Remember the 1975 Bienvenido Noriega, Jr. play, Bayan Bayanan?
The play is being revived as a musical with a new title, Bayan Bayanan: Letters from Home.
With OFWs very much in the news these days, the musical hopes to rewind what working Filipinos abroad go through in an effort to improve their lives.
The group behind the revival is an arts advocacy group called the Erehwon Center for the Arts in Quezon City headed by businessman Rafael Benitez.
He said his dream is to bring the talents of the Erehwon Art Council to perform at the ultimate performance venue which is the Cultural Center of the Philippines. “As a shot in the dark, we submitted a proposal for a venue grant to stage a performance at the CCP. It was fortunate that CCP President Arsenio Lizaso and Artistic Director Chris Millado saw merit in our proposal and gave us the approval. Stage director Anton Juan happened to be my teacher in Humanities way back in my college days at UP. We kept in touch via Facebook. He happened to be travelling back to the Philippines and wanted to visit Erehwon. As we talked about the venue grant, it was he who suggested staging Bayan Bayanan as a musical.”
The members of the cast include actress and singer Banaue Miclat-Janssen who portrays the central character, Manang while Ava Olivia Santos, a singer, recording artist, and an actor in theater, film and television, portrays a Filipino nurse struggling to carve a better life for herself abroad.
Author Noriega wrote himself into the story as Dino, a student sent to study abroad on a scholarship. He is portrayed by tenor Carlo Manalac who is remembered for having played several roles in several runs of Kanser, a theatrical adaptation of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere.
Benitez pointed out the musical will surely reconnect with today’s audiences. “The issues involving overseas workers are pretty much around with the same intensity as they did when the play was written decades ago. Its relevance is more overpowering now with more heart-breaking stories on the plight of overseas workers.”
Anton Juan who has directed the play many times in Europe attests to the play’s drawing power. “There is always something new every time we stage it. It grows like a pearl, takes shape in the memory and hearts of those who perform it and those who watch it. Why? Because the story is real. It is grounded on real characters we can identify with, in all their beauty and vulnerability, in all their strengths and their weaknesses.”
He added Filipinos are grounded on hoping, on having strong faith. “There may be floods, martial laws, oppressions, interventions, and schisms in our history. But we always remember two things: to laugh at ourselves and forgive sometimes to a fault those who are greedy and malevolent to us and our people.”
But today’s audiences of musicals are picky and unpredictable lot. They spend a lot on foreign musicals and ignore local composers.
Benitez believes there is an audience for Filipino songs and a definite market for original Filipino music. “All the songs in the musical are original. It will be the first time they will be sung in public. The music is catchy, the lyrics relatable to the ordinary Filipino. I gave Anton (Juan) free rein on his creativity for this project. I just gave him a cap on the budget.”
Benitez said he forayed into the arts precisely because of the lack of support for it. “I am into arts because of the very little support it has. Also having experienced strokes twice — which made me partially physically impaired — made me realize that you cannot bring your money to the grave. I have decided to take this risk and fund projects that I believe are noteworthy.”
Erehwon has since then metamorphosed into a working collective for creative individuals with a cohesive vision that will promote their respective fields of expertise in the arts.
Recalled the founder of Erehwon: “The idea for Erehwon Center for the Arts was conceived by a group of visual artists. But it took a visit and suggestions from the late (stage director) Behn Cervantes to make me take a second look. He said that if Erehwon just concentrates on the visual arts, it will be nothing but a museum, a cold, lifeless building. I remember him saying a real arts center should be full of life with people performing, displaying their creativity in various ways. He gave us the three Cs which contain our vision for the center which is a place for convergence, collaboration and camaraderie.”
Why should theatergoers watch Bayan Bayanan?
Benitez remains optimistic of the musical’s appeal on Filipino audiences. “Bayan Bayanan is the never-ending story of Filipinos going abroad, sacrificing family ties and familiarity of home just to be able to raise the economic standard of their families. It an extremely relatable and familiar story. It is a story that many are familiar with. I am sure it will reconnect with today’s audiences.”
(The new dates for Bayan Bayanan: Letters from Home at the CCP main theater are: July 29-7PM, 30-7PM and 31-3PM, 2022. July 15 tickets will be honored on July 29; July 16 tickets will be honored on July 30 and July 17 tickets will be honored on July 31. Also, part of the cast is Christine Angelica Evangelista, Carlo Mañalac, Timothy Carlo Racho, Kendrick Tamayo, Abigail Sulit, Jane Florence Wee, Matteo Teehankee, Karina Macaspac, and Adrian de Ubago. For ticket inquiries, call the CCP Box Office at 8832-3704 / 8832-1125 (local 1409) or TicketWorld at 8891-9999)