Sunday, March 24, 2019

Review of Rep's FATHER'S DAY: Softening Up the Scrooge

March 25, 2019

When Sue Willows left her husband Henry for another man Terry several years back, she brought with her their three children. One day, their eldest son Matthew brought his 16 year-old goth girlfriend Christine home to pay his dad a surprise visit, one that his irascible old man did not exactly appreciate. When Sue found out where Matthew was, she drove over to pick him up. However, when her old car's engine broke down, Sue too was stuck in Henry's house for one topsy-turvy night.

With the bland generic title and unfamiliar playwright Eric Chappelle, at first I was not really too keen or excited to see this play. However, based on previous experience of watching them, I knew how Repertory Philippines can weave theatrical magic with even the most obscure British comedies, so of course, I still went to watch this. Well, what do you know, this one turned out to be one charming little gem, thanks in large part to the wonderful comic chemistry the Rep actors had on that stage.

The Set by Miguel Faustmann

Miguel Faustmann can do these cantankerous old geezer roles blindfolded already. After all, he had been cast as Ebenezer Scrooge for countless times. Faustmann was some sort of a Scrooge again here, while the unexpected visits of his son and wife parallel those of Scrooge's ghost of Christmas Past. (Playwright Chappelle actually acknowledged this inspiration in one of Henry's lines.) In Act 1, Faustmann's Henry was as dry as a typical Brit can come, while in Act 2, he unexpectedly shifted gears to become naughty and amorous, something you won't see old Scrooge do.

Having Liesl Batucan perform the role of Sue was a brilliant casting decision. Previously, this type of role would have probably gone to Ms. Joy Virata, and Batucan is clearly her heir apparent when it comes to comedies. Even if the character was not exactly painted as a model wife in Act 1, Batucan can still make Sue so cute and endearing during her cheeky arguments with Henry. And when the play shifted to sex comedy mode in Act 2, Batucan rode the wave effortlessly, becoming all giddy and kittenish. Batucan's sense of comic timing and physical comedy was really a pure delight to watch. 

I had seen Andres Borromeo's Rep debut last year when he played the Prince in the children's musical "Rapunzel, Rapunzel." He graduates to a main featured role in a straight play this time to play the Willow's eldest son Matthew. His facial features and line delivery sort of reminded me of former Rep actor Jaime Blanch. Anyhow, his Matthew was charming despite the fact that he was an out-of-school bum. It was not difficult to root for him as he tried to reconnect with his father in the most out-of-the-box way. Matthew was written with a lot of heart, and elder folks will think of their own children while watching him.

The role of the weird girlfriend Christine was played by Becca Coates in the show I caught. This role does not exactly give Coates the acting challenge that she faced when she played the title role in "Agnes of God" which won her a Gawad Buhay award for Best Featured Actress in a Play in 2018. Christine's character was one of physical appearance only -- with her thick Goth makeup, tattoos and multiple piercings, meant to shock the parents. She merely whispered to Matthew the whole play, until that one scene when we finally hear her voice, a deux-ex-machina scene of sorts. (Her sister Rachel Coates, whom I last saw in "A Doll's House, Part 2," alternates in this role.)

The Cast at the Curtain Call

Rep co-founder Baby Barredo returns to the director's chair for this intimate little project. Aside from playing Sue, Liesl Batucan also takes on assistant director duties. The cozy living room of the Willow's home was designed by Henry himself, Miguel Faustmann. The technical crew is composed of the very hard-working John Batalla (for Lighting Design) and Arvy Dimaculangan (for Sound Design).


FATHER'S DAY began its run last March 22, and will go on weekends up to April 14, 2019 at the Onstage Theater in Greenbelt 1, Makati. Ticket prices: P1,500 - Orchestra Center and P1,200 - Orchestra Side

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Review of Tanghalang Ateneo's ALPHA KAPPA OMEGA: Baneful Brotherhood

March 24, 2019

In 1982, there was a bold groundbreaking film by director Mike de Leon entitled "Batch 81" which used the violence of college fraternies as social commentary against Martial Law. An award-winning classic as it was hailed, I had never seen the film. I did know about the late actor Mark Gil playing an frat neophyte named Sid Lucero (a character name which would later become the screen name of Gil's son Timothy when he became an actor). 

This year, with the tense political and social turmoil of Martial Law seemingly coming back, prolific playwright Guelan Luarca, son of Ward Luarca (who played Pacoy in the film) thought it was time to bring the story of "Batch 81" back as well. Luarca adapted the original screenplay written by Clodualdo del Mundo, Raquel Villavicencio and Mike de Leon into a script that brings Sid Lucero's story into the present time, this time on a theater stage. Luarca himself directed this new play, assisted by Tara Jamora Oppen

John Sanchez as Sid Lucero
(photo from TA by Aga Olympia)

There were six neophytes that year for the Alpha Kappa Omega fraternity. These were pre-med student Sid Lucero, scholar athlete Arni Enriquez, rich kid Ronnie Roxas Jr., provinci bumpkin Ding Magtibay, mama's boy Pacoy Ledesma and economics professor Santi Santillan. Their ruthless frat masters were led by Vince and Gonzales, who hazed the plebes in secret and made fools of them in public, all the in the name of losing their sense of ego for the sake of brotherhood.

Sid had to join the frat behind the back of his girlfriend Mariel, who hated frats because of a family tragedy. Arni's girlfriend Tina was a drug-addict, who just so happened to be the sister of Abet, the head master of a rival frat, the SOS. Ronnie was forced to live under the shadow of his father, who was an illustrious alumnus of the AKO. Pacoy wanted to prove his manhood after years of hiding under his mother's skirts. 45 year old Santi was bored with his life and wanted this thrill to quench his midlife crisis. 

Act 1 opened with a bang, showing us the known frat hazing practices, like the paddling, the bullying, the shaming and being made to run around campus in their underwear, all within the first 30 minutes. Later, more mind-boggling rites were shown. The neophytes would drink and spit beer into the the same cup being passed around, or be interrogated while a fellow neophyte was being electrocuted for wrong answers.

Cholo Ledesma and Chesca de la Cruz
as Pacoy Ledesma and Susan Estrada
(photo from TA, by Waldo Katigbak)

Act 2 would open happily with a comical drag show (rather protracted in my view) with the neophytes all dressed like beauty queens from gowns to bikinis, each one mouthing one classic Miss Universe question and answer after the other. However, the story would soon quickly take a most violent and tragic turn as the grim inevitability of gang wars entered the picture, and young lives were needlessly sacrificed. 

Biology major John Sanchez gave his seriouly intense Sid Lucero a scary vibe of fanaticism. Cholo Ledesma (who was impressive in TA's "Rites of Passage" in 2014) was shamelessly delightful as Pacoy, who boldly figured in the play's most embarrassng scenes. (Jose Primo Rafael Escurel alternates as Pacoy.) Veteran theater actor Ron Capinding was the most senior member of the cast and his portrayal of Santi Santillan was the most fleshed out. (Soc de los Reyes alternates as Santi.) The most memorable female performers were Chrisse Joy de los Santos (as the witty powertripping sorority girl Pearl) and Franchesca de la Cruz (as the hilarious prosititute Susan).

One of the best-written scenes in the play was the conversation between a remorseful Santi and their dean, the unfortunately named Miss Casuso, as played with jaded wisdom by Katski Flores. (Was Ms. Flores late for Act 1 today? The role of Ms. Casuso was played by an ensemble member who was reading and stumbling off the script on a clipboard.) Olive Nieto gave a marked performance in her single scene as Mrs. Enriquez, Arni's mother. (Meryll Soriano alternates as Mrs. Enriquez.) Jonel Mojica was imposing as Ronnie's father, based on his stage presence alone, with the minimum of lines. 

Katski Flores and Ron Capinding
as Ms. Casuso and Santi Santillan
(photo from TA, by Aga Olympia)

The youth and relative inexperience of the actors were evident, but it did not detract too much from their earnest performances.  Earvin Estioco (as Arni), Nico Nepomuceno (as Ronnie), Ram Catan (as Ding), Aric Mamonluk (as Vince), Renzo Guevara (as Gonzales), Kyle Woody Tan (as Abet), Jam Binay (as Mariel) and Dani Capinding (as Tina) all made their particular characters stand out. Alternates include Carlos Hombrebueno (as Gonzales), Kin Ivan Umpad (as Abet), Maxine de Jesus (as Pearl), Rose Clarence Co (as Mariel) and Renee Colleen (as Tina). 

The combined efforts of Nicolo Magno (choreography), D Cortezano (lighting design) and Xander Soriano (sound design) effectively created the frenetic illusion of the hazing and frat wars for the stage. Monica Sebial's stage design afforded the big cast enough space to move around, making use of every space available up front, even including the audience area in certain parts. 

Interestingly, the Ateneo does not have fraternities on campus. So Luarca and his dramaturg Brian Arda had to consult real frat members outside in order to recreate an authentic and realistic portrayal of the local frat subculture.  Aside from political commentary, Luarca also took shots against current sexist controversies within the Ateneo. It was not only a story about the young men, but also about the community around them who motivated and enabled them to behave the way they do. 

Writer-Director Guelan Luarca and the cast face the press after the show.


ALPHA KAPPA OMEGA opened last March 20 and will run up to April 13, 2019. Showtimes are as follows: March 20-23, 26-30, April 2-6, 9-13 | 7:30 pm, and matinees on March 23, 30, April 6, 13 at 2:30 pm. Tickets are sold at P400 (Regular), P350 (ADMU Student) and P300 (ADMU Scholar). Venue will be at the Rizal Mini Theater, Faber Hall, Ateneo de Manila University.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Review of UPPT's NANA ROSA: Comfortless Catharsis

March 9, 2019

Maria Rosa Henson became a household name back in the 1990s when she came forward to the press about her tortured experience as a comfort woman during the Japanese occupation of our country. She was the first Filipina brave enough to break her silence over woeful episode of her life, nine gruelling months of forced sex slavery. Now more than 25 years after her nationwide confession, the UP Playwrights Theatre brings back her story back to fore on stage (as written by Rody Vera and directed by Jose Estrella), before it gets swallowed up by time. 

Act I took us back to World War II when 14-year old Rosa was abducted by Japanese soldiers and corralled with five other young women in an old hospital to serve as "comfort women" -- a deceptive euphemism for a sex slave. Rape had always been a most difficult, most heinous crime to see on TV or in films, but performed live on stage, the effect was even more painful to witness. These lascivious rape scenes were graphically executed, a tad protracted maybe, but all done to make sure we also go through Rosa's pure hell.

Ingrid Villamarin takes her bow.

Act II brought us forward to 1995 when Rosa, now a 67-year old grandmother, agreed to make her story public. Instead of united outrage and sympathy, Rosa's action stirred up divisive controversy. Why did it take her almost fifty years before she came out with her story? Was she telling the truth or was she just after the money? Was it worth it for the Philippine government to take up the cudgels on Rosa's behalf, especially when it could throw a wrench in the good relations between the two countries at present? 

Young Rosa was played by Ingrid Villamarin. Seeing Villamarin, she of delicate beauty and frame, sustain the brunt of the brutal and beastial lust of innumerable Japanese soldiers can definitely cause the audience to be collectively revolted and incensed. Despite the dehumanizing atrocities committed against her, Rosa never lost her resolve and her defiance against her abusers. Villamarin had the fire in her eyes for that. (Krystle Valentino alternates in this role.)

Peewee O'Hara takes her bow.

Nana Rosa was played by Peewee O'Hara. Her Rosa was surprisingly calm and level-headed. There was no big dramatic emotional breakdown moment for her. Her anguish was more internal, and O'Hara's acting was restrained to match that approach. Nana Rosa was a character who faced several difficult decisions in her life, and she always made her own mind up by herself. O'Hara had the strength of character for that. (Upeng Galang Fernandez alternates in this role.

Lei Quinquilleria (as Indai Sajor), Sarina Sasaki (as Lidy Nacpil), Bea Racoma (as former beauty queen Nelia Sancho) and Karlo Erfe (as Jimi Castillano) played the four activists who spurred the search for comfort women when no one even believed that they existed. Their delivery of lines can somehow sound too earnest and occasionally even tactless, but you know their heart is in the right place. Jeremy Cabansag, Camille Abaya, double duty actress Iris Monstesclaros, assistant director Issa Manalo Lopez and lead dramaturg Ina Azarcon-Bolivar all figure in one surprise heart-rending scene which was the main dramatic highlight of Act 2. 

Jonathan Ivan Rivera and Victor Sy take their bow.

Jonathan Ivan Rivera played the Japanese officer Tanaka, who managed to project enough kindness to make Rose's Stockholm Syndrome convincing. Victor Sy first played Rose's absentee father Don Pepe Henson, who always had to hide their relationship from the prying eyes of the public. Later Sy also played a haughty Japanese colonel with a bold physical display of his rank. Iris Montesclaros played Rosa's prideful mother Julia, Sheryl Ceasico played Nana Rosa's supportive daughter Rosario, while Mikaella Coruna played her affected granddaughter Tina. 

The technical aspects of the play, especially the sound by Jon Lazam and Marie Angelica Dayaosuccessfully set us in the proper mood. The sets of Charles Yee had those movable screens that give a voyeuristic vibe and worked very well with the lights by Barbie Tan-Tiongco and the dramatic graphics and videos of Joyce Garcia. The costumes of the 1940s Pampanga folk and of the Japanese military (with those remarkable brown high boots for the officers) were designed by Carlo Pagunaling.  

Rivera, Villamarin, O'Hara and Sy during the curtain call.

The run of this play comes right at the heels of a resurgent feminist movement, with the viral #metoo, presidential misogyny, International Women's Day, and similar female-centered advocacies being hot topics of the day. As of now, despite the 25 years that passed after Nana Rosa's public disclosure, there had still been no formal acknowledgement nor apology. It is high time to revive interest in the case of the comfort women still alive today. Justice still deserves to be accorded to them while they are still living, even if Nana Rosa herself is already not. However, in a time when even a statue made in their honor was ordered to be removed, will they ever get their elusive, long-overdue retribution?


NANA ROSA opened last February 27, 2019 and will run up to March 17, 2019. There are 7 pm shows on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, while there will be a 3 pm matinee aside from a 7 pm show on the final Sunday. No more Saturday shows next week. Venue of the play is at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater in the second floor of Palma Hall in UP Diliman. Tickets are at P500 each. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Review of NOLI ME TANGERE, THE OPERA (CCP, 2019): Romance and Revolution by Rizal

March 8, 2019

This is already the third time I am watching this, the Philippines' first full-length opera first produced on stage in 1957.  Jose Rizal's 1887 revolutionary classic novel “Noli Me Tangere” was transposed into opera form, with music by National Artist Felipe Padilla De Leon and libretto by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino.  The first time, I watched it in UP Diliman back in 2012 (MY REVIEW). Then, I was also able to watch a new production in Resorts World Manila in 2014 (MY REVIEW).

This year, after being performed in New York and Washington DC by J&S Productions Inc. (producers Edwin Josue and Jerry Sibal),  "Noli Me Tangere, the Opera" returns to the Cultural Center of the Philippines' (CCP)  at the main Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo, from March 8-10, 2019, just in time for the CCP's 50th anniversary. 

All Filipinos should know the story by heart -- of Crisostomo Ibarra coming home after a 7-year sojourn in Europe to build a school in honor of his father and marry his beloved Maria Clara, only to clash with the vile machinations of Padre Damaso to thwart all his well-laid plans. Act 1 covered from the events from the arrival of Ibarra up to the part when Ibarra attacks Padre Damaso with a knife. After the 15 minute intermission, Act 2 covered the events following the excommunication of Ibarra to the deaths of Sisa and Elias. 

Ibarra and Maria Clara on the Staircase

The libretto was in grand poetic Filipino. Most of the dialog were sung-through opera style, with very occasional spoken lines. The lyrics (with English translations) were projected on supertitles above the proscenium to help us understand the words better. This device was of course limited when the songs were sung by duets or trios, when characters were singing different lines in simultaneous counterpoints. (But ironically, those are the times we need to see the lyrics more.) Since we can all see the lyrics, it was impressive that I did not notice anyone flub their lines throughout the show.

During the Preview night when we watched, the central couple of Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara were played by Nomher U. Nival and Nerissa de Juan. From the excellent singing of the whole cast, Nival and de Juan really stood out with their very strong and solid operatic singing voices. Nival's tenor was full and soaring in his many powerful solos. De Juan's dramatic soprano was beautifully flawless in arias like "Kay Tamis ng Buhay." Ivan Nery (whom I saw as Ibarra the previous two times I had seen this show) and Bianca Lopez (coloratura soprano soloist from the Philippine Madrigal Singers) alternate in these roles.

Sisa Gets Apprehended

As with the previous times I seen this opera, the crowd favorites were the tragic characters of Sisa and her two children Basilio and Crispin. This night, Sisa was played by Bernadette Mamauag who had the physical fragility and the acrobatic vocal ability required by this role, especially with her featured aria "Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa." (Allison Cervantes and Kelly Peralejo" Basilio's plaintive solo "Gising Na, O Inang Ko" is always the most tear-jerking number as ever, as sung by Mari Yapjoco. (Award-winning stage and film actor Noel Comia, Jr. alternates as Basilio, so that should also be something to watch out for.) Cute little Santino Juan Santiago played the ill-fated younger brother Crispin.

Other vocal stand-outs in the cast were the powerful baritone Nils Emerson Flores as the sinister and depraved Padre Damaso, the smiling Miguel Espiritu as the affable Kapital Tiago, the classy Krissan Manikan-Tan as the delightfully old-fashioned Tiya Isabel and the lovely Rare Jireh Yzel Columna as Victoria, the subject of a happy battle of the sexes during the outdoor picnic. (Ronaldo Villaruel Abarquez alternates as both Padre Damaso or Kapitan Tiago in selected shows.)

Padre Damaso's Anguish

The other members of the cast were: Joseleo Logdat (Elias); Greg Abelardo de Leon (Pilosopo Tasyo); Mia Bolanos (Dona Victorina), Oliver Pineda (Tenyente Guevarra), Jose Mari Javato (Padre Salvi), Charina Althea Balmores (Sinang), Micah David J. Galang (Andeng), Tomas Virtucio (Albino),Timothy Racho (Alferez), Ruzzel Clemeno (Don Filipo),and Lorenz Edward Sarrondo (Linares). 

The ensemble includes Roxanne Abuel, Neomi Giron, Eden Lorrice Dumlao, Sheila Gamo, Mavel Bautista, Cris Go, Krystl Buesa, Katrine Jamar Sunga, Angeli Benipayo, Elle Tuason, Erielle Fornes, Via Villasin, Marifel Motilla, Airo Saret, Kevin Chen, Michael Del Rosario, Charlene Ramos, and Otepp Billeza.

This 2019 production is co-directed by Jerry Sibal and Jose Jeffrey Camanag. The live orchestra is led by Maestro Herminigildo Ranera.  Sibal himself did the set and costume designs. The those Filipiniana gowns worn by Maria Clara and Tia Isabel were magnficent, no expense was spared in their execution. Dennis Marasigan did the lighting design, while TJ Ramos did the sound engineering and the microphones were all working perfectly.

The Picnic on the Riverbank

Alan dela Rama was responsible for the graphic and video designs on the huge LED walls which serve as scenic backdrops for the play. We were brought inside the opulent living room of Kapitan Tiago's house with the grand chandelier and into the gardens outside bedecked with bright pink bougainvillea blooms. During the scenes of the picnic, the sky turned from the orange of sunrise to bright blue of midday. The struggle with the crocodile was depicted by video. The interior of Maria Clara's room was represented with capiz windows. We see Padre Damaso in anguish in darkened cloisters with a giant crucifix hanging behind him. The effect of the final conflagration was also achieved on these walls.

The rich music and libretto of this opera had already endured more than 60 years, and we can certainly hear why. Given the proper attitude and guidance, the younger generations can still very much connect with the story. Given the tweaks of modern technology, the show can still appeal to all ages with a current sense of cultural aesthetics. It was very heartening to see and hear a very deep pool of young talent when it comes to classical singing. Watching this show, I can foresee a very brilliant future for opera singing in our country.

Ibarra versus his Nemesis


NOLI ME TANGERE, THE OPERA will be running at the Tanghalang Nicolas Aberlardo of the Cultural Center of the Philippines for only one weekend. Gala night is on March 8, at 8 pm. There will be two more matinee shows on March 9 and 10, at 2 pm. Tickets on Ticketworld, with prices ranging from ₱2,800, ₱2,300, ₱1,400, ₱1,200 and ₱900. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Review of TP's CORIOLANO: Perplexing Pride and Personality

February 24, 2019

Watching a new unfamiliar Shakespeare play is not exactly easy to understand right away. I had no idea what "Coriolanus" was about before I went to watch it, nor do I know the names of any character from it.  If Shakespeare is adapted in Filipino, it may either be easier or harder depending on how the adaptation was done. If it is done by the award-winning Guelan Varela-Luarca, it should be good (and in this case, it was). 

Cayo Marcio was a proud Patrician soldier who did not shy from expressing his contempt against the Plebians who worked under him. After he successfully led a campaign against the Volscian city of Corioli (under the leadership of Gen. Tulo Aufidio), Marcio was given the honorary title of Coriolano. When he was nominated by the Senate to become consul, Marcio faced stiff opposition from the two Plebian tribunes, Sicinio Veluto and Junio Bruto, who rallied the common people against the Coriolano.

The Tribunes rally the crowd vs. the Coriolano
(photo from TP FB page)

As the play went on, there were so many characters with names which were not exactly easy to hear, to learn or to remember. There were also actors in the ensemble who were playing multiple roles, further adding to the confusion. It took some time for me to figure out that Cayo Marcio was the lead character's name. The play's title "Coriolano" was just an honorific Cayo Marcio earned after he won the battle against the Volscians (an Italic tribe I also never heard before, so it took some time for me to figure this out as well). Up to the very end, I never figured out why the chaste lady Valeria was there at all. 

However, despite the difficulty of the first scenes, the flow of the play was engaging enough for you to eventually get the drift of where the story was going by the time the Tribunes were convincing the people to rise against the arrogant abuse of the Coriolano. Actually, the rise in action was remarkable from this point on, until it reaches a climax when the Coriolano was sentenced for exile. It actually felt like a good conclusion right there after an hour and a half, but then you realize it was just the end of Act 1.

Act 2 presented a uniquely ironic situation about the Coriolano and his mortal enemy Tulo Aufidio. This act was easier to get into than it was at the beginning of Act 1, but there were still a lot of talky scenes which can feel too long and meandering to sit through. It would take approximately another hour and fifteen minutes or so before the final curtain. Despite the efforts of the director Carlos Siguion-Reyna and cast to keep the play interesting, I felt that the play's epic length was the major impediment in fully enjoying this play. You should not watch this when tired or sleepy.

The Coriolano with his frenemy Tulo Aufidio
(photo from TP FB page)

Marco Viana owned the title role of Coriolano with his magnetic stage presence. The Coriolano is a puzzling character with his arrogant elitist outbursts contrasting starkly with his seeming humility when being praised for his exploits. Jonathan Tadioan was a calming presence as Menenio Agrippa, as the voice of reason within the Senate. Frances Makil-Ignacio camped it up with her satin pants in her showy role as Volumnia, the Coriolano's influential mother. (Sherry Lara alternates as Volumnia.) JV Ibesate and Doray Dayao were effectively conniving as the Sicinio Veluto and Junio Bruto respectively. Brian Sy relished his intimate "bromance" scenes in Act 2 as Tulo Aufidio.

Ohm David built "stone" steps to occupy the entire breadth of the stage with huge "stone" pillars positioned all around to frame the action within. The costumes of Bonsai Cielo were modern renditions of the tunic and the toga, with Volumnia's satin pants the most memorable anachronistic item up there. Dennis Marasigan's use of red lights heightened the drama of the key scenes. Brian Sy and Remus Villanueva were responsible for the dance-like fight choreography. You will dig that climactic final sword fight with apparently real metal blades!
The Curtain Call
 Jonathan Tadioan, Frances Makil-Ignacio, Marco Viana and Brian Sy in the foreground
Antoniette Go, Doray Dayao, Aldo Vencilao, JV Ibesate in the background

The political implications of this tragic Shakespearean play to the Philippine situation will certainly not be lost on the audience. The whole Act 1 basically predicted the whole scenario of our EDSA Revolution, predating the dictator's caustic pride, snap election, popular uprising and ignominous exile by centuries. It is up to the audience's appreciation how the whole "sleeping with the enemy" scenario of Act 2 applies to our present situation. The political metaphors we pick up from this play can be chilling. This mentally-stimulating exercise is the best reason to go watch this play. 


CORIOLANO runs at the CCP Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino. February 22-March 17, 2019, with 8 pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets at  1,030 and ₱ 824.


POSTSCRIPT: On the afternoon I watched, the Little Theater of the CCP was fully occupied by high school students who were clearly quite restless throughout the play's length. They were amused by the few risque comic relief scenes (usually by the servants) and were thrilled by the kissing scenes between the Coriolano and his wife Virgilia, as well as Tulo Aufidio. The noise level in the theater during the intermission was so loud that one of their teachers actually stood up and called them to attention, which they thankfully heeded, for a while at least. I hope they learned something from this theater experience. Maybe a lecture about theater etiquette before the play would help. 


UPDATE: March 10, 2019

Miss Sherry Lara as Volumnia

I watched "Coriolano" the second time today to see Miss Sherry Lara portray the role of Coriolano's mother Volumnia. Ms. Lara had an older, more grandmotherly mien that her Volumnia seemed to have delivered more emotional weight during her final confrontation with her son Cayo Marcio. 

Watching this play for the second time, I already knew all the names so the flow of the story was much clearer. This second viewing made me appreciate the wordplay of Guelan Luarca's Filipino text more -- so much wit and double entendres (which Brian Sy clearly relished). There were no noisy high school students when I watched this time, so I also appreciated the musical score and lighting effects more. One thing though, Brian's sword did not stick its landing this time though during that last fight.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Recap and Videos of JOSH GROBAN BRIDGES TOUR IN MANILA 2019: Warm, Willful and Winsome

February 23, 2019

Twelve years ago, Josh Groban held his first concert in Manila. If I recall correctly, it was a exclusive event by one local telco giant for its customers, so it was not easy to purchase tickets. He was on his third album "Awake" by that time, and already had several adult contemporary hits to his name. To be completely honest, most of the Groban songs we love had been his early hits released before this fist Manila concert, and thus were the same songs we looked forward to the most in this long-overdue return engagement. 

By 8 pm there was a local front act who warmed up the crowd in the person of balladeer Christian Bautista. With his light soaring tenor, Bautista rendered his signature international hit "Something in the Way You Look at Me" and his own slowed-down version of the Eraserheads' "Ligaya." His final number was a medley of his favorite OPM songs originally by Martin Nievera, Gary Valenciano, Ogie Alcasid, APO Hiking Society, Raymond Lauchengco and Rico J. Puno, among several others.

To the relief of the mostly middle age or senior citizen audience, the concert proper began at around 8:45 pm. Josh Groban, sporting his beard and rich high baritone, came out to sing "Bigger Than Us," a track from his latest 2018 album "Bridges." He immediately followed this up with his first release from the "Awake" album, the elegant anthem "You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)." Aside from his band, he had the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra behind him to accompany him.

Groban was quite informal, joking and chatty in his spiels as he told stories behind his songs. Even if I had not heard his new songs before from "Bridges" before, they all carry the familiar Groban warmth. When he introduced "Granted," he shared his experience when he was 13 when a teacher pushed him to perform publicly for the first time. For "River," he talked about reaching out to help people suffering from depression. "Musica del Corazon" was an upbeat Latin-infused guitar and percussion number which brought out a new facet in Groban's performance. 

He shared how his career went into new dimensions after the release of his 2015 album of Broadway show covers -- "Stages." It led to his cherished dream of headlining a show on Broadway in 2016,  when he played Pierre Bezukhov in Dave Malloy's "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812," a performance which earned him a nomination for Best Actor in a Musical in the 2017 Tony Award. He sang two songs from "Stages," "Pure Imagination" (which was from the film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," not a musical) and "Bring Him Home" (from "Les Miserables").

Groban sat the piano himself at one point and began an impassioned solo at the keys, which later segued into the familiar strains of Michael Jackson's "She's Out of My Life." After singing this beautiful song, he shared that this song was an exclusive for his Manila stop since it was only popular in the Philippines, to the delight of the audience. He said that it was just an ignored B-side in the US, so he never really sang it in concerts. 

The unique highlight of this Manila concert were the guest appearances of Filipino singers to sing duets with Groban. The first one was unexpected. Front act artist Christian Bautista was called back on stage to sing Andrea Bocelli's parts in "We Will Meet Once Again," also from "Bridges." Bautista confessed that he was a big fan and was singing all of Groban's hits during his singing contest days. Both 37 this year, Groban and Bautista acted like long-time buddies onstage. 

The second featured guest is none other than Lea Salonga. The concert date February 22 is Salonga's birthday and of course, Groban sang the birthday song for her. She suffered a leg fracture from a skiing accident in Japan earlier this year, so she came out on stage on a wheelchair. Groban sat down beside her when they sang their two duet numbers "All I Ask of You" (from "Phantom of the Opera," which he sang with Kelly Clarkson in the "Stages" album) (MY VIDEO), and "The Prayer" (the song he sang with Celine Dion as a stand-in for Andrea Bocelli in the 1998 Grammy Awards rehearsal, that launched his career). Groban spoke as a fan of Salonga, and rued that he could not reach the notes of "Ms. Saigon" leading man Chris, joking that the word "saxophone" was banned in his contract. 

In the homestretch of the concert, he went back to sing his early hits, beginning with "Alla Luce Del Sole" from "Josh Groban" (2001). Then he introduced the next song as a song he randomly heard in a taxi in Ireland, which turned out to be "You Raise Me Up." (MY VIDEO) He sang this beloved  inspirational anthem accompanied by the Ateneo Chamber Singers. This was the final song of regular set before he bade the audience goodbye, for the first time. Of course, the audience clamored for more. 

When he came back out on stage for his encore, he talked about his TV debut on "Ally Mc Beal" as troubled teenager Malcolm Wyatt. He then sang "To Where You Are," his first big hit song (MY VIDEO). (I was hoping he'd segue right into first first Ally McBeal song, "You're Still You," but he sadly, he did not.) His final song of the show was "Bridge Over Troubled Water" which he said was a most appropriate song to sing during these complicated times, when we only have music as a common refuge amidst conflicts in beliefs and politics. 

With that song, the concert had ended, he still had so many other popular songs which I'm sure many fans missed, like "Broken Vow" or "Evermore" or "You're Still You", but nevertheless, this concert was going to linger long in fans memories long after this night. He promised that it would not take another 12 years for him to come back. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Review of Rep's MIONG (2019): Advocating for Aguinaldo

February 16, 2019

In 1998, during their 56th season, in a major departure from their usual offerings of Broadway and West End plays and musicals, Repertory Philippines staged an original musical in English entitled "Miong" about the life of President Emilio Aguinaldo, with book and lyrics by Joy Virata and music by Ian Monsod. The late Zeneida Amador directed the show, with Rem Zamora and Robert Sena alternating to play the title role. It was received with general acclaim. 

However, the public's present appreciation of Emilio Aguinaldo is not the same as it was in 1998. If you had watched the recent high-profile local historical films "Heneral Luna" and "Goyo," you now have a certain impression about President Emilio Aguinaldo in your head already, and most probably it won't be a good one. This bad impression will be even worse when you've seen other movies and plays about contemporary revolutionary heroes Bonifacio or Mabini, where Aguinaldo is invariably the main antagonist of the story. 

After all these negative stories about Aguinaldo, it should be interesting to hear the history of the Philippine Revolution told from his point of view. He is after all the first President of the Philippine Republic, known to be the first Constitutional Republic in Asia. (Playwright Ms. Virata based her script and lyrics on basically four books, namely: "The Young Aguinaldo" by Carlos Quirino, "Saga" and "Triumph and Roots of the Filipino Nation" both by Onofre Corpus, and "Emilio Aguinaldo" by Alfredo B. Saulo, as well as pamphlets and articles written by various historians.)

This year, 20 years later, on its 82nd season, and Aguinaldo's 150th birth anniversary, Rep brings "Miong" back on stage again, this time with Tim Pavino in the title role. Director Joy Virata revealed that for this restaging, she had streamlined the previous 3-hour long running time to a more compact 1 hour and 50 minutes, as well as trimmed the cast from 50 to 30. Ian Monsod's musical score is largely intact, with fresh interpretations by new musical director Ejay Yatco

Lani Ligot, Sean Kevin Inocencio and Elver Esquivel
as Kapitana Teneng, Young Miong and Don Carlos

The musical followed Miong's life from his birth in 1869 ("Under the Bells") to the declaration of Philippine independence in Kawit in 1898 ("How Beautiful is Our Flag"). We will see scenes depicting his father's death at age 8 ("An Educated Gentleman"), his education in Manila from age 12 ("Someone Else's Dream"), his initiation into public service at age 17 ("Cabeza de Barangay"), his induction into the Katipunan at age 26 ("One Step at a Time"), and his marriage to Hilaria "Yayang" del Rosario at age 27 ("Rigodon de Amor").  

The story then went into the more contentious chapters of revolution history following the rift between the Magdalo (pro-Aguinaldo) and Magdiwang (pro-Bonifacio) groups of the Katipunan. ("Magdiwang-Magdalo," "Where is the Battle"Miong was shown trying repeatedly to unite these two groups but was unsuccessful. 

Aguinaldo was shown fighting in Pasong Santol, so he was absent at the Tejeros Convention where Bonifacio was shamed. (This disputed episode in history was told by way of gossiping womenfolk.) Bonfacio's death was shown to be against Aguinaldo's orders ("They Say," "Who Said"). Aguinaldo sang a song of tribute to Bonifacio's role in the revolution ("This Man").

Cara Barredo, Tim Pavino and Noel Rayos
as Yayang, Miong and Berong

Tim Pavino provides Miong with a soaring tenor which got challenged for range with his every song, all of which he hit perfectly every time. Pavino looked very young and boyish with his physique. So while he fit the bill to a T in the introductory parts of Act I, he seemed not convincing enough as a victorious soldier and leader during the battle scenes of Act II. His mild manner and kind face made his Miong a sympathetic figure who just got caught up in the intensely cruel web of political intrigues of his time.

Cara Barredo was a beautiful vivacious Yayang. Her Disney-esque singing voice fit perfectly with Pavino's tenor in their sweet romantic duets like " Is He Looking at Me?" sung when they first met, and "Suddenly Love" sung on their wedding night. She also had an upbeat song of support for her husband's revolutionary activities "Side by Side." (In 1998, Cara's older sister Maya played Yayang, alternating with Liesl Batucan.)

Lani Ligot gave Aguinaldo's mother Kapitana Teneng a very strong character with her stern face and demeanor. Her rich full-bodied soprano was highlighted in her solo spot number "Never Enough," which tells of her concern for her son joining the fight for freedom. This portrayal gives a different impression of her compared to how slyly manipulative she was portrayed in "Heneral Luna" or in Nick Joaquin's "El Camino Royal." (In 1998, Joy Glorioso played the Kapitana.)

Elver Esquivel played Miong's father Don Carlos, the same role he originated in 1998. The cute Sean Kevin Inocencio played the Young Miong at age 8, and he also gets to wow us with his crystal clear singing voice. Noel Rayos (who played Bonifacio in 1998) played Miong's cousin Berong, who also served as our narrator. While he sang in a lot of songs, his strongest song was "Ninety Days" about the successful campaign of Cavite against the Spaniards with "bolo, knife and sword". (JM Rodriguez played Berong in the 1998 show.)

The towering Meynard Penalosa gave his Spanish friar Father Blas a most imposing presence, especially in his sinister song "Divide et Impera." In the latter parts, Penalosa would also play a comical Uncle Sam character. Kuya Manzano was again cast as a slimy Spanish oppressor here, as he was in "Guadalupe." Arion Sanchez painted a different, potentially controversial, picture of the Supremo, Andres Bonifacio. 

The Whole Ensemble at the Curtain Call

Dennis Marasigan designed a simple set, basically enclosing the empty stage with a white geometric frame, with the scenes were happening within that area, with movable stages and set pieces to establish the setting, enhanced by video projections at the back wall. Bonsai Cielo designed some elegant Filipiniana ensembles for the Aguinaldos and the illustrados. Dexter M. Santos and Stephen Vinas (choreography), John Batalla (lights), Winter David (video), Adul Lassin (scenic art) and Arvy Dimaculangan (sound) complete the production and artistic team under director Joy Virata

We realize now, more than ever, that history is based on who was writing it, and who the target audience it was written for. We are aware that playwright Joy Virata is the wife of former Prime Minister Cesar Enrique Aguinaldo Virata, who is a grandnephew of Miong himself. Given that there may have been familial loyalty in this version, and that it was written in English, there was no doubting the patriotic fervor in Ms. Virata's book and lyrics. This was particularly true in her flag-waving finale, which emphasized how Aguinaldo chose to "declare this land as our own."

Beside bloodier or grittier musicals sung in Filipino (like "Supremo Redux" by the Philippine Stagers) which had such strong impact with its powerful arguments against Aguinaldo, "Miong" came across as more refined, less provocative and conciliatory in approach. Polished and genteel as it may be, "Miong" reminds us that Emilio Aguinaldo's role in our history should not be dismissed. He always had the unity and independence of our country in mind, and he proudly declared it on the historic date of June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite for the whole world to see and for our country to celebrate to this day.


MIONG runs from February 15 to March 10, 2019 at Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1, Makati. Showtimes are at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with 3:30 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices: ₱1,500 Orchestra Center (Reserved Seating), ₱1,200 Orchestra Sides (Free Seating).