Zarzuela 101: A Review of "Walang Sugat" staged by Tanghalang Ateneo at the Henry Lee Irwin Theatre
By Paul Lee
While the sight of live actors performing may still be a common novelty in this age of online and downloadable entertainment; the idea of watching a live zarzuela performance can still prove to be an experience in itself. Otherwise those born long after its heyday couldn’t help but wonder what sort of entertainment our forbearers must have enjoyed before movies and the television let alone downloadable music and YouTube.
For the benefit of the non-Filipino net surfers out there; a zarzuela is basically a one to five-act play with spoken lines complemented by musical numbers popular during the closing years of the 19th century and the early quarter of the 20th century; and for the benefit of today’s generation the zarzuela can best be described as a Hispanic-era version of a Glee and High School Musical. Though the basic plots of the zarzuelas tended to lean towards love stories; they likewise included socio-political themes-cum-commentaries relevant
to the period. However competition from bodabil (vaudeville), radio and cinema displaced it as the premier form of popular entertainment in the Philippines during the American occupation and it was only during the 1970s at a height of national soul-searching that there had been an upsurge of interest in the zarzuela. Since then; the zarzuela has been acknowledged as the country’s own distinct form of theatre.
While the leads faultlessly complemented their roles as the characters of the young lovers Temyong and Julia to the point of being too flawless; real kudos should go to the supporting cast especially AJ Constantino who essayed the comic role of the loyal sidekick Lucas complete with a slapstick routine worthy of the best of vaudeville. And following the rule of the foil being the more interesting character than the lead there was Zuriel Valbuena as Miguel essaying the otherwise ineffectual romantic foil of Temyong. Not surprisingly each act is climaxed with the seminal alternate national anthem, "Bayan Ko" which may be ouvre in its desire to infuse nationalism in the audience but this may be what the author had in mind when he first penned the play over a century ago. In that case; the themes of Walang Sugat may have transcended time and succeed in striking a chord with today’s audience.
(Paul Lee is a freelance writer based in Loyola Heights, Q.C. An Ateneo graduate, he is currently finishing his master's in creative writing at U.P. Diliman).