MANILA -- Film, TV and theater actor Sam Concepcion was specifically handpicked to ply the title role in “Joseph the Dreamer,” the musical written by Freddie Santos, which will be restaged by Trumpets 31 years after it was first seen onstage.
“I still can’t believe that I’m doing this project,” said the 27-year-old actor, who did not have to go through a rigorous audition process. “It really does feel like a dream come true, knowing that I really have big shoes to fill.”
The choice of Concepcion was a no-brainer for the show’s producers, Trumpets, as he is an actor who knows how to sing, dance and act.
“You have to act, sing and dance. How many actors can do that?" said Trumpets' Audie Gemora, who starred in the original "Joseph the Dreamer."
Concepcion was already anointed by Gary Valenciano as “the next Gary V,” veritably an heir-apparent.
“Sam has a charm onstage,” Gemora insists. “He is a really good actor. He can do hip-hop, pop, R&B. If Sam takes theater seriously, he can give them all a run for their money. He’s a real leading man material.”
Hearing those words puts “pressure” on Concepcion. “Coming from the original Joseph himself, who paved the way for this show, there’s pressure, definitely,” Concepcion admits. “It’s also very inspiring to be given that role.”
He is thankful that the people behind the project gave him the honor of playing the role and entrusting him with the musical play. “That, to me, is a challenge,” Concepcion humbly acknowledged.
He confessed that more than making movies and acting on TV, theater is his first love. However, his last production was “No Filter,” a straight play with monologues staged in 2015. Previously, he also did “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.” “High School Musical” and “Peter Pan.”
“I was scared to do ‘Joseph the Dreamer’ at first,” Concepcion said. “I wasn’t sure if I could still do it, if I still had the ability being on the theater stage doing a musical. I didn’t want to come in cold.”
Yet, Concepcion was assured by the musical’s producers he can deliver the demands required for the role. “It’s like riding a bike,” he said. “It does feel like home. I did have to make a lot of adjustments. Slowly, every day, I’m feeling it. I’m still learning. There’s still so much room to grow.”
FROM CANTATA TO MUSICAL
Thirty-one years ago, “Joseph the Dreamer” was originally staged in Cebu, with Gemora playing the title role. The musical was adapted from a famous cantata, “Joseph: Whatever Happened To the Dreamer?” by Cam Floria.
A Cebuano lady who had a choir, Gina Sybico, wanted director Freddie Santos to stage the cantata, basically with only choral music and a narrator. However, Santos, being the top concert director then and also theater person, started to add lines and “Joseph the Dreamer” became a full-blown musical.
“Basically, Freddie just put together some songs and created a story around ‘Joseph the Dreamer’ with narration,” Gemora recalled. “He got some of us, some from the theater, some from the concert, to go to Cebu and merged us with a choir.”
The musical was staged at St. Theresa’s Auditorium in Cebu, supposedly only for three days. “On the day we were supposed to open, we still didn’t have a strong ending,” Gemora said. “So that was the time ‘Never Look Down’ became the clincher ending.”
That people came to watch and filled the 500-seater auditorium amazed the cast and the entire production team. “There were people outside waiting to get in and we still didn’t have an ending,” Gemora shared. “We were able to do only three performances, but the reaction was unbelievable. The people were cheering.”
TRAPPED IN PARADISE
The next day, Gemora was surprised to hear a cast member, Carlo Orosa, shouting, “Ang mga Hapon! Ang mga Hapon!”
“The miracle of it, our producer, Manolo Cantos, booked us in a resort. The Cory Aquino coup d’etat happened in December 1989. We were supposed to stay in Cebu for only three days. They closed all the airports and we couldn’t go back to Manila. We got trapped. There were no flights. He transferred us to another hotel.”
Cantos convinced the cast to do a show that night. It so happened that former Manila Bulletin lifestyle editor Ethel Timbol watched a fashion show at Cebu Plaza with Johnny Litton. With all the models, they were also trapped with nothing to do.
“They all went to watch,” Gemora remembered. “When Ethel saw the musical, she convinced Freddie to bring the show to Manila.”
In 1990, “Joseph the Dreamer” was staged at the Meralco Theater. “Every time we staged it, people were packing it in,” Gemora said. "We averaged 24 to 30 performances. We obviously had a hit and runs. We just kept on doing it again and again.”
By 1991, Gemora and the team said, “Mukhang may patutunguhan ‘to.’ Why don’t we formally come together as a group? We were a bunch of artists who had a spiritual renewal. We became Christians, though we still didn’t quite clearly know what that meant and where God wanted to lead us. We all had our individual spiritual renewal. But what did that mean in context to our careers as theater people?”
TRUMPETS WAS BORN
Theater performer Enchang Kaimo and her husband, Mari, took the initiative to urge the performers to form a theater group. That was how Trumpets, a non-stock, non-profit company, was born.
“The idea was that we were going to be the first professional Christian theater company,” Gemora said. “Our calling, objective or goal, was to use the theater or any other form of entertainment, to bring people closer to God. That was our calling. Any earnings will just go right back to the production to do more
“Our main goal was to preach the gospel. It could be in your face or it could be subtle. After every show, there was an altar call. We were asking people to accept the Lord as his personal savior. Every performance of ‘Joseph the Dreamer’ from day one, always ended with an altar call. It was at that time, our calling, was really to evangelize. ‘Joseph the Dreamer’ was really to preach the gospel. It was a really miraculous show.”
“Joseph the Dreamer” was staged at Cuneta Astrodome, at the Ultra and Meralco Theater, and eventually in schools. The musical was also staged at the Davao Convention Center, Cebu Coliseum, Cebu Plaza Ballroom, Dagupan Coliseum and at the San Agustin Auditorium in Iloilo with up to 15,000 watching.
“Rak of Aegis was saying they were the longest run, I will contest that,” Gemora smilingly said. “We did ‘Joseph the Dreamer’ for 10 years.
GETTING GARY V
After that time, Gemora asked the team, “Where can we bring this show after a record-breaking 10-year run?” Then, he saw pop idol Gary Valenciano in the window of Glorietta in Makati. Gemora simply opened his mouth to say “Joseph” to Valenciano. Prior to “Joseph the Dreamer,” Valenciano did a Christian musical, “First Name,” staged in 1988. It was not hard to convince him to do “Joseph the Dreamer.”
Gemora knew it was “providential” to stage the musical play with Valenciano, who subsequently took on the lead, with Gemora alternating.
The staging of “Joseph the Dreamer” in 1999 was already new as Valenciano was known for his hip-hop dance moves. “From 1989, it was jazz and modern ballet,” Gemora said. “Even Gary had a different choreography and type of singing. A lot of dance numbers were incorporated into the production.”
That is the spirit of Trumpets, according to Gemora and why they are different from all the other theater companies. “What made us very distinct is also the reason why, over the years, we had not been as active as all the other theater companies.
“When I took over as president in 1991, most theater companies only had two challenges, artistic and commercial. Come up with a show that everybody will say, ‘Ganda’ and make money. When Trumpets started, there was a dearth of materials written that had a Christian message. And the ones from the US were so hard sell.”
NOT A ONE-SHOW COMPANY
Hence, Trumpets was compelled to write its own materials for stage musicals. “How many Bible stories have a beginning, middle and end?,” Gemora asked. “Most of the Bible stories don’t have that. That’s why I was really challenged. At one point, we asked, ‘What else can we do? We cannot just be a one-show company.”
That was when the company started to do “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” and “The Little Mermaid.” Yet, Gemora was still always being questioned. “A lot of the hard-core Christians were telling me I was destroying the vision. As a matter of fact, putting up Stages happened because there were a lot of people coming to us to do their corporate shows.”
There was a time the people behind Trumpets prioritized their careers, family and jobs. Yet, more than any other time now, Gemora feels the world really needs to know about God more now than ever.
“We want to come back and pave the way for the next generation and do what we have to. That is a conviction I feel stronger now than ever. Why are we looking at younger people now? They’re the ones we need to reach out to. It has to be their language and point of view. If we do ‘Joseph the Dreamer’ now the way we did it in the eighties? They will find it too preachy, unbelievable and politically incorrect. They will never buy it.”
After two decades, “Joseph the Dreamer” returns onstage as a “reintroduction for Trumpets, because we’ve been away for so long.”
“This will be Trumpets’ relaunch,” Gemora declared.
Gathering some of the most formidable, as well as promising, names in the local theater industry to complete the cast, “Joseph the Dreamer” boasts of a powerhouse ensemble to join Concepcion. He is paired with Kayla Rivera, who plays his wife, Asenath.
Gemora, this time, plays Joseph’s father, Jacob, with Bituin Escalante as his wife Rachel and Joseph’s mother. Orosa, a returning cast member, essays the comic role of Pharaoh.
Completing the 22-member cast are Mitzi Lao, RJ De la Fuente, Carlos Canlas, Paul Anthony Valdez, Neo Rivera, Jim Ferrer, Renz Bernardo, Edrei Tan, Matthew Barbers, John Paul Fausto, Joshua Ade Valenzola, Guido Gatmaytan, Aldo Vencilao, Alys Serdenia, Jo Mari Logdat, Coleen Paz, Samantha Libao and Kathleen Francisco, with two child wonders – Elai Estrella and Eli Luis.
“Before, there was even a choir, so the cast was about 80,” Gemora bragged.
Working at the helm of “Joseph the Dreamer” is young concert director, Paolo Valenciano, who is making his directorial debut in a stage musical.
“We wanted a young director,” Gemora explained. “It was a big gamble, because I didn’t know whether or not he would accept or he would understand the [theater] medium. He was so used to directing concerts. The moment he took on the script, he knew exactly what to do.
“He reassigned and re-sequenced the songs. He worked on the same script, but Paolo moved the material around to give this version a new context. He removed the word ‘God’ in the script that was peppered with ‘God.’ He also worked on the list of songs in a sequence.”
Gemora noted that Valenciano’s affinity to the play is too strong. “Initially, he didn’t think he could do it. His dad first did it. He did Trumpets musicals before. He and Sam previously worked as brothers in ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.’ So it was not hard for him to give his nod.”
“The day came when we needed to get Freddie’s approval for the script,” Gemora said. “At the end of the day, you know, intellectual property rights. In terms of writing, very little is new. But for direction, 95 percent is new. Paolo is so good at giving purpose.
“I had to talk to Freddie to give ‘Joseph the Dreamer’ to the young director. I had to assure him and manage him. Freddie is a hard act to follow. He played Jacob to my Joseph. His portrayal is so in my mind. He is a really good comedian, but I don’t know how to make my character comic. I can make it because I’m an actor. Freddie is a big shadow to follow.”
NEW, DIFFERENT EYES
Now that “Joseph the Dreamer” is under totally new, different eyes, Gemora is certain they have a production that everybody can certainly look forward to. “Paolo had seen the musical when he was still a kid. Even when he was still an actor, he was already very promising. He did Playshop workshop every summer.
“I was recognizing Paolo even earlier. I told his mom, Angeli, her son was a good actor. She didn’t allow Paolo to do theater. She insisted he was a rocker. I knew he had it in him. I just took a chance on Paolo,” Gemora said.
Everybody in the artistic team is young. Valenciano gathered the finest young artists to form his artistic team. Myke Salomon takes on the musical director’s hat, after having worked in recent acclaimed hit musicals as “Rak of Aegis” and “Ang Huling El Bimbo.”
“I’ve been aware of the work of Myke Salomon,” Gemora said. “I know he’s good. But I didn’t know he’s that good until he took this material. Mon Faustino is a genius. He was the musical director before. I don’t know how you can top that.
“Myke can give the songs a different context, story, under story, emotion. First time to sit down with him and Myke was teaching me. I was only listening and I wanted to cry. He was incredible. There’s a song, ‘Like Father, Like Son’ which he gave a different, absolute context and that made me cry.”
Also part of the team are Mike Arda, choreographer of the hip-hop group A-Team; and Nelsito Gomez as associate director.
Trumpets president Butch Jimenez cannot be more pleased with the young artistic team behind the musical. “The time is ripe for younger generations to experience this incredible musical,” Jimenez said. “The best way to teach them is to have millennials at the helm of this new production. We did not have to look far to assemble the best artistic team.”
After “Joseph the Dreamer,” Trumpets will also re-stage “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” in two years. The company is also set to do a musical featuring songs of the group Smokey Mountain, with Krina Cayabyab as the musical director.
“I don’t want to rest on our laurels,” Gemora said. “I want to challenge our young people to start writing materials.”
“Joseph the Dreamer” will run from February 21 to March at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, BGC Arts Center in Taguig City.