NA-PARALYZE AKO (I was paralyzed).”

That was actress Sheila Francisco recalling her experience as an audience member watching Himala: Isang Musikal in 2018. “The truth of Himala was so real to me, that I could not stop sobbing,” she said.

“I think what Himala does is hit you in the face with what is real and what is happening. We are so desperate for answers. Then somebody just convinces us that this might be the way… ’Yun na kaagad ang pinanghahawakan natin. Nawala na yung questioning and looking for other possibilities (That’s what we hold on to right away. We miss out on questioning and looking for other possibilities),” she added.

This year, Ms. Francisco joins the cast as Nanay Saling, Elsa’s mother, in The Sandbox Collective’s collaboration with sister company 9 Works Theatrical’s restaging of Himala: Isang Musikal this month.

Based on the screenplay by Ricky Lee for the film directed by Ishmael Bernal which was released in 1982, Himala follows the story of a young woman named Elsa, who seems to develop miraculous healing powers after claiming to have seen the Virgin Mary, becoming in the process the savior of the people of the impoverished Barrio Cupang.

Directed by Ed Lacson, Jr. (who also designed the set), with music and lyrics by Vincent A. de Jesus, Himala: Isang Musikal won eight Philstage Gawad Buhay awards last March, including Outstanding Production of Existing Material for a Musical, Outstanding Stage Direction for a Musical (Ed Lacson, Jr.), and Female Lead Performance in a Musical (Aicelle Santos).

Director Ed Lacson, Jr. admitted that he was one of the last people to be convinced to do a rerun. He prefers to call this restaging “a rediscovery.”

Mr. Lacson noted that the idea of blind faith is what makes the story continue to resonate with audiences.

“I think that’s still happening now — believing that one entity will solve all of our problems, when in fact, there is no easy solution to the problems we are facing,” he said at a press conference at the Privato Hotel in Quezon City on Aug. 27.

Screenplay writer Ricky Lee never expected the material to still be relevant today. “When I was writing it [for the film], I was not thinking about that. But it is reassuring and reaffirming to see that it has survived different governments and various generations,” Mr. Lee told BusinessWorld after the press conference.

“And at the same time, how sad, that the same problems are still here, and so we keep responding to the same problems up to now,” he added.

According to Mr. Lee, the story is based on an apparition of the Virgin Mary in Lubang, Occidental Mindoro in 1967, reported by a young lady named Belinda Villas. “She is still alive and she believes it up to now,” Mr. Lee told BusinessWorld.

Fresh from her West End debut as Gigi in Miss Saigon, Aicelle Santos reprises her role as Elsa. Philstage Gawad Buhay nominees, Kakki Teodoro and Neomi Gonzales both return to their roles of Nimia (a prostitute who is Elsa’s childhood friend) and Chayong (Elsa’s friend), respectively. David Ezra reprises his role as the troubled filmmaker, Orly, who documents the tale. Gawad Buhay and Aliw Award nominee Floyd Tena also reprises his role as the priest. Soprano and Ryan Cayabyab Singers (RCS) member Celine Fabie joins the cast and takes on the role of Elsa, alternating with Ms. Santos.

Returning to Barrio Cupang is actress and singer May Bayot-De Castro (who played Elsa in the 2003 original non-musical stage adaptation by Tanghalang Pilipino) in the role of Nanay Saling, Elsa’s adoptive mother, alternating with Sheila Francisco. Vic Robinson joins the cast in the role of Pilo, a suitor, alternating with Sandino Martin.

Joining the ensemble are Jon Abella (Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!), Pamela Imperial (Dani Girl), Red Nuestro (Ang Huling El Bimbo, All Out of Love), and Sean Inocencio (Miong).

Mr. Lee said that it is “exhilarating” for him as a writer to have witnessed the story undergo various adaptations. “Habang pinapanood ko (While I watch it) through its various permutations onstage, the characters stay the same. And at the same time, they are different every time,” Mr. Lee said about the approaches to the portrayal of his characters.

Himala: Isang Musikal runs on Sept. 20 to Oct. 20 at the Power MAC Center Spotlight in Circuit Makati. Tickets are available through TicketWorld (, 891-9999) and at The Sandbox Collective (0956-200-4909, 0917-554-5560, and 586-7105). — Michelle Anne P. Soliman