Ateneo vs. La Salle: Rivalry goes onstage
The age-old rivalry between Ateneo and La Salle has become such a big part of pop culture, it even has its own Wikipedia page. Definitely, there is no campus clash as intense.
Lasallians and Ateneans are taught early on that they should watch out for the green or the blue. Both camps repeatedly insist that the other has a certain brand of yabang that they can’t stand. Even on regular days when the digs are lighthearted and made in the name of good clean fun, the tension between the two schools is palpable.
During basketball season, the enmity explodes — curses are thrown, friendships are put on hold, and the mere mention of the other school’s name is enough to put a scowl on students’ faces.
Dramatic as it is, the Ateneo-La Salle relationship seems tailor-made for theatrical interpretation, so the news that someone had indeed turned this legendary rivalry into a musical raised happy eyebrows. Even more so when it was revealed that theater veterans Ed Gatchalian, Jaime del Mundo, and Joel Trinidad were behind the production.
True enough, “Rivalry: Ateneo-La Salle the Musical” delivered… at least in the first few minutes. The opening number was a well-written, well-executed musical piece that perfectly established the setting and the story: It’s 1968, NCAA season, and the star players from rival schools Ateneo and La Salle (who happen to be cousins) are gearing up for the win. Meanwhile, political tensions are rising.
It was a number that promised humor, history, great music, great choreography, high-octane performances, and a fresh exploration of the rivalry against a bigger picture.
Regrettably, as the play developed, it fell short on all but three of those promises.
To begin with, the production lacked spectacle. For such a big stage, it was left really bare. You’re bound to see more colors and vibrancy in an Ateneo-La Salle UAAP match.
But more than the lackluster visuals, the play fell short in terms of the story itself.
For one, there were too many plot points going on that none of it really built up to a climax. The supposed climactic events (Atenean star player getting hit by a bottle, rumble between two schools, the final game) weren’t highlighted enough and were easily missed.
Also, everything was taken too seriously, and with such a subject matter, it didn’t work.
Yes, for some people, especially during basketball season, Ateneo-La Salle becomes a matter of life and death, but that’s why the rivalry is iconic — because students blow it so out of proportion that it becomes hilarious.
There should have been more comedy, more exaggeration, more poking fun at the fact that people get so involved in the rivalry but no one knows when or how it started exactly, more highlighting how stereotypical Ateneans and stereotypical Lasallites are foil characters of each other, more about how in a way the competition pushes both sides to be better, more focus on the fact that in the bigger scheme of things, none of it really matters.
That’s not to say the play didn’t attempt all these things. It did have hits. Veteran actor Noel Trinidad’s number, for instance, came closest to saying what really should have been said about the Archer-Eagle rivalry.
Another hit is the characterization of the two warring fathers, Atenean Anton and Lasallite Demetrio, who hated each other with a passion for a reason known only to them. Their behavior toward each other, and the wisecracks they made were not far from what alumni from both schools usually say when they come face to face. Their overreactions were great comic material.
But their exaggeration fell out of place among the rest of the characters who were not written in the same humorous vein.
Yes, they did play on stereotypes: the smooth-talking ladies’ man Tommy from La Salle, the serious Atenean, Paco, and the intellectual Quito, also an Atenean.
But Paco was much too serious as a character — and aside from being Ateneo’s star player, his role didn’t really do much else for the story. As a Lasallite Lothario, Tommy lacked swag so that when he spoke about scoring with the ladies, it felt like empty talk. It’s unclear whether it’s a fault on the actor’s part, or if the script did not have enough scenes to establish his character.
The character of Quito was lovable as the typical Shakespeare-spouting Atenean nerd, and Rod Concepcion played the role excellently, if a bit overdone. But what happened to his character in the end felt a little too contrived, and his lines in one particular scene were borderline cheesy.
Rina, the girl who captures the attention of both Lasallite and Atenean, also fell short in terms of characterization. For a girl who is portrayed at the start as a rabid bookworm who did not care for boys and double, triple-checked her papers, she falls pretty easily. A couple of pick-up lines and a little bit of Shakespeare, and suddenly she’s in her bed having a Dear Diary moment, singing about being ready to fall in love again (who she fell in love with the first time was not said).
That said, Athena Tibi, the actress who played Rina, did what she could with the role, and portrayed her very well. Her voice was amazing, a pleasure to listen to.
And that’s one thing that can be said about this play. In terms of vocal performance, the cast almost made up for the plot pitfalls (not really, but almost). Their energy and eagerness were apparent from the get-go, and their choruses were some of the strongest moments in the production.
The music, too, was praiseworthy, and brought a hint of excitement and humor that other areas of the production lacked. Then again, you can expect no less, with Gatchalian and Joel Trinidad behind it. Though a bit repetitive at times, the songs were catchy and memorable—needless to say, generations of Lasallians will be quoting from “A Boy from La Salle” incessantly.
For what it lacked in terms of story and plot, perhaps based on subject matter alone, many people enjoyed it. At the curtain call, many people gave the production a standing ovation.
And while a standing ovation from half the audience does not a good play make, “Rivalry” can still expect a good run. After all, UAAP season is still a few months away, and there are definitely some hardcore fans and alumni of the blue and green campuses who are willing to forgive what the play inherently lacks just to get a kick out of good old undying Ateneo-La Salle action. –KG/YA/HS, GMA News
"Rivalry: Ateneo-La Salle the Musical" runs at the Meralco Theater from January 27 to 29, and February 5-8, 9-12, and 15-19, at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays to Fridays, and 3 p.m. and 8 p.m on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets can be purchased from TicketWorld, or at the Meralco Theater.