By DOM GALEON
Images by ALI VICOY, MANNY LLANNES, and JANSEN ROMERO
Come alive, come alive. Go and ride your light, let it burn so bright reaching up to the sky,” goes one of the songs in the musical The Greatest Showman. The lyrical words resonated across the Fiesta Pavilion of The Manila Hotel last Sunday, as the historic ballroom was dressed to honor a man who has colored the world and touched the lives of so many.
From red tables and chairs, intricately crafted ornaments reminiscent of a circus, tabletop decorations of cakes and carousels (that lit up!), nutcracker soldiers on duty against the ballroom’s four walls, and tapestries hanging from the ceiling to mimic a flying trapeze—Benjie Yap’s birthday celebration did match the fanfare of The Greatest Showman.
“When he told me that he wanted The Greatest Showman as the theme for his birthday party, I had to watch the film first,” says Manny Samson, the world-class interior designer who made that evening nothing short of magical.
And Benjie, or Ben or Uncle Ben as he is fondly called by those close to him, is a great showman. He has shown how faith can move a man to help people in need, particularly children orphaned, abandoned, neglected, and maltreated, who deserve love, shelter, guidance, and opportunities, a refuge, in their formative years, between five and 12. He has shown how it’s possible for a man to give and to keep on giving.
The party, dubbed “Color My World” (a reference, perhaps, to the ‘70s rock/jazz hit of the same title by the band Chicago), was a colorful celebration of everything Benjie Yap has built over the years: True and enduring friendships, and the House of Refuge, the foundation and not-for-profit Joey Lina, Felino Palafox, Kim Camacho, Sam Bernal Ado Escudero, Tina Turalba Emil C. Yap III, Bongbong Marcos, Benjie Yap, Lisa Marcos organization he helped set up over 30 years ago for children in need.
The birthday party was a toast to dreams, more a fantasy dinner than a dinner concert. A sumptuous six-course dinner dished up by the chefs of The Manila Hotel and served with the flourish of fantasy, replete with balloons, pink sugar, and cotton candy, rounded off the showstopping performances in full-on costumes and effects worthy of the imagination of P.T. Barnum’s Barnum & Bailey Circus and featuring self-empowering songs from the 2017 smash hit The Greatest Showman. “This Is Me” was sung by the talented Frenchie Dy. Brother and sister Rocco and Arnelia Canilao sang “A Million Dreams,” together with Laurence Mossman, who sang most of the songs, including “The Greatest Show,” and Sheena Lee, who also performed “Tightrope.” Also jawdropping was soprano Allison Tanner’s rendition of the iconic “Never Enough.”
A special dance number followed, performed by kids from the House of Refuge. Among the performers were Shane, 8, and Kim, 9, who are both at the top of their classes.
“The House of Refuge has always been a joyful burden,” Benjie says, “It is your help that has given these children the chances they need in life. We have been blessed last year with the three top awards an institution like this can get. Praise God! I’d like to thank everyone also for being very, very supportive through the years. We’ve been in existence for more than 30 years now and we would not have come this far without you. Thank you very much!”
It was a night of spectacle, revelry, and dreams-come-true, made even more special by the presence of Benjie’s nearest and dearest, and the alumni from the House of Refuge—everyone who has colored his world through these years.
“Most of you know that my birthday is in January,” Benjie says. “To prepare a show, a party like this, really takes time and effort. We needed at least one and a half months. And you can see—Manny doing all the decorations, the chefs, everything!—everything has been done with the cooperation of so many people.”