Binondo, A Tsinoy Musical Review: Massive musical production based on a Filipino and Chinese storyline

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The fabulous and expensive production made a great impression that it was re-staged last July 12-14th for only four shows the very least at The Theater, Solaire in Paranaque. We are grateful that we were able to catch the last and final show last Sunday and one thing that stucked into our mind, it is one great production every Filipino should be proud of. Amazing performances from talented theater actors. Kudos to all the people behind this show.

The true story came from the memories of the creative producer, Rebecca Chuaunsu, who can still recall when a Chinese professor shared the story of his eternal love for a Filipina.  This story moved her and as a Chinese-Filipina herself, it has always been a dream to have a theatrical narrative that would give a fleshed-out representation of the plight of Chinese-Filipinos. Her first theater mentor, Joel Lamangan became one of the keys in staging this dream, as Ricky Lee also came into the picture when he eagerly accepted to write the book and lyrics of the musical. As a Chinese-Filipino, Ricky Lee admitted that he had noticed the scarcity of literary pieces that highlight the deeper context of their struggles.  

Binondo begins in 1972 with Ah Tiong, played by Arman Ferrer, visiting Manila for two weeks. He arrives just in time for the Mid-Autumn Festival or the so-called “Moon Festival”, which is a romantic occasion for the Chinese. Ah Tiong stumbles across the Lotus Club where he meets Lily, played by Shiela Valderrama-Martinez.

Binondo tells the love story of Lily, a Filipina nightclub singer, and Ah Tiong, a mainland Chinese scholar. It spans two decades in two countries, and is set against China’s cultural revolution and the 1971 Mid Autumn Festival in Manila’s Chinatown.

Lily, a hopeless romantic, finally finds her unlikely great love in  Ah Tiong, a cynic about destiny, during this night of one of the fullest moons ever recorded and on the birthdate of Ge Lao, the Old Man Under the Moon or the Chinese Deity of Love. Vying for Lily’s heart as well is Carlos, a local Chinese childhood friend of hers who is finally pushed to confront his feelings for her with the arrival of this stranger set on stealing her heart. A triangle centered on different ways of loving and receiving love forms the crux of this story.

It was great that the lead cast were still intact in the likes of Shiela Valderrama-Martinez as Lily, Arman Ferrer as Ah-Tiong, with Noel Rayos as  Carlos. Returning also are Mariella Munji-Laurel (Jasmine), Jim Pebangco, Lorenz Martinez, Khalil Kaimo, Rhapsody Li, Ellrica Laguardia (Koro), Ima Castro (Mrs. Dela Rosa), Ashley Mickaela Factor (Rubi), Dondi Ong (Mr. Chua), Kay Balajadia (Mrs. Chua), Jennifer dela Cruz (Lourdes), Elizabeth Chua (Mrs. Zhang), Russell Magno (Mr. Zhang), Jonel Mojica (Ge Lao), and Philip Deles (Swing).  Froilan Dabalus, Christaliza Dabalus (Principal Dancers)

And just like any love stories, there will always be a conflict between the two lead stars. For Lily and Ah Tiong’s, it’s Carlos played by Noel Rayos, her best friend who is in love with her, and Jasmine played by Mariella Laurel, a Chinese woman betrothed to him and waiting for his return to China.

Under the direction of Joel Lamangan, the musical examines how the cultural nuances and societal of the Chinese and the Filipinos prevent its characters from fully expressing their mutual love and devotion to each other. At the same time, the political undertones of the story reflect how both native-born Chinese and Manila-born Chinese—or Tsinoys—are faced with internal issues about national loyalty.

The native-born Chinese question their loyalty to their country with the Cultural Revolution looming over the capital, while Tsinoys get questioned whether they have say in Martial Law or not.

Overall, this original Filipino musical written by Ricky Lee is an admirable feat. Each song composed by Von de Guzman is as heartfelt and poignant.

The choreography done by Powerdance’s Douglas Nierras gives the musical a distinct flair, bringing together a lively ensemble that more of our local productions should put up.

Grand and ambitious, here’s hoping  Binondo: A Tsinoy Musical will open doors to more original stories and epic productions on our local theater stage.

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