When in Manila, and you are into watching Japanese action shows like Maskman, Mask Rider, and Shaider and/or love watching theater productions, then we got something for YOU! The Dulaang Rock Opera Company (Dulaang ROC), a theater student organization of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) is currently staging one of its biggest production of 2016 this month, Codename: Xander Returns. Under the direction and writing of multiple Palanca award-winning writer and director Christian Vallez (a.k.a. X Vallez/Juan Ekis) and with composition of Ian Amane, Codenaeme: Xander Returns gives off a unique musical vibe that combines musical theater with elements of the Japanese tokusatsu shows that we fell in love in the 1980s and 1990s.
Heavily inspired by Space Sheriff Shaider, you will see a lot of bad guys, heroes in metallic blue armor and even a love story that might take a tragic turn. Codenaeme: Xander Returns is a ‘reboot’ of last year’s play Codename: Xander. The musical follows the exploits of Xander, Pulis Pangkalawakan. The story after Alexis/Xander and Annie fought off the evil Fuschia army and the big evil known as ‘Papi Ley-ar’ to bring peace across the galaxy. Fuschia leaders Drigo and Ida are out for revenge and they seem to have an evil plot to revive their boss Papi Ley-ar and rule the universe. Will Xander and the rest of his crew fight off Drigo and Ida? Well, I don’t want to spoil the entire story so you got to watch the show and find out yourself.
We got to watch Codename: Xander Returns at the UA&P Dizon Auditorium on its premier night and we were treated to one good performance. After the show we got to interview the show’s director/writer Mr. X Vallez and the musical composer Mr. Ian Amane. Here’s our interview with the two gentlemen:
Q: Hi X! As the writer of this production, we’d like to ask what inspired you to write this play.
X: It started as a joke. A friend of mine, after a staging of a play I did a few years back jokingly asked me: ‘Anong next production, a Shaider musical?’. Sinabi ko, ‘Huwag mo ako ibiro baka papatulan ko yan’. So nagging dare siya. (‘What’s the next theater production, a Shaider Musical?’ I told him ’Don’t joke with me, I might pounce on that idea’. So it became a dare.) It took me 3 years to complete and I had the help of Ian to write the music. So yes, it started out as a joke, but now it’s serious.
Q: How about you, Ian? As the composer, what inspired you to compose the songs with X?
Ian: The songs were originally written for the first version of the play. So if you actually watched the first one, they were more tightly inter-bound with the story. In this version, there are some songs that are, and aren’t so much but they masquerade as dreams or soliloquies in the old Shakespeare way of doing things. It is to also give the audience a taste of what that character wants to happen or the desire that moves that character. But again, they are not as tightly ingrained in the story as they were before.
Q: With the musical being inspired by Shaider , I gotta ask, was the series one of your favorite Tokusatsu shows growing up?
X: Actually I’m a bigger fan of Bioman and Voltes V. Shaider was just ok to me. It’s one of the shows that, you know, you get to catch on your TV after coming home from school. I enjoy watching Shaider but I wasn’t a huge fan of it compared to Bioman, which was kind of my thing. However, there were a lot of images from Shaider that stuck in my brain. One big example is that big head character (Great Emperor Kubilai) , who I was really afraid of. Basically, I was really terrified of the villains of Shaider when I was a kid so that’s why it kind of got stuck in my head.
Also the team-up of Alexis (Shaider) and Annie, in my head, they should be together. Actually, that was one of my motivations in writing this storyline because they never really got to be together at the end of the series. Here, I wanted to explore the love story that never existed in the entirety of Shaider.
Ian: I didn’t get to see it a lot because of the schedule. It didn’t come at a good time on TV I guess. That and maybe it was on another TV station in the province. I saw mostly Mask Rider Black and the other guy that turns into a robot (Machineman?). When X got me into it, a few years later, and I found it cool. But my favorite show that I watched when I was a kid was Mask Rider Black.
Q: What’s the difference between the first iteration of Xander and this reboot?
X: This is a reboot. It’s interesting since it took me 3 years to make the first draft and one of our friends pointed out one very big plot hole. The version of last year had JJ as a writer, a musical, so it had a meta aspect. My friend said that the JJ character could be doing anything and it will not matter, so it’s a huge plot hole. We decided to do a re-write and it became slightly dark. It’s not an entire re-write because we recycled some plot points from our old versions. We had several versions of this play. One major revision we did for this play (Xander Returns) is that a character turns evil because of a major loss (what loss? Watch the play to find out).
Q: What was the hardest part writing the musical?
X: The hardest part in writing this version of the musical is to try and keep the songs. Retaining the songs from the previous version, last year’s play, was a challenge. Writing new songs would’ve been easier. But since we had pre-existing songs, the challenge was that the songs would still fit the plot. A lot of the lyrics were written beforehand and they were easier to reconstruct. Writing the music, we ahd 3 years to do it.
Q: How did you guys come up with the concept of the dancing monster? That guy who draws up the energy of the victims after he forces them to dance?
X: We were playing with the genre of the music. That original version of the monster was that it would have been a run of the mill monster that destroys buildings and creates havoc. When Ian was creating the music, he said, ‘Pare, gamitin natin na it’s a singing vs dancing thing’ (‘Dude, let’s use a ‘singing vs dancing’ thing). Something like that. So we made ‘dancing’ as a weapon of the monster. So it (the monster) was inspired by the music to decide the form of the monster and the strength of the enemy.
Ian: I think that [conceptualizing for this certain monster] was a really long time ago. I had an idea to have the power of the bad guys to be about dance. That’s why the original time space warp was based on ‘old disco’. For me, the ultimate dance is disco and not ‘tugs tugs’ or any other type of dance out there.
Q: What’s your pitch to those out there who may or may not be fans of Maskman, Bioman, Shaider, Mask Rider, and other Tokusatsu series to go and watch this musical?
X: Japan has been doing stage adaptation of their animes like Sailor Moon or Naruto. This is some sort of Pinoy homage to that genre. My pitch is that we are giving tribute to that culture that affected us, enriched us, one that we borrowed and grew up with, but with a Pinoy flavor. This one is especially for the ‘Batang 90s’ or ‘Batang 80s’. So if they are looking for a combination of a nostalgia trip and a sound trip that’s fun with a bit of dark plot points, then they should go watch Codename: Xander Returns.
Ian: The play is really entertaining. I’d like to believe that even if you’re not a fan of the whole Japanese 80’s genre thing, you’ll still enjoy it because we deal with universal topics. There’s still ‘love’. There’s still ‘hate’. This play is now more complex than what the Japanese had before in terms of themes because we tried to show the concept of heroism and how love can sometimes twist heroism into something else.
Like I said earlier, Codename: Xander Returns was a good show. It had elements of those Japanese TV shows that I loved watching as a kid back in the 90s. They had entertaining fight scenes with the bad guys, the ‘monster of the week’ forcing everyone to dance, and there was even some catchy songs too. If you’re in that 80s or 90s kids category such as myself, and if you really loved watching Shaider, Maskman or Masked Rider Black, you’ll love watching this musical. I have to say that it’s a feel good nostalgia trip (and a soundtrip) for all. I’d like to thank Mr. Christian Vallez and Ian Amane for giving their time to give us the interview. I would also like to give props to the young performers and crew of the Dulaang ROC theater organization for pulling off a good show!
Don’t forget to catch Codename: Xander Returns this week from 9, 11-13 February 2016 at the Celestino Dizon Auditorium, G/F at the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), Pearl Drive, Pasig City. You may also get your tickets before the show or via online at http://dulaangroc.yapsody.com/. I guarantee you, it’s a nostalgia and sound trip that you will enjoy very much!
WIM Photos by: Jonathan Guillermo
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