When art and faith collide

In a world where the true essence of art seems to be dimmed by those who cannot see its real beauty and faith often fades during times of hardship, one musical play is bound to offer solace and inspiration, converging two worlds into one by remaining deeply intertwined.

Following the resounding success of “Higit sa Pag-ibig: The Musical,” a popular theater play that was widely embraced by the entire Bicol region, the stage is now ready to set up one of the first-ever religion-inclined musicals in the region, “Joroan, A Bikol Musical,” a novel-based musical that aims to connect people to ‘Inâ’, the heavenly mother patroness of Albay.

Deeply rooted in the Marian devotion of the said town, the musical was inspired by the novel “Istorya kan Walong Milagro ni Nuestra Señora de Salvacion” (The Story of the Eight Miracles of Our Lady of Salvation), which was written by the renowned Bicolano writer, Abdon Balde Jr.

Its cast consists of 35 talented local artists from different parts of Bicol, carrying their burning passion to showcase their skills in the world of theater through a unique concept that would eventually capture everyone’s heart.

Where it all began

At its core, Deejai Tanji, a devotee and one of the executive committees of the Joroan events, shared the idea of adapting the novel into a play, recalling how it all started with just a simple conversation with Father Joseph Salando, the rector and pastor of the Diocesan Shrine and Parish of Our Lady of Salvation in Joroan, Tiwi, Albay.

“Biglang lumapit si Father Joseph [sa akin], sabi niya ginawan pala ‘yong words ng novel ng musical arrangements. Ginawan siya ng musical arrangements ni Victor Buenconsejo, tapos ang ganda daw gawin na play,” she said.

(“Father Joseph suddenly approached me and mentioned that the words of the novel were actually crafted in a musical arrangement. Victor Buenconsejo had composed musical arrangements for it, and Father remarked how stunning it would be to adapt it into a play.”)

Deejai also recalled that it all happened at the peak of Higit sa Pag-ibig: The Musical, which, according to her, served as a pathway to introduce the art of musical theater, including its director, Father Joseph.

“It was just around that time, tamang tama mag-d-drawing ako for the book tapos in-open nila ‘yong possiblility na maganda siya maging play, and at that moment, kasagsagan ng ‘Higit sa Pag-ibig’, sabi ko kay father, ‘It’s a musical play’, and I think, kung gusto man na maging play itong libro [novel] na ito, it’s really feasible,” she added. 

(“It was just around that time when I was drawing for the book, and they brought up the possibility that it could be adapted into a play. It was right in the midst of ‘Higit sa Pag-ibig,’ so I told Father that ‘It’s a musical play,’ and I think if this novel were to be adapted into a play, it’s really feasible.”)

The director of the play, Direk Sari Saysay, who turned out to be one of her close friends, has significantly helped in developing the concept and assembling the team for the new production.

Miraculous ‘Inâ’

Asked about the concept of the musical, Deejai shared her conviction about the eight miracles of ‘Inâ’. It is her testimony that the heavenly mother has indeed been a miraculous and unifying figure through the years.

“Definitely ‘yong partner ko na nagka-cancer, it was a miracle ‘yong paggaling niya sa cancer kasi stage 3 siya eh, so diba may mga devotees na nagpapanata saiya tapos in return, she will grant your wish, so ‘yon pinanata ko na I will help spread her name through my talent,” she said.

(“Definitely, my partner who had cancer, it was a miracle that he recovered from cancer because he was at stage 3. So, you know, there are devotees who make vows to her, and in return, she will grant your wish. That’s my vow, that I will help spread her name through my talent.”)

While this seems to be one of the first times that the region will witness a faith-based musical, Deejai and the team assured not to limit the audience solely to the religious ones but rather create an inclusive experience that welcomes everyone regardless of their religious beliefs.

“Ang ginawa namin is hindi namin siya in-enclose na sa diocese lang. Ang aim namin is for everyone to enjoy, not just religious, but we also want to open the doors to those who are seeking answers from non-believers,” she said.

(“What we did was we did not limit it to just the confines of the diocese. Our aim is for everyone to enjoy it, not just the religiously inclined. We want to open the doors to those who are seeking answers, including non-believers.”)

For Rodante Pabillar, one of the cast members of the musical, what sets Joroan Musical apart from the different plays he joined before is that it offers an opportunity for them to interpret and reflect on the miracles of Ina, despite the fact that not all of them are religious.

“Ako po habang binabasa ko ‘yong script, na-realize ko na hindi naman siya imposibleng mangyari. I think there’s always a reason for everything. Iyon po siguro ‘yong maganda doon kasi kung sa art, binibigyan tayo ng pagkakataon na magbigay ng sarili nating interpretasyon, siguro binibigyan din tayo ng sarili nating interpretation sa faith kung paano natin ito tignan at paniwalaan,” Pabillar said.

(“While reading the script, I realized that it’s not impossible to happen. I think there’s always a reason for everything. Perhaps that’s the beauty of it because, just like in art, we are given the opportunity to provide our own interpretation, and I guess we are also given our own interpretation in faith, how we see and believe in it.”)

The musical will grace the stage at the Ibalong Centrum for Recreation (ICR) on May 10 and at the Bicol University Tabaco Campus (BUTC) gymnasium on May 17. Another performance is scheduled in Ligao City on May 24.

Following this, the Joroan Musical is scheduled for the night of August 16 at Joroan Tiwi Pier, the eve of the diocesan feast in honor of Our Lady of Salvation (Heavenly Mother Patroness of Albay).

Discussions also began with producers in Nabua, Camarines Sur, and Naga City, aiming to amplify the reach of the musical beyond Albay. The producers are also prepared to showcase the production in various locations outside Albay after the Daragang Magayon festival, to reach a broader audience. | Lyzha Mae Agnote

Photo: Peewee Matza