Musicals, films that incorporate songs and sometimes dance numbers in the narrative, have a long history in cinema from memorable Hollywood classics such as Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music to Bollywood films such as Lagaan which have their own elaborate song and dance routines.

Philippine cinema has a rich tradition of musicals and the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art categorizes them into four kinds: filmed sarswela, sarswela-type musical, Hollywood-type musical, and the new musical. Mike de Leon won the URIAN Best Director for his comedy musical Kakabakaba Ka Ba? with Nanette Inventor in an unforgettable scene where she leads a group of nuns in a rousing and rocking song and dance number.

Though I am not particularly fond of the musical genre, I do have some memorable musicals in my life. I love Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge for the spectacle, the grand theatrical production numbers with a tinge of MTV, the pastiche of songs and lyrics highlighted in the Elephant Love Medley, and the use of recognizable songs but with a twist such as a tango version of Roxanne. It may sound cheesy but my favorite line in the movie is “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

But since it is Holy Week, memories of Jesus Christ Superstar fill my thoughts. Holy Week was hell for me as a child – no television, FM radio, playing outside, meat, good food, and soft drinks while stores and movie houses were closed. My mother forced us to pray the rosary, sing the pasyon and attend all the rituals in church. On Palm Sundays, my father would automatically bring out his cassette tapes of the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack and the music filled our house for the entire week. Bible-based movies such as The Ten Commandments and Jesus Christ Superstar were shown before or after television goes off.

As a way to escape the boredom of Holy Week, my sisters and I re-enacted the scenes in the movie. We memorized the lyrics of the entire soundtrack – every single word, how it was sung, the musical instruments in the background and the characters in the film who sang the songs. When we had a Betamax, we rented the movie every Holy Week and watched the movie over and over again to get tips on how to re-enact the scenes. We alternated characters but I loved the parts of Jesus Christ, Judas and King Herod. I performed with passion and sang mostly out of tune – I am a music idiot and tone deaf but I did not care. My siblings had the other parts covered and sometimes we included our childhood friends in our re-enactments. We used bed sheets and belts for our costumes and transformed our bedroom into the set of Jesus Christ Superstar. My favorite parts were Hosanna, Everything’s Alright, Peter’s Denial, Herod’s Song, Could we start again please, and Gethsemane. I was fascinated then at how the entire story of the last few days of Jesus was told through music. Jesus Christ Superstar, the movie and the music, became my salvation from the dreary monotony of Holy Week.

We did not know who Andrew Lloyd Webber or Tim Rice were, we did not know that the movie was based on a Broadway musical that originated from a rock opera album, and we did not know it was an Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated movie. We just loved watching the movie and loved singing and rocking to the songs. The Jesus Christ Superstar ritual continued until we were teens.

When I moved out of the house, I brought with me the tapes of Jesus Christ Superstar and continue to listen to them during Holy Week. I also make it a point to watch the movie every time it is shown. To prepare for this Holy Week I searched my DVD collection for Jesus Christ Superstar but alas, I don’t have it! A sense of panic hit me but then I calmed down when I realized that every scene and song of Jesus Christ Superstar is indelibly imprinted in my mind’s silver screen.

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Originally published April 2, 2010