Saturday, December 14, 2019

Review of TP's LAM-ANG: Ethno-Epic Extravaganza

December 14, 2019




I definitely knew the name of Lam-Ang, the central character of an pre-Hispanic Ilocano epic, since my high school days. It is acknowledged to be the oldest among the folk epics of Luzon. However, when I was racking my brain today to try and recall his story, I frustratingly drew a blank. So when I went to watch this new Tanghalang Pilipino show this afternoon, I had absolutely no idea what the plot was going to be. 

This was Tanghalang Pilipino second stab at making an original musical out of a local ethno-epic. The first one was the Bicolano epic "Ibalong" (MY REVIEW) back in 2013. However, I am particularly excited for this show because this was only the third new original Filipino musical to debut this year, after PETA's "Charot" and Rep's "Quest for the Adarna". 

Lam-ang grew up without his father Lokan, a chieftain who never came home from war. When he grew up to be a strapping young fighter, Lam-ang left his home against his mother Namongan's will to find his father. After he was able to kill the headhunters who caused his father's death, Lam-ang was anointed as their new chieftain when he got back home. 

Impetuous and reckless, Lam-ang conquered his surrounding tribes with his battle savvy. However, this arrogance and blood-thirstiness was met by disdain by the gods, inundating his domain with endless rain. This forced Lam-ang to venture to Calanuitan to lay claim to their resources. Plans changed when he was smitten by their female chief Kannoyan. 

Popular movie star JC Santos was an inspired choice to play the lead title role, making a most charismatic Lam-ang. Handsome of face and physique, Santos drew attention to him whenever he was onstage, even when his character turned to the dark side at one point. His singing voice was remained muscular and solid as he performed the numerous battle songs and love songs required of his role. He's also got the hero's moves and choreography down pat, which executed with elan, grace and strength. He was such a natural performer, such that it was a surprise to learn that this was only his first musical play.

Anna Luna matched Santos' stage presence as the mysterious Kannoyan. Even when she only came out in Act 2, Luna's Kannoyan attracted Lam-ang with her sense of compassionate leadership, as well as her ability to engage him in naughty banter. Tex Ordonez-de Leon played the story-teller Baglan. From the opening scene to the finale, her hypnotically robust singing voice would imbue the entire three-hour run of the show with haunting dramatic authority. Hazel Maranan lent regal pathos to Namongan in her role as grieving widow and protective mother. Raflesia Bravo played the amorous temptress Saridandan with uninhibited boldness.

Lance Reblando and Ybes Bagadiong played Lam-ang's pet rooster Taraok and dog Tangguob respectively, both with amazing consistency and playfulness. Alvin Maghanoy was a frisky Batang Lam-ang with his sense of adventure and duty even in his youth. With his imposing heft, Remus Villanueva gave Lam-ang's father Lokan an indelible image even after his death. Jonathan Tadioan played the village priest Tandang Guibuan, whose wisdom was blinded by his devotion to his gods. Paw Castillo made a lasting impression as Lam-ang's mentor Sumarang, who did not fear to fight for what he believed was right. 


Tex Ordonez-de Leon, JC Santos, Anna Luna, Lance Reblando 
and Jonathan Tadioan make their curtain call

Director Fitz Bitana and Jen Darlene Torres worked on the music and lyrics that gave this show its unique brand of ethnic energy. TJ Ramos's musical direction and sound design was most impressive creating a virtual wall of sound rich with voice and percussion, enveloping the audience with an immersive yet surreal atmosphere. 

The set design of co-director Marco Viana may seem simple with its three inclined ramps adorned with ropes, but the lighting of Meliton Roxas gave it a living spirit. The rousing choreography of JM Cabling made full use of the whole set in his multiple battle and travel sequences. The proud native costumes by Bonsai Cielo complete the ethno-epic tapestry. 

Aside from being a proud reminder of our pre-colonial heritage, writer Eljay Castro Deldoc was even able to include subtle commentary about our country's present day culture of violence in his book. This important production deserves to be re-staged and toured around the country from hereon in for Filipinos of all generations to appreciate and embrace. 

********

"Lam-ang" has a limited two-week run at the Little Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines from December 6-15, 2019. There will only be two more shows today, at 3 pm and at 8 pm. 


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Review of Tanghalang Ateneo's ANTIGONE: The People Prosecutes

November 17, 2019




"Antigone" is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles written more than 500 years before Christ. It is about an act of civil disobedience by a girl who dared to willfully defy a law set by the ruling authority. As the second offering of Tanghalang Ateneo's 41st season themed "Sulat-Babae", playwright Sabrina Basilio used this basic premise of the original play to set up a totally different scenario and ensuing events. In Basilio's adaptation, the girl and the president were held captive by a multi-sectoral Chorus and then made to face off with each other in a people's court. 

Antigone buried the corpse of her deceased brother Polynices, However with this simple act, she broke a law promulgated by President Kreon that the dead body of a traitor against the government like him should just remain unburied on the fields of battle. In her favor, Antigone argued on the grounds of human decency and morality. They were made to reenact the circumstances around each of their crimes.


The persecuted Antigone

We also hear numerous ordinary citizens who testified for and against each of the accused. Those for Antigone were those who had suffered persecution at the hands of Creon and his policemen. Those against Antigone were those who had benefited from the policies of Creon. Throughout the play, these witnesses talked directly to the audience who was made to act like the jury. At the end of the play, everyone in the bleachers will be asked to decide on the case presented. Should Antigone remain incarcerated, or should she be set free?

If you have no idea what "Antigone" was about, it was not that easy to get into the play initially. What the Chorus members were doing did not sink in right away, but the play's style eventually became evident. One time they were asking people involved in the case to read off what looked like scripts. Then the next scene, any one of a number of ordinary folk (government employee, environmental advocate, prostitute, etc...) were relating their testimonies for or against Antigone. It can be confusing at first as the story proceeded in this manner, only to clear up a bit later. 


The intimidating President Kreon

You note the shifts of the language spoken by the various characters, from the Filipino of the masses to the American-accented by Antigone, Creon and the other characters of higher class, and eventually realize that this story was also about social class. Should someone from the higher classes involve himself (or herself, in Antigone's case) in public discussions about social issues like human rights? Being played in a university known of its privileged studentry -- the intent, message and challenge of the writer was loud and clear. The audience will be asked to submit their judgement in a vote towards the end, and the aftermath of their decision will be presented to conclude the play. Basilio revealed that there were three alternate endings depending on the outcome of the audience vote.


The Audience is requested to decide.

During the show I watched, Eliezha Nicole Duque with her big glaring eyes played the indignant Antigone. Her voice was soft and uncertain at first, gaining in conviction and confidence as the play went on. (Julia Imai alternates as Antigone.) With his heft and beard, Robbie Fernandez was impressive as an imposing Kreon. It was hard to believe that he was only a freshman Engineering student. Gevin Luarca played Creon's son and Antigone's betrothed Haemon. I felt his major conflict of being torn between loyalty to father and love to fiancee was not played up enough. (Joey Madarang alternates as Haemon.)

Jam Binay played a subdued subservient Ismene, Antigone's sister. (Bea Gaitana alternates as Ismene.) Kyle "Woody" Tan, Luigi Antonio Santos and the scene-stealing Lars Michaelsen Salamante played the three guards who kept watch over Antigone. (Deivid Allan Encarnacion and Ram Catan alternate as guards). Pauline Matabang played the Chorus Leader, while Bienne Dator, Arianna Lopez, Carmen Dolina, Kim Donato, Jaennina Gangat, Angela Lanuza, Maika Daupan, Iago Babao Guballa, Rye Cosca and Andre Enriquez play the Chorus, here transformed into the prosecuting People of the Philippines.

The Cast at the Curtain Call

Director Tarra Jamora Oppen elected to stage the court proceedings in a sort of post-apocalyptic society still reeling from a harrowing people's revolution, as reflected by the production design by Tata Tuviera, enhanced by the lights designed by Earvin EstiokoGraphic designs by Carmen Dolina and Franny Tan were flashed on white cloth hanging on opposite walls of the room where audience can see them well.The sound design by Krina Cayabyab set an eerie atmosphere to the proceedings. Microphone issues affected the show I watched, so the cast needed to project their voices louder to be heard well, but not always clearly. The movement of the Chorus was designed by Jomelle Era, assisted by CJ Lubangco



*****

"ANTIGONE VS. THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES" runs from November 16 to 30, 2019 at the Old Comm Black Box Theater of the Ateneo de Manila University. Ticket prices at 350 Php for ADMU students, 320 Php for ADMU scholars and 400 Php for the general public. For ticket reservation inquiries, contact Ana Ruiz at 0917 813 3077.



Sunday, November 10, 2019

Review of DUP's FUENTE OVEJUNA: Rustic Revolution

November 10, 2019



For its second offering in its current 44th theater season, Dulaang UP chose to present Spanish playwright Lope de Vega's 1619 play "Fuente Ovejuna," in keeping with the theme of this season is "Daluhong" which means "assault." The play was based on an actual historical event -- the 1476 uprising of peasants in a Castillan village against their cruel commander. It was Comedia produced in the Golden Age of Spanish Drama. 

The Comendador of the Order of Calatrava, Fernan Gomez de Guzman was welcomed with gifts upon his arrival at Fuente Ovejuna from his victory at Ciudad Real. However, the Comendador was a cruel master to the peasants of the village -- torturing men and raping women. He particularly desired the fair maiden Laurencia and was about to molest her, but was stopped in time at crossbow's point by her suitor Frondoso. Shamed, the Comendador vowed to get his revenge. 

The Filipino translation which I watched was written by Nicolas Pichay. The language used was ornate and appropriate to its period. However, the language remained to be engaging, easy to follow and enjoyable to listen to. The words slipped off the actors' tongues with ease and we as audience felt ease that as well. There was a light-hearted and even amusing lilt to the tone of the whole play, despite all the violence of the proceedings. Even if the mood did take a more serious turn after the intermission, the chosen words of Pichay remained musical to the ears.

The fearsome Comendador Fernan Gomez de Guzman (Carlo Tarobal)
and his vile minions Flores (Brian Arda) and Orduno (Arvin Trinidad)

In the show I watched, the fearsome Comendador Fernan Gomez de Guzman (yes, they always read out his whole name when they referred to him) was played by Carlo Tarobal, whom I first knew as one of the award-winning team of writers of one of my favorite films last year "Tanabata's Wife." He is tall, of smart stature and had the strong stage presence that his role demanded. His dark eye make-up made sure we knew he was up to no good. (His alternate for this role is Leo Rialp, and by reputation we know how much intensity he can bring to this anti-hero role.) His vile henchmen, namely the vulgar Ortuno and the sneaky Flores, were played by Arvin Trinidad and Brian Arda. (Alternates are Aaron Comandante and George Magsayo.) 


The lovers, Frondoso (Ross Pesigan) and Laurencia (Hariette Damole)

Harriette Damole and Ross Pesigan were naturals at playing the romantic leads Laurencia and Frondoso. Even if they had all those long lines, everything seemed so effortless for these two attractive actors, and their chemistry together easily elicited a sense of thrill. (The alternates in these roles were Chloe Jenna and Tristan Bite, who were also onstage when I watched as their close friends Pascuala and Barrildo.) An easy scene-stealer and hilarious comic relief was the character of Mengo played by the inimitable Dolly Dolot. (His alternate is Ricci Chan, who promises to be a sure riot in this role as well.)


The comic Mengo (Dolly Dolot), 
with Barrildo (Tristan Bite) and Esteban (Jojo Cayabyab) looking on

The elders of Fuente Ovejuna were the mayor Esteban (who was Laurencia's father), his friend Alonso and Juan Rojo (who was Frondoso's father). They were played by Jojo Cayabyab (in yet another powerful performance as he gave in Marat/Sade last summer), Jacques Borlaza (a Best Actor nominee for last year's revival of "Ang Paglilitis kay Mang Serapio") and Allan Palileo (actor, writer and translator of several DUP plays), respectively. 

King Fernando and Queen Isabel were played by George de Jesus III and Adriana Agcaoili. Beyond their richly opulent emerald costumes, de Jesus and Agcaoili bring to their roles an elegant gentility and depth of wisdom expected from reigning monarchs. (Alternating as the King is Greg de Leon, who also played Don Manrique, the trusted general of the royals.)


The regal King Fernando (George de Jesus III) and Queen Isabella (Andrea Agcaoili)

Taking his final bow as director with this play is the beloved Prof. Emeritus Tony Mabesa, who passed away last October 4, 2019. However before being brought to the hospital, he had already been able to finish blocking all the scenes and discussed all the technical aspects of this play with his crew (Shax Siasoco for lights, Faust Peneyra for set, Jethro Joaquin for sound, Eric Pineda for costumes, Greg de Leon and Raymond Roldan for music, Steven Tansiongco for graphics and Stephen Vinas for choreography). 

Current DUP Artistic Director Banaue Miclat-Jannsen took over after his passing to piece all the elements together based on their collective experience of being under Mr. Mabesa's mentorship over the years. This production may be our final taste of Mr. Mabesa's skill and standards in bringing a script to life, but his students will make sure his legacy will continue to live through DUP shows of the future. 


The Cast at the Curtain Call


**********

FUENTE OVEJUNA runs from November 8 to December 1, 2019 a the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, Palma Hall, UP Diliman. Show times are on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7 pm, and matinees at 3 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets at only P500 each.


Saturday, October 26, 2019

Review of Artist Playground's NAKAKAPAGPABAGABAG: Disturbing Desperation

October 26, 2019




Artist Playground had Grade 12 students under their wing from the College of the Holy Spirit who chose the Arts and Design track for their senior high school. Instead of merely asking the kids to just stay on the side to observe how theater people stage a play, AP immersed them in an actual project where they were hands-on in all parts of the production crew. This anthology of three original Filipino one-act plays was their major project for this semester. All three plays were directed by Paul Jake Paule. In between each play, a song composed by Andrew Caleb Gorospe was performed by Melvin Sumalinog

*****

ITIM NA SAMPAGUITA

Writer: Elisia Jades Malicdem
Song: "Pagitan" (lyrics by Jessica Hernandez)

Ernesto and Magda grew up together in the province. Ernesto obviously had a crush on pretty Magda, but her dream was to leave and go to Manila to try her luck. Years later, Ernesto is seen to look for Magda in Manila, and the two meet quite by chance on the street as she was coming out of her place of work. Her sexy outfit betrayed her current line of work, but blinded by love, Ernesto offered her marriage.


A scene from "Itim na Sampaguita"

According to her playbill notes, writer Malicdem wrote this play as one of the requirements of her theater writing class. They were supposed to write a play based on a Gloc 9 song, and she chose to adapt Gloc 9's 2013 single featuring Rico Blanco entitled "Magda." In the final scenes of the play, Gloc 9's rap lyrics recounting the contents of Magda's letter to Ernesto were delivered practically verbatim by Magda in her final soliloquy. However, Malicdem upped the tragedy quotient of the song by adding two major details in her play -- what made Magda go to Manila, and her response of Ernesto's proposal.


Mondejar and Sasaki take their bows

This one-act play was a short two-hander with a story that spanned several years within its limited run time. Sarina Sasaki, fresh from her recent stint in Dulaang UP's "The House of Bernarda Alba," was able to show the maturity and cynicism of her character effectively, and this was not only because of her new look. You feel the desperation which pushed her to do what she felt she had to do in the end. Karl Mondejar played her "Kuya" Ernesto. This was less showier role, but Mondejar played it with simplicity. sincerity and earnestness. 

Alternating as Magda are Miah Fernandez and Star Alferez. Alternating as Ernesto are Benj Espina and Stefano Perez. 

*****

ON WEDNESDAY

Writer: Rayne Jarabo
Song: "Antimatter" (lyrics by Andrew Caleb Gorospe)

A man named Jo jumped to his death in an apparent suicide. His friend, Woman at Home, could not understand what made Jo do it. She contacted their common friend, Woman at the Door, who was also receiving treatment for psychoses issues of her own. She brought along a Concerned Friend with a more cynical view of life. The three of them struggle to regain control of the situation as they try to make sense of Jo's act. Finally, Jo has his own cautionary message from beyond the grave.


A scene from "On Wednesday"

Mental health is very much in the news as suicides are on the rise, with several successful celebrities among the names in the list. Since 2016, suicides passed homicide to become the second-leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. According to more recent WHO statistics, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people from 15 to 29 years worldwide. It is truly disturbing that one person somewhere around the world dies from suicide every 40 seconds.


Martinez, Arguelles, Mosang and Calilao take their bows

This one-act play shows the aftermath of a suicide among the friends left behind -- how much confusion, how much guilt, how much turmoil. Played by veteran character actors, Kathy Arguelles (as Woman at Home) and Mosang (as Woman at the Door), they wonder and argue how they could have missed the signs of Jo's escalating depression. Concerned Friend, with his condescending tone and laughter, was a disconcerting character as played by Marco Calilao in full drag. As the suicide victim Jo, Francis Ronnie Martinez was a haunting vision under the stage lights with his waist-long white hair and lined visage.

Alternating as Woman at Home are Ina Salonga and Joy Sepina-Perez. Alternating as Woman at the Door are Jolly Bilad, Anne Constantino and Manel Sevidal. Alternating as Concerned Friend are Jesse Arenas and Jasmine Eugenio. Alternating as Mysterious Jo are Bea Copino, Jean Barredo and Wowens Victoriano. 

*****

JUAN BAUTISTA

Writer: Lakangiting Garcia
Song: "Kamay ng Kapatid" (lyrics by Lakangiting Garcia)

Young Man is a student from the university who joined an activist organization. His professor could not dissuade him from joining a rally. The rally turned violent as Young Man shot one abusive police captain in the head. He was arrested. After a short but tearful visit from his father, the Young Man was subjected by his two captors to unspeakable torture as he discovered more about the man he killed.


A scene from "Juan Bautista"

The subject matter of police brutality against student activists is an oft-revisited topic in local socially-conscious theater groups. There is so much intense drama which could be mined out of confrontations between these two classic adversaries, as it was in "Juan Bautista." The title was a reference to John the Baptist, the voice in the wilderness paving the way for the coming of the Savior. The Young Man sought to pave the way for reform and justice in the country, but his violent means clashed with established government.


Carpio, Dioquino and Memo take their bows,
with Sumalinog on his guitar

This play won the second prize in the One-Act play category of the Palanca Awards back in 1992. The Young Man was played by Aaron Dioquino with youthful idealism and fanatical dedication. His two co-actors served as narrators and played multiple roles around him. Jeff Carpio played his elderly professor, as well as a strapping sergeant with a major chip on his shoulder. Chad Memo played his anguished father, as well as another heartless torturer. It is always a painful experience to watch torture on stage, especially in an intimate venue.

Alternating as Young Man (Binata) are Jayson Santos, Carlo Gianan and BJ Ocampo. Alternating as Professor are Jan Tagnipez, Mark Stanley Mozo and Mikee Lim. Alternating as Father are Cesar Batistis, Jacob Collado and Norman Penaflorida. 

*****

"Nakakapagpabagabag" has a limited run of 6 performances from October 26-27, 2019 at Arts Above at the Penthouse of the BIR Building along West Avenue, Quezon City. Showtimes are at 1 pm, 4 pm and 7 pm. Ticket prices at P800 for VIP Seats (front and elevated back), P600 for Regular Seats (in between) and P300 for Students. 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Review of Atlantis' SWEENEY TODD: Singularly Stunning Style

October 20, 1019




I had known the music and songs of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 Tony and Olivier Award winning musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" since the 1980s since I was lent a copy of the original cast recording on CD featuring Len Cariou as Sweeney Todd and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett. Its darkly humorous plot involved a barber coming back home to London after 15 years of exile to avenge the loss of his family. However, at that time, I only imagined the macabre scenes in my head while listening to the songs and their grisly lyrics. 

It was only in 2008 that I saw everything come together in Tim Burton's film version of Sweeney Todd (MY REVIEW) starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. The next year 2009, the dream of seeing this musical live onstage finally came true when Repertory Philippines staged it (MY REVIEW), with local theater royalty Audie Gemora and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo in the lead roles. Both of these versions, I liked a lot. 

This 2019, for their 20th year anniversary, Atlantis Theatrical has come up with its own stage interpretation of  "Sweeney Todd" with no less than international star Lea Salonga as Mrs. Lovett, with Jett Pangan as Sweeney Todd. Everything about this was grand. The venue was at the high-tech Theater at Solaire. The live music in the pit was to be rendered by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gerard Salonga

Director Bobby Garcia's unique concept for this iteration of the show is the first thing you see on stage even before the play begins. Mrs. Lovett's pie shop along Fleet Street had been transported by set designer David Gallo into a junkyard for rotting automobiles, located right beside the Fogg's Asylum for the mentally deranged. Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett's grand entrance during the first song was via a long red vintage car with beautifully-lit interiors (by lighting designer Aaron Porter). 

Since the time setting had been moved from the 19th century into an uncertain period of economic decline, which can either be current or even future, the costumes of Rajo Laurel had likewise shifted from the former Victorian-era fashion sense to a lesser-defined eccentric modern fusion ensembles, a stylish "Mad Max". The hair and make-up designs of Leslie Espinosa followed accordingly in the same goth and punk styles. These style choices are apparent in the publicity posters showing Salonga and Pangan in full costume.

Lea Salonga brought a delightful wickedness in her energetic interpretation of slatternly, twisted but astute businesswoman Mrs. Lovett. Every word of Lovett's motor-mouth chatterbox songs were so clearly enunciated. Not a single note of those complex distinctly-Sondheim melodies went astray with her. It was a topnotch performance that was above and beyond everyone else on that stage that night, a true national treasure. 

Jet Pangan hit all his low and high notes squarely, matching Salonga note for note in their songs together. However, his Sweeney Todd seemed to be too sane and phlegmatic to be  a cold-blooded killer. The dangerous tension he should have generated in those shaving scenes felt lacking. Perhaps because his acting was too restrained or too subtle, or maybe his costume and make-up looked too regular? Pangan was still able to hold the central role together solidly nevertheless in a most compelling.

Andrew Fernando got the deep operatic baritone all fit for his role as Judge Turpin, but despite his bodily heft, his stage presence felt like he was not strong enough of a threat to match Todd's wrath, nor lustful enough a lover to desire Johanna for himself. Gerald Santos and Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante sounded beautiful singing together as Anthony and Johanna. However, they did not generate any sense of romantic chemistry between them. Johanna's ugly blonde wig and drab plain dress also did not do her any favors. 

Luigi Quesada was a joy to watch as Tobias Ragg, as he hustled gleefully from being the harassed assistant to Pirelli, then Mrs. Lovett's. By the time his youthful sensibilities got hit by a strong mind-blowing jolt, he had the whole audience wanting to provide him the comfort he so desperately needed. With his naturally flashy stage fluorish, Nyoy Volante is consistently a joy to watch. Even in a jerk conman role as Adolfo Pirelli, the audience loves him and lapped up his antics. Arman Ferrer, mostly known for his soaring tenor vocals, had some pretty funny moments as the Beadle Bramford and his "Parlour Songs."

In the 2009 Rep production, the set (by Gino Gonzales) featured an ingenious contraption in which Sweeney Todd's latest victim in his tonsorial chair upstairs would slide down into Mrs. Lovett's pie kitchen below where she had a fiery oven ready. In this Atlantis production, there was no clear barber shop, nor a clear pie shop. The barber's chair (actually just an office chair) was just on a stage at the posterior part of Sweeney's car. After Todd sliced the neck of a customer, the "corpse" would simply stand up and walk into Mrs. Lovett's oven waiting on stage right, and come out carrying a pie made of his meat. This change was such a major departure from the original which may be hard to accept for purists.

Even though it was already on its second weekend, there were still some sound glitches heard during the show last night. There was one moment of a prolonged feedback noise, which thankfully they were able to control promptly. The most unfortunate glitch for me was during the quartet number "Kiss Me (Part 2)" in which the voices of the Judge and Beadle were barely heard at all, ruining one of my awaited moments of the show. 

Despite these petty little issues and comparisons to previously seen versions, it was still the Sondheim music and songs and the incomparable musical talents of Filipino artists which held my rapt attention for the nearly three hours running time. The risky directorial choice made by Bobby Garcia to change the time setting was certainly bold and unprecedented. It was jarring, yes, at first. But ultimately, his audacious vision served to distinguish this production from all others before it with its singularly stunning theatrical style, in which strut assembly and hacksaw have replaced the rolling pin and butcher knife. 

**********

Atlantis Theatrical's SWEENEY TODD runs from October 11-27, 2019 at the Theater at Solaire. Showtimes are at 8 pm on Thursdays to Sundays, with 2 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices are from P5000, P4000, P3000, P2000, and P1500. Very limited seats left at this time.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Review of Rep's THE QUEST FOR THE ADARNA: Enjoying an Ethnic Epic

October 12, 2019




King Fernando and his wife Queen Valeriana ruled the Kingdom of Berbania. They have 3 sons: Don Pedro, Don Diego and Don Juan. One night, King Fernando had a nightmare of Don Juan being murdered, and he became very ill that he did not even want to eat or rest. None of the doctors were able to cure the King. An old native healer advised that the Ibong Adarna was the only creature which could restore his health by its restorative singing. So the princes set out to Mt. Tabor to try to capture the mythical bird so she could sing for the healing of their father.

Every Filipino school child should know about the Ibong Adarna as this epic was required reading in their Filipino class. There had been two LVN movies about the bird, first in 1941 (by Vicente Salumbides, starring Fred Cortez) and a second in 1956 (by Manuel Conde, starring Nestor de Villa and Nida Blanca). In 1972, there was a comedy version starring Dolphy, which most Gen Xers would remember from their childhood. It would be best to forget that ill-advised 2014 indie film (by Jun Urbano, starring Rocco Nacino) that was an insult to the original. Gantimpala Theater Foundation has a stage version in Filipino written by Ed Maranan, which it has been showing regularly since 2010. 

This year, Repertory Philippines stepped out of its usual box of foreign stage adaptations of foreign fairy tales by commissioning a new, completely original musical about the all-Filipino epic Ibong Adarna for its yearly Rep Theater for Young Audiences program, which is now on its 27th year of providing theater experiences for school children. 

Luna Grino-Inocian, who had previously adapted for the Trumpets two C.S. Lewis fantasy classics -- "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in 1997 and "The Horse and his Boy" in 2015 -- was an inspired choice to write this English adaptation of the Adarna story for children for Rep. The music was by Rony Fortich, in his first production with Rep, and his second musical about a bird -- the first being "The Bluebird of Happiness" in 2013 which was adapted from a Belgian play by Jaime del Mundo, also for Trumpets.


The fancy and colorful set and costumes of this show

In the Thursday 1:30 pm afternoon show I watched, the Adarna bird was played by Carla Guevara-Laforteza. She was in  all fairy-like diva mode in that armored body suit and colorful flowing wings, sitting on that pedestal that represented her tree or on that suspended swing. Her voice was of course of ethereal soprano quality as the role demanded. (Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, Cara Barredo and Andrea Monique Alvarado alternate as Adarna.)

The lead character of Prince Juan was played by Diego Aranda. He had that good boy-next-door vibe that fit the role well, even as he evolved into hero later in the play. He also had an effective chemistry with Alex Reyes who played the spunky Maria Blanca. This strong empowered princess was a lesser-known character, and it is good that Grino-Inocian made her into a major character here, albeit without the complicated love triangle subplot from the original epic. (Neo Rivera and Leo John Guinid alternate as Prince Juan. Justine Nicolas, Jillian Ita-as and Cara Barredo alternate as Maria Blanca.)

Jim Andrew Ferrer played the prideful, scheming eldest brother Prince Pedro, while Luis Marcelo played the vain dimwit second brother, Prince Diego. (Arion Sanchez and Ade Valenzona alternate as Prince Pedro. Andres Borromeo, Sean Nolasco and Vinni Todd alternate as Prince Diego.) Raymund Concepcion and Naths Everett had regal presence to play the King and Queen. Noel Rayos riotously played the Hermit with all his silly facial expressions which made the kids laugh (Hans Eckstein and Jay Barrameda alternate as the Hermit.)


The cast take their final bows
(L-R: Rayos, Aranda, Laforteza, Reyes, Ferrer, Concepcion)

The technical designers and crew had their work cut out with the huge challenge of staging a story that involved adventure and magic to meet the demanding standards of today's tech-savvy children. Very important in this aspect was the fluid stage design of Joey Mendoza, the colorful fusion-type costumes of Tata Tuviera with hair and makeup by Ely Maalat, the critically vital lighting design of John Batalla and the rousing choreography of PJ Rebullida. There was variation in techniques -- from shadow play, puppetry to ballet dancing -- to spice up the story-telling for the kids. 

When it came alive on stage under the direction of Joy Virata (with co-directors Jamie Wilson and Naths Everett), this original Grino-Inocian and Fortich collaboration hit all the right spots, fitting right into the Rep formula for its children shows. All the energetic performances of the cast, the delightful songs (from upbeat to ballads to rap!), the wacky juvenile humor and kiddie interactions ("Kids, help Prince Juan remember the steps on how to capture the Adarna!"), the magical stage effects (the petrifying poop! the 7-headed monster!), and of course, that all-important moral lesson at the end. 


***********


THE QUEST FOR THE ADARNA runs from September 14, 2019 to January 26, 2020 with multiple showtimes (10 am, 1:30 pm and 4 pm) throughout the week. You can check out the schedules on the Ticketworld site. Tickets are very reasonably priced at P800 for Orchestra Center (reserved seating), P600 for Orchestra Sides and P500 for the Balcony. 





Friday, October 4, 2019

Review of TP's KATSURI: Drama of the Downtrodden

October 5, 2019




"Katsuri" is a Hiligaynon word for "shrew." That is the title Ms. Bibeth Orteza chose to give her modernized Filipino adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic, "Of Mice and Men." For her, the titular "katsuri" was to represent the "sakada," or sugar farm workers, who lived lives of downtrodden oppression. Inspired by the death of Bernardino "Toto" Patigas, an activist who fought for sakada rights, Ms. Orteza brought Steinbeck's story from a California farm during the Great Depression to a Negros sugar farm in the present day.

George and Toto were a couple of farmhands who always worked as a tandem. The steadfast and practical George had taken it upon himself to be the guardian of Toto, a big strong but mentally-challenged man. The two shared a dream of owning a piece of farmland which they could call their own, where Toto could raise his favorite pet rabbits. Because of an unfortunate incident in Hacienda Luisita, the two friends sought work in a sugar farm in Negros to start over in their quest for their elusive dream. 


George (Marco Viana) and Toto (Jonathan Tadioan)

With his hefty body build, Jonathan Tadioan was the natural choice to play the bulky hulk Toto (Lenny in the book). Tadioan had to create in Toto an aura of child-like innocence which audiences will want to mother, and this multi-Gawad Buhay nominated actor certainly rose to that challenge as only he can. Tadioan's Toto was a gentle giant teddy bear when he tells about his love for soft furry rabbits and puppies. However, he can also exude an air of danger when provoked as he forgets how strong he is. His co-stars' best scenes were those they shared with him.

For people who have read the book, Marco Viana would seem to be physically miscast as George. Steinbeck describes George as a "small man," but Viana looked as tall, or even taller than Tadioan, from where I was seated. However, this eventually did not matter, as Viana was able to effectively convey George's deep sense of concern for his mentally-challenged friend Toto, trying his best to keep Toto out of trouble. Such was the genuineness of George's love which made his final decision all the more painful.


Inday (Antonette Go) teases Toto and George

Nanding Josef (as Tatang) and JV Ibesate (as Payat) played sympathetic farmhands who  who fully appreciated the bond between George and Toto. Fitz Bitana played a tough and insecure Kulot, whose presence spelled bad news whenever he was on. Antonette Go gave an outstanding featured performance as Kulot's wife Inday, whose allure and beauty portended trouble among the menfolk. For once, Ybes Bagadiong hit all the right notes in his portrayal of farm outcast Nognog. The role of the Boss was given a puzzling treatment in the play, especially with surprise guest actor Michael Williams playing that role. 

The heavy depressing subject matter of the play may be hard to bear in certain moments of intense talky scenes. However, the mood was occasionally lightened somewhat with Tadioan's cute antics, or whenever Orteza injected the conversation with current pop culture references, anything from "Pinoy Big Brother" to "The General's Daughter." 


The cast and crew of Katsuri take their bows

The tech designers were all on point to create the suffocating atmosphere of oppression: Ohm David for the sets, Dennis Marasigan for the lights, Daniel Gregorio for the costumes and T.J. Ramos for the sound. Director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna brought Orteza's script into life with all the foreboding dread and tension precariously simmering, building up to an explosive boil over in the end. This hit us with a reeling punch so powerful it will take some time before you can recover your breath and composure.


**********


KATSURI runs from October 4 - 27, 2019 at the CCP Studio Theater (Tanghalang Huseng Batute). Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices at P1000 for VIP and P800 for the bleachers.