MANILA -- While watching Black Box Productions’ “Mula Sa Buwan,” a Filipino adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano De Bergerac,” it dawned on me why this classic has endured through the ages: it is a story about the dreaded friendzone.
Ugly (but smart and witty) guy secretly likes his BFF, a girl who, in turn, likes a handsome (but dull) guy. Girl asks ugly (but smart and witty) guy for help to get handsome (but dull) guy’s attention. Ugly (but smart and witty) guy gets friendzoned for girl’s happiness. Chaos ensues.
“Cyrano de Begerac” is the stuff “hugot” melodramas are made of.
“Mula Sa Buwan” is perhaps the most faithful reinterpretation of “Cyrano de Begerac,” changing the setting and time period but not the story nor the circumstances. Instead of 17th century Paris, “Mula Sa Buwan” is starts out in pre-World War II Manila amidst a merry vaudeville setting. Cyrano and company are part of an ROTC troop instead of French cadets. Most apt, the Siege of Arras in the latter part of the play is replaced by the Philippines’ last stand in Bataan.
Unlike past attempts to bring Cyrano into the modern times like “Roxanne” with Steve Martin, “The Truth About Cats and Dogs” with Jeanine Garofalo and Uma Thurman, and more recently, “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” from Netflix, I thought setting “Mula Sa Buwan” in an age of war reflects the stakes that the modern rom-com treatment somehow loses.
Joseph Gordon Leavitt lookalike Boo Gabunada owns the stage as Cyrano. There is a certain larger-than-life comicality to his portrayal, somewhat similar to Leavitt’s Philippe Petit in “The Walk.” Gabunada’s Pinocchio-nosed Cyrano is a charming rogue that’s reduced to jelly when Cris Go’s ingenue-ish Roxanne walks in. Gabunada’s face is just so expressive. You can see bliss on his face when he first dances with Roxanne. Later on, he just takes the audience with him as Roxanne’s every glance, every gesture, and every little word of affection drives him deeper and deeper into friendzone hell.
The cast members have their moment to shine. Phi Palmos gave Rosanna the diva treatment that reminded me of Lady Gaga in terms of vocal prowess and outlandishness. Edward Benosa’s leading-man looks gives credence to his Christian who comes across as naïve as Roxanne but grows up before his tragic end.
Composers Pat Valera and William Elvin Manzano wisely moderate the use of rhyme and verse in Soc Rodrigo’s Filipino translation. There is a certain contemporary rhythm to the way the lines were delivered that made me rediscover how beautiful our language can be, particularly when used in the lyrics of the musical's songs.
The music crosses genres as I heard songs that reminded me of Pinoy rock 'n' roll abd blues, to even opera and kundiman. What I really liked was the cinematic use of music. Besides the songs, there was a score that elevated certain scenes. Of note was the bluesy harmonica solo that opened the second act and that lonely piano piece playing during Cyrano’s goodbye that somehow changed to discordant banging on the keyboards to denote, pain, loss and what-could-have-beens. They will be releasing a cast recording soon and I will be in line to buy it.
“Mula Sa Buwan” seems to be two plays in one. Act I is light, colorful and exuberant much like a Venetian carnival. Act II is dark, bloody and brooding.
When light, sound, and direction come together, they produce some truly memorable moments in the play like that “shock and awe” conclusion to Act I where the cadets are marching off to war.
Cyrano saying goodbye to his dead compatriots is surprisingly touching and poignant.
There is prelude to a scene where the stage is empty and just lit by three spotlights. I could sense the director’s confident hand as this prelude extended to just a few beats longer while the audience was dead quiet absorbing the scene before.
However, because of some audio glitches, some sequences lost their impact. For instance, the protagonist putting down his rival’s simple insult by creatively mocking himself is one of the highlights of a Cyrano de Bergerac play. Words are everything in this sequence and it came across as muffled.
There was also a really poignant, even sacred, moment in the latter part of the play where the audience was taken out of their reverie by very badly timed audio feedback. Hopefully, the production can address these as soon as possible.
For the romantic who loves music from all genres, “Mula Sa Buwan” is a must-watch. It’s such a lovely experience to re-discover the rhythm and flow of the Filipino language when used in poetry and in song on the stage. Top-notch direction, and a talented cast make “Mula Sa Buwan” an enjoyable time in the theater.
For those stuck in the friendzone, as one of the songs in “Mula Sa Buwan” says, “Matatapos din!”
“Mula Sa Buwan” runs until November 25 at the Hyundai Hall, Arete at the Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City.