Love story set in Binondo

With some friends, we went to the press preview of Binondo, the musical, at The Theatre @ Solaire last Thursday. The play directed by Joel Lamangan ran for two nights last Friday and Saturday (with a matinee).

Sheila Valderram as Lilly with Arman Ferrer as Ah Tiong in  Binondo

Sheila Valderram as Lilly with Arman Ferrer as Ah Tiong in Binondo

While the direction was satisfactory, I seem to have a problem with the material. It is no more than a love story between a Filipino woman living in the Metro Manila’s Chinese-Filipino enclave called Binondo and a Chinese (from mainland China that stopped by Manila for a short vacation and met the Filipino girl). After cavorting for a brief period the Chinese man flew back to China where he was met with the onset of the Cultural Revolution at the time of Mao Zedong. Along with his father, he was detained because he was apparently a bourgeois. This should have happened in the late 60s but the play was supposed to have happened in 1972 which at that time the Cultural Revolution in China was over. (It ended in 1971.) But the librettists that included Gersom Chuanunsu and Ricky Lee set the musical from 1972 onwards to fuse the parallel between China’s Cultural Revolution and President Ferdinand Marcos’ Martial Law in the Philippines. 

The two, by the way, had differing ideological bases, Mao’s wanted to purge the bourgeois class in the CPP’s class struggle in his attempt to purify the classless society of the new China, while Marcos simply wanted to solve the prevalence of crime that had been enveloping the entire Philippine society and in the process eliminating political opposition.

Moreover, the musical merely scratched the political significance of the China-Philippine relationship as personified by the two main characters, and neither did it touch on the cultural aspects that shaped and defined the characters of the people in and around Binondo.

Ah Tiong (Ferrer) and Lilly (Valderama) in a musical number in  Binondo

Ah Tiong (Ferrer) and Lilly (Valderama) in a musical number in Binondo

Even the music did not, in so many notes and rhythms, give me a chance to feel that I was watching a cross-cultural musical (I still love the music of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, also about Chinatown in San Francisco). Or is it because the Chinese in the Philippines have failed to teach their children their own culture while they are trying to amass wealth and riches to send to their impoverished relatives in the mainland.

Joel Lamangan directs the musical

Joel Lamangan directs the musical

I was shocked in one scene (it was supposed to be in China during the Cultural Revolution) when a huge backdrop went in mid air and revealed a figure that was supposed to be Mao Zedong but resembles more like the current President of the Philippine Republic.  A Chinese Filipino writer seated beside me said, “That thing looks more like Digong, ha.”

Anyway, the structure of the play was more soap operatic than a musical. The death of Lilly’s mom and her eventual marriage to Carlos (a Chi-Fil) and Ah Tiong’s return to Manila after many years to see a dying Lilly who bore him a daughter, Ruby.

If you like the things you see on daytime TV, you’d probably appreciate Binondo.