I was in tears. Literally.
Seated with one of my best friends at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, otherwise known as the Little Theater at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, watching the revival of a work that I had done with Ryan Cayabyab twenty-five years ago.
Twenty-five years ago.
That was what was quite hard to believe. It was twenty-five years ago.
It was more than twenty-five years ago when I received a call from Girlie Rodis asking me if I wanted to write the book and libretto of an original musical about the life of Katy de la Cruz.
It was more than twenty-five years ago when I met with Celeste Legaspi, Girlie Rodis and Ryan Cayabyab before I flew to the U.S. to spend some days with Katy de la Cruz, interview her, get to know her and gain some insight into who she was, the life she led, the people she worked with and the history of popular entertainment as we understood it --- through the eyes of somebody who lived it.
It was more than twenty-five years ago when I got another directive from Celeste and Girlie telling me to write a song which would eventually be the carrier single. It was supposed to be the signature piece to introduce the musical entitled Katy! to the popular audience of the late '80s.
I was still in the process of outlining the book, I have not written the lyrics of any song for the piece but I was told that we needed a song that should represent all of what Katy de la Cruz' story should embody. It was a song that was a tribute not only to Katy's priceless contribution to Filipino popular entertainment --- but also a song to honor all those who share their entire lives for the enjoyment of the audiences.
I remember that late afternoon in my South SyQuia apartment when I sat down and wrote the words of that song. The piece turned out to be the most popular song of all of Katy's musical materials.
I wanted a song that would speak not only about the lives of people who gave their hearts and souls in bringing laughter and entertainment to the ever-changing audiences. I wanted a song about time --- its cruelty, its immortality --- and how works indeed outlive their creators. I wanted a love song --- that did not sound like A Chorus Line's most famous "What I Did for Love" but reverberated more of the Filipino sentiment.
That afternoon I wrote the words of Minsan Ang Minahal ay Ako.
Yes, the song was written even before the musical took form.
But everything else that followed was like --- automatic writing. As I told some who cared to ask, Katy wrote itself. I merely pounded on the keyboards of my ancient Remington typewriter --- because the words spilled out the way the story wanted to be told.
How am I describe how my friend Ryan Cayabyab and I share this affinity so much so that when I write lyrics for yet a melody that has to be woven --- somehow I already hear what the maestro will do with my metered stanzas? How do I dissect such wonderment? I do not know. I really do not know. I attribute this to the fact that Ryan and I are of the same age (both born in the Year of the Horse) and that he is this genius who creates music out of syllables I pluck out of some great nowhere.
Oh, we have worked so many times together.
I tell people that there will come a time when I will be remembered not for the movies I wrote and directed but for writing the lyrics of what has become the Christmas standard, Kumukutikutitap. How is that for an entry in the local Trivial Pursuit? Ryan has given me the chance to write lyrics to so many beautiful songs that he has worked around to create great music. I feel so privileged. I feel so ...completed. Yet of all the works that he has done, I still consider Rama Hari's Nagbalik ka na, Mahal with words written by National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera as the most beautiful song ever written in Pilipino.
(I mean, please? What are my chances? That is the Bienvenido Lumbera penning such delicious, enchanting, bewitching words to a melody that I want to hear in whatever form of embrace I am found.)
I caught sight of Ryan Cayabyab with his wife, Emmy, seated down the row where I was positioned last night. He looked happy as I was nervous. And I couldn't figure out why.
The moment the overture was played for the capacity crowd who watched the press preview I knew why I felt this overpowering ambivalence.
I was so happy that after twenty-five years I was seeing the musical come alive again. There were so many attempts in the past to bring back Katy! to the stage --- but somehow, somewhere along the way --- the projects did not materialize. And now this.
When the familiar bars of Ang Mundo ay Entablado started playing,I felt such a strange sensation.
All of a sudden I remember every detail of the very premiere night at Rizal Theater of Katy! in 1989. There was that breathlessness again --- and how I would marvel at Mitch Valdes because of her sheer stamina and determination to do a damn good job out of this career opportunity. But, more than anything else, it was still the music. It was the moment of surprise when you actually hear Ryan Cayabyab's music giving a completely different life to the words I had written down ...and typed out in my old Remington.
And there are so many more stories to tell. I remember how there were plans to edit out the final song of Katy's father (named Juan de la Cruz) from the musical because the running time was deemed too long. Bernardo Bernardo fought to keep the song --- and now it has become one of the benchmark moments of the play. I remember the original cast members that included Pinky Marquez(as Hanna San), Gigi Posadas (as Mary Walter), Beverly Salviejo, Marco Sison (as Peping), the late Tenten Munoz (as the young Katy), Adrian Panganiban and Robert Sena. Yes, Robert Sena --- who would eventually join forces with his wife Isay Alvarez to resurrect and remount Katy! for an entirely different generation to see.
I was speechless for most of the presentation while Cherry Coronel (who was also part of the original production) was seated nearby. We would look at each other --- and shake our heads smiling. So this is how it feels after twenty-five years.
So this is how it hits you when you hear Dulce and Aicelle Santos sing Minsan ang Minahal Ay Ako echoing something you have heard half a life away ... or watching Tirso Cruz III reworking the role of Katy's father and giving it a life completely his own. Or watching Gian Magdangal ... and most especially Aicelle Santos who has completely seized the moment to prove once and for all that she is a talent to be reckoned with. Or even looking at Epy Quizon who looks so much like his father ---portraying the role of Dolphy.
There were many reasons to be teary-eyed or choke-up watching, hearing and experiencing something you have written half a lifetime ago ... and to witness people embrace your work like it were new.
That was when I realized that indeed the work will outlive the creators. People may not even remember who wrote the songs, who made the music, or who starred in the original production but the work will assume a life of its own --- because that is the stuff that God designed for immortality. The work has assumed a life of its own.
On the opening night of Katy! a quarter of a century ago, she flew in from the U.S. to grace the premiere. She was eighty-two years old at that time. Yet when the Grand Dame went onstage in her slinky strapless gown, addressing the audience and gifting them with her song Balut, we all knew the stuff that legends are made of. Not even Girlie, Celeste, Ryan or I realized that indeed she was the Last of the Great Women of the Stage. No history of Philippine popular entertainment can be validated without the name of Katy de la Cruz.
Now it took the courage, determination and fervor of Isay Alvarez to bring back the significance of Katy de la Cruz to the Filipino audience.
It is ironic that the Filipino talent is recognized not only in Asia --- but all over the world ---as one of the best if not the best. Musicality is second nature to us. Our passion for music as well as the other arts come naturally, almost genetically.
Twenty-five years ago, Celeste Legaspi and Girlie Rodis wanted to create some change --- perhaps a simple yet significant move. That is, to warrant the attention and appreciation of the Filipino audiences to original Pinoy music --- in the form of the musical. But twenty-five years later, not much has still changed. The best and most promising Filipino talents find better work in Hong Kong or Singapore ... or any nook and cranny on this planet to make a decent and fulfilling living out of what God has so especially given them.
Twenty-five years ago you still have to cross shored to be hailed by the world as Lea Salonga. You have to be a YouTube sensation to warrant the attention of Ellen DeGeneres to be a Charice. You have to be singled out by foreign producers who are awed by the sheer degree, depth and extent of talent of the Filipino to be a Joanna Ampil.
But the Filipinos are always the last to believe in the greatness of their fellow Filipinos. Twenty-five years have elapsed and not much has changed.
Yet there will be the likes of Isay, Lea and so many others who will keep on fighting for their rightful places ... and for the Filipino to finally admit that as far as music is concerned, damn it, we are so good! And it feels good to be a Filipino.
I have nothing but sheer admiration for Isay Alvarez and her troupe for going against all odds and proving that --- Filipino music will not die because we are not going to give up that easily.
Thank you so much, Guys.