BELOW THE LINE
By AMBASSADOR JOSE ABETO ZAIDE
No, I don’t mean Chinatown, but the musical.
This fast-paced two-part song-and-dance is set back in time to pre-martial law days. It covers two decades of unrest coterminous at a time in the Philippines and during the Cultural Revolution in China.
Act 1, the plot: There are 18 songs (from “Masdan ang Hugis Ng Buwan” to “Eternity’). The piece de resistance is “Yuèliang Dàibiǎo Wǒ de Xīn” (“Moon Represents My Heart”) which Lily (Sheila Valderrama-Martinez) sings at the Lotus Club at a celebration of the love deity Ge Lao. But when she fumbles on the lyrics, Ah Tiong (Armand Ferrer), the infatuated visitor from Mainland China, picks up the slack for an enthralling duet. The Chinese classic is also sung in parts in Pilipino translation (for local delectation.)
“Yuèliang Dàibiǎo Wǒ de Xīn” was one of the first popular foreign love songs under the China’s new China’s Open Door Policy. This Mandarin classic was popularized by Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng. (Foreign music was verboten for several decades. But Teng’s “soft, sweet, often whispering and restrained’ style was considered the “ideal” music. She was a marked contrast to the then officially sanctioned revolutionary songs. Before her, romantic songs were thought bourgeois and decadent.)
Another act worth the price of admission was the tryst between Lily and Ah Tiong. It was beautifully choreographed past censors by Douglas Nierras for the dancers Froilan and Christaliza Dabalus (in real life, husband and wife).
Sub-plot: Vying for Lily’s heart is a childhood friend Carlos (Noel Rayos), a Chinoy; while patiently a-waiting back in China for Ah Tiong is Jasmine (Mariella Laurel). The parents on both sides had agreed on pre-arranged nuptial; and Ah Tiong, after initially resisting, would be a dutiful son. “Ako Ay Pilipino” by Carlos is a throbbing patriotic delivery; and a six-member chorus accelerates the pace of the story.
Act 2. Lovers are kept apart by politics and revolutionary fervor. The musical has 14 more songs (from “Ang Bagong Tsina,” a heart-thumping Cultural Revolution march, to “Eternity Reprise”). Towards the ending, Jasmsine, Ah Tiong’s wife, gives him leave to revisit Manila to look up his old flame. He finds the Lotus Club and sees a young girl Ruby (Ashley Factor) who sings beautifully “Moon Represents My Heart”; and he would learn that she is their, (Lily’s and his), love child.
One cannot just hum through all these. Spanning two decades and two countries, “Binondo, A Tsinoy Musical,” explores love prevailing over prejudice, politics, absence, and even unrequited longing. It harks back to the early ’70s to the mid-’80s from Manila’s Chinatown to Shenzhen Harbor and Beijing Labor Camp in Mainland China. Based on an original story by Rebecca Chuaunsu and written by Ricky Lee, Gershom Chua, and Eljay Deldoc, it is directed by Joel Lamangan, music by Von de Guzman, choreography by Douglas Nierras, lighting design by Joey Nombres, and production design and technical direction by Otto Hernandez. The musical first ran June 29-July 8, 2018. The same group produced and had the same dramatis personae and cast in an earlier success, “Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag.”
This bonus three-day re-run on July 12-14 at Theatre Solaire is Miky Yong’s tribute to his late wife Maria Teresa Alava-Yong. It should be curtain time again. But the good news is that a producer from Singapore and HK came over to scout the performance. And another producer from Fujian was also here for the same purpose.
If the title “Binondo” will be a too insular for performances elsewhere, how about “Yuèliang Dàibiǎo Wǒ de Xīn” (“Moon Represents My Heart”), if that won’t be a copyright issue? The Pinoy dialogue and songs, of course, can project Chinese translations. Or perhaps, even better, this musical deserves to be done into a movie, if the producers really mean it to have the widest reach…
POSTSCRIPT. Philippine Ambassador to Germany Theresa Dizon — De Vega and Consul General Evelyn Austria — Garcia in Frankfurt led the celebration of the 158th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose P. Rizal (19 June) at Wilhelmsfeld. (N.B. We have so many hyphenated names in our foreign service — lady ambassadors and officers who are one-of-the-boys!)
Mayor Christoph Oeldorf acknowledged Wilhelmsfeld’s privileged role to host and to promote in the memory of Rizal. Rizal Knight Commander Reinhold Lovenich, dressed in KoR Barong Tagalog like the other Knights of Rizal, recalled our national hero’s pioneering and modernizing view on education. After the wreath-laying, Mayor Oeldorf awarded prizes to 12 school children for their reflections on Rizal. The ambassador also distributed books on Rizal by Ambeth Ocampo and other authors to the Wilhelmsfeld library and the Ladies of Rizal.
ERRATUM. Director for Cultural Diplomacy Victorio Mario M. Dimagiba Jr. wrote that the DFA funded the Pundaquit Virtuosi’s European tour and coordinated engagement dates of our foreign service posts. (I had mistakenly intimated that the tour depended on the resourcefulness of individual ambassadors, who winged it as in the days of yore. DFA is now much better equipped and provides logistical support.)
FINALLY. The silence was deafening at the July 14 French National Day reception: No Philippine official for the exchange of toasts. As Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said, Malacanang was not amused about French association with Iceland’s initiative for UN investigation on the administration’s anti-narcotics campaign. The French must be very confused, because even when we are visibly upset, two high-level Cabinet members were prominently present at the Bastille Day reception. DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. will find have to weigh to find a way out of this conundrum.