Manhid: The Filipino Superhero Musical

Ballet Philippines’ (BP) Sapphire Season ends with the return of the legendary dance rock musical Manhid at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Main Theater. Manhid is co-presented by Tanghalang Pilipino, written by Aureaus Solito, music by Vincent de Jesus and my favorite Pinoy band, Ereaserheads, and libretto by Carina Evangelista. Dance numbers are choreographed by Paul Alexander Morales, BP’s artistic director, and Alden Lugnasin.

Manhid, a musical in three acts, is set in an alternate Philippines where EDSA Revolution fails and ends with the massacre of the leader of the revolution, who happens to be the father of one of the protagonists, Lam-ang. Just before her father dies, he proclaims the Solution for Eternal Peace (SEP). SEP involves naming children born in that era after gods and goddesses of Philippine epics and folkloric tales. This move is supposed to cure kamanhiran (apathy) in society. I do not know how naming a child after heroes of bygone days cure apathy, but whatever floats the author’s boat.

The first act reveals that there are 99 children named after these gods and goddesses who possess superpowers, but as in X-Men and their mutant powers, there are good and evil characters. The protagonists are led by Bantugan, a journalist who has power to convey messages to the other 98 when he sleeps. His group includes Lam-ang, the girl who controls Amihan and Habagat, Lagrimas, the girl whose tears heal wounds and resurrect the dead, Urduja, the queen of insects, and Dilim, the singer with powerful voice that can cause darkness (think of the singing version of Storm!). Jean Judith Javier’s Dilim has unbelievably high voice, enough to wake me from my five-second sleep induced by the incredibly convoluted and mind-boggling first 15 minutes of the first act.

Some of the superheroes of Manhid.

Some of the superheroes of Manhid. Photo by John

The antagonists’ leader is English-speaking Apo Laki, the guy with spear as his constant companion. Apo Laki is played by Richardson Yadao. Yadao is one of the prominent dancers of BP but his Apo Laki barely dances onstage; he just struts around and poses. He looks good doing these things, but I bet he can do them in his sleep. He is joined by Malyari, his right hand man, Gawi-gawen, I forgot her powers but she slithers around like snake and she looks good doing it, and Sidapa. Their puppet mistress is the cruel Demonyita Mamahalima, ironically, she is also the Minister of Humanity. As her name implies, she represents all that is corrupt and evil in society. Of course, like all evil queens before her, she is smart and witty. Her laughter is so affected it is borderline funny.

The protagonists/antagonists characters are Alunsina, the diva goddess whose curses inflict injury, and the beautiful Radya Indarapatra, the guy with a thousand masks. Alunsina’s cursing was cool for the first two minutes then it quickly became old and completely lost its impact before the end of the first act; but her role as the third wheel to the almost bland loveteam of Bantugan and Lam-ang is a welcome relief, like rain in a 39°C day in the middle of the concrete jungle called Metro Manila. Radya Indarapatra’s face, abs and tidy whities make him the most popular character in the musical. Fred Lo is perfect as Radya, the hero/villain with the power to be whoever the other person desires, because his voice is as pleasant as his attractive physique.

Cast of Manhid: The Filipino Superhero Musical

Cast of Manhid: The Filipino Superhero Musical. Photo by John

The first act was too much for my sleep-deprived state. The 2 ½-level stage was filled with people and too many things happened at the same time mainly due to the introduction of more than 20 characters in the first 10 minutes on top of the dozens of extras in white shirt and jeans. I could not keep up with the names, with who was singing which and the words flashed on the screens did not help either. All I remember from the first act are the entrance of Apo Laki (hehehe), Radya Indarapatra’s song number in his underwear and the powerful voice of Dilim. When the first act ended I thought that the remaining characters (70+) would be introduced in the next act.

Thankfully, not all 70+ characters were introduced in the succeeding acts. Sarimanok and his abs and some supporting characters made an appearance. The plot became clearer as the events slowly unravel yet they made me realize why I always cheer for evil characters in any form of fiction. The protagonists are boring, too idealistic and naïve. The antagonists are more interesting because they have plans, however evil they may be. They are efficient connivers even though Apo Laki and his West Point education claim that his cohorts are inefficient. They use their superpowers to the hilt to trick the good guys and they are mainly responsible in moving the story forward. They do not cower in the dark and wait to be attacked by their enemies. At times, I wished that all the protagonists with the exception of Dilim would just perish and the antagonists would have a neverending dance-off.

Like any good versus evil work, there is a final clash between the singing protagonists and the dancing antagonists. This fight to the death involves one-on-one matches not unlike in boxing. Members of each group give their all because Demonyita promised something important to the winners.

 

In the end, events were supposed to make sense. As one of the protagonists said, they have Apoy’s fire, Lagrimas’ water, Lam-ang’s wind and Alunsina’s earth (?) so they will survive and maybe cure people’s kamanhiran. The four elements are enough to start a new society, an alternate one to their current alternate Philippines. Does this mean that when the superheroes wake up the following day, they would be in the Philippines where we are now because the two alternates will cancel each other out? Whoooooo. I thought the musical would end there, but no. There were more singing and dancing. So, I do not know anymore. Seems like Manhid caused my fleeting kamanhiran.

With Demonyita Mamahalima (Mayen Estanero) and Apo Laki (Richardson Yadao)

With Demonyita Mamahalima (Mayen Estanero) and Apo Laki (Richardson Yadao). Photo by John

Stray Observations:

1. My favorite loveteam Urduja and Radja. Their song number was wonderful. Runners-up: Apo Laki and his weapon and Sarimanok and his wings

2. My favorite abs: Apo Laki < Radya < Sarimanok

3. My favorite numbers: Dilim’s song in Act I < Demonyita and the beachgoers shooting for a commercial < Urduja and Radja duet

4. I think I wrote the word abs so many times, I exceeded my quota for the month of March.

With Dilim (Jean Judith Javier)

With Dilim (Jean Judith Javier). Photo by John

The last weekend run of Manhid at the CCP Main Theater is on March 6-8, 2015.

For more information, please visit www.ballet.ph.

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