[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkFvFILZpZs&w=420&h=315]

When I first heard that someone was producing a musical about the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry, I thought that the folks behind it were a little bonkers. And with that, wished them a whole lotta luck. The reason was that the other original Filipino musicals with English lyrics I’d gone to really didn’t leave an impression. They were great attempts but far from unqualified successes.

I was right, sort of. The people who’re behind RIVALRY: Ateneo-La Salle The Musical are bonkers. And I mean that in the BEST possible way. Who’d have thought that the La Salle-Ateneo basketball-centric (but not exclusive) cycle of one-upmanship could become a killer musical?

This is not just some cheapo production. RIVALRY has a huge ensemble composed of theater veterans whom regulars will instantly recognize. The whole cast fills up the stage at portions of the show. No mean feat as Meralco Theater has one of the widest stages among the performing venues in Manila.  Ed Gatchalian’s score, Joel Trinidad’s lyrics, and Jaime Del Mundo’s book and direction come together for a very entertaining night at the theater.

Set in the alternate-timeline of the 1968 NCAA basketball season (nb. I write “alternate-timeline” because La Salle and Ateneo did not meet in the NCAA finals in 1968.), the story revolves around the basketball shaped world of the Valencias and the Basilios. The Valencias representing the Ateneo. The Basilios, La Salle. Something seemed to happen a long way back to spark a bitter rivalry between the two patriarchs. A rivalry that’s been passed down to their sons. Paco, the star Blue Eagle and Tommy, the ace Green Archer. Quito, the younger Valencia, falls for a Maryknoller and asks his cousin, Tommy for advice on how to win the girl. As with stories like this, things get quite complicated.

The show had heaps of interesting moments: the ROTC number citing the Science/Math inclination of La Salle and the Liberal Arts specialty of the Ateneo,  pre-game locker room scenes that capture the war-like fanaticism of basketball, a hilarious song number by colegialas (Spanish accents! No Valley Girls!) about La Sallian Sallite boys, actors singing while doing burpees and push-ups, a musical tongue-in-cheek speculation on how the rivalry began (CHICKENS!) and some other scenes (which I will avoid raving about to keep this spoiler-free).

Oh yeah, La Sallites Sallians beware! We are the butt of the big jokes in this play. You’ve been warned!

The show isn’t without fault. I thought that the first act was a bit too long. Possibly because so many plot points had to be set up for the second act. I thought that the orchestration sometimes drowned out the vocals. But then, this was the same problem the last time I saw a play in this venue.

My highlight of the evening was getting to meet Noel Trinidad who I thought stole the show with his short cameo. Watch out for him when he shows up on stage! I made the effort to congratulate him after the show. I’ve been a fan of the Champoy duo ever since I was a kid (Yeah, looong time ago). It was fun geeking out about theater with people who’ve made the stage their lives. Yet another moment where I really regretted not having a camera.

Ed Gatchalian, the man behind the music, said that while the Philippines has one of the most the most talented pool of theater actors in the world, the local theater audience is not expanding as it should be. He cited the need for original content that the audience, not the writers, would like. The rambunctious La Salle-Ateneo rivalry is something that a lot of theater-goers would remember as either a rabid participant or an amused spectator. If this gets La Sallians and Ateneans to troop to into the seats and watch their FIRST theater production, this may pique their interest to catch others. The increase of theater-goers may then support the creation and production of original Filipino material.

I think that everybody will get something out of Rivalry.

For Archers and Eagles, it’s a story of why we should give credit to the other for ending up who we are, for better or worse. For Maroons, Tigers, Falcons, Bulldogs, Warriors, and Tamaraws, it’s your chance to laugh at the sheer spectacle (and sometimes ridiculousness) of it all.

Highly recommended. Support Philippine Theater!

RIVALRY: Ateneo-La Salle The Musical will be staged at the Meralco Theater from January 27-29, February 2 to 5,  February 9-12, February 15-19, February 22-26, February 29-March 4, and March 7-11.  Shows startsat 8pm on Wednesdays to Saturdays with 3pm matinee shows on weekends. Get your tickets at Ticketworld branches or from the Ticketworld Web Site or call 891-9999 for details

The obligatory rivalry joke:
(school names removed to protect the guilty)
A conversation between 2 students from [SCHOOL 3]
Student 1 : Isn’t your Dad from [SCHOOL 1]?
Student 2: Yeah.
Student 1 : And isn’t your Mom from [SCHOOL 2]?
Student 2: Uh-huh.
Student 1: So why are you here in [SCHOOL 3]?
Student 2: My Mom and Dad were at each other’s throats for for weeks trying to get me to enroll in their alma mater. Finally, during one of their really heated arguments. I had enough and just shouted at the both of them to just let me decide where I’d go for college.
Student 1: And?
Student 2: They didn’t take too kindly to me shouting at them. So they both told me to GO TO HELL! And that’s why I’m studying here in [SCHOOL 3]

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