It tells of the story of a man who lived most of his life underground, masked and hidden from the rest of the world. A renaissance man: a “scholar, architect, musician. A composer. An inventor.” But before his escape from the world to live in his dungeon, the only recognition he received was for his disfigured face which, for a few loose change in a traveling circus, anyone can gawk at.
He was an artist and the telling of his story begins in the middle of a rehearsal for an opera, rudely interrupted by the arrival of the powers that be: the opera house’s impresario announcing his retirement and the introduction of the new owners of the theater. The managers arrive and they expect the whole world to stop for them, of course.
The new managers refused to acknowledge and compensate him for his work, despite the fact that through the years the man silently ran the theater, composed music, mentored young artists. Through the years he remained unseen, unrecognized, unknown to everyone else except to those who have experienced his work, his genius.
This is also the story of a young lady gifted with a beautiful voice, honed through the years by the masked man underground. But she’s not on center stage, she’s a chorus girl because she’s not as popular as the opera house’s resident diva. One day she got to play the lead, but only because the diva walked out of the production and the managers had to choose between canceling the performance and handing out refunds to the public, or keeping their money and making do with a chorus girl on center stage. And as expected, the managers, motivated only by their greed for money, decided to let the show go on with our unpopular heroine taking over the role that the diva abandoned. At curtain call, the audience rose to their feet to applaud the amazing talent of our chorus girl.
She has proven her worth, her talent, but as far as the managers of the theater are concerned, she’s only worthy of taking center stage when the diva is not available, or, at times, unaffordable.
Sure, our story is also a love story between the talented young lady and the wealthy patron of the theater. Sure, this production is one of the most popular and well-loved musicales of all time. But what really got me excited about directing this play are the stories it tells beyond the spectacle of grand musical arrangements and grandiose scenery and pompous costume pieces: for me, the real story is the struggle between art and commerce, the conflict between money-making and artistic integrity, the role of the moneyed elite as tastemakers, the plight of the unrecognized, unacknowledged, uncompensated highly talented artists.
I was offered to tell this story onstage, and last Tuesday I presided over the first production meeting. Infront of me were among Baguio’s best performing artists: Soprano Kay Balajadia, theater actors Lloyd Celzo, Jeff Coronado, Ro Quintos, Cholo Virgo, Emerald Ventura, Ursolino Enciso, Roman Ordoña, Jonarene Flores, production managers RL Abella-Altomonte, Eunice Caburao, Jojo Lamaria, Austrude Delo, among others, most of whom you may ask, who the hell are these people? Sure, perhaps you haven’t seen them on TV, in a commercial, and they’re not regularly featured in the lifestyle sections of national dailies, but you can meet them onstage in this theatrical presentation produced by the Soroptimists of Pines City, headed by Ms. Melle Biznar, on July 25, 2009 at the SLU-CCA Theater, as these Baguio artists take center stage to tell the story of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera.”
In that meeting, as I scanned the room filled with world-class local talents, I thought, this musical may very well be telling their very own story.