The Philippines was a Spanish colony for many years and brought Spanish cultural tradition such as the zarzuela, a lyric-dramatic musical comedy, inspiring the Father of Tagalog Play and Zarzuela, Severino Reyes who wrote the 1898 zarzuela “Walang Sugat”, a love story with Filipino nationalism during the Spanish colonisation, which got a number of adaptation until the present.
Rody Vera’s Walang Aray, which has won numerous awards, is one that was inspired by Severino Reyes’ Walang Sugat. Rody Vera’s Walang Aray is presented by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) with creative content agency Indie.Go Media at the PETA Theater Center, in New Manila, Quezon city.
Walang Aray follows the love story of zarzuela star, Julia, and her secret boyfriend, Tenyong, who went to join the Filipino revolutionists. Along the story are political satire poking humour over Filipino social issues and the response of the Spanish priests during the colonisation, typical of Filipino zarzuelas, a show for dark themes taken lightly.
At first impression, the show theme and lyrics may be too critical for the general audience. The show is in Filipino language with occasional slang that can be unfamiliar to most audiences, such as me. The stage is quite small and best appreciated at the balcony seat, although the price at the orchestra seat is just the same. The stage design is beautifully decorated and assembled with scenes across left and right for audiences to want to have a wide view.
Knowing it is a zarzuela, the appreciation extends to outstanding rate from stage design, song renditions, costume details, acting choreography, loveable characters, and skillfulness of the cast. The whole show was filled with fun whimsical scenes with recognizable plot for Filipinos who passed through history class in primary and secondary school. Millennials like me are able to recognize and sing-along with popular songs. Children may need to be guided by the scenes and language. There are scenes with symbolic props that require a bit of imagination for the audience. Some of the musical background miss out on the beat of the lyrics or vice versa. Best among the musical scenes for me were the main characters singing and the boat crew song. The ending was sweet and celebratory for audiences to leave the theatre with warm smiles. It was my first time watching a Filipino zarzuela and I was glad to have watched a good one.
Rody Vera is the modern day Filipino playwright with works recognized nationally. Rody Vera’s Walang Aray is one to have garnered recognition awards including Outstanding Original Musical, Outstanding Original Score, and Outstanding Musical Direction. The awards during a period can tell us about the state of Philippine industries such as theatre.
A must watch for Filipino adults in the appreciation of Filipino zarzuelas!
Rody Vera’s Walang Aray will run October 6–22, 2023.
Review by Abigail Ko