Mula sa Buwan is a musical that is fully aware of where it comes from—not the moon, but Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac. Painstakingly recreated by writer and director Pat Valera, this localized production is a strikingly faithful adaptation of its source material almost to a fault. It’s powered by joyous, lively performances, and the Filipino translation of Rostand’s words is possessed with the same passion, humor, and tragedy from the original script. The complication here is in Mula sa Buwan’s decision to situate itself in 1940s Manila. The parallels that Valera draws between our history and 17th-century France are clever and heartfelt, but the comparisons don’t quite feel essential just yet.
Those who are unfamiliar with Cyrano de Bergerac might find it silly to expect genuine emotion from a production with a premise as undeniably outrageous as this: an ROTC captain with a cartoonish elongated nose helps one of his cadets woo a young lady, who also happens to be the object of Cyrano’s secret affection. Overcoming the inherent absurdity of this story is the greatest roadblock for Mula sa Buwan, but a talented cast easily grounds the narrative in sincerity.
Nicco Manalo is the main reason much of this works. The role of Cyrano demands an immense amount of charisma and subtle self-loathing, and Manalo manages that delicate balance without ever slipping into caricature — an achievement given the enormous prosthetic proboscis mounted onto Manalo’s face. He makes you forget it’s even there. (The nose, to its credit, is uncannily realistic—bobbing along to Manalo’s every expression.)
The character of Roxane has not aged gracefully in a world that now expects much more from female love interests. Thankfully, KL Dizon makes the character feel fully formed, and earns the emotional devastation Roxane is meant to feel by the end of the musical. As the good-looking cadet Christian, Edward Benosa can’t help but seem overshadowed by his co-leads, though he functions well as Manalo’s foil. The rest of the cast draws from the same energy Manalo radiates, and Ronah Rostata as the Bohemian Rossana is a particular standout in the vocal department.
The idea of staging Mula sa Buwan as a musical may at first seem like a surefire way to magnify the more unrealistic aspects of the source material, but Valera’s assured direction of the musical elements only amplifies Cyrano’s love of poetry and love for Roxane. The sound quality should still be undergoing improvements for the show’s second run, but the music itself is already surprisingly refined, with the same spirit of a long-running rock opera. Even without a real central hook, the songs really soar when everybody in the company gets to raise their voice. Overall it’s an impressively staged production with a rich emotional core, and makes great use of the theater’s depth in emphasizing the closeness or distance between certain characters.
Where Mula sa Buwan takes a noble risk is in its attempt to relocate Cyrano to the Philippines during World War II. The intent is clear and admirable: bringing this story to our own shores allows us to better identify with the young men and women who lost so much and were forced to grow up so abruptly in the 1940s. The problem here is that, because Mula sa Buwan is so good at channeling Rostand, the Filipino tweaks kind of get in the way. For example, the script contains mentions of locations and people specific to the setting, but these come off more like distracted winks to the audience instead of important details essential for world building.
The most notable instance of Mula sa Buwan’s effort to localize itself comes at the beginning of act two, during which there is a routine that symbolizes the atrocities that the cadets had to endure during the war, including the Bataan Death March. Beautiful as it is, the sequence clashes stylistically with the rest of the production and comes across as tangential to the narrative at hand. And while the sets are generally impressive, they’re never as Filipino as they try to be—once again betraying Mula sa Buwan’s undying love for Rostand.
The points of intersection between Rostand’s play and our own history are clever, but they ultimately speak more about the timelessness of the original script than anything else. They’re mostly well-realized, but they aren’t totally necessary. As of now, the Filipino elements in Mula sa Buwan are more a new coat of paint rather than an entirely new engine.
But make no mistake; Mula sa Buwan is still an excellently written musical that takes full advantage of our language. Cyrano’s poetry and passionate messages to Roxane here are just as romantic if not more so than in the original French. There are wonderful exchanges of dialogue that are charged with humor, and songs that drip with quiet tragedy.
Mula sa Buwan is still, more than anything, an adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac—and that’s not a bad thing. It remains an entertaining, achingly romantic show. While it doesn’t quite excel at being a period piece, it succeeds at being a celebration of language, inner beauty, and that old fashioned thing called love.
MULA SA BUWAN RETURNS TO THE IRWIN THEATRE AT ATENEO DE MANILA IN QUEZON CITY ON FEBRUARY 18. ORDER TICKETS THROUGH TICKETWORLD OR THROUGH THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE FACEBOOK.COM/MULASABUWAN.