Of the eight films included in this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), “Ang Larawan” appears to offer the most artistic and cultural value. “Ang Larawan” is the film adaptation of National Artist Nick Joaquin’s “Portrait of the Filipino as an Artist,” which was also interpreted on stage in 1997.
Produced by Celeste Legaspi, Girlie Rodis and Rachel Alejandro, who produced the stage adaptation, and directed by Loy Arcenas, the film brings together a handful of Philippine theater’s brightest and most revered stars such as Joanna Ampil who plays one of the leads as Candida Marasigan; Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo as Pepang and Nonie Buencamino as Pepang and Manolo, Candida’s two older siblings; Cris Villonco and Aicelle Santos as vaudeville performers Susan and Violet; Sandino Martin as Bitoy Camacho; and Ms. Legaspi herself as Donya Loleng.
Rachel Alejandro reprises her role as Paula Marasigan, which she portrayed in the rerun of the musical stage adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s masterpiece—regarded as one of the most important Filipino plays written in English— in 1998.
Actors Paulo Avelino and Rayver Cruz, who are primarily known for their roles in television soaps, are part of the cast. Casting these two gentlemen, however, has proven to be a wise decision that has yielded desirable results.
Ms. Legaspi — this year’s Aliw Awardee for Entertainer of the Year — shares, “With Rayver I was very pleasantly surprised. That’s the first time I saw him on the set. He was like duck to water. And after all, he is a Cruz.”
Cruz is a cousin of actress-singers Sheryl Cruz, Geneva Cruz, Donna Cruz, and Sunshine Cruz.
He took on the supporting role of happy-go-lucky Charlie Dacanay in “Ang Larawan,” which allowed him to showcase his indisputable dancing talent.
“I thought he was perfect for his character. Very few scenes siya pero talagang, tsug! Gumaganun siya. And the way he moves was just so…” Ms. Legaspi trails off, obviously fascinated by Rayver’s performance.
She then talks about working with Paulo Avelino, who plays Tony Javier, the rugged yet irresistible vaudeville piano player who intercepts the lives of the Marasigan sisters, in the film.
“He auditioned and he took voice lessons. I could already see what could be his weaknesses. But the important thing about Paulo was that he was willing to learn all of these things — that was the important thing. And so when we started rehearsing, confident na ako na pupuntahan ito. In the first place, he auditioned, and that was something very big for me,” Legaspi said.
Legaspi worked intensively with the much younger actor as his recording coach, and admits having her work cut out for her.
She recalls, “With Paulo we really had to work hard because he had a lot of singing parts and he would be singing with Rachel and Joana, who are real singers.”
Legaspi clarifies, however, that they weren’t looking for a classically trained singer in the first place.
“The requirement of the role is that he’s supposed to be rough and barumbado, so tamang-tama lang sa admonitions sa amin ni Rolando noon pa, nung 1997. Na si Tony Javier doesn’t have to be a real singer. That if you read it from the book, in our book, there’s a quote from Rolando that I’m not looking for a Martin Nievera for Tony Javier. As a matter of fact, it will be distracting if he had a beautiful singing voice.”
“So we just had to guide Paulo to get to the point of roughness and at the same time, he’s still singing solid but nobody’s expecting him to sing high baritone notes ‘cause that’s not what’s needed by the role. And the only reason why I could work very hard with Paulo is because he was willing,” Legaspi said.
“Ang Larawan” opens in cinemas on December 25.