A musical triumph

Currently streaming on is I Will The Musical, which musical and stage director Rommel Ramilo describes as a musical based on the remarkable events in the life of Doc Willie Ong.

“From his lonely childhood leading up to his married life with Dr. Liza, the audience can expect songs which are relatable, message-wise and melody-wise. The good doctor  was there all throughout the process of song-making, checking on the lyrics, melody, even on the arrangements, making sure that it will be appreciated by our audience,” Ramilo said.           

Proof of how inspiring Ong’s life is, the musical features 24 song creations that aim to touch the viewers' hearts.    

Gerald Santos and Paulina Yeung 
Gerald Santos and Paulina Yeung 

“Behind the prominent public figure that we see is a complex character that went through a lot, like everyone else,” says director Ramilo. 

“He may be from the middle-upper class but he did experience the harsh realities of life early on, putting to test his mental health. His insatiable thirst to help people was also amazing. He has a colorful and interesting story that is why drawing inspiration from his life was easy,” he added.

His favorite anthems, he enumerates: “Our Father’s Love is the first. It speaks of the parallelism between God's love and our earthly father's love. It is such an emotional song and it is Dr. Ong’s favorite. Finally, which is a duet between the leads, I just love it because it's so romantic and Chaos which sums up the predominant theme of the whole musical. Our minds are in chaos especially in these very hard times.”              

The Philippines’ National Balladeer Gerald Santos has the responsibility to play Dr. Willie Ong. Of the experience, he says playing a living person is new territory for him. 

“There lies the difficulty. I tried to act within the boundaries of the actual inputs and personal observations I was getting from Doc Willie. I was very careful not to go beyond what was actually required of the role,” Santos said.

Santos carries on: “You know, he is such a decisive and determined person. When he set his sight on finishing this musical, he put his focus, time, and energy into this project despite the so many distractions. That involved decisiveness and determination. He is also humble. He is very approachable and not intimidating.”              

Adds Santos: “When you watch this musical, you will be surprised at how Doc Willie suffered from major depression for quite a long time. Ultimately, it was his faith in God that got him over his mental health issues.”              

Vocally and emotionally, how challenging and fulfilling is this musical for you? 

“This was the most vocally challenging because there was a real-time constraint in learning and perfecting the songs,” Gerald answers. 

“I had six solo numbers, two duets with Paulina, and a lot of group songs. All of these, I had to learn and own the songs in just 2 months.”

He expounds: “I was the originator of the role so the burden was on me to put color and life to all the songs I was assigned with. I just rehearsed in my room. Imagine how difficult that was. Mounting an original musical is doubly or even triply hard than just restaging a previous material. Given this pandemic, it was even much harder!”              

Santos’ eyes twinkle when he describes leading lady Paulina Yeung: “She is such a delight to work with! She is also an international theater artist and she is very professional. She sings like an angel too! You would see and hear that in our musical. She played Dr. Lisa so genuinely.”

“My second breakdown song Empty is my favorite,” declares Santos. “It lyric goes, ‘Life's a mystery I feel empty Empty and weary Like a circle I get dizzy Aimless an empty I wander around Looking for answers Only to get back empty Hollow and empty Dark and empty Is there a reason here To go on with this journey And feel not sorry Can someone help me Someday just maybe My life finally won't be lonely and empty. Lonely and empty'”.              

Director Ramilo avers in conclusion: “I believe we just made history by actually staging a full musical with some of the best Filipino theater artists. Imagine putting together Gerald, Paulina, Ima Castro, Bo Cerrudo, Robert Sena, and a new breed of good local performers in the time of pandemic.”

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