| All systems go for the modern Filipino zarzuela in English “Something to Crow About” to hit Off-Broadway this summer month of June in time for the Philippine Independence Day and Rizal Day Celebration. Based on the award-winning book of the same title by National Artist for Literature, Dr. Alejandro R. Roces, the musical is about Pinoy’s phenomenal fascination with game cocks. The original short story version “My Brother’s Peculiar Chicken,” won for Dr. Roces first prize when he was still a student at the University of Arizona, USA. His collection of cockfighting short stories won the SEAWRITE Award given by the King of Thailand.
On record, “Something to Crow About” is the first original Filipino zarzuela that will be performed in La MaMa Theatre and the West Coast. It bears the hallmark of some fascinating scenes from Dr. Roces’ book marked with wit, humor and satire highlighting the traditional sport of cockfighting as vehicle to unfold the colorful panorama of customs, heritage, values, religions, and even relationships on the social, political and economic life of a typical Filipino town. The musical will prove that the Filipino theatre artists-singers are second to none along with honors seen in folk & ethnic dancing, boxing, beauty contests and billiards.
Under the direction of National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Executive Director and Presidential Assistant on Culture Dr. Cecile Guidote Alvarez (recently bestowed by PUP an Honoris Causa for Humanities) and the youngest Filipino to be awarded with a Ramon Magsaysay Award at age 28 for founding PETA, the zarzuela was applauded by 80 countries in a world premiere at the 31st UNESCO ITI (International Theatre Institute) World Congress/ Theater Olympics of the Nations in May last year. UNESCO Secretary General Koichiro Matsuura who led the local and international delegates worldwide hailed it for the “admirable direction” and its relevance to cultural diversity in mobilizing the UN Millennium Development Goals. It also bagged the two most-coveted Aliw Awards (touted as the local counterpart of America’s Tony) for Best Musical and Best Musical Direction for Dr. Roces and Dr. Guidote Alvarez. Thus, it goes to America with a mark of excellence.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who officially endorsed the modern zarzuela pointed out that this is the most auspicious occasion to restage the critically-acclaimed production abroad. It is an integral part of the President’s policy to reach out to the Filipino communities worldwide to address issues on Diaspora through cultural exchange and care giving, and help promote pride of heritage, history and habitat. The production will also be a unique occasion for participatory involvement of the Filipino ethnic theater communities abroad for them to be highlighted in Cameo roles and in a traditional fiesta & Santacruzan scenes.
The US Theatre doyenne & internationally- renowned artist- producer Ellen Stewart has invited the zarzuela to perform at La MaMa E.T.C. . Earlier, Stewart was in the country to supervise the final preparation of the project and as guest speaker in the Arts Month Malacanang Flag Ceremony Observance. From New York, the zarzuela is scheduled to move over to Los Angeles on June 28 coordinated through the leadership of the Executive Director of FASGI (Filipino American Service Group Inc.) Mrs. Susan Dilkes, producer and founder of TDRZ Production, Inc. Ted Benito, and the first Filipina-American to be appointed as Arts & Culture Commissioner in the City of Glendale, Zen Lopez. Farewell performance is on July 1 in San Francisco through the leadership of Helen Moreno, Kaisahan of San Jose Dance Company and Raphael Hermoso. Performances in the Tri-Sate areas is endorsed by the Department of Foreign Affairs Office of American Affairs headed by Asec. Rey Carandang under Executive Director Leoncio Cardenas with the support of the Philippine Consulates through Consul Generals Cecilia Rebong, New York; Mary Jo Aragon; Los Angeles; Maria Rowena Mendoza Sanchez, and Culture Community relations, and Public Information, and Public Information Officer Fracesca Regal, San Francisco.
The zarzuela is a co-production of the UST Conservatory of Music headed by Dean Raul Sunico and UNESCO Phil. ITI chaired by Dr. Roces with the Earthsavers Movement chaired by Sec. Heherson T. Alvarez. It is composed of about fifty persons inclusive of executive staff and a mix of professional and veteran artists from the musical and performing arts scene of Metro Manila, namely Ferdinand Dimadura, music composition; Herminigildo G. Ranera, orchestra conductor; Nonoy Diestro orchestration; Eugene A. de los Santos, choral Master; Ma. Ana Independencia E. Gay, pianist; Gigi Velarde David, additional choreography. Interestingly, the lead cast is played by husband and wife in real life: Tenor Lionel Nestor Guico plays the habitual cocker hounded by the wife to stop the habit played by soprano Cynthia Guico. Featured roles are Repertory stalwarts Noel L. Trindad and Liesl Catherine H. Batucan in a subplot as lovers against the world. President of Mc Donald’s George Yang sings the Supreme Court Chief Justice cameo role as a tenor, while popular actor-singer Bernardo Bernardo essays the Justice of Peace role.
The rest of the performers are Manrico A. Embele who also doubles as Production Manager, Bobby Superales, Rammel Maglonzo, Armel de Guzman, Angelbert Cruz, Marlon Buit, Edna Sanchez, Danilo Nicodemus Pahati, Edralyn Inda, Mylene Ontulan, Thea Perez, Austregelina Alfornon, Ronan Ferrer, Hazel Ceguera, Charisma C. Castro, Lovelle Inoferio, Mary Ann Santiago, Michelle Bautista, Jose Juan D. Reyes, Israel Comandante, Jose Exequiel Vale, Karl Angelo Tangco, and Mary Grace Alvarez.
The Production Staff are composed of Frank Rivera, assistant director; Len Santos, Production Designer; Christe Numbers, Technical Director; Susan Claudio, Los Angeles liaison officer and documentation; Glenn Francisco, Stage Manager; Mybel Lynne Quito, asst. Stage Manager; Maria Teresa Santos & Ma. Divina Kenneth Cavestany, costume mistresses; Director of the cockfight, a reprise from the choreography of his late mother/ National Artist for Dance Leonor Goquingco is Benjamin O. Goquingco assisted by the Foundation Director of the Legacy of Goquingco, Alma Diaz with George Vail Kabristante as Production Supervisor.
The modern zarzuela is made possible with the support of the DFA through its Consulates in New York and the West Coast, GSIS, PAGCOR, Supreme Master Ching Hai Foundation, Academe Publishing House, Asian Cultural Council, NCCA, PAL, PLDT-SMART, DOT- Intramuros Administration, McDonald’s, Smart Communications, and BAKLAD- Cardona, Rizal, the Philippine Sports Commission.
Bringing “ Something to Crow About” to Off-Broadway dramatizes as it reaffirms the dream of the Filipino people to bring the work of a Literary National Artist in the form of a modern zarzuela for the first time abroad particularly New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Father James B. Reuter aptly wrote in his glowing review: “All of the cast had beautiful voices, and the dancing and acting was cutting-edge. It was reminiscent of ‘Cats’ on Broadway.” the Secretary General of UNESCO ITI Jennifer Walpole enthused, “ The lively zarzuela not only introduced us to several important aspects of the Philippine cultural life and character, but was directly relevant to the UN MDG’s, showing the amelioration of strained relations in a couple which evolved as the husband’s behavior is changed with a little help from their friends, and the wife regains her dignity and rightful place in the couple’s lives and community.”
Doyenne of art criticism Rosalinda L. Orosa in her review in Sunday Strokes, concluded: “Picturesquely Philippines, the zarzuela is innovatively and imaginatively conceptualized and directed by Cecile G. Alvarez. Its greatest drawing power is the unique theme on cockfighting with the melodious music, songs, and spirited lyrics rendered wonderfully by soloists.”