Sam Concepcion and Anna Luna as Popoy and Basha. — BRONTË H. LACSAMANA

By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter

Theater Review
One More Chance, the Musical
Presented by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA)

ONE MORE CHANCE is a 2007 Filipino film that follows the travails of Popoy and Basha, who find themselves in a rocky relationship. For many, their breakup is a bedrock of Pinoy pop culture, quoting lines or making memes out of them, from Popoy’s heartbreaking “She had me at my worst. You had me at my best,” to Basha’s iconic “Sana ako pa rin, ako na lang, ako na lang ulit!” (If only it was still me, me instead, me again!)

Those who loved the dramatic, hugot-filled film now range from their mid-20s to mid-40s, and its return in a different medium — theater — has captured their imaginations once more.

The latest production of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), One More Chance, the Musical, is a clear love letter to the legacy left by the movie. The three-hour play expounds on its narrative by providing angles to the original story that weren’t obvious in the film, giving voices to many of the side characters, and setting the mood with the songs of arguably the biggest Filipino pop band today, Ben&Ben.

The musical follows a couple — Popoy, an engineer, and Basha, an architect — who plan to get married in a year but quickly falter under the weight of glaring relationship issues. Popoy is controlling and unable to listen, while Basha has allowed her freedom to be stifled in the name of love. They break up, and yet are unable to stop from crossing paths due to close ties with their shared barkada (friend’s group) and a promise made to an aunt to help build her dream house.

Sam Concepcion and Anna Luna have big shoes to fill. On press night, they played the central couple, originally brought to life in the movie by John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo. Impressively, they fill those shoes and more, taking the emotional beats of the characters to a whole other level. Concepcion has a similar look to the original Popoy, but his facial and body reactions heighten his complicated personality very well. Luna has her own earnest, vulnerable take on Basha, making her extremely easy to root for.

The play progresses with not much deviation from the film, with the recreations of the scenes instead taking new life through the creative direction of Maribel Legarda, the adapted script by Michelle Ngu-Nario, and the production design by Ohm David.

A large rotating platform in the center of the stage allowed for fluid movement as characters either danced together or sang alone in contemplation. The main set piece is metal scaffolding that can be split into parts with stairs on either end, sometimes stressful to look at, fearing for the actors performing on the second level, but which was a dynamic use of space.

Since some of Popoy and Basha’s arguments, reunions, and tense moments (alone, or with Popoy’s fleeting rebound girlfriend Tricia) take place in a car, a unique prop is the skeletal, battery-operated car that actually moves. However, it malfunctioned on press night, which director Ms. Legarda said afterwards was the only time it had done so since they had it built.

The Thursday barkada are a pleasant surprise to watch, since they weren’t fleshed out as characters in the movie, only serving their role as friends. In the musical, they have their own hopes, dreams, struggles, and motivations. The calm, blind friend Kenneth (played by Poppert Bernadas) and the motherly friend Krizzy (Rica Laguardia) are just as inspiring a couple as the original, yet they have their own unique presence onstage.

Via Antonio as Anj, the friend closest to Basha, had different dimensions — comic relief, voice of reason, and a secretly heartbroken woman. Jon Abella as JP, the friend everyone thinks is gay, turns out to be just a hopeless romantic harboring an unrequited love for Krizzy. Johnie Moran as Chinno was more than just loyal; he got an arc of heartbreak similar to Popoy’s.

PETA productions always adapt old material for modern audiences well, and One More Chance, the Musical is no different. The 2007 film did not have smartphones, video conference calls, terms for toxic behavior (“red flags,” which Popoy had many), and faux Korean aunties riding on the wave of hallyu (shoutout to the hilarious Neomi Gonzales who played this minor role to perfection). Here, all these details and nuances fill out the world with ease.

Popoy and Basha’s story was ultimately elevated by the 23 Ben&Ben songs integrated into the play. Though they were picked from the band’s growing discography and not written specifically for the story, musical director Myke Salomon did a great job with his selection.

Perhaps the synergy lies in the fact that Ben&Ben’s music captures the Filipino penchant for drama, emotion, and hugot that already permeates the story of Popoy and Basha. One must admit it makes a great union of pop culture, whether you’re a fan of both, or just one, or neither.

“Maybe the Night” fit the flirting scene it was placed in, while “Magpahinga” was a poignant choice for Basha’s mom in the scene where she comforts her daughter. JP’s pining after married friend Krizzy was set to the track of “Pagtingin,” whereas Chinno’s destructive heartbreak was given an apt song in “Leaves.”

However, the standout match-ups are “Sa Susunod na Habang Buhay,” which embodies the longing between Popoy and Basha as they grieve the relationship they could not fix; and the hit song “Kathang Isip,” sung so beautifully by Sheena Belarmino’s Tricia in a scene where she is scorned by being Popoy’s rebound.

Ms. Legarda told BusinessWorld on the press night that neither the movie nor the band’s music are influential to her generation, so her approach as a director was to surround herself with people who admired both, this allowed her to see the beauty in their perfect union. The result speaks for itself.

One More Chance, the Musical stands on its own by paying tribute to the original movie while adding new elements of its own. People may take joy in immersing themselves in a story told differently, 17 years after the first time, nostalgia reborn in a unique way that goes beyond watching the film yet again.

One More Chance, the Musical runs until June 30 at PETA Theater Center in New Manila, Quezon City. Tickets for all 50 shows were sold out well before opening night on April 12. One can hope that like PETA’s extremely popular jukebox musical Rak of Aegis which had multiple runs, One More Chance will return to the stage to give more people one more chance to watch it.