Sa Wakas Is a Jolt of Pure, Infectious Energy That Lands Like a Thump on the Chest
When someone once floated the question of whether Sugarfree’s “Kwarto” would be included in the revival of Sa Wakas: A Pinoy Musical, nothing could have made the cast and creatives laugh harder. It seemed preposterous, partly because the show opens in a modestly decorated room, a solemn sentry of doors and window frames looming askew over the bed, and partly because there’s just no missing a song as iconic as “Kwarto.” What's amazing about the line-up is you get the impression that the music came into being simultaneously with the show, which produces a surreal feeling watching it come to life. With rip-roaring performances from the cast and lucid direction from Andrei Pamintuan, Sa Wakas is guaranteed to send the dourest, most churlish of theatergoers moving in their seats.
Set at a rewind, the show grapples with the milestones of a disintegrating relationship between Lexi (Caisa Borromeo), a neurosurgeon, and Topper (Vic Robinson), a steadily rising photographer who finds a kindred spirit in a magazine editor, Gabbi (Justine Peña). They are joined by Kuya (Hans Dimayuga) and the “chuwariwaps,” the show’s Greek chorus (Abi Sulit, Moira Lozada, Laui Guico). Anyone coming in expecting a rollicking number from Broadway or a louder, rockier experience will be pleasantly blindsided by this musical that somehow manages to combine both, without either one supplanting the other.
Sa Wakas finds its triumph on the musical arrangement set by Ejay Yatco, who works his magic in a dark recess of the room with a group of musicians. To the uninitiated, this blend of Sugarfree and Broadway might seem unusual, like the improbable union of oil and water (“Kung Ayaw Mo Na Sa Akin”). But unlike the conflict that exists between the main couple, which seems to come from a profound misunderstanding of what the other does—Lexi being of the mind that artists “don’t contribute anything to society,” Topper feeling alienated by the cold world in which Lexi operates—the show goes out of its way to disprove the idea that pop rock and musical theater don’t go together.
In building a show around familiar beats, there’s always a risk that the narrative will be overwhelmed by the song cycle and you get the feeling that the characters are only there to enable the songs to happen. You almost expect the musical to shrug off its suit and launch into a full-blown homage to Sugarfree—the thought is disarmingly exciting; this is Sugarfree, after all—but this revival of Sa Wakas has been very mindful about replicating the same experience that enthralled audiences four years ago, while also giving its characters more recognizable, fleshed out inner lives.
Both the book and the music are made better for this emotional and lyrical pinning of where the characters are at various stages of their relationships, whether they are trying to console each other (“Wag Ka Nang Umiyak”), conversing plainly with a relative (“Kuya”), or sardonically exalting their partners (“Ang Pinakamagaling Na Tao Sa Balat Ng Lupa”). So by the time shifty-eyed Topper tries to deceive both women and “Hari ng Sablay” starts playing, with accusing eyes from the “chuwariwaps,” it feels absolutely earned. “Bawat Daan” especially, a song that Sugarfree vocalist Ebe Dancel wrote exclusively for Sa Wakas, closes a powerful first act.
At times, it’s uncertain whether the show benefits from moving in reverse. On the one hand, the non-linear structure gives you the slow-dripping dread of trying to locate where these characters got it wrong, drawing from telling moments like Topper nonchalantly handing Gabbi the lighter Lexi gave him. On the flipside, the momentum gathered from the first act slows down when it turns out we’re already familiar with what the characters want, given what we’ve gleaned at the beginning of the play.
Still, there’s a tenderness that lingers even if much is left floating, not quite wrapped up. Leaving the theater, I still hold the music somewhere above my head. I feel suspended in the air with it.
Sa Wakas: A Pinoy Rock Musical will run until February 12 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati.