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The singing, dancing, and acting are incredible. Ma-Buhay! A New Musical opened Thursday night, June 27, 2024, to an enthusiastic audience eager to watch the Canadian premiere of this all-Filipino musical presented by Rainbow Stage.

The opening number, a street festival scene, features the entire ensemble in full force – colourful, sassy, and ready to take the audience on a high-energy musical ride.

This is the story of three young singers, Celina (Andrea Macasaet), David (Daren Dyhengco), and Honey (AP Bautista), who aspire to win Star On The Rise, a reality TV singing competition that has come to Canada from the Philippines. Andrea Macasaet, best known for originating the role of Anne Boleyn in the Broadway production of Six: The Musical, Daren Dyhengco, and AP Bautista all have magnificent stage presence. Their acting, dancing, and singing are astounding and awe-inspiring.

Through a series of pop song and dance numbers, their story takes the audience from backstage to onstage, from the past to the present, and from Winnipeg to the Philippines. There is a variety of wonderful characters that motivate the audience to cheer on their favourite contestant as they chase their dreams to be stars.

The actors are all triple-threat performers, captivating the audience with their powerhouse voices and acting. Ma-Anne Dionisio, who originated the role of Kim in the Canadian premiere production of Miss Saigon, joins the cast with a dual role as stage-mother Gloria and as a supportive pastor’s wife, Galinda. Arnold Tongol also plays a dual role as Ramon and the very conservative Pastor Nestor. Joy Lazo portrays the loving and supportive Lola Tess to her granddaughter Honey (AP). Rochelle Kives (Bea) and Robin Jordan Quintana (Zac) play the roles of emcees on Star On The Rise. Shauldon Santos plays Mark. Young actors Pierson Alibudbud (young Mark), Annika Malolos (young Celina), Jordan Sevillo (young David), and Kaitlyn Yago (young Honey) get to hone their skills acting alongside the more mature thespians in the musical. Alba Manuel, Jerilyn Bulaong, Justin Bulaong, Dutchess Cayetano, Victoria Exconde, Johan Malolos, Nathan Malolos, Hazel Wallace, and Josh Calabio are all in the ensemble.

Set in Winnipeg against the backdrop of a reality TV singing competition (think The Voice or American Idol), Rainbow Stage has been transformed into a modern TV studio. Huge screens, live camera operators, great music, and amazing dancers make every number in the show feel like its own music video. The various background players make for an impressive ensemble.

The songs are all great, with I’m My Own Star as the final number, a standout catchy song that keeps playing in one’s mind on the way home.

In the end, Ma-Buhay! A New Musical is an excellent show. The audience rose for a standing ovation.

The creative team

Ma-Buhay! A New Musical is directed and created by the very talented and creative Joseph Sevillo, who also wrote the book, music, and lyrics of the songs performed in the show.

Seanne Buenafe is the music director/conductor and piano vocal arranger. The beautiful costumes are designed by Brenda Belmonte and Alba Ignis. Co-choreographers are Lee Banaga, Sharlyne Chua, and Jayel Masangkay. The video design is by students in Sisler’s CREATE program.

As Rainbow Stage turns 70, it is making history with the Canadian premiere of Ma-Buhay! A New Musical with its original heart-warming song and dance spectacle for the whole family!

Ma-Buhay! runs until July 14, opening Rainbow’s season before the company mounts its version of Mary Poppins on August 15, 2024.

By Emmie Joaquin. Photos courtesy of Rainbow Stage