MANILA -- Mention the name Treb Monteras to movie fans and "Respeto" immediately comes to mind. In theater circles, playwright-director Pat Valera is more known for the musical "Mula Sa Buwan," an adaptation of "Cyrano de Bergerac" which he wrote with Hong Kong-based composer-musician William Elvin Manzano.
Fans of the musical have been over the moon ever since Valera confirmed on September 15 that "Mula Sa Buwan" will be adapted into a musical film to be directed by Monteras.
It was supposed to be a secret first but since they got initial grants from various sources during the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) Project Market conference held on the same mid-September weekend at a hotel in Quezon City, Valera shared the details in his Facebook account.
Now the bigger questions that follow: Will there be a musical adaptation of "Respeto?" Was there an exchange deal or a mutual agreement between the two?
"Yes, because Pat saw 'Respeto' and he liked the ending kasi halos pareho sa 'MSB.' So what happened was Pat and I had a deal na mag-remake ng kanya-kanyang material," Monteras told ABS-CBN News in an online interview.
He didn't just agree for Valera to make a musical but he gave him total artistic freedom. "Sa version nya, I will let him do whatever he wants with it. So yes, Pat will be staging 'Respeto' very soon," Monteras added.
"Respeto" is Monteras' entry in the 2017 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival that won the Best Picture award, among other accolades. It is a rap musical film about an old, forgotten riverbank poet played by Dido Dela Paz and aspiring FlipTop rapper played by real-life hiphop artist Abra (real name Raymond Abracosa), set in a seedy neighborhood in Pandacan, Manila. It's a film that explores the similarities between rap and our century-old Balagtasan.
"Respeto" triumphs the nearly forgotten richness of Philippine poetry in Filipino. As it exposes corruption among the police ranks, the film has become a timely critique on the government's drug war. It has been shown in mainstream cinemas here and in festivals abroad, gathering positive reviews and awards.
When asked about it, Valera said there was indeed such kind of agreement although nothing is concrete with "Respeto" the musical. "Later na 'yun, medyo matagal pa," he said.
"When I saw 'Respeto' kasi, I was amazed by the universe he created, the musicality, and of course, the tenacity of the film. After seeing it, I realized that he was the perfect person to direct and lead the musical," Valera said.
"What I can say about Treb is that he is a brave visionary — but also funny, compassionate, and of course, talented. Parang si Cyrano minsan!" he added.
It wasn't Monteras who approached Valera directly to do the film adaptation.
"The one who came up to me was now-producer Dev Angeo. She reignited the idea of the 'MSB' to be adapted into a film. You see, the possibility was already there years ago," said Valera.
Angeo is one of the board members of Cinema Centenario, a micro-cinema on Maginhawa Street that has been a favorite destination of students and cineastes since it formally opened in December 2017. There, one can watch the classics and gems of modern cinema that people may have missed during their regular runs in mall-based theaters.
"She introduced me to Treb and Monster," Valera said. Monster is screen name of producer-director-screenwriter-editor Maria Coreen Jimenez, the producer of "Respeto."
Valera invited Monteras to the preview night of "Mula Sa Buwan" on November 9, 2018, at the newly opened 800-seat Hyundai Hall of Arete at the Ateneo de Manila University.
It was the first time Monteras and Valera met in person.
"We weren't formally introduced though his name was one of those being floated to direct 'MSB.' I wanted him to watch the play first and, of course, know if he likes it or not," Valera recalled.
The critically acclaimed musical about unrequited love affected the "Respeto" director like a wonder drug. The moment he walked out to the lobby of Hyundai Hall, he had plenty of ideas on how to transform it into a film.
"I really liked Pat's rendition so when we met after seeing the play I told him my vision for the screen adaptation," Monteras said.
Valera and Monteras hit it off at once. "After no'n, we had meetings na. And what sealed the deal more was his amazing ideas for the film," Valera said.
Now a year has passed since that fateful September meeting at the Arete. There's a scriptwriter who is working on the material but Monteras said the identity can't be divulged yet.
What Monteras can share now is that he's planning to shoot scenes in Binondo and Escolta to capture the pre-World War II setting in Metro Manila.
For those who haven't seen the musical, "Mula Sa Buwan" is adapted from the Filipino translation by the late senator-poet Francisco "Soc" Rodrigo of Edmund Rostand's play in 1897.
In Valera's adaptation, Cyrano is a Filipino soldier, a member of a guerrilla unit active in Metro Manila during the Japanese Occupation called Hunters ROTC.
Cyrano falls in love with his childhood sweetheart, Roxanne, but despite being a gifted wordsmith, he is unable to express his true feelings for her.
Roxanne is woed by a newcomer in town, the handsome though inarticulate Christian. Roxanne is smitten by his good looks but apalled by his wrong choices of words. Wanting Roxanne to be happy, the brilliant Cyrano volunteers to remedy Christian's linguistic inadequacy by writing love letters for him to the extent of dictating his lines when he serenaded her one night.
This goes on even during World War II, in the battlefield with Cyrano protecting Christian from harm if only to make Roxanne happy. And no greater love is that from a man who will do anything for his lady love, even sacrificing one's own happiness.
The impact to audience members was so intense many returned to see it again and again. "Mula Sa Buwan" had a limited two-weekend run in December 2016 at the Henry Lee Irwin Theater, also in Ateneo. There was a restaging two months later in February 2017 in the same venue.
In the 2016 and 2017 runs, Cyrano was played alternately by the magnificent Nicco Manalo and Boo Gabunada. Christian was played in alternate by Fred Lo and Edward Beñosa. Roxanne was played solely by KL Dizon.
In the 2018 final run at the Arete, Roxanne was played alternately by Gab Pangilinan and Cris Go. Manalo and Gabunada returned for Cyrano. Myke Salomon came in to play Christian, alternating with Beñosa.
"Mula Sa Buwan" also holds the honor of being the first musical or play that was staged at the Arete. During the opening night, we remember there was still the smell of paint.
It earned rave reviews.
For the film version, Monteras said there will be an audition for all the roles. He assured us though that Manalo will have a major role in the film but didn't specify if Manalo will retain the Cyrano character.
"Wala pang specifics, nasa development stage pa lang," Monteras said.
As reported earlier by various news sites, the post-production grants came from Central Digital Lab, Wildsound Studios and Edge Manila Creatives Corportation.
Jimenez, Angeo and Valera will serve as producers. Given that, Valera said they'd be needing more funds for location alone and special effects.
"It will be an epic period musical traversing the grand pre-war era, the travesty of war, to a devastated city — all within a blend of magic realism," Valera said.
Back to zero
Going back a bit, when Valera said the re-staging of "Mula Sa Buwan" last year was its final version, he was "1,000 percent" dead serious he won't make revisions. If it's going to be staged again, he won't direct it.
He said: "I don't think I can add any more to this production. As my mentor always says: ‘Time to go back to zero.’”
And back to zero he did. If there's a re-staging, it would be his other work, the musical adaptation of Lualhati Bautista's novel "Dekada 70." It had its initial run in June last year by UP Dulaang Laboratoryo and staged at the Bonifacio Hall of the UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations as part of Valera's thesis production.
It had a limited run at the Doreen Black Box theater at the Arete from September 7 to 11, 2018.
Valera told us there is no specific date but he has plans of re-staging it in 2020.
Now he has two projects for the coming year, "Respeto the musical" and "Dekada '70".
"Ang dami-dami na!" he said, as if having panic attacks, though in jest.
"But for now, let's focus first on 'Mula Sa Buwan' the film. We're all very excited."
As early as now, we can hear thousands of tearful fans saying in unison, "Sanlibong salamat!"