Thursday ∗ 24 Sep 2009

N.O.A.H. survives the flood

a version of this was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, in the Arts and Books Section, September 21 2009.

There is nothing like a Christian musical for kids that can get any adult-with-a-heart clapping with glee and stomping her foot to the beat. Trumpets’ N.O.A.H., No Ordinary Aquatic Habitat surprisingly did just this. I had braced myself for a born-again musical, i.e., one with a lot of preaching and conventional praise songs. Yet, despite some of these, Trumpets still managed to surprise me, what with its wit and humor, and even more so with some political consciousness – in a Christian musical? God forbid!

In N.O.A.H., while God might have been everywhere and anywhere, speaking to Noah from the heavens, he was also quite political. Case in point: when the flood finally cleans up the world, the narrator (Sam Concepcion) doesn’t just talk about the literal trash and decadence that was washed away, he also mentions corruption and politicking. Add to this the fact that one of the antagonists who first appears onstage looks like GMA, complete with the hairdo and the mole, as well as a placard that screams “Vote Me!” and you’ve got a whole lotta politics going on here.

Which might be lost on the kids, but is really quite a stark statement for half of the audience who are necessarily adults. It is in this way as well that some of the musical’s wit – when Noah asks if he can call God “Bro” (after the soap opera May Bukas Pa), and when the baby pig born in the ark is named Ba-Boy – might not resonate with anyone who isn’t into Pinoy popular humor. Or just anyone who doesn’t speak Filipino, period.

But maybe it is in this sense that musicals must be carried by its music, over and above anything else. Rony Fortich’s music for N.O.A.H., while harking back to the praise song, also seemed to be more attuned with the genre of the pop song, with some hiphop to boot. The lyrics of director Jaime Del Mundo meanwhile was sometimes out-of-sync with the light and fun tune that N.O.A.H. seemed to be intent on creating. It’s also entirely possible that this was an issue of sound (in parts, the music was obviously louder than the actors’ microphones), or an issue of enunciation for the younger actors in the musical.

Oh, but there is choreography and costumes, an animal parade and some breakdancing, to distract from this musical’s flaws. Because in a Trumpets musical, you must enter a bubble where the stories of the Bible are wonderful and true, where God is the center of all things, and where He appears as a good looking teenage boy who can dance and sing, too!

Sam Concepcion as the narrator/God definitely proves himself competent in carrying a show like N.O.A.H., and is a reminder that talent need not be in the form of Charise Pempengco (who he beat in a singing contest cum reality show, and has since been deemed more “successful”). This is not to say of course that his acting was anything extraordinary; more than anything, this role just required Concepcion to be likeable and loveable onstage, with great English diction, and nothing else.

This might have had everything to do with the genre of a musical for kids of course, but this didn’t keep Carlo Orosa as Noah from being his fabulous actor-self. With material that was mostly funny even in its seriousness, Orosa’s take on Noah was an interesting mix of frustration and resignation, kindness, yes, but not gullibility.

As far as the singing on N.O.A.H. is concerned though, it is Sheila Francisco’s show. Playing Mrs. Noah, Francisco just takes every song given her and runs away with it. In the ensemble numbers where she competes with the yet undisciplined voices of the actor-brothers who play her sons, Francisco’s voice just soars. In her solo numbers one can’t help but be overwhelmed by her talent.

And yes, when N.O.A.H. ends, it does so with you in high spirits, not so much because you believe in God any more than you did when you entered the theater, but because there is nothing like the bubble of Christianity to remind you that sometimes life can be utterly, utterly simple. Talk about escaping the flood.

Posted in: kultura, pulitika, review, teatro, tugtugan

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