MANILA, Philippines — Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Mexico City is among the widely visited pilgrimage sites in the world, just like the Lourdes Grotto in France, the Fatima Shrine in Portugal or the Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
At the start of Guadalupe: The Musical, Shiela Valderrama-Martinez as the tour guide in present-day Mexico City, shared that interesting fact with the audience who gets to watch the story, based on the mysterious events of the Blessed Virgin in 1531 in New Spain, now Mexico.
The sweeping theatrical epic that dates back to the 16th century, is an inspiring and at the same time, entertaining tale. The original English musical marks the triumphant return to stage acting of theater stalwart and actor Cocoy Laurel, who essays the real-life role of Juan Diego, the Aztec mat weaver who witnessed the apparition of the Blessed Virgin.
Guadalupe: The Musical is Cocoy’s third play about the Blessed Virgin after he essayed Juan Maningcad in Ramon Orlina’s production of Our Lady of Casaysay and Simon Vela in Ferdinand Dimadura’s Simon Way, about the devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia.
“I never planned it,” Cocoy says of Guadalupe: The Musical. “It just sort of landed on my lap. I’m just so grateful for this chance to be part of this wonderful story that will touch a lot of people’s hearts. I’m just so proud to be part of this play. The whole cast has a lot of positive vibes. That gives me a lot of joy to perform.”
The hair-raising scene where Juan Diego finds beautifully-bloomed Castillan roses growing at Tepeyac Hill in winter after he saw the Blessed Virgin, also paved the way for another miracle that healed his uncle.
This early, not a few devotees are urging producer/choreographer Julie Borromeo to stage Guadalupe: The Musical in other Catholic countries after its Manila run and even sub-title it in Spanish or French.
“That is a dream that we hope to be able to fulfill one day,” Julie shares. “It’s all up to Someone Up There. There were a lot of people who have seen the show and they told me to bring it to Broadway. It’s something that anyone dreams of.”
A lady, who is in charge of the tilma (cloak) and of promoting Our Lady of Guadalupe, wants to bring the musical to Mexico. “We hope that it will become a reality,” says Julie. “But what we’d love to do is to first spread this (musical) to our own people in our country and inspire them more that there are miracles and they are real.”
Composer Ejay Yatco discloses Guadalupe: The Musical took two years in the making, with Upstart Productions founder Joel Trinidad initially writing the lyrics and the script, done through extensive research over a two-year period.
“There’s a mix of culture, so there’s Aztec, Spanish and Mexican music,” Ejay offers. “That time, there was like a musical revolution. At the same time, I also had to add my own sound.
“If we do this to be historically accurate in the Aztec time, it will just be all percussion and flutes. There’s a bit of artistic liberty for the music. It was a mix of Coco and Prince of Egypt. You mix those two and I had a baby. It was a month-long rehearsal process. The music of ethereal quality, heavenly voice, was very difficult.”
The production even has a props designer for armor helmets, while there’s a whole team (with Iwi Laurel) assigned to the headdresses, collars and accessories of the cast. The 90-year-old Celia Diaz Laurel is the costume designer. Really impressive.
For the music in Guadalupe, Cocoy croons the powerful I Am No One, while Shiela renders Miracles Are Real and I Am Not Here. Lorenz Martinez as Archbishop Juan de Zumarraga boasts his strong vocals in Believe, while the 30-member cast goes powerhouse in On A Day Like Today, Another Day and Fire In the Sky.
Guadalupe: The Musical runs Fridays to Sundays at the Meralco Theater until Oct. 14, with evening shows at 8 p.m. and Saturday to Sunday matinees at 3 p.m.