After a 3-year hiatus away from doing a full-length play, JC Santos is making a comeback via Tanghalang Pilipino's "Lam-Ang," to be staged from November to December at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
He will play the titular role in the musical based on the Ilocano epic, "Biag Ni Lam Ang", or "Life of Lam Ang".
The development was confirmed to this writer on Saturday by Santos, his manager director-actor Andoy Ranay and TP artistic director Fernando "Tata Nanding" Josef.
"Yes, my comeback and this is my first time to play a lead role in a musical," Santos said in an online interview. "Am very excited and thankful napili po ako."
The last time he did a musical was in 2015 for Dalanghita Productions' "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady". He was part of the ensemble playing a hilarious character named Jeryc Sans Rival, member of a group of villains called Kayumanggilas.
The last time he played lead in a full-length straight play was in 2016 for Red Turnip's local staging of "Constellations," opposite Cris Villonco. Written by English playwright-screenwriter Nick Payne, "Constellations" was also Jake Gyllenhall's Broadway debut when it was brought to the US in 2015. Santos played the same role named Roland, a beekeeper who falls in love with Marianne, a cosmologist.
The play earned rave reviews.
For that role, Santos won a Gawad Buhay Award for Outstanding Performance.
Take note that all this happened before Santos plunged into show business and became a household name by playing a gay man in the 2016 ABS-CBN mega hit dramedy "Til I Met You" with Nadine Lustre and James Reid.
Santos, then a rising heartthrob trying to get a grip on show business, limited his theatrical involvement at the time. In January 2017, he played a priest in the very limited run of Chris Millado's one-act play “Buwan at Baril sa Eb Major".
Millado’s play tackles the lives of 8 characters whose experiences are connected by martial law. Personally, we felt the intensity of Santos' talent as a dramatic actor, this time opposite Angeli Bayani, in this immensely powerful drama about the destruction of man's psyche and dignity.
Next for Santos is this year's Virgin Labfest when he did the staged reading for another Millado vintage 1-act play, "Intermedyo".
No wonder, with a 2-year-long hiatus in all things related to theater, Santos, the Dulaang UP-trained actor, is eager for a return to the stage.
In an earlier interview, Santos said theater will always be his first love.
And this eagerness was felt by Tata Nanding Josef of Tanghalang Pilipino. We all know Josef is also an accomplished, veteran actor for film and television and somehow he knew what Santos was going through.
"He auditioned for the role," Josef said in an online interview Saturday. "Ang edge ni JC over the others (who were equally good) was that he is very, very eager to do the role of Lam-ang."
Josef said there will be 2 directors, Friz Betaña and TP Actors' Company member Marco Viaña, who will also do the set design. The musical's libretto and lyrics are co-written by young UP playwright Jen Darlene Torres and the young but veteran (level) playwright, award-winning Eljay Castro Deldoc.
Torres composed the music and Deldoc also functioned as dramaturg. TP regular TJ Ramos is arranger, sound engineer and musical director. Choreography will be done by JM Cabling, costume design by Bonsai Cielo and lighting design by Meliton Roxas.
Josef said: "We had a long period of searching for the right one, several auditions with many potential Lam-ang who turned up. The two directors, Fitz Bitana and Marco Viana, had a definite image of the Lam-ang that they want."
"[He must be an] agile mover, with strong singing voice, exceptional dramatic skills, good, hunky physique, may 'animal appeal' (or someone who can achieve that) at Pinoy na Pinoy, hindi mestiso. Pero ang isang importanteng edge ni JC is 'yun na nga, 'yung eagerness n'ya to do Lam Ang," added Josef.
He revealed the other leads who passed the audition were Anna Luna and Angeli Bayani.
"We will announce the names of the rest of the young, talented supporting cast who went through rigorous, repeated auditions-- great dancers, singers, actors," Josef added.
As of posting, “Lam-ang” is tentatively set to be staged from November 29 to December 15 at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino at CCP.
"Baka magkaroon ng konting adjustment sa schedule because the new theater might be finished by then," Josef said, referring to the much-delayed opening of the new CCP black box theater. It has been referred to by Millado in several interviews and announcements in press conferences as Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez, after the patron who donated the funds for its construction.
If everything falls into place, Santos' comeback as a full-time theater actor will be welcomed on the red carpet at CCP's new venue for the performing arts.
Call it animal appeal at its best.
Santos said: "Very excited to go back. Hindi na ako makapaghintay kahit sa rehearsals pa lang."