‘Sa Wakas’ Fills a Plain Story with Great Music

With a less than compelling narrative but multilayered songs, the Sugarfree musical—now on its third and final run—is mostly for fans only.

by Emil Hofileña

 

Inspired by the music of Sugarfree, Sa Wakas examines the collapse of the relationship between Topper (Pepe Herrera/Vic Robinson), who works as a photographer, and his ex-fiancée Lexi (Cara Barredo/Kyla Rivera-Soong), a medical practitioner. Also figuring into the story of their breakup is Gabbi (Justine Peña/Maronne Cruz), a magazine editor. On a narrative level, the musical—now on its third and final run—has always stopped short of being a compelling romance, due to certain character choices that are particularly difficult to root for. But as a musical tribute to one of the 2000s’ most popular and reliable Filipino bands, Sa Wakas remains thoroughly enjoyable.

 

 

If Sa Wakas comes across as just another relationship drama that we Filipinos are so fond of, at least the musical is aware of its own limited scope and chooses to look the part. The mostly bare set is made up of several floors packed tightly into a box-shaped stage. It serves a thematic purpose—reminding the audience that these are all just memories being packed away by Topper at the beginning of the musical—and a practical purpose, too. The limited space forces the actors into close proximity with one another, and forces us to place all of our focus on the central relationship.

 

 

As a result of this physical smallness, Sa Wakas really shines whenever there’s high emotion on display, threatening to burst from the confines of the space. Scenes wherein Topper and Lexi fight are as tense and uncomfortable as they’re supposed to be, and the early stages of their romance are genuinely endearing without becoming cutesy. Director Andrei Nikola Pamintuan gives us a candid, almost voyeuristic peek into the relationship, and so all of the joy or sorrow is unfiltered. Great performances from Barredo and Peña, in particular, help sell the idea of just how much is really at stake here.

 

This points to a larger issue that Sa Wakas has always had: it’s a Sugarfree musical first, and an original story second.

 

With that said, oftentimes throughout Sa Wakas, it feels like the musical is just marking time before the next song or emotional outburst. The show’s structure is deliberately repetitive—each scene beginning with dialogue that sets up the context for the song about to be performed. One could make the argument that this is appropriate given the decision to frame the musical as one long flashback in Topper’s mind, but this doesn’t change the fact that there isn’t a lot of momentum between scenes. Things can’t help but feel a little stiff after the first hour.

 

 

This points to a larger issue that Sa Wakas has always had: it’s a Sugarfree musical first, and an original story second. While there is merit to how the dynamic between Topper, Lexi, and Gabbi has personality and specificity (leading to some heartfelt discussion on passion and compromise), one can’t help but feel like the musical exists simply to elicit feelings of kilig and hugot. This is a problem because Sa Wakas doesn’t really offer any solutions for the kind of behavior that destroys relationships. Instead, it gives us a protagonist whose infidelity makes him incredibly difficult to root for, then treats his cheating with just a bit too much sympathy when the musical tries to paint Lexi in a bad light as well. There’s interesting drama to be drawn from this, but the show isn’t given enough time to convince us that both partners are equally to blame.

 

But again, this is a Sugarfree musical first, and in that respect, it remains highly enjoyable. It’s still exciting to see how they’ve strung so many of the band’s songs together into one narrative. And it’s particularly interesting to see how a lot of these songs that people remember as straightforward and romantic have now become darker in tone due to the cast’s ability to reveal doubt, bitterness, and anger in their vocal performances. There’s real value to how Sa Wakas recontextualizes these songs, and the results are pleasantly surprising: “Burnout” is now performed as an argument, “Telepono” is now told from the point of view of two women, “Kwarto” becomes the show’s haunting opening number, and “Hari ng Sablay”—arguably Sugarfree’s most popular song—is used very sparingly. For a musical to make us hear these familiar songs in a completely new light is still an achievement worth celebrating.

 

 

Sa Wakas runs until May 27 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight, Circuit Makati. Purchase tickets at ticketworld.com.ph.