that I’m so thankful to get many shots at it.

So, to all of you singers, whether on a big stage or at your local karaoke bar, be it a rendition of “Queen of the Night” or “Music of the Night,” know the story of your song. You never know, you just might discover something you never thought you would.

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It works for both Broadway stars and boy band aspirants. It’ll work for you, too.

TAGS: Backstory, Entertainment, Lea Salonga, performance, Pinoy Boyband Superstar, Song

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