Rant and Rave: Dear future lawyers, ‘Bar Boys: A New Musical’ has a message for you

Beneath the burden and exhaustion of a law student’s work load lies a selfless dreamer who aspires to serve the sovereign Filipino people.

The world of law is not for the faint of heart; many try to conquer countless codals and case digests, but only a few succeed. Page after page, one dissertation after another—any aspiring lawyer is immediately humbled once they face the rigors of law school.

Barefoot Theatre Collaborative captured such tribulations in its newest production Bar Boys: A New Musical, an invigoratingly witty adaptation of renowned director Kip Oebanda’s hit 2017 film. Staged on an intimate alley stage at the Power Mac Center Spotlight Blackbox Theater in Circuit Makati from May 3 until May 19, the dynamic duo of director and scriptwriter Pat Valera and co-director Mikko Angeles depict the tale of four-man barkada Chris, Erik, Torran, and Josh. Their bond as friends and passion as future lawyers are put to the test as they enter law school with dreams of becoming the country’s next quartet of legal practitioners.

We, the sovereign people

Bar Boys: A New Musical, like any Barefoot Theatre Collaborative production, boasts exemplary casting decisions. After receiving critical acclaim from their recent staging of Mula sa Buwan, Pride Plays: Unica Hijas & Laro, and The Last Five Years, the theater company does not hold back in creating world-class productions. Valera’s quick-footed scriptwriting, coupled with the cast’s witty delivery, ensures that the production is free of any dull moments. 

Benedix Ramos performance as Erik Vicencio is nothing short of phenomenal; his superb ability to draw in the audience as he delivers powerful lines—reflective of his character’s lionhearted pursuit of justice—made full use of the spotlight every time it points at him. Conversely, Alex Diaz’s Chris Carlson serves as an excellent foil to Erik’s character as the former’s conflict with being the top dog constantly disagreed with the latter’s kindhearted nature set the stage for a multitude of clash points, whether it be wholesome or bittersweet.

Jerom Canlas’ portrayal of sharp-tongued Torran Garcia provides the perfect backdrop to the group’s dynamic. A key highlight of his performance is his struggle to come to terms with his identity, which offers more than some comic relief but also unveils Torran’s multidimensional character. Speaking of impeccable wit and antics, Omar Uddin gives a charismatic masterclass with his role as Joshua Zuniga, who through an emotional showing—and the almost necessary jovial act that follows—tells the age-old story that sometimes, law school just isn’t for everyone, and that’s alright.

Theater dame Sheila Francisco of Ang Huling El Bimbo and Leonor Will Never Die graces the stage as Justice Hernandez, the strong-willed yet softhearted law professor-slash-mother figure of the protagonists. With her powerful mezzo-soprano voice, her songbird-like ability to lull the crowd remains unmatched. This is further exemplified by Juliene Mendoza’s performance as Paping, the incredibly memorable father behind Erik’s upstanding moral character, distinguished with innocence and tragedy. 

May singil ang pangarap’

To bring Valera’s writing to life, Jomelle Era’s movement direction and Myke Salomon’s compositions manufacture a masterclass of theater. Act One opener May Singil ang Pangarap sweeps the audience away with a surge of serotonin with how it describes the passionate world of law school against a background of an otherwise gritty reality, while Cross The Line offers a bittersweet polyphony in melancholic proportions from the very first note. 

The skillful use of space and soundtrack transforms the setting of the musical into a more animated and conscious part of the play. Some notable musical numbers like Read the Law and We the Sovereign bring out the stressful mess of law school readings and the subsequent relief that a night full of alcoholic euphoria brings. Paping circling the stage near the end of Act II is another genius move in Era’s direction, as it perfectly depicts the feeling of despair when the truth does not prevail.

The production’s pride is in its attention to detail, having built an accurate representation of the legal profession from the stage ensemble down to the costumes. Lead costume designer Tata Tuviera wasted no effort in creating a wardrobe that goes beyond the typical office wear of legal professionals. Keen eyes would notice that as the two-act play progressed, so did the clothing of the entire cast; starting from comfortable loungewear to represent their carefree youth, to the sleek and presentable business attire donned later on, Tuviera’s craft depicts a symbol of the characters’ transformation into professional legal practitioners through their wardrobe.

Sacrifices amid the surprises

With a riveting narrative, it cannot be denied that the film’s adaptation into a musical masterfully rewrote the picture into a more impactful, present-bound story. This is immediately evident when the quartet of friends exhibits traits that digress from Oebanda’s sketches. 

However, the choice to create new internal conflicts among the principal characters sacrifices further storytelling of pivotal moments in the plot, such as Torran’s experience in the fraternity. The musical alters the plot to establish Torran’s frat experience as not just an act of ambition but also as a means to prove his masculinity. However, this storyline waters down its heartfelt resolution in the film to pull focus to Torran’s self-acceptance arc. 

The reinvention of Josh’s character, who passionately shares his friends’ advocacy for social justice, was a refreshing deviation from the film’s immediate outright dismissal of his law school journey. Josh’s nervous breakdowns and doubts about a career in law perfectly reflect the real-life experiences of aspiring lawyers. His eventual disillusionment with the legal system, however, feels rushed compared to similar conflicts experienced by his counterparts. This unfortunately causes his character to abruptly fade into the background while his friends take center stage as they move forward in law school.

Although some plotlines have been sacrificed, Valera’s excellence as a playwright still shines through. His writing fleshes out each of the principal characters and aggressively interrogates the moral qualms of their conflicts, making the musical stand out on its own. 

Crossing the line

While the soundtrack serves as the highlight of the production, audiences are greeted with a very wholesome narrative that does not hesitate to pull on the heartstrings. Several themes are encapsulated within the overarching narrative; whether it be a placed emphasis on personal ambition, a holdfast set of principles, or the desperation for success caused by financial instability, any theatergoer is sure to be left invested in the story, regardless of their backgrounds or desire for a future life.

With phenomenal performances and remarkable writing, Bar Boys: A New Musical is a testament to the ingenuity of Philippine theater and a masterclass on film-to-musical adaptations. Transcending beyond the narrative of the film, the new musical exceptionally depicts a heart-wrenching storyline of hopeful changemakers against a broken system.

Rating: 4.0/4.0
Aaron Gomez

By Aaron Gomez

Carelle Samson

By Carelle Samson

Leave a Reply