The award-winning actor and singer will be playing the titular character in the Tanghalang Una Obra staging of the musical starting June 8.
“I’ve always loved theater because it was my first foray into acting, and I’ve always wanted to go back to theater. It’s been more than 20 years, so when this came along, I said I guess it’s the right time for me,” shares Piolo Pascual at the beginning of our exclusive interview.
The acclaimed actor was just announced by Tanghalang Una Obra as the lead for the pop-classical musical Ibarra, an updated version of the award-winning musical Kanser by Jomar Fleras. Pascual has wanted this role since seeing the musical for the first time as a teen.
“They pitched it to me. When they approached my management, they wanted to pitch a play, and they said it’s Kanser. And I said ‘My gosh, I saw that play.’ And that’s when I had the flashback. Back in high school, I wanted to do it, and I was still very young,” the actor narrates, adding this is the first time to be in a musical. “The first time they pitched, I said yes right away without thinking about my schedule because I felt it’s a good opportunity for me to do a play that is so close to my heart.”
Ibarra is a musical retelling of José Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tángere, best known for its commentary on the inequalities in law and treatment of the Spanish Catholic friars at the end of the nineteenth century in the Philippines. The musical tells the story from the perspective of its titular character, Crisostomo Ibarra.
“Ibarrra‘s story is very unique in such a way that José Rizal used Ibarra to voice his plea, and that ignited the revolution in the 1890s,” explains Pascual. “And it’s a very strong character, so them [Fleras and the creative team] changing the name from Kanser to Ibarra is such a big opportunity for me to really just remind everyone of the story of this guy that ignited the revolution during that time.”
For Pascual, Ibarra‘s story remains relevant today because it empowers the Filipino people to have an independent voice and identity.
“We should be reminded that we have a country that we should protect, and we have a culture that we can identify with. So being nationalistic and all, Ibarra exemplified that. And people have to know, people have to feel empowered that we have a voice to be heard, and we can use this character for us to draw inspiration from,” he says.
Prior to beginning rehearsals for the musical, Pascual will be finishing out several projects, including a television series and two films. His preparation, which includes rehearsals with the entire cast and voice lessons, will begin in April.
“I’m allotting at least three months for this,” he says. “I’m a go-getter. I like challenges. But doing this is like, my gosh, it’s nerve-wracking for me.”
Pascual is also excited about going back to acting for a live audience. “It’s a different medium to begin with, and doing stage, it’s a live audience so it’s all gonna be different,” he shares. “When you’re acting for TV or film, you’re just acting in front of a camera. Here you act in front of a live audience, and that for me never gets old, the instantaneous response. And that ignites my passion to actually just, you know, take it to another level.”
He adds that he gets to do something like this and “learn from it, and be a better actor, now a theater actor, it’s a big compliment for my career,” he adds.
Apart from Ibarra being Pascual’s dream project for musical theater, he was also inspired by another multi-talented actor: Hugh Jackman, who he saw in Music Man last November.
“He is in his 50s and there’s no slowing down for him, so who am I to say I’m in my 40s and say that I’ve done everything, and look at this guy doing everything on this stage? So that kind of fired up something in me, so that’s when I said okay, when something comes along, and it’s the right fit, I’ll do it,” he says. “I guess this is it for me, no turning back.”
Ibarra is slated for staging on June 8-18, 2023 at the GSIS Theater. The musical will be directed by Franniel Zamora, with songs composed by Joed Balsamo and choreography by Paul Morales.