Chinese culture is a part of Filipino life. We eat siomai and tikoy, celebrate Chinese New Year, and create movies about it (the Mano Po franchise had seven films). So it makes sense that somebody would want to create a musical about it. But given the current tension between the Philippines and China, do we really need one? The answer is yes.
Binondo: a Tsinoy Musical is everything I love about musical theater. A good story, spectacular staging, and good songs. But what can you expect when you combine the genius of Joel Lamangan (director), Ricky Lee (book and lyrics), Von de Guzman (composer), and Douglas Nierras (choreographer)?
Binondo tells the love story of Lily, a Filipina nightclub singer, and Ah Tiong, a mainland Chinese scholar. It spans two decades in two countries, and is set against China’s cultural revolution and the 1971 Mid Autumn Festival in Manila’s Chinatown. Like many great love stories, it doesn’t go without a hitch. For Lily and Ah Tiong’s, it’s Carlos, her best friend who is in love with her, and Jasmine, a Chinese woman betrothed to him and waiting for his return to China.
There are plenty of things to love about the musical but the biggest draws are the actors who play Lily and Ah Tiong. Sheila Valderrama-Martinez and Arman Ferrer are stunning in their roles, especially the singing part. I am especially fond of Ferrer, whose soaring vocals had the booming quality that complemented the spectacular set. Valderrama-Martinez matched him note for note, delivering a poignant performance of a woman desperately in love.
The rest of the cast did not get lost in the lovestruck duo’s dazzling performance. Noel Rayos as Carlos was heartbreaking. Ima Castro as Lily’s mother delivered a splendid performance, both in terms of acting and singing. Mariella Laurel as Jasmine was also a joy to watch. Jim Pebangco, Lorenz Martinez, Khalil Kaimo, Rhapsody Li, and Ellrica Laguardia as Koro offered comic relief.
The songs were just as beautiful. It was a tasteful mix of rousing numbers like “Dito sa Binondo” and “Ang Pag-ibig ay Disco,” and more passionate ones like “Kung Sino Nga Bang Una ay Siya Ring Huli” and “May Tiwala Ako.”
The cast was superb against the beautiful stage design. Everything was big, big, big, and it was the perfect backdrop for the immense talent, head-bopping and emotional songs, and the intricate choreography.
Throughout the show, I kept thinking how Binondo: A Tsinoy Musical would be perfect as a film. There was a cinematic approach to producing it, and I think it’s because Lamangan and Lee were at the helm. Between them, they have worked on the Mano Po franchise, Mila, Rainbow’s Sunset, and Himala. It’s hard to put it into words, but there’s a commercial quality to the musical that would be easily translated to a movie screen.
As of now, we can only enjoy Binondo on the stage. And I advise that you watch this spectacular production, as it’s running for a super limited time this weekend. The show is a rerun from last year and who knows if they’ll stage it again soon? Maybe the next time you’ll be able to catch it is in the cinema.
This story is in partnership with Binondo: A Tsinoy Musical. The musical will be staged from July 12-14, 2019 at The Theatre at Solaire. For tickets, call Ticketworld at (02) 891 9999 or visit the website. For more information, visit the Binondo website or follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Follow the conversation at #BinondoTsinoyMusical2019 and #Binondo2019.