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Is the Maria Clara-Ibarra Love Team Still Relatable in 2019?

Before there was the tragic love story of Jack and Rose, there was the tear-jerking fate of Maria Clara and Don Crisostomo Ibarra.

Kanser, the musical based on Jose P. Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and a flagship play of Gantimpala Theater Foundation's 42nd Theater Season, is getting another track of artistic interpretation by the iconic director Frannie Zamora. 

If you have watched it alongside dozens of youngsters at the AFP Theater last weekend, you will realize that this hugot generation still enjoys the chemistry between the two lovers. Or it must be the magic of the director who made a successful move of bringing the work of Rizal to the heart of the younger generation. He first directed a previous version of the same play in 1993. 

The play opened with a monologue of Pilosopo Tasyo whose Albert Einstein looks suggests that the play could be another boring academic classic.

There were six pillars that were moved to different positions in the stage to represent the structures in every setting, supplemented with a sand art perfectly blending in every scene.

The crowd of teens were amused with the good acting (and appearance) of Roni Abario as Tasyo. But when Maria Clara and Crisostomo Ibarra took the center stage, the crowd went wild-- as if they were on a fan’s day in a mall. 

In all fairness, all my expectations were delightedly NOT met. The musical play served both as an academic work and an entertainment piece.

How to be Maria Clara

Maria Clara was the show’s entire charm, a character played by Rare Columna who must have  survived a series of training to be able to bear the heavy old Spanish getup and the sets of ornaments hanging around her while pretending to be another person. 

Rare was flawlessly graceful despite her opposite personality. This is the first time the coloratura soprano from the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music to do Kanser, although she has already played a role in Noli Me Tangere: the Opera in 2017.

I was even curious if she had some counting or any method to maintain the classiness of Maria Clara whenever she moves. As an actress, all she needed was some internalization and she blasts as someone not her.

The musical presented Maria Clara’s own tragedy as a royal, desirable beauty that ended up as a crying soul in the convent.

If you are seeing the show, you should watch out for the scene where Maria Clara gets into the convent, as this will give you an enchanting dose of Rare’s vocal prowess and acting ability.

Going beyond Rizal’s wavy hair

On the other side of the boat is the character of Don Crisostomo Ibarra, played by Kiel Alo who needed all the energy on earth to perform his scenes. 

Ibarra’s emotions were too extreme, and Kiel was able to handle every bit of it. Of course, the wavy hair of Rizal on his face was just an extra. 

Kiel made his own stamp on every scene that required a certain emotion without overdoing it. I also noticed that his own portrayal of Ibarra had no trail of toxic masculinity; he still had that gentle aura despite all the aggressiveness. 

If Kiel did a rougher image I am sure watching Ibarra walking into the stage could be stressful for someone in the audience who is 100% involved in the story of every character in the play.

Before landing the lead role, Kiel played Elias in the previous versions of the show. Do not be surprised if one day you hear his voice over the radio as he is also chasing a different character as himself- a recording artist. And his concert in November is one milestone in his career you should not miss.

Kiel Alo (Don Crisostomo Ibarra) faces the camera of blogger Axl Guinto to talk about his role in the musical.

Yes, they are still relatable!

Aside from the highly-entertaining Pilosopo Tasyo, Donya Victorina (Sarah Maniquis), Don Tiburcio (Lezlie Dailisan), and Sinang (Jesiela Gripo), everyone in the audience was becoming more engaged with the show as Ibarra tries to touch the untouchable Maria Clara. 

However, it seems Maria Clara was more playful than the gentleman Ibarra. She was more flirty, or maybe we were too focused on Ibarra's tough image.

As a reward to the audience, the two sported a kissing scene that froze time inside the theater as everyone cheered loudly at the top of their lungs. Shocked, I honestly could not pull myself together when the two grabbed each other-- the electricity level was turned to the highest!

Padre Damaso is human, too

Everyone knows that Padre Damaso is the most evil priest. But in the show, he is less evil and not the total villain.

Padre Damaso’s picture is a brand of a corrupt person, looking big inside his priestly garb. Leo Ponseca, who once played Padre Salvi, had to study how his godfather priest moved to be able to get the perfect gestures for Padre Damaso.

Wearing the attire of a priest could be limiting, but Leo filled his face with the needed emotions to convey the hatred, the disgust, the anxiety, the sadness, the love towards his daughter, inside Padre Damaso. 

What the show incredibly did was that it gave Padre Damaso a better image- as a tormented father who wants the best for his sick daughter. The show ended with some pity on him.

If Padre Damaso was real and Kanser was produced during his time, the musical could qualify as a PR tool.

Another shining star in the making!

If Padre Damaso was just a runner up for the most evil, the title goes to Padre Salvi.

Just like Rare who played Maria Clara, Carlo Mendoza had to transform himself into a hate-able man. He shared with us that it took time for him to master how to do eye gestures and the overall body language of Padre Salvi.

I thought Carlo can now dress up as Miss Minchin. The real Carlo is the opposite. He is nice, warm and mild. 

Carlo’s character makeover to a tiny man hiding a gigantic monster inside him was quite fascinating that you will crave to see him do the same role after a year or two-- with much deeper, mature voice.

Rare Columna (Maria Clara) and Carlo Mendoza (Padre Salvi) share with us how they trained for their role. 

The Best Actor Award goes to....

Well, it goes to the actor that did Elias.

Carlo Manalac’s portrayal of Elias deserves the loudest applause. With less help from his costume, Carlo’s Elias almost stole the glory of Ibarra. Let truth be told, Carlo could make a good Ibarra, too.

Carlo was effective as the doomed man. He was totally natural. 

All throughout the show, he was effectively advertising Elias as a very mysterious man with a background everyone should be so interested in.

In real life, Carlo is a former Music teacher who recently left public service to pursue his artistic aspirations. And his performance in this musical is a proof he made the right decision.

Sisa! Crispin! Basilio!

Watching Sisa in Kanser was really agonizing. The play elaborated on how this poor mother of Crispin and Basilio ended that way.

Sisa was played by Richelle Joson who did a wonderful job. JV Pascual did Crispin while Juan Miguel Tecson did Basilio.

While Sisa’s latter appearances as a dirty, crazy woman could be something the audience can laugh at, no one did because everyone knew her story, her pain.

I also find JV’s innocent voice very captivating, making the scene where Crispin disappears, not reunited with her mother one hell of a heartbreaking moment in the entire musical. 

While the story of the play is trully parallel to the modern society, with all the bad news, and the bad vibes, and the bad people, it is interesting to note that love- I am saying this like a teenager who has got a crush on someone- will always be there to make everything light and bright. Kanser is not limited to patriotism, it also talks about being in love while being patriot. Hats off to the entire production team!

Director: Frannie Zamora
Playwright: Jomar Fleras
Music: Jed Balsamo
Asst. Director: Francis Cruz III
Lights Designer: Joseph Matheu
Set Designer: Sonny Aniceto
Choregrapher: Lezlie Dailisan
Stage Manager: Roselle Buenaventura

Director Frannie Zamora, me, and blogger Raul Barque.

To more about the schedule of Kanser, call the Gantimpala Marketing Office at 
0921-251-3733 or (02) 872-0261. 

For any concerns relating to this write-up, email me at christianaligonow@gmail.com or PM me on FACEBOOK. 

Christian is a Marketing Communications practitioner in Quezon City. He is an Igorot from Sagada, Mountain Province. To get in touch with him, please shoot an email to christianaligonow@gmail.com.

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