by Dennis Galolo
Someone once said, “There’s a silver lining to every cloud that sails about the heavens if we could only see it.” That in a nutshell is perhaps the message behind Doctors On Stage’s latest broadway musical “Fundemic” which offers hope beyond the chaos and fear caused by the current global pandemic.
The musical centers around the notorious COVID-19 virus and its effects which are expressed through a number of inter-related songs that are woven into a story that ultimately honors the efforts of frontline healthcare workers and survivors.
In the first part of the musical, with Michael Jackson’s 1980s hit song “Beat It” setting a somber mood, the virus is seen wreaking havoc on people’s lives, spreading fear and mental anguish. The audience can’t help but empathize with emergency room physicians, ICU nurses and medical personnel who toil long hours caring for COVID-19 patients – a handful of whom end up succumbing to the virus.
Fortunately, the tide begins to slowly turn when a vaccine is developed and infected patients begin to recover. Hope, which was once nowhere to be found, appears on the distant horizon.
“Fundemic” is the 10th and latest in a long line of musical production undertaken by DoctorsOn Stage – a group of medical professionals, laypersons, friends and family who simply enjoy theatre and the bright lights of the big stage. All cast members and crew volunteer their time and talents for the musicals.
Voice coaches are available during rehearsals to offer their expertise, but a number of the performers have hired personal singing instructors at their own expense to further enhance their performances. And rehearsals have increased to three or more per week as the big day approaches.
Artistic director J.P. Orias recalls Doctors On Stage’s very first musical on July 12, 2003, entitled “War and Peace” which was performed at the Blaisdell Center to a nearly sold-out audience. It was so well-received that it kicked off a string of future musicals with different themes.
“From our first production to now, I think what has enabled us to keep going through the years is that the community has embraced our musicals as entertainment for the entire family,” Oriassays. “They have all been well-produced and directed. We have a good cast that corroborates each musical. A lot of the credit goes to the doctors as well as others who sing, dance and perform.”
Originally slated for performance in mid-2020, “Fundemic” has been plagued by numerous delays, cancellations and other upheavals caused by COVID-19. Organizers decided to forge ahead with a performance on Saturday, January 29, 2022 at 6 pm at the Filipino CommunityCenter in Waipahu.
And for the first time ever, the event will be streamed live online. A link will be provided to supporters, donors and others who may be interested.“We normally practice for two months for a musical but for “Fundemic,” we’ve been practicing for the last six months due to all of the delays,” says producer Dr. Charlie Sonido, “To postpone it would further risk losing its essence.”
Dancing with the stars
The mythical star of “Fundemic” is none other than the COVID-19 virus which is played by Dr. Nikka Aquino. A graduate of the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines, she currently works at the Primary Care Clinic of Hawaii where she started as Sonido’s medical preceptee.
Aquino adeptly personifies the virus in dance form throughout the performance. She is an ideal fit for the role, given her extensive background in dance. Her repertoire includes ballet, jazz, flamenco, hula, tap, hip-hop and street dance.
For Aquino, depicting COVID-19 via dance calls for a great deal of flexibility and an extensive combination of movements.“It’s quite challenging because of the nature of the virus and how it has evolved,” she says. “The pandemic started off as a mystery that caught a lot of people by surprise. So depicting the virus in dance requires a variety of movements, ranging from sharp and crisp to graceful, elegant and contemporary, and then to messy and exaggerating as it evolved.”
To knock off a bit of the rust that accumulated for having not formally danced in nearly 15years, Aquino enlisted the help of the Rosalie Woodson Dance Academy. The extra training and choreography helped get her back into dancing shape but once she got back in the groove, it all came back to her.
“Being around other dancers and in the studio brought back that spark,” she says. “I feel like I can let loose and be as creative as I need to be.”Not only is Aquino looking forward to performing but it has also become personal with the passing of a family member who contracted the virus. Being a part of the musical has helped to bring a sense of closure.
“I didn’t think that I would ever play such a major role,” she says. “To be given this opportunity makes it very exciting. It’s also a way for me to let go of the grief and to help clear my mind.”
Fundraiser for BCWW
As with all of Doctors On Stage’s previous musicals, “Fundemic” raises funds for Bayanihan Clinic Without Walls (BCWW), a non-profit organization sponsored by the Philippine Medical Association of Hawaii and Hawaii Filipino Health Care that provides free medical services for immigrants, homeless, the very poor and other marginalized residents on Oahu.
Most recently, BCCW has expanded its services to include those who lost their job, and consequently their health insurance coverage, as a result of the pandemic.
“Fundemic” cast member Dr. Sorbella Guillermo, who has participated in all 10 musicals, is a staunch advocate of BCWW and its mission to serve those who are at-risk and vulnerable. She is among a few dozen Filipino physicians and dentists who treat patients referred to them BBC.
“It’s hard to believe that I’ve been a part of every musical,” she says. “It’s a blessing to be a part of this effort that benefits BCCW. Whenever I provide treatment to those who are in need of help, it’s like I’m doing medical mission work right in my home office.”
Guillermo and colleague Dr. Noelani Hobbs are among a handful of Filipino physicians who volunteer their services for both BCWW and Doctors On Stage. “Fundemic” is Hobbs’ third production and she plans to keep re-enlisting for more. She feels a deep connection to the cast and crew, describing them as “one big family not just on stage but in real life.”
“I absolutely love the fellowship we have,” she says. “I’ve gotten to know people whom I normally would never have met through these musicals. I’d read or heard their names but never had a chance to get to know them personally.”The musicals also allow Hobbs’ inner artistic and creative side to run free – something which she is rarely allowed to do in the structured and orderly world of medicine.
“It’s funny how the most joy I’ve felt was being able to work on this show,” she says. “For me, it was time away from having to treat a disorder or solve a problem. I’m not only a physician, wife and mom but also a singer which I dreamed of being since I was a little girl. If I could do it all over again, I would probably be a professional performer.”
A new normal?
“Fundemic” ends with an upbeat message, despite the doom-and-gloom and fear-mongering that have gripped the nation and to an extent, the entire world – it’s time to stop living in panic mode and to start living life while dealing with COVID-19.
“The coronavirus has been a major challenge for all of us but at some point, life has to move on,” says Sonido. “We have to pick ourselves up and not let this virus run our lives. We can not hide or remain on lockdown forever. We have to learn to live with the effects of the virus orelse the rest of our years will be wasted.”
Sonido stressed that this “new normal” for many people should continue to include wearing masks, taking social and physical distancing measures and necessary vaccinations.
Hobbs admits that dealing with the pandemic and all of its mandates and social distancing requirements drained her to her very core. After leaving the office, she’d return home with very little left in the tank for her family.
“There were times I wanted to close my door and say ‘that’s it. I’m done.’ But no matter how bad things get, it is comforting to know that we can always rely on our Heavenly Father. The skies will clear after the storm. We just need to be resilient. A lot of us have been bent but not broken.
“And from all the chaos and craziness caused by the pandemic, we can still enjoy something beautiful like this musical. That’s why we’ve worked so hard on this musical because we want the audience to feel that better things are just over the horizon.”
Donations are accepted for the benefit of Bayanihan Clinic Without Walls, a non-profit organization with a 501(c)(3) status. For questions or details, call J.P. Orias at 387-8297 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Dennis Galolo