A magic spaceship with no brakes

CAST AND CREW celebrate onstage at the end
of the Buruguduystunstugudunstuy gala night.

By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter

Theater ReviewBuruguduystunstugudunstuy:Ang Parokya ni Edgar MusicalBy Rody VeraDirected by Dexter M. SantosPresented by Full House Theater Company

THE TONGUE twisting title of the latest Filipino jukebox musical, Buruguduystunstugudunstuy, first came to public consciousness in 1997, as the name of rock band Parokya ni Edgar’s second album. Invented by the band’s frontman Chito Miranda, the word is enjoying a resurgence today as it confounds and bewilders those who try to say it.

In an attempt to understand what it might mean in the context of Full House Theater Company’s newest production, audiences will find it is but a heartbeat to the confounding and bewildering musical itself. Truly, the Parokyaverse is something that is better experienced than explained.

As the 10th major offering made for the Newport Performing Arts Theater in Newport World Resorts (NWR), it follows the footsteps of its precursor, the Eraserheads musical Ang Huling El Bimbo. This time, it gives its own spin on Parokya ni Edgar’s fun and cheeky spirit.

NWR president Kingson Sian said at the gala night that Buruguduystunstugudunstuy is their most expensive musical to date, proof that the resident theater company is serious about bringing to life more original Filipino productions.

And bring to life they did — with a cast of four lead female characters transported to a fantasy world as they embark on a journey of self-discovery.

The curtain rises to a dark, whirlwind introduction of its leads. Norma (Tex Ordoñez-De Leon) is a heartbroken matron who curses the man that has left her. Girlie (Natasha Cabrera) is a lady guard who can’t seem to find her place in a male-dominated profession. Aiza (Felicity Kyle Napuli) is a high school student who grapples with her weaknesses in the face of bullying. And Jen (Marynor Madamesila) is a street scavenger who hungers for food and a reason to live.

On the sixth of December, their shared birthday, the four strangers start to hear a mysterious beat pounding in their ears. To find out what it means, they run from the real world and into each other — at the doorstep of a strange portal that takes the form of a portalet.

The four (along with Jen’s fellow scavenger brother Tikmol, played by Noel Comia, Jr.) enter the surreal world of Parokya. There, they meet the Bigotilyo, led by Pepe Herrera as Mr. Suave, Nicco Manalo as Mang Jose, and Jasper Jimenez as Tito Ralph.

It’s a lot to take in, with the introduction traversing from gritty realities to mysterious occurrences so quickly. By the time the leads are transported to the bright, psychedelic world of Parokya, the audience is overwhelmed.

Much credit must be given to playwright Rody Vera for creating such a wacky, expansive Parokyaverse inspired by Parokya ni Edgar’s discography. While some songs fit naturally, others require a bit of sewing into the plot to make the cut, but it’s all in good fun, especially if you’re a fan.

The songs “The Yes Yes Show” and “Bagsakan” recur all throughout the musical. The “Halina sa Parokya” medley is a perfect way to introduce the fantasy elements. “Magic Spaceship” and “Mr. Suave” get the audience going amid all the insanity going on. An unexpected take on “This Guy’s in Love with You, Pare,” without spoiling anything, adds a layer of self-discovery to the story.

A funny example of fitting a song in for good fun is “Don’t Play with My Birdie,” prefaced by a conversation about how men think with their “birdies.” Fan favorite love song “Harana” was given a beautiful treatment with characters courting each other.

Meanwhile, “Inuman Na” had a thoughtful set-up, going beyond the typical drinking session as the characters clarify that the point of it is the sense of community, not the booze. As the cast sings the barkada favorite tune, it’s clear that the entire musical is a battle cry against loneliness and isolation.

It’s insane that, just to convey this message, the director Dexter M. Santos and musical director Ejay Yatco used 47 of the band’s songs, handpicked from several albums (though some are just excerpts or woven into medleys). Understandably, a large part of this confidence is being backed by the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra’s lush accompaniment, though they were a touch too loud during the gala show. This made the sometimes confusing sung and rapped Taglish lines a little hard to understand.

On that note, a whimsical story with so many moving parts such as this may need to be reined in just a bit. Parokya ni Edgar’s style is already playful and nonsensical, a combination of rock, hip-hop, and ballads, some songs more earnest and emotional while others more humorous and irreverent, making use of absurd characters and uniquely Filipino situations. Adapting all that to a fantasy musical, of all things, dials up the comic elements to a level not many may have the sensory capacity to comprehend.

While ambitious on the narrative front, it is the visuals and the production design that elevate this crazy musical to an absolute must-watch. The fantasy Parokya world looks like a colorful barangay setting that quickly ascends into amusement park levels of madness. Hats off to scenic designer Lawyn Cruz, video projection designers GA Fallerme and Joyce Anne Garcia, and lights designer Meliton Roxas, Jr. The layered set is clearly high-budget, with details so intricate that the audience can look anywhere and be fed tasty visual morsels — costumes, props (yes, even giant puppets!), videos, stage, actors flying off the ground on cables.

The funny punch lines and the sometimes-dark humor and interactions between struggling characters are all relevant to today’s generation, too. Masked by the fantastical approach are glaring social issues like bullying, gender discrimination, and poverty.

Ordoñez-De Leon as the lovelorn Norma went beyond the comedic rich tita to give insight into her tragic, man-hating personality. Herrera, who must play opposite her, gives a scene-stealing performance as Mr. Suave — bringing to life the iconic character from the song.

Napuli and Comia as Aiza and Tikmol, the two young members of the cast, provide strong vocals for their age all while acting their parts well. Madamesila as Jen is truly sympathetic and Cabrera as lady guard Girlie shows nuance, though their story together could have been fleshed out a bit more. Also, shoutout to the protective dog Murlock, played by Deevo the trained Belgian Malinois!

Parokya ni Edgar frontman Chito Miranda said at the gala that he was overwhelmed by how their songs were given so much color and so much meaning. For many, Act I was trippy and awesome to behold, but Act II presented the musical’s beating heart.

Buruguduystunstugudunstuy can still be streamlined to be more cohesive, and some of its lyrical delivery and sound issues can be solved over the course of its run. But make no mistake: every song and dance number is unique and entertaining, with Easter eggs for major fans. The flashy numbers, folkloric elements, and quintessentially Pinoy punch lines are all pushed forward by the title’s onomatopoeia — the marching beat of a nation’s heart, even amidst its unending struggles.

The musical runs until June 8. Tickets, with prices ranging from P1,105 to P4,420, are available via TicketWorld.