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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

entry arrow8:39 AM | The Dumaguete Rock Musical That Could

Published as "In ‘Scharon Mani,’ Dumaguete Finds Its Own ‘Rak of Aegis’" in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 19 November 2016. Link here.

One of the powers of literature—which includes drama, of course—is recognition. When you pore over the pages of a book, or behold the unfolding scenes of a play, and then there it is: that story, that character, that milieu—that’s you, that’s the place you come from, that’s the story of your life.

A wise writer once said that such recognition very much feels like a friendly hand coming out of the page, or the scene on the stage, which then pats you on the back and tells you, with the comfort of words, that you are not alone. One learns to live for that recognition, and when it happens it is the very definition of boundless joy.

The same thing could be said about a rock musical that is returning to the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium stage in Dumaguete City this weekend. Scharon Mani, a musical that utilizes the songs of The Bell Tower Project, with a book by Junsly Kitay under the direction of Dessa Quesada-Palm and Earnest Hope Tinambacan, is Dumaguete’s answer to PETA’s Rak of Aegis. Beyond that immediate comparison, it is also the stirring story of what life is like in this vibrant seaside city in Negros Oriental in the Visayas.

And for that, it becomes a recognizable story, a mosaic of the lives that Dumagueteños celebrate and also endure.

When the play premiered a year ago on the same stage, no one was ready for the tremendous power of its story and its songs. It stirred tremendous word of mouth, but it had a quick run and then disappeared, given the logistics of theatrical productions in Dumaguete. (Any production lasts, at most, three successive days.) But clamor is a thing not to be ignored, and now it’s back, and we find ourselves once more following the story of a girl with dreams who can sing.

Charlene (played with gusto by Annika Pasague) is a young girl from the shanty district of Lo-oc whose father Nelo sells chicharon and mani—“scharon mani” or pork rind and peanuts—while her washes laundry for a living. A talent show is coming to town to scout for singers, and suddenly her dreams seem to be within reach. Her journey towards auditioning—overwhelmed by obstacles, set in Dumaguete’s recognizable locales, and peopled with assorted locals who like her also have impossible dreams to live for—becomes the conduit for a relentlessly joyful adventure in songs.

These songs are important to take note of, because they are the very inspiration for the creation of the jukebox musical itself. Taken from a series of albums put out by The Bell Tower Project—the collective of Dumaguete bands and singers who have successfully launched several annual anthologies of music that have come to define Dumaguete musicality—each song, weaved seamlessly into a story by the talented young playwright Mr. Kitay, becomes a masterpiece of evocation. Altogether, they create a sumptuous banquet of sound, and it is not very hard to go out of the theatre humming for the life of us.

Director Quesada-Palm has said of the play, which is produced by the Youth Advocates Through Theatre Arts for the Silliman University Culture and Arts Council: “It is a tapestry of young people’s dreams, [the] search for meaning in [their lives], their struggles and triumphs. It brings fragments of reality and senses which are distinctly Dumaguete—its settings, characters peopling the streets, its brand of music. And then it is about a girl, compelled to help her family augment their income, unwittingly threading through these seeming disparate lives, connecting her love for singing to the community’s sense of purpose. Amidst their individual brokenness, they find their voice, they build their strength, they emerge resilient.”

Yes, but it works above all as one hallelujah of sheer theatrical entertainment.

Scharon Mani is directed by Dessa Quesada-Palm and Earnest Hope Tinambacan. Book by Junsly Kitay. Music by The Bell Tower Project. Musical direction by Juni Jay Tinambacan. Choreography by Nikki Cimafranca. Production design by Aziza Daksla. The play opens on November 18 at 8 PM, with play dates on November 19 at 10 AM and 8 PM, and November 21 at 3 PM and 8 PM. Season passes and tickets at P100, P300, and P500 are available at the Culture and Arts Council Office at the College of Performing and Visual Arts Building II, Silliman University. For reservations, call (035) 422-4365 or 0917-323-5953.

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