Home Arts & Leisure A long-awaited revival

A long-awaited revival

Pandemic willing, The Met will open in December.

FOR 25 years, the moldering art deco Metropolitan Theater was just a landmark for commuters to use when getting around the city of Manila. Now, for the first time since its closure in 1996 and after numerous attempts at restoration, the theater will reopen its doors to the public this year.

Inaugurated on Dec. 10, 1931, the Metropolitan Theater was designed by architect Juan M. Arellano, its art deco design a departure from his previous classical work such as the Legislative Building (now the National Museum of Fine Arts) in Luneta, the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol, and the pre-war Jones Bridge.

The theater was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1973 and a National Cultural Treasure in 2010. But at both those junctures, it was not in good shape.

While badly damaged during the bombing of Manila at the end of World War II, the building survived. In the succeeding decades, it served as a bar, a boxing arena, and a basketball court, among other uses. It was first restored in 1978, an initiative of former First Lady Imelda Marcos, and it served as a theater again until it closed in 1996 because of conflicting claims of ownership between the City of Manila and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). Unused, the building started to deteriorate badly.

Its restoration was again attempted in 2010 during the Arroyo administration, with aid from then Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim. However, it was a failed attempt. In the years that followed, there were several smaller projects to restore or at least maintain it.

Things started to look up when the ownership issue was finally resolved.

In 2015, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) bought the building from the GSIS on an as-is where-is basis. For two years following the NCCA’s acquisition, the building was cleaned and the design plans were drawn up.

A budget of P525 million was allotted for the theater’s restoration through the National Endowment for Culture and the Arts. This was approved by the Department of Budget and Management and released in three tranches — the first tranche was released in 2017, then the second and third in 2020 and 2021.

Along the way, plans had to be adjusted.

“The guiding document in the restoration is the Conservation Management Plan of the complex, which was drawn up to restore and conserve existing elements according to the design of the original architect Juan Arellano,” NCCA Chairman Arsenio “Nick” J. Lizaso explained in an e-mail to BusinessWorld.

“Actual construction work began in Feb. 2017 but had to be suspended later that year because of discoveries of original Arellano-period features in the Main Theater and in the courtyards, which forced us to go back to the drawing table and revise the designs. Work resumed in 2019, with work on the Main Theater Block completed by March 2020,” Mr. Lizaso said.

The second phase of the restoration focused on the exterior of the building. It began in Sept. 2020 and was recently finished. The third phase, which involves working on fixtures in the office spaces and the restoration of the Grand Ballroom, began in May 2021 and is targeted for competition before the end of the year.

“The main goal was to conserve the building and restore it to the original pre-war state as designed by architect Juan Arellano. This would mean that additions that run contrary to the original design were removed,” Mr. Lizaso said.

These included “additional structures in the open courts that were added during the renovations initiated by [the former first lady Imelda] Marcos in the 1970s.”

Among the items that were restored were the stained-glass marquee by Kraut Glass at the building’s façade; the Oriental dancers cement statues and bas-reliefs at the theater’s exterior, the sculpture of Adam and Eve at the lobby, and the Nine Muses in the proscenium arch of the Main Theater, all of which were by sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti; the mango and banana bas-reliefs in the Main Theater ceiling which were designed by Vidal Tampinco, and the other tropical friezes in the under-balcony ceiling; the original anay wall finishes and grill works.

“We reproduced items of significance which were either lost or no longer in our property,” said Mr. Lizaso. Among these were the original murals by Fernando Amorsolo, The History of Music and Ritual Dance, which were reproduced with the assistance of GSIS. Some of the original bas-relief tablets in the courtyard were missing, so these, too, were reproduced.

It was a challenge to provide the necessary modern amenities, he said.

To retain the structure’s integrity, the air-conditioning units and ducting had to be hidden when installed.

In addition, the main theater’s seating capacity had to be reduced to 990 from 1,600, and the floor’s elevation was adjusted in compliance with safety regulations of the Fire Code and the Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities.

The acoustics of the theater were also improved since the it is situated in a high traffic area.

“We are proud to say that performing groups who recently visited the Met praised how the acoustics improved compared to the Marcos-era renovation,” Mr. Lizaso said.

The complex now also has a cinema and LED lighting.

“The crown jewel of our newly restored complex is the digital cinema system, which boasts of a Dolby Atmos cinema audio system,” Mr. Lizaso said.

“We are also proud to move towards being certified as a green building. All our lighting systems are now using LED lights, including the lights in the Main Theater,” he added.

The MET was originally set to open to public in April 2021, however, due to the surge of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases during the ongoing pandemic, the opening was pushed back.

“It is unfortunate that the Met’s completion came in the midst of this global pandemic. In the meantime, we are lining up several virtual activities to launch the Met in cyberspace while awaiting the day when we can have people in the theater again,” said Mr. Lizaso. “We also opened our stage to several performing groups who would like to record their performances here for eventual broadcasting online.”

On Aug. 30, the Metropolitan Theater will stage its first production, Lapu-Lapu, Ang Datu ng Mactan, in line with the quincentennial celebration of the victory in Mactan. Written by Nicholas Pichay and directed by Dexter Martinez Santos (Ang Huling El Bimbo), the show stars Arman Ferrer as Lapu-lapu, and Tarech Tayec as Ferdinand Magellan.

Mr. Lizaso refers to it as “a dramatic reminder of the Filipino people’s enduring and transcendent humanity, a testimony to the talents of the Filipino theater artist.”

The musical is produced by the NCCA in partnership with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines as part of the National Quincentennial Commemoration. It will be streamed on the NCCA and Metropolitan Theater’s official Facebook pages.

Once the theater is properly opened to guests, the Met aims to showcase traditional performing arts.

“We are in the process of developing a guideline for having resident companies in the Met. In the next few years, our main goal is to provide a home for groups focusing on traditional Filipino performing art forms, including indigenous musical and dance forms,” Mr. Lizaso said.

“Post-pandemic, we hope to make the MET as a center to preserve another cultural heritage — our traditional Filipino theater and art forms, such as komedyas, zarsuelas, epikos, and bodabils; as well as our other intangible cultural heritage such as traditional folk dances and indigenous music,” he said.

Plans to work with educational institutions and local government units on projects promoting Filipino culture and arts are also in the pipeline.

The Met held a soft opening in June. In July, Caloocan Bishop and incoming Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines President Bishop Pablo Virgilio David led the building’s blessing.

The Metropolitan Theater is scheduled to formally open on Dec. 10, 2021. Pandemic willing.

For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/METphOfficial. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman