Saturday, November 10, 2018

Review of Atlantis' WAITRESS: Struggle for Self-Worth

November 11. 2018




"Waitress" had been one of the more recent musical sensations on Broadway since it opened in 2016.  With music and lyrics by pop artist Sara Bareilles and a book by Jessie Nelson (based on the 2007 film of the same title written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelley, starring Kerri Russell), it was an audience favorite and garnered a number of Tony nominations (no wins). Sara Bareilles recorded 12 of her songs from the show and released them as "What's Inside: Songs from Waitress," which debuted at #10 on the Billboard 200. 

It was very exciting when Atlantis announced in January 2018 that it would be staging "Waitress" this year. Manila will actually get to see this show before the West End, where it will still debut in 2019. Last month, the Philippine cast, led by West End musical theater star Joanna Ampil, was announced and further hyped up the local anticipation for this international premiere of this show.

Jenna Hunterson worked as a waitress and the chief pie baker of the Joe's Pie Diner. located somewhere in the American South. As imaginative as she was with the pies she created, Jenna was unhappy with the state of her marriage with her bum husband Earl and wanted out, but as bad timing would have it, she got pregnant, much to her dismay. 

The owner of the diner Joe encouraged Jenna to join a pie-baking contest and use the $20,000 prize money to make a new start, a suggestion seconded by her friends at the diner Becky and Dawn. Meanwhile, Jenna got to know her new gynecologist Dr. Jim Pomatter, who made the whole situation more complicated. 

Joanna Ampil's eloquently expressive singing voice was so beautiful to hear live. She can make even the most monotonous-sounding song so vibrant with her subtle vocal nuances. Her best song number was undoubtedly "She Used to be Mine" in Act 2. This desperate song, in which Jenna sang about losing her sense of self given her life's unfortunate circumstances, is the highlight of the show, and its best known song. Hearing Ampil sing this profound song live is already worth the price of admission.

Everyone else in the cast had been given their own featured song number to shine. Bituin Escalante was so sassy as the outspoken Becky. Her song "I Didn't Mean It" was one of the first songs of Act 2, sung following a startling plot surprise, and her growly rendition stopped the show right there. Maronne Cruz played the bespectacled, sweet and virginal Dawn. She sung about her apprehensions about meeting a man in the neurotically amusing song "When He Sees Me."

George Schultz played Jenna's gruff, ne'er-do-well husband Earl. He expressed his insecurity about their coming baby, pleading with Jenna not to love the baby more than him, in the song "You Will Still Be Mine." Bibo Reyes played the young, handsome Dr. Pomatter, who could not resist Jenna's goodies despite the restrictions. The gentle duet   "You Matter to Me" was his best song, showcasing his falsetto range. 

Nino Alejandro played Dawn's chubby nerdy suitor Ogie and he dominated his scenes with his outrageous antics, and with sprightly songs like "Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me." Steven Conde as the curmudgeonly Joe also got to sing one song "Take It from an Old Man" in which he advised Jenna about life matters. Dean Rosen as the long-haired sarcastic diner manager Cal was the only one in the main cast without a solo song number.

The rest of the ensemble include Luigi Quesada, Gerhard Krysstopher, Luis Marcelo, Emeline Celis Guinid, Teetin Villanueva, Sarah Facuri, and Jillian Ita-as.

Director Bobby Garcia efficiently led his crew, both local (musical director Farley Asuncion, choreographer Cecile Martinez,  costume designer Raven Ong, hair and make-up artist Johann dela Fuente) and imported (set designer David Gallo, lighting designer Aaron Porter and sound designer Josh Millican) to bring us into a convincing slice of southern American life. 

Tony Award-winning scenic designer David Gallo's main set piece is of course Joe's Pie Diner with its rustic old-fashioned neon-lit outdoor sign and diner interior with the cushioned seats. The center section of the diner was a rotating section that shifted the scene from the counter to the kitchen. Various set pieces would be brought in and out to bring the scene to Jenna's house, Dr. Pomatter's clinic or the bus stop. 

Honestly, as a matter of personal beliefs, the aspect about extra-marital affairs did not completely sit well to me, even when sugar-coated. The situations could be uncomfortable to watch at times (maybe on purpose) and even verged on raunchy, albeit in a comedic way. Despite the seemingly wholesome impression it can give on first impression, this sensitive subject matter of this show is not exactly for young kids.

However, it was the winsome collective performance of the delightful lead triumvirate of waitresses (Ampil, Escalante and Cruz) that won me over. Their chemistry as friends was felt more sincere than their chemistry with their respective lovers. Furthermore, hearing Jenna's fanciful descriptions of the unique combinations of ingredients for each of her pies were so mouth-watering. (Too bad they were not selling pie samples in the lobby.) So come on in for a taste, the diner is open!


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"Waitress" runs from November 9 to December 2, 2018 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium 
4th Floor, RCBC Plaza, Ayala Ave., cor. Gil Puyat Ave. Makati City. Showtimes are 8pm from Fridays to Sundays, with 3pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices are from P4,000, P3,000 and P2,000. 


Friday, October 26, 2018

Recap and Videos of MARIAH CAREY Live in Manila 2018: Maturation of Mimi

October 27, 2018



Mariah Carey was one of the biggest pop divas of the 1990s. Her first five singles all reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first and so far the only star who had achieved that impressive feat. She went on to have 13 more #1 songs after those first five. Her singing style had greatly influenced a whole generation who had grown up hearing how she sang.

In 2003 as part of her Charmbracelet tour, Mariah Carey had a concert for the first time in Manila. This was held on an outdoor stage in an empty lot somewhere in the then bare and grassy Bonifacio Global City. She was still in her vocal prime back then, as this was held even before she did "We Belong Together" in 2005. 

After 13 years, Mariah is back to wow her Pinoy fans again, this time at the Araneta Coliseum. I confess that I am not so familiar anymore with any song of hers in the past 10 years after "Touch My Body" reached #1 in 2008, as she had not had any significant Hot 100 chart hits lately. However, I still decided to watch this concert because I was curious to hear how her patented 8-octave voice had stood the test of time. 

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Mariah fans came full force on October 26 at the Araneta Coliseum. The concert surprisingly began early, by about 8:30 pm. After the house lights were dimmed, images of purple butterflies started fluttering on the big screen, as strains of "Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise)" filled the air. When Mariah came out center stage wearing a glittering silver knee-length dress with deeply plunging neckline and long fringes, she greeted Manila and began to sing her 1997 #1 hit "Honey." (VIDEO). 



As early as this song, it was clear that the smooth as silk voice she was known for was not all there anymore. Her voice did not have the same light airy quality it was known for. She had choppier phrasing of the verses, and would cut off as the note went higher. During the chorus, she tended to sing harmony, while letting the backup singers sing melody.  

Throughout the upbeat song, she was just standing in one place while singing, while her four male backup dancers pranced around her. During the outro of the song, that was when Mariah let fly some of her famous whistles. Though these were just short notes for this song, the crowd went wild with appreciation, reassured somehow that she could still do them.

For her next song, she sang "Shake It Off" (#2, 2005). These newer songs were written and arranged to fit her more mature voice quality and she sang this song more relaxed and hit a full octave change for the final verse, for which the crowd cheered. She went old school for the next song, "Make It Happen" (#5, 1992) and again her choppy phrasing and lower notes were more evident, especially during those parts of the song where she was expected to be soaring high.


Shake It Off

While Mariah stepped out of the stage, the backup singers took to centerstage to render their version of "Dreamlover". Then we heard a familiar rap by Ol' Dirty Bastard to usher in Mariah, now wearing a body-hugging bright yellow long gown with a high slit on the right leg, singing "Fantasy" (#1, 1995) (VIDEO). Her vocals in this song actually sounded like the old Mariah we know. She sang in her higher register, her falsettos sounded solid. She can still do them acrobatics, but she was pacing her voice accordingly.

Her next songs were all crowd-favorites and every body was singing along to "Always Be My Baby" (#1, 1996) (VIDEO), "Vision of Love" (her first #1, 1990) (VIDEO) and "Emotions" (#1, 1991) (VIDEO). I appreciated that she still performed these vocally-challenging songs, even if she had to shift and play with lower notes and was ad-libbing liberally throughout. Yes, she was still able to do the run of whistles in the end of "Emotions," for which the crowd roared with gleeful approval.

Mariah stepped out again, while the male backup singer introduced himself and the rest of the singers and crew, by their names and their zodiac signs. I was surprised that he was actually Trez Lorenz, famously Mariah's duet partner in her live version of Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" (#1, 1992), and that he had remained loyal to sing behind Mariah all these years. 


One Sweet Day

Mariah stepped out wearing a white feathery long gown to sing "#Beautiful" (#15, 2013). Then she was joined on center stage by Trez Lorenz and other male singer to sing "One Sweet Day" (#1, 1996, with Boyz II Men) (VIDEO). Her next songs were "Can't Let Go" (#2, 1991) and her latest single "With You" from her upcoming album "Caution." The stage lights turned red for the next song, "My All" (#1, 1998) (VIDEO). Honestly, I was nervous for her while she was singing this difficult torch song, but she was able to coast through with her vocal improvising skills.

After another musical interlude with the dancers, Mariah came out in a shimmery long-sleeved golden gown to sing a series of upbeat songs: "I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time" (#58, 2008), followed by a medley of "Love Hangover" (Mariah's remake of a Diana Ross #1) and "Heartbreaker" (#1, 1999). Then she called in a Filipino fan from the audience named Mark, a proudly Pinoy Lamb, and serenaded him with, of all songs, "Touch My Body" (#1, 2008) (VIDEO). She ended the concert proper with her biggest hit on the Hot 100, "We Belong Together" (#1, 2005) (VIDEO).



Amidst raucous calls for an encore from the audience, Mariah returned onstage to sing one final song, "Hero" (#1, 1993) before she bid her fans farewell for now. No "Love Takes Time," "Through the Rain," "Can't Take That Away," or "Never Too Far", but of course, she can only sing so many songs in an hour and a half. The iconic voice that enchanted us in the 1990s may not be all there anymore, but the emotional impact and nostalgic appeal of her songs remained solidly intact up to now.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Review of Rep's RAPUNZEL! RAPUNZEL!: Hairy But Happy

October 24, 2018




Rapunzel is one of the more popular fairy tales published by the Brothers Grimm in the early 19th century. The story about a long-haired girl trapped in a tower had origins from earlier centuries from various cultures. More recently she had been brought back into the consciousness of the younger generation by animated feature "Tangled" (2010), where Disney put its own spin to the fairy tale.

For their annual offering for kids this year, Repertory Philippines chose to produce a 2013 musical theater interpretation of the Rapunzel's story for children with book, music and lyrics by constant writing partners Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. This show is being directed by no less than the founder and artistic director of the Repertory Theater for Younger Audiences herself, Ms. Joy Virata.


Oliver Roxas-Green's Matisse-inspired set

Rapunzel is a princess who had been locked away by her aunt Lady Zaza in a high tower located at the edge of a deep, dark, dismal forest since she was a child. A gallant knight Sir Roderick and his best friend, the flashy hair-stylist Edgar, embark on a quest to find and rescue Rapunzel before she turned 18 the next day. Will they succeed to restore her on the throne? Or will the evil Lady Zaza will achieve her ulterior motive to become queen?

In the show that I caught, Rapunzel was played by a teenager Alyssa Rosa, in her professional theater debut. Despite being only 18, her performance was sweet and confident in both areas of acting and singing. I believe further vocal training can make her higher range more solid. More stage experience can hone her comedy improvisation skills, prerequisites for actors who perform for children. (Cara Barredo, Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante, Justine Narciso and Ani Pearl Aquino alternate as Rapunzel.)


Everett, Borromeo, Rosa and Isidoro meet the kids after the show

Lady Zaza was played by the always fabulous Carla Guevara-Laforteza. The character had the big head of hair, a bombastic personality reminiscent of pop diva Lady Gaga as well as a beautiful magical jewel she wore as a pendant. Laforteza was a natural comedian and the kids loved her hilariously ruthless portrayal of the antagonist. In fact, she was the one who received the loudest cheers and applause from the kids during the curtain call. (Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante and Christine Flores alternate as Lady Zaza.)

Sir Roderick was played by Andres Borromeo, also in his first project with Rep. He gave the character an awkward dorkiness that the kids enjoyed. (Hans Eckstein and Jef Flores alternate as Roderick.) Edgar was played by Kenny Isidoro, only in his second Rep show after "Hair." He had the requisite flamboyance expected of someone who wore an elaborately coiffed red wig. (Steven Hotchkiss and Chino Veguillas alternate as Edgar.)

To keep watch over Rapunzel, Lady Zaza enchanted a dragon named Socrates by dousing his fire and cropping his wings. Arnel Carrion gave Socrates a friendly delightful demeanor, making him a most engaging narrator. (Jamie Wilson and Raymund Concepcion alternate as Socrates.) Lady Zaza gained her magical powers from a precious item she stole from a Gypsy Woman. This gypsy was played with quirky lovable-ness by Nathalie Everett. (Bituin Escalante and Cara Barredo alternate as the Gypsy Woman.)

Socrates leads the other forest creatures to greet the kids after the show

The highlight of the set (inspired by Henri Matisse) by Oliver Roxas-Green is Rapunzel's tower which had to be constructed in a way that actors could climb up it using her very thick and very very long blonde tresses. The sense of danger and mystery of the deep dark dismal forest was created by the lights by John Batalla. The fancy fantastic rainbow-colored costumes were designed by Raven Ong. His most remarkable piece was the very cute dragon costume worn by Socrates. The ballet spot numbers, purposely integrated into the story by Ms. Virata, was choreographed by PJ Rebullida.

The 25 years experience of Joy Virata in directing plays for children make her a beloved and respected local authority on the subject. Her actors did not only stay on stage, but had to go into the aisles among the kids in the audience to make them more excited and engaged in the story. There were several points when actors broke the fourth wall to ask help from the children about the predicaments their characters faced, which of course the kids were more than willing to do so. It was so much fun to see the children having fun.

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"Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale" runs at the Onstage Greenbelt One, Makati from September 15, 2018 to January 27, 2019, an incredible five month run. Check out show schedules on Ticketworld via this LINK. Tickets sold at P800 (Orchestra Center), P600 (Orchestra Sides) and P500 (Balcony). 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Review of ALL OUT OF LOVE THE MUSICAL: Binging on Ballads

October 21, 2018





Air Supply is a band from Australia composed of Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell, whose entire discography was a treasure trove of soft rock love songs.  With the trend successfully set by "Mamma Mia," it was inevitable that their songs would also be mined to create a jukebox musical of their own. Australian director Darren Yap merged the beloved songs with the book written by Jim Millan to come up with "All Out of Love, the Musical".

As romantics who love to sing, the Philippines as a whole was a big fan of Air Supply music. They had held many concerts in Manila and other Philippine cities several times over the years, the first of which was back in 1983 at the Folk Arts Theater. Therefore it was only logical that the world premiere of "All Out of Love, the Musical" would be held here in Manila, with an all-Filipino cast. 

The setting was New York, sometime in the 1980s. Jamie Crimson was a pop star who was about to launch his second album under the label of his very strict manager Tommy King. However, Jaime was distraught about his breakup with his last girlfriend Rayne, so much that he wanted to abandon his career right there and then. King's Harvard-educated daughter Stacie decided to help salvage the disastrous business situation by helping Jamie get Rayne back.

Since the writer set the story in the pop music industry, it did not need too much innovative ideas on how to incorporate the Air Supply hits into the story. "Sweet Dreams" and "All Out of Love" were simply previous hits or new songs recorded by Jaime Crimson. "Lost in Love" was sung with an upbeat twist by Rayne as a singer at a nightclub. "Now and Forever" and "Even the Nights are Better" were also sung in a concert situation. The writer did not need to come up with some extraordinary scenario to fit these songs in.

Of course, there were also songs which had a neat contextual fit into the main love story narrative. "Lonely is the Night" was sung while riding a neon-lit yellow taxi into the city for a romantic quest. "Keeping the Love Alive" became a rousing bouncy serenade to try to get a lost love back. "The One that You Love" and "Two Less Lonely People in the World" were the songs sung while lovers were trying to sort out their differences and figuring out whether their love was worth fighting for. 

Fil-Australian singer MiG Ayesa had certainly gone a long way since I first knew him as a contestant in a televised search for a new lead vocalist for the band INXS. He did not win that TV competition, but Ayesa went onto bigger things in the West End and Broadway as a theater artist. I had previously seen him onstage locally as Stacee Jaxx in "Rock of Ages" and as Robert Kincaid in "Bridges of Madison County, " both musical produced by Atlantis. This role of pop rock singing idol Jaime Crimson was definitely right down Ayesa's comfort zone, and he could definitely knock those high notes out of the park. (His understudy is Carlos Canlas.)

Rachel Alejandro's character Rayne is a strong woman with pride in her talent as a musician. I've been a fan of her stage career since her memorable turn as Lucy Monster on "Avenue Q." As Rayne, Alejandro'voice had such a rich timbre with an irresistible smoky character that projected strength of character and maturity. (Her understudy is Gold Villar-Lim.) 

Tanya Manalang played Stacie, the perky and plucky new graduate who sought to prove to her father that she belonged in the family business. Manalang is a rising star whose strong belting voice is way bigger than her petite stature. I had seen her standout performances as Susan in "Tick Tick Boom" and more recently, as Joy in "Ang Huling El Bimbo". (Her understudy is Helen Enriquez.) 


The first song that actually grabbed my attention in the show (and the first number to earn a major ovation in Act 1) was "Here I Am". This song was sung with sincere paternal support and concern by Raymond Concepcion, as Tommy King. One of the best sung songs in the whole show, this was unfortunately Concepcion's only featured solo. (His understudy is Juliene Mendoza.) 

Jaime Wilson played Tommy King's slimy rival Kurt Swinghammer. Based on his previous musicals, we know Wilson can wail a rock song, but too bad his character did not have any solo. Red Nuestro stood out from the rest of the talented 14-man ensemble by having a sweet solo part in the song "Chances" as the taxi driver.

The production crew behind directors Darren Yap and Jacinta John is an international group. Many are Australians, such as Musical Supervisor Stephen Amos, Choreographer Yvette Lee, Set Designer Robert Brunton, Costume Designer Wendy Findlater and Lighting Designer Trudy Dagleish. Sound Designer Christo Davis is from South Africa. The resident Musical Director is Filipino musician Joseph Tolentino.

The triumphant curtain call graced by no less than Air Supply themselves! 
(Photo credit: Toots Tolentino) 

The story is admittedly unremarkable and unoriginal, even corny and cliche at several points. But overall, the show was still very entertaining because of the karaoke familiarity of the songs (you will have to stop yourself from singing along) and the show stopping performances of the triple-threat Filipino cast.

For an additional bonus for us opening night audiences, Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell joined the cast during the curtain call, perfectly capping off this night of 80s nostalgia. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Videos: DAY6 #YOUTH in Manila CONCERT 18-10-07

October 7, 2018











Review of GUADALUPE THE MUSICAL: Miraculous Memento

October 6, 2018




The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a rare miraculous reminder of one of the most famous Marian apparitions in history. The colors of this image which appeared on the apron of Aztec peasant Juan Diego never faded, remaining as brilliant as they were when Our Lady was first seen in the year 1531. It is an iconic picture that was produced by no means which was humanly possible back then, and even now. 

The play began with a tour guide was narrating to her group about the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Then we were brought back to the year 1531 in Mexico, then called New Spain. It had only been ten years since the Spanish conquerors converted the native Aztecs into Catholicism. The middle-aged peasant Juan Diego reported to the Archbishop Juan de Zumarraga that he had seen Our Lady appear to him on the Hill of Tepeyac, and she had ordered him to build her a church on that site. 

Meanwhile, the Archbishop had his own conflicts with the ruthless Governor Nuno Beltran de Guzman, who flagrantly used violent means to keep the Aztecs in check. Furthermore, the niece of the Archbishop Clara had fallen in love with his Aztec aide Luis, a forbidden love affair that needed to be kept secret. One night, Halley's comet crossed the sky, and everyone who saw it interpreted the celestial event in their own personal way.

I know how the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe looked like but I confess that I did not know much about its back story. While the main story of visionary Juan Diego was interesting, I guess it may have been too simple or bare to carry a whole two-act musical. Hence, there seemed to have been more time spent on telling the side stories -- namely, the rivalry story of the Archbishop and the Governor, and the love story of Clara and Luis -- and weaving them in to enrich the narrative. 

The role of Juan Diego was played by a long-missed actor of Philippine theater, Cocoy Laurel. The last time I had seen him act in a musical play was when he portrayed the challenging role of Jean Valjean in Rep's "Les Miserables" back in the 1990s. To see him back on stage performing again was one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to watch this play.  Sir Cocoy may already be too old and infirm in stature for the role. However, he has not lost his sparkling and youthful speaking and singing voice that made him the ideal Pippin, Charlie Brown or Joseph in years past. His best song for me was "I am No One."

The lady tour guide was played by Shiela Valderrama-Martinez. Later she would also take on the role of Our Lady of Guadalupe herself. Her singing highlight was the song "Am I Not Here" in Act 2 where the tour guide was speaking on behalf of Our Lady, reassuring us that she will always be here with us. For me, this was the best song of the whole play. Later, seeing Shiela radiantly dressed in the icon's pink vestment and blue mantle made the audience gasp in awe. 

The role of Archbishop Juan de Zumarraga was played by Lorenz Martinez. This character was made to sing very challenging songs  which Martinez breezed through, though he obviously had most difficulty with the song "Believe." His brave niece Clara was played by the very pretty Chaye Mogg, while her Aztec consort was played by Arman Ferrer. Their love duet "Hush" showcased their rich vocals. The role of Juan Diego's ill old uncle Juan Bernardino was played by Onyl Torresunrecognizable with his white disheveled wig.

The antagonist role of Gov. Nuno de Guzman was played by a true-blue Spaniard Kuya Manzano. He clearly played this evil role with relish. Tagging along with the Governor was his equally vicious "lapdog" Vargas, played by Miguel Vargas, who looking like a bald Khal Drogo. This surprised me because the last time I saw Vargas on stage was back in the 1990s when he played Paris in "Paris and Alexander" with Bart Guingona. These two bad guys had a featured song of their own entitled "Burn."

The ensemble of 20 Aztecs, Soldiers and Priests sang so beautifully behind the leads. Their vocals blanketed the stage with a carnival-like atmosphere for the festive scenes, and cathedral-like atmosphere during the divine scenes. A distinct group of four singers,namely Roxy Aldiosa, Mikee Baskinas, Paula Paguio and Ian Hermogenes, were had funny moments as the friendly neighborhood Gossipers.


The Cast at Curtain Call
(Vasquez, Ferrer, Martinez, Valderrama-Martinez, Laurel, Manzano)


The colorful Aztec tribal costumes, as well as Gov. Nuno's glittering finery, were designed by another revered veteran in the field, Ms. Celia Diaz Laurel. The armor and helmets of the Spanish soldiers, which looked very good, were designed by Ogie ReonalDance choreography was by Julie and Rose Borromeo, with fight choreography (including fencing!) by Miguel Vasquez. The geometric Aztec-inspired multi-tiered set, with the skeletal cathedral on the right side, were designed by Mio Infante. Lights by John Batalla and sound by Rards Corpus complete the essential stage elements. 

The book and the lyrics of this musical were written by Joel Trinidad. The music was composed by musical director Ejay Yatco. The music was very diverse with different moods, more traditional than Yatco's usual edgy tunes, merging exuberant Mexican beats with solemn church music, while influenced by Broadway showtunes  They got no less than Repertory Philippines grand dame Ms. Baby Barredo to be the overall director, and that is as veteran as you can get to stage an original English-language musical play like this. 

This is a wholesome, religious-themed musical complete with political intrigue and a love story, highly recommended for the whole family. No matter what your religion may be, that beautiful moment of the miracle of the Castillan roses and the image in Juan Diego's tilma will definitely move you, possibly to tears.


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The Julie Borromeo's Performing Arts Foundation Inc. production of "Guadalupe the Musical" runs from September 28 to October 14, 2018 at the Meralco Theater. Showtimes at 8 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices are: PHP3,000.00 Orchestra Center, PHP2,500.00 Orchestra Sides, PHP2,000.00 Loge Center, PHP1,500.00 Loge Sides, and PHP1,000.00 Balcony. Watch out for discounts on certain show dates. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Review of Sandbox and 9Works' LUNGS: Conversations of a Confused Couple

September 22, 2018




The Sandbox Collective, along with their partners 9 Works Theatrical, started the year with Vincent de Jesus' "Himala," an epic musical with a big cast of 40 actors. For their second offering for the year, they chose something on the other end of the theater spectrum, a intimate straight play with only two actors -- Duncan McMillan's "Lungs." 

The stage (original design by Jodinand Aguillon) of "Lungs" is very simple yet mesmerizing -- a huge cube lined by white fluorescent lights set in the middle of the auditorium. (Before the show, Sandbox artistic director Toff de Venecia called the cube the "Ribcage" of their "Lungs".) There were no other props. There were only two actors performing within the cube upon whom all our attention is drawn. They wore regular daily clothes, nothing fancy. There were no costume changes even if their story spanned years. It was 90 minutes (no intermission) of just listening to a couple and their conversations about their relationship.

The play all started with one innocent yet loaded question - - Man asks Woman if she wanted to have a baby with him. This question triggered the Woman to launch into a whole flight of ideas about her worthiness (or not) to become a mother in a world they currently live in, and the Man assuring her that she was. They would go on and discuss (friendly to heated) about various child-related topics from practical (the color of the nursery) to theoretical (the environmental impact of a child's carbon imprint).

The Initial Faceoff in the Cube

The twists and turns of their conversation would make the couple laugh and cry together as they shared their thoughts and apprehensions about various fearful issues and possibilities, and such as smoking, marriage, miscarriage, or adoption, or the child growing up to hate them. This Woman (a grad student) was really very thorough in her reflection, very neurotically so, but the Man (a struggling musician) stood by her as patiently as he could bear her quirky idiosyncrasies.

It was not surprising that the role of the Woman was the wordier one and showier one. Despite being in her first straight play, Sab Jose grabbed the horns of this bull of a role and impressively stayed on track the whole way as she rode the Woman's dramatic roller coaster of physical stress and emotional upheavals. She was so funny (and never missed a beat) in her excitable breathless mile-a-minute tirades about anything and everything, gratuitously peppered with the F word. On the other end, she made us feel her deep pain during her darker moments of guilt and misery.


Sab Jose and Jake Cuenca

I'm sure the bigger pressure was on her co-actor Jake Cuenca. Because he is a big name movie and TV star, people will be coming to watch this show mainly to see him act in his theater debut. While the Man started the ball rolling with his innocuous question, his role for the rest of the play was mostly reacting to the Woman's insecurities and doldrums. He did get to drop a number of surprise zinger punchlines of his own. There were some obvious first-day jitters in the performance and some unclear delivery of his tongue-twisting lines, but on the whole, Cuenca more than proved his worth as an actor. He nailed it, and he knew it. His relief was evident from his jubilant curtain call bows and smiles.

There would be several scene changes as time passed between the couple. The way the script was written, along with imaginative subtle changes in the blocking or the lights (by Miguel Panganiban), you would realize that the scene was already being reset to events of another day. The way to transition these shifts of scenes seamlessly was a great challenge to the director of this material. Certainly in this production, director Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan (and assistant director Caisa Borromeo) pulled it off to make the potentially rambling nature of the script stay focused and engaging.


Jose and Cuenca at their Curtain Call



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"LUNGS" will run from September 22 to October 7, 2018 with only 10 shows at the Power Mac Center Spotlight, Level 2 Circuit Lane, Circuit Makati. Showtime is at 8 pm on Sept. 22 and 29, Oct. 5 to 7; and 3 pm matinees on Sept. 22, 29 and 30, Oct. 6 and 7. Ticket prices are P1,200 and P1,000. In the Sept. 29 shows, the role of the Man will be performed by Gabs Santos.