Drive Thru. A musical from UP Los Baños

LOS BAÑOS: Drive Thru is a musical presented the other day, 05 April 2016, at the New College of Arts & Sciences Auditorium at UP Los Baños, 4 PM and 7 PM. My daughter Ela and I attended the last show. I'm going on 76; if you want to judge the 2-hour long musical by the reaction of my body, I did not feel tired after those hours of watching. I felt I was on to something new and intellectual. Drive Thru was an inspiration.

From the playbill, the synopsis:

Nico is a fourth year UPLB student struggling to graduate on time. He has a set plan for life: graduate, become a successful working man, and marry his longtime girlfriend Angeline. But on his trip from the province to school, courtesy of his newly licensed driver friend Sandy, he learns that things don't always go as planned. Sandy has an agenda entirely different from his own, and she accidentally gets him in a rut that (can) mean losing his chance to graduate and jeopardizing their friendship. Nico will have to decide for himself whether or not he will continue to pursue his dreams.

In other words, Nico failed to graduate with his batch. "Failed!" the Chancellor shouted. I know how it feels; it happened to me also at UP Los Baños, when I failed a few subjects, including a major subject in Ag Ed, and I could not graduate as expected; I graduated 2 years later, with a broken heart. Over the years, ultimately, who mended it? (If you want to find out, you will have to read my essay, "The Boy Who Broke His Own Heart" (08 April 2011, A Magazine Called Love, Anyway, the title is a clue.)

In Drive Thru, the symbolism of the jeepney, the "character" that literally runs through the story, is very Filipino. The playbill says it's an owner-type ride-on (see image), "a family vehicle representative of Filipino resourcefulness, mostly comprised of various surplus parts built for land transportation." You drive through life, meet some problems along the way, even a friend who will misguide you without intending to, but you maneuver on. Even mending hearts along the way, including yours.

It's a musical, so guess the number of songs? 13:

1)      About Time
2)      Better Than Me
3)      Just Chill
4)      Home
5)      Lost
6)      The Picture In Our Head
7)      The Future Generation
8)      I Love You
9)      Signs
10)  Phone Call
11)  Thank You
12)  The Only Thing I Know
13)  This Time

Book, music and lyrics by Maxine Ramos & Dave Soltura. But the number 13? If you look at one of the world's most famous paintings, The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci, with 12 disciples and the Master, there is a traitor (Judas) and there is a hero (Jesus). It's your call: Do you want to be the worst guy or the best guy you can be? You can't simply drive through life; otherwise, you will be a traitor to yourself.

The musical was presented in cooperation with the UP Broadway Company, a student organization at UP Los Baños. It has a Facebook page: "UP Broadway Company."

I was quite impressed with this production, as I thought rightly or wrongly this was the first ever of its kind in this campus. A full-length musical by students of UP Los Baños, long a Cow College you know, and in English yet? As an alumnus, I know UP – maka-Tagalog yan. UP is pro-Filipino, where the so-called national language Filipino is more Tagalog than anything else. A writer and an Ilocano, I'm pro-English. Ever since high school, 50 plus years ago, when I fell in love with English literature and the Reader's Digest

I thought the whole cast were Communication Arts graduates or graduating students, because the Playwright and Director, Maxine Ramos and Co-Playwright Dave Soltura, are. They are actually a mixed bag of talents, all of UPLB. Cielo Nana is BS Forestry; Diane Tiongco is BS Chemical Engineering; Daniel Ong BS Biology; Dominic Mariano is BS Math; Freeman is BS Biology; Jayne Caranto is BS Nutrition, as is Jian; John Ong is Asst Professor; James Tamayao is BS Civil Engineering; Joshua Roco is BS Chemical Engineering; Mherreil Quiano is BS Agricultural Business Management; Patricia Gregorio is a Grade 10 student; and Xyza Ramos is a BS Development Communication graduate.

Maxine and Dave are both graduating Batch '11 BA Communication Arts majoring in Theater Arts. Both have appeared onstage. Maxine says she is "an avid fan of Lord of the Rings and hopes that one day she will become a hobbit." Dave calls himself a "claustrophobe" as he does professional voice acting for characters and commercials inside his tiny recording booth at home. I know he sold his expensive camera set to buy equipment for that booth. He says he dreams of voicing characters for Disney, Animax, and Funimation someday. I say, "Dream, and do."

2 stagings in 1 afternoon can only be exhausting to the players. Starring 2 Nicos and 2 Sandys (but only 1 Angeline). Daniel played Nico, and so did Dominic. Jayne was Sandy, and so was Patricia. Diane was Angeline. Xyza was Chancellor.

In the ensemble were Cielo, Freeman Mago, JB Tamayao, Jian Follante, and Mherreil.

Scenic Design: Kristina Macaraeg. Costume Design: Gracetine Magpantay. Lighting Design: Gillian San Juan. Music Director: Mon Garcia. Choreographer: Jakey Labios. Technical Director: Yin Alfonso. Production Manager: Liane Amat. Stage Manager: Pat Legardo.

Assistant Director: Michaia Gregorio.

Maxine tells the story behind the story:

In the summer of 20I4, a friend of mine, Dave Soltura, and I sat down to write a 90-minute musical for a nationwide contest. It took us one month to write the book and the music, and record all of the songs onto a CD. Nobody won that contest, much to our dismay. A year later, I decided to bring our old material back to life by putting it onstage as my thesis production. Almost a year of revisions, months of planning and tons of rehearsals later, audiences finally get to see Drive Thru.

Dave himself writes:

The process of creating a story can be so fulfilling, and yet bittersweet. It's also full of bumps, U-turns, traffic lights... you get the idea. There is bliss in having a mere construct of the mind materialize into written form, and in musicals, later (to) be performed and brought to life. It all begins when what was once a passing thought, even said in jest as a mere, "Wouldn't it be nice if there was a musical where this and that happened? And oh, I know! Let's call it Drive Thru!" is nurtured with a 'Sure, let's go with that."

My own overall impression? "Great!" as I did write and sign on the blank paper that asked the viewers, "How was the ride?" I also liked the physical changing of the scenes, practical and effective. Except that the pacing was too fast for me; perhaps it was too much to ask, but I wanted a slower buildup of each scene for greater impact.

Actually, it was love at first sight. I mean, first I fell in love with the poster image, not unlike the one you see above at right, on Facebook. I wrote then on Dave's post, "Looks good."

I asked my daughter how she rated Drive Thru and Ela said, "Light." That is the impact of the musical on her. If I think about it, it's a play of words.

Now I want to end this one with more quotes from Dave writing about the process of writing:

You begin to ask yourself, "Is this a good show?"... "What if people don't like it?" almost as if your entire worth as a person depends on what you write. So you try to achieve a perfect script and meticulously read every line, over and over.

Interestingly, you may realize that some things are better when they aren't perfect. That joke you thought was lame? Someone else found it hilarious. Those lines you thought were mediocre? Someone else found them heartwarming. You wish you could've stuck to the original story you wrote, and you realize all those revisions weren't destroying a finished product – they were molding a raw idea.

Maxine and Dave, I love the raw idea, and what it became!

Subtitle added at 0933 hours, same date

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