Review: ‘Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag’ the musical

‘MAYNILA SA KUKO NG LIWANAG.’ Aicelle Santos and Floyd Tena in the play by Joel Lamanga. Photo by JT Radovan/Rappler

By JT Radovan/rappler.com – In Manila, there are blue-collar workers risking their lives everyday to earn a decent living, but are subjected to unfair labor practices and remain uncertain of their safety and their future. Human trafficking exists, and women leave their provinces believing that fleeing to the city is their one chance at a better life, only to be driven into prostitution. It is a city filled with poverty and social injustice, where predators subsist on the blood and sweat of unwilling victims. People die and nobody notices; or maybe, nobody cares. These were true in 1975, when the play Maynila Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, a film based on Edgardo M. Reyes’ novel, was shown. Over 4 decades have passed and yet, the same societal problems prevail – nothing has changed.

The story is a concrete depiction of the ills of city life. It strikes a chord in the heart of the Filipino as much as it did in the ’70s, when the novel was adapted into a full-length film directed by the Lino Brocka.

Joel Lamangan’s first acting job was in the said film, and he returns to his roots, so to speak, and comes full circle to resurrect a classic for the present day audience.

There are many things to love about Maynila Sa Kuko ng Liwanag, Lamangan’s musical stage adaptation. The opening number fulfils its purpose—to set the tone so the audience understands what the play is about, and to get them hooked and make an impression. Credit goes not only to the actors but also to the ensemble, whose voices and dance moves fuel the number with explosive energy. It’s big, it’s splashy, and deserves thunderous applause.

The choreography is one of the most engaging aspects of the show. It captures your attention, dazzles, and at times even makes your jaw drop. The songs are memorable and on occasion even catchy – take that song where the girls thank Mrs. Cruz for example. Choreography and music – particularly the uptempo ones – are two of the play’s strong points, and rightfully so.

Then there’s the cast and the interesting characters they portray. We’ve mentioned Mrs. Cruz and her girls, who add a pop of color to the scenes they’re part of. Their scenes are a breath of fresh air in the midst of dismal themes and heavy drama. Dulce as a pimp is a hit.

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