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



************

"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. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review of Red Turnips' A DOLL'S HOUSE PART 2: Fiery Feminist Frankness

September 16, 2018




The last time the Red Turnips produced a play was March of 2017 with the disturbing "The Nether," a thought-provoking, even disturbing, play that the Turnips aimed to tell us. Since then however, they took a self-imposed hiatus of more than a year, before announcing their latest production, "A Doll's House Part 2." This play marked the debut performance of Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo in a Red Turnip production, as well as the debut of Cris Villonco to direct a play, the last Turnip to do so.

Henrik Ibsen's classic 1879 play "A Doll's House," Torvald and Nora Helman were a middle-class couple who lived in Norway during the 19th century, contemporary at that time. He was a banker and she was a housewife. They had three kids, namely Ivar. Bobby and Emmy. At the end of the play, Nora realized she had had enough of Torvald's narcissism and condescencion towards her, and decided to leave her family behind and find herself.

American playright Lucas Hnath wrote a sequel to "A Doll's House" in 2016. It debuted on Broadway in 2017, running from March to September.  The play had eight nominations at the 2017 Tony Award namely: Best Play, Best Director (Sam Gold), Best Lead Actor (Chris Cooper), Best Lead Actress (Laurie Metcalf), Best Actress in a Featured Role (Jayne Houdyshell and Condola Rashād), and Best Costume Design (David Zinn), with Metcalf bringing home the Tony.

Nora suddenly showed up at her former house 15 years after she left. Apparently, she had done very well for herself during all that time as a successful book author, writing about her own experiences and thoughts about married life as a woman. However a serious legal issue came up as a result of her writing. This forced her to return to request Torvald to settle something she thought he had been done years ago. Her visit also gave her opportunity to catch up with their old housekeeper Anne Marie and her grown-up daughter, Emmy.

Director Cris Villonco on the set of #ADHP2
(photo from the Red Turnips FB page)

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo was so dominating as the new and improved Nora, brimming with self-confidence and feministic pride. She got to deliver some of the most audaciously defiant lines of the play about women and marriage, which would be even more controversial during the time the play was set during the early 1900s. Lauchengco-Yulo's conviction in Nora's incendiary mutinous beliefs was so powerful that she sounded so scarily convincing. This is not an easy play for husbands to watch with their wives together.

Carlitos Siguion-Reyna played Torvald as an emotional mess of man seemingly still unable to move on from their separation. I only knew Siguion-Reyna as a director of films and plays, but this was the first time I had seen him onstage as an actor. His Torvald's fragile ego was out there for all of us to witness, and it can be painful. As a husband myself, I can actually see his points and where he is coming from. Haha! This is another reason why it may be risky for a couple to watch this play together, as post-play discussions could escalate into arguments. Be warned, it is that provocative.

Shiela Francisco was a delight as Anne Marie. She was initially so excited and welcoming to see Nora back as she was her ward first before Nora's kids. However, when Nora revealed her real reason for coming, Anne Marie began to squirm with discomfort. This later turns into disgust as Nora tried to further manipulate Anne Marie's own beliefs about marriage and leaving children behind. Nora was ruthless with Anne Marie, and Ms. Francisco's seemingly comically reactive facial expressions actually reflected our own bewilderment in Nora's pronouncements.

Rachel Coates played Emmy, the only character in this sequel completely of Hnath's creation since this character was still a small child in Ibsen's play. Emmy was self-assured in the presence of her mother's suprise visit, as relative newcomer Coates was unfazed to trade intense lines with the Queen of Philippine Theater herself. Emmy was not averse to do something under the table to settle the legal kinks, a direct reference to a similar illegal act Nora was involved in in the first play, in a sly bit of saying "like mother, like daughter." 


Siguion-Reyna, Lauchengco-Yulo, Francisco and Coates
during their curtain call


The set of the play (by Joey Mendoza) was not fancy, just a couple of chairs in a living room, a high ceiling with a chandelier and a couple of walls to indicate a doorway on one side and a hallway on the other. The actors would just move the chairs around to change things around a little once in a while, with the lights (by John Batalla) casting some dramatic shadows.

Basically, director Cris Villonco made sure that it was just the actors and those sharp dialogue they were delivering on that stage that riveted our attention. These were words that, beneath their seemingly humorous nature, will definitely shake our own perspectives about the hallowed sacrament of matrimony between men and women.



**********


"A Doll’s House, Part 2’ premiered last September 15, 2018 at the 70-seater Zobel De Ayala Recital Hall, on the second floor of the Maybank Performing Arts Theater in Bonifacio Global City. It will run up to October 7, 2018. Showtimes at 8 pm on Fridays to Sundays, with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets at P1,500 and P1,200. 

Where your seat is located matters because the chairs are only on one level in each section. Therefore if you are seated at the back, your view will be partially obstructed as mine was by the tall guys in front of me. So do try to get your front row tickets early! And no, you do not really need to (re-)read Ibsen's "A Doll House" to fully appreciate this play.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Review of M. BUTTERFLY: Cross-Cultural Collisions

September 12, 2018




David Henry Hwang's "M. Butterfly" won the 1988 Tony Award for Best Play (for Hwang), Best Director (for John Dexter) and Best Featured Actor in a Play (for BD Wong in his Broadway debut as Song Liling). I had seen this play before way back 1990 in UP Diliman, when then 18-year old new actor named RS Francisco took on the role of Song Liling and made it his signature role for which he would be remembered up to now. 

This year, two years short of 30 years later, RS Francisco, now 46, takes on the challenge of playing his iconic role of Song Liling again in a new production of "M. Butterfly" produced by Jhett Tolentino (already an established producer on Broadway, USA) and Frontrow Entertainment (a fledgling production outfit venturing in its first theatrical project). Veteran director Kanakan-Balintagos will be handling the directorial chores.

A French diplomat to China named Rene Gallimard had an extra-marital affair to a young attractive Chinese opera singer named Song Liling. Their clandestine affair went on for 30 years both in China, and later on in France. Apparently, despite the intimacy of their relationship, Gallimard never knew the biggest secret of his "perfect woman" until it blew up in his face in a major way -- costing him his career, his love and his freedom.


The Cast at their Curtain Call
(L-R: O'Brien, Nepomuceno, Estanera, Francisco, Borten, Amador and McLeod)


I did not remember how demanding the role of Gallimard was until I saw him performed again last night. The play was practically a monologue for the entire length of the show with Gallimard breaking the fourth wall telling us his story, with small vignettes of his life being portrayed on the side. French teacher / actor Olivier Borten was very authentic as he embodied how the socially-awkward Gallimard was supposed to look and sound. He delivered Gallimard's lengthy lines with a wry dorky sense of dry humor which made him oddly endearing, and his fate sadder.

RS Francisco still had the same androgynous look that made him own this role 28 years ago. Gallimard supposedly met Song as a teenager, so you had to suspend disbelief in a major way to believe that Francisco was one. However, Francisco's obvious age also gave his Song a maturity that gave this whole show a different dynamic and vibe. His gently intoned delivery of Song's lines had the requisite ambiguity required of this role. Without fancy dresses and makeup in Act 2, Francisco even actually looked younger, even if these scenes were set 30 years into their relationship. 

Stage veteran Pinky Amador played Helga, the older woman Gallimard felt pressured to marry. Lee O'Brien played Gallimard's friend Marc as a self-conscious male chauvinist pig. Norman McLeod played Gallimard's superior Ambassador Toulon with a balance of authority and naughtiness. Mayen Estanero was a vicious Comrade Chen, with her cartoonish Chinese accent. Vivacious and attractive Maya Encila was bold and perky as the liberated party girl Renee. Rica Nepomuceno and her crystalline soprano was a dominant presence on stage as the Opera Singer.


Press Premiere Photo Op of the cast 
with director Kanakan Balintagos and producer Jhett Tolentino

The stage design was designed by Ohm David was striking in its Oriental theme, using several giant Japanese fans with different patterns moving all over the stage for various purposes. The highlight of Eric Pineda's costume designs were the spectacularly rich and ornate Chinese opera costumes and evening gowns of Song Liling. Very active in various productions all over town these days, John Batalla, Jethro Joaquin and Joed Balsamo efficiently took care of the lighting, sound and musical score, respectively, to create the atmosphere of deceit and drama that pervaded the story. 

Running at almost three hours long (with a 15-minute interval), "M. Butterfly" is a lengthy play and it can feel its length at times. The story in the first act unfolded at a languid pace as the various characters were being introduced one by one. While some viewers may find the dialogue old-fashioned and melodramatic, more patient audiences will be able appreciate the nostalgia factor and the implied wit within David Henry Hwang's script about the conflicts between genders and between cultures. The pace of the story-telling picked up in the second act and director Kanakan Balintagos kept it riveting one intense scene after the other, up to that heart-rending ending. 


******************

"M. Butterfly" runs from September 13 to 30, 2018 at the GLOBE AUDITORIUM of the MAYBANK PERFORMING ARTS THEATER, BGC Arts Center, 26th St. cor. 9th Ave., Bonifacio Global City. Showtimes are at 8 pm on Thursdays to Sundays (and some additional weekdays), with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices at ₱2,000, ₱1,750₱1,500, ₱1,250 and ₱1,000. 

Each show is said to be 100% non-profit. All proceeds from ticket sales go to charity. Each night, during the curtain call, they give a symbolic check to the beneficiary of the performance.



Monday, September 10, 2018

Review of BP's CARMINA BURANA: Graceful Grandiloquence

September 9, 2018




I recognize the title "Carmina Burana" as a piece of classical music. It was a cantata written by German composer Carl Orff back in 1936 based on Goliardic verses from the 13th century. Orff chose 24 out of the 200 published poems written by the Goliards (or wandering clerics and students in Europe) to create his master work of music. 

However, I realize that I actually only know just the first two-and-a-half minutes of it. This is a very familiar, grandiloquently dramatic tune known as "O Fortuna," which had been commonly used in several films (like "Excalibur" in 1981), TV shows (like "The X Factor") and TV commercials (like "Old Spice").

To open its 49th season this year, Ballet Philippines (BP) chose to re-stage a dance interpretation of "Carmina Burana" choreographed by National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes and first staged in 1974. Ms. Reyes is also currently the Artistic Director of BP, and was present in the audience last night. The accompanying music was provided by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Gerald Salonga.

The first thirty minutes of the program was dedicated to three shorter dance pieces, about 10 minutes each. This was followed by a 20 minute intermission, after which the hour-long main feature was performed. 


"Sama Sama"
(photo from Ballet Philippines FB page)

The first one was entitled "Sama Sama" choreographed by Ronelson Yadao, making its debut in this show. This was an energetic ensemble piece for about 15 male dancers set to the music of Ryan Cayabyab as sung by a choir on the side. The novelty song "Da Coconut Nut" was highlighted in the midsection of this number. For their costumes (also designed by Yadao), the men all wore white t-shirts on top, but their tights were in various bright colors to give a fun and festive feel. 

The second number was entitled "Vivaldi Concerto," a delightful Neo-Classic suite for three pairs of dancers set to the familiar tunes by Antonio Vivaldi. This was choreographed by Brando Miranda and was first performed by BP in 1985. This is only the first time it was performed since that year.


"Vivaldi Concerto"
(photo from Ballet Philippines FB page)

The dancers all wore pale green outfits designed by Victor Ursabia. Classical guitar soloist Aaron Biag was featured to accompany this suite with his scintillating playing. The couples were: Stephanie Santiago and Eri Sorilla, Monica Gana and Lester Reguindin, and Sarah Alejandro and John Ababon. The dramatic midsection of this number featured the three pairs dancing their respective elegant pas de deux.

The third number was entitled "Season of Flight," set to the eerie music by Marius Constant, choreographed by Norman Walker specifically for BP back in 1972. Walker was also responsible for the set and costume design. There were three featured dancers: two in white (Ronelson Yadao and Jemima Reyes) and one in red (Eugene Obille) in a sort of love triangle scenario. The rest of the corps were wearing orange outfits. The dramatic suite ended in a powerful formation of birds in flight. 


"Season of Flight"
(photo from Ballet Philippines FB page)

After the interval, came the main event -- "Carmina Burana". The majestic set of that first staging was design by National Artist for Theater Design, the late Salvador Bernal, who also designed the costumes. That same classic set design of ceremonial rocks with a fiery cauldron was used again tonight. There were choral singers on both sides of the stage, all dressed in black, composed of the Philippine Madrigal Singers, the Our Lady of Fatima University Chorale and the Kilyawan Boys Choir

When the powerful first bars of "O Fortuna" was heard, the stage exploded into graceful action. The men had bare torsos with only a Greek-inspired belt around their waist as accent. The ladies were in dresses that flowed with their spins and jumps. 


"Carmina Burana"
(photo from Ballet Philippines FB page)

Certain portions of the cantata were performed by soloists like Victor Maguad (in "Omnia Sol Temperat" and "Ego Sum Abbas") and Ronelson Yadao (in "Dies Nox et Omnia"). There were portions danced by pairs and trios ("Stetit Puella," "Si Puer Cum Puellula," "In Trutina") with featured dancers Victor Maguad, Denise Parungao, Jemima Reyes, Earl John Arisola and Eugene Obille

Aside from the resounding singing by the choirs, there were some awesome solo performances by featured singers (baritone Noel Azcona and coloratura soprano Ma. Cristina Viguilla-Navarro) which further enhanced the power and drama of the dancing. Azcona and Navarro were reaching exquisitely high notes which were unique pleasures for our ears to listen to. 

Jemima Reyes, Denise Parungao, Victor Maguad, Ronelson Yadao
and the rest of the ensemble take their triumphant bows

By the finale reprise of "O Fortuna" all the dancers wore flowing white tunics over their original costumes to fully embody the Greek mythology vibe of the choreography as they looked like priests and priestesses in front of a burning oracle flame at a Greek temple. This was really beautiful imagery and movement that brought this memorable multi-sensory spectacle to a robust close. The appreciative audience spontaneously stood up in a prolonged ovation to congratulate all the performers -- dancers, singers, musicians all -- fort the triumphant staging of this opus.


**********

"Carmina Burana" only ran for three days from September 7, 8 and 9, 2018 at the Bulwagang Nicanor Abelardo (Main Theater) of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. 





Saturday, September 8, 2018

Review of DUP's ANIM NA TAUHANG NAGHAHANAP NG MAY-AKDA: A Play About A Play

September 8, 2018



For its 43rd Theater Season, Dulaang UP embraces the theme of "Hudyat: Pagkilala, Pag-alaala, Pagpapahalaga." Their new artistic director, Ms. Banaue Miclat-Janssen, believes that this play by Luigi Pirandello addressed the first aspect of their theme, which was identity. "Six Characters in Search of an Author" was part of DUP's maiden season in 1976-77, directed by Tony Mabesa, who forty years later also directs this new production.

A director was preparing his cast to rehearse a play (also by Pirandello) on a theater stage. Suddenly six people came in from the aisles. An old man who was their leader introduced themselves to be characters of a story whose author had discontinued writing. They were a Father, a Mother, a Son, a Step-daughter, a Young Boy and a Little Girl.

They were looking for their author to complete their incomplete story. Fascinated by the characters' relationships with each other, the director agreed to stage their story as a play with his own actors. However, conflicts and arguments arose on the stage as disagreements kept coming up as to how to interpret each characters. 

I had long heard about Luigi Pirandello and this play, his most famous work. so I was excited to finally see it being staged. It was very interesting to discover that it actually was a play within a play. As we are watching a play about characters staging a play, we get that occasionally rowdy, occasionally funny behind-the-scenes look backstage. We see stage hands preparing the props. We see the interaction between director and his hammy actors.

The additional dynamic in this play was that there were already clearly-defined characters and there were actors who were interpreting the characters. The characters knew exactly how they should be portrayed, but these actors were interpreting the characters with their own unique attacks. In this play, the characters can actually protest on how they were being portrayed by the actors. For the characters, the story was their reality. For the actors, the story was just an illusion of reality they play on stage. It was a conflict of such genius.

I caught a show rendered in the Filipino translation by Rody Vera. (Some performances would be in the English.) I caught a very young cast, most were currently Theater Arts students (either undergrads or Masterals) in UP Diliman. There were no prominent big-name guest actors in this production this time. 

The two biggest central roles of this play are the Father and the Stepdaughter. These two characters get to display their most intense displays of emotion among the cast, having gone through harrowing experiences. They were the ones who felt the deepest passions about their characters and thus would not back down from arguing with the director about how they were being played. 

In the show I caught, Father (or Ama) was played by Nico Varona. His delivery of the Father's lengthy lines was indignantly powerful as they dripped of his remorse.  (Allen Baylosis alternates in this role.) Stepdaughter (or Anak sa Labas) was played by Hariette Damole, who had been playing various lead roles in various plays this year. Damole was both sensual and bitter in her portrayal of a defiant character, the most challenging role of all. (Nour Hooshmand alternates in this role.)

The dolorous Mother (or Ina) was played by Almira Garcia, who was the understudy for the role for more familiar names Issa Manalo Lopez and Ina Azarcon-Bolivar, who alternate in this role. Mother basically sulked in silence at first, only to erupt in shame and misery in Act. 2. The Son (or Anak na Binata) was played by Tristan Bite as an uninterested, apathetic young man who would not like anything to do with completing their story at all. (Andrew Estacio alternates in this role.) 

Uncomfortably silent, traumatized characters Young Boy (or Batang Lalaki) and Little Girl (Batang Babae) were played by an eerie Reynald Santos and a very petite JY Kim respectively. (Mykee Ababon and Shania Cuerpo are their respective alternates). On the other extreme, the bombastic, multilingual and colorful Madame Pace was played Shenn Apilado (Her alternate is a guy, Esteban Fulay Jr., whom I pretty sure could whip up an even more flamboyant portrayal.)

The Director (or Direktor "Boy Genius") was played by Ade Valenzona in a broadly comic balancing act,fascinated with the characters' strong egos, while still trying to hold on to his dignity and authority as director.  (Kennan Tapang alternates in this role.) Comic relief characters Leading Lady and Leading Man were played by Rachel Jacob and Fred Layno respectively, purposefully portraying these terribly hammy actors with their tongue-in-cheek.


The Cast take their Curtain Call
(front row L-R: Apilado, Bite, Damole, Varona, Kim, Garcia, Santos)

Veteran director Tony Mabesa led an expert technical crew that includes Ohm David (set design), Meliton Roxas, Jr. (lighting design), Carlo Pagunaling (hair and make-up design) and Jack Alvero (sound design). Bonsai Cielo deserved special mention of her eye-catching costume designs that set apart the characters in their morose black and grey outfits, and the actors in their bright colorful clothes with pashmina scarves for accent. 


This play is not immediately easy to get into because of its unusual plot and structure, but once you get into its groove, it will hook you into its intriguing premise. It was also not an instant hit when it was first performed in 1921, with audiences puzzled about its meaning. Nevertheless, since then up to now, and definitely with this Filipino translation, this Pirandello classic provides an interesting debate about the portrayal and perception of reality versus illusion on a stage that has captivated theater fans for nearly a century now. 


***********


"Six Characters in Search of an Author" runs from September 5 to 30, 2018 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater in Palma Hall, UP Diliman. There are English shows on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and Filipino shows on Thursdays and Saturdays. Showtimes are at 7 pm on Wednesdays to Fridays, with 10 am and 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are at P500 only. For ticket inquiries, call Kathleen Mack at number 09088654038. 


Sunday, September 2, 2018

Review of TP's BALAG AT ANGUD: Anthemic Artistry

September 1, 2018




"Balag" was a bamboo formation adorned with activist sentiments set in front of the Oblation in UP Diliman in 1970 to protest against Martial Law. "Angud: A Forest Once" was an interconnected display of thousands of tree trunk remnants set on CCP grounds in 2007 to protest deforestation of mountains. Playwright Layeta Bucoy took these two pieces of outdoor installation art as her inspiration and came up with a biographical play about their creator -- artist Luis Yee, Jr. (or Junyee), and his quest for artistry against all odds. 


Act 1 opened with Old Junyee falling off the stage during an art event, hitting his head and losing consciousness ("Kabaliwan"). This accident triggered a flashback of his memories back to his youth in Agusan del Norte. His traditionalist father Luis owned a motel ("Palace Hotel"), and insisted that his junior take up Commerce to help him run the family business. However, Teenage Junyee had met his artistic Muse even as a child ("Di Mapigilan") and would rather take up Fine Arts. This conflict made Junyee leave home to pursue his art.

Junyee's passion for his art eventually led him to UP Diliman as an apprentice of National Artist Napoleon Abueva. That was also where he channeled his passion into student activism activities against the Marcos dictatorship. It was during one poorly-attended rally when Junyee hit upon the idea of gathering bamboo poles and forming them into a barricade-like structure, encouraging students to hang their messages of protest against Martial Law ("Balag").

Act 2 opens with Old Junyee creating an installation artwork in front of the CCP about denuded forests using tree branches felled by Typhoon Millenio ("Baligtad na Kabundukan"). However, destruction of his work by vandals led Old Junyee to despair as he struggled to come up with another idea before the deadline. Tess, Junyee's wife of 30 years, reassured him of her loyalty and support ("Awit ng Kasal"). One day, Junyee saw villagers selling sawed off ends of tree trunks and was inspired to use them for his new artistic creation ("Angud").


The Set Before Act 1 Began

Rody Vera was a force of artistic nature as Old Junyee. His rich and powerful voice was rousing and resplendent, especially in his solo "Kung Ako'y Iiwan Mo". Paw Castillo was very earnest and idealistic in his acting and singing as Teenage Junyee in songs like "Awit ng Tagumpay". This is his most important role to date. Bayang Barrios was ethereal as Musa -- her otherworldly vocals in "Huwag Titigil" is beyond words to describe.  

Jonathan Tadioan was a haunting presence in his white coat as Tatay Luis, even long after his character passed on. Mia Bolanos was exquisite when she sang as Nanay Felisa in the song "Napagod Na" -- I wish she got to sing more. Astarte Abraham caught my attention even if she sang so little as Madre de Dios in "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" -- I'm glad to hear her sing a lot more here. 

The kids were remarkable -- DM Garcia (from "A Christmas Carol") as Young Junyee and Krystle Campos (from Virgin Labfest XIV "Ang Mga Propesyunal") as Young Musa. The rest of the cast include Zoe de los Santos as Teresa (Junyee's friend as a teen), Noe Morgado as Prof. Abueva, JV Ibesate as Mr. Chua (who hired Junyee to do funeral makeup work). Raflesia Bravo, Cheeno Macaraig, Sigrid Balbas, Karl Jingco, Cyril Balderama, Antonette Go, Lhorvie Nuevo, Aldo Vencilao, Eunice Pacia, Monique Nellas and Joshua Tayco complete the ensemble. 

Director Audie L Gemora was saying they had very limited time to perfect this show, but based on what we witnessed, it did not look as if they needed more rehearsals. Everything went like clockwork with the music by Dodjie Fernandez and Upeng Galang Fernandez and sound design of TJ Ramos. The choreography of Ava Maureen Villanueva Ong was full of dramatic movement to match the emotional music. 

The costumes by James Reyes for Junyee were mainly black with denim, but his Musa was bedecked with bright tribal colors. As this musical was about an artist, the set design was expected to be inspired by the subject's art and this was certainly delivered by Toym Leon Imao. That upside-down peak made of bamboo hanging from the ceiling was one striking centerpiece, reflecting Junyee's adherence to all-natural materials and designs in his art. The lighting design by John Batalla and projection design by Datu Arellano complement and complete the dramatic illusions on stage.


The Colorful Curtain Call and the Finale Set Design
(photo credit: Vladimir Bunoan)


Admittedly, it was not smooth sailing at first. It took time for me to gain my bearings in Act 1, with various diverse scenes going in and out of the stage, which may need some streamlining tweaks. There were scenes of sexy burlesque dancing in there, as well as scenes inside a funeral parlor owned by a Chinaman. Things securely got into the groove for me only during the scene in Abueva's atelier where the master shared wisdom to his ward. The two rousing protest song numbers came after that, ending Act 1 with a bang.

On the other hand, Act 2 was glorious from beginning to end. All the songs were anthemic -- melodically beautiful and thematically meaningful. As you hear one song after the other, it was impossible not to be moved by the pervading emotions in Fernandez's tunes and Bucoy's lyrics. The interplay of the music and the choreography was magical especially with the finale, which ended on a triumphant high in an uber-dramatic, Instagrammable tableau formation. You will want to give them a standing ovation right there and then.

I confess that I did not know who Junyee was before I watched this show. I was not aware that there is a kind of art called Installation Art that is only set up for a special event, but only to be to be taken down once the exhibition time is over. Beyond that, Junyee insisted on only using materials from nature as his materials. It takes an artist of rare passion and dedication to pursue this type of art with important messages, but no permanence. This show was an eye-opening and emotional journey into the genius of such an artist, both intimate and grand in its scope. 


************

"Balag at Angud" runs from August 31 to September 16, 2018 only at the CCP Little Theater. There are regular shows on Fridays and Saturdays at  8PM, with 3PM matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. There are special shows as scheduled: Sept 7 Fri 3PM, Sept 13 Thurs 3PM & 8PM and Sept 14 Fri 3PM. Tickets sell at P1000 and P800, on Ticketworld (891-9999) or the CCP Box Office. 

*************

GLOSSARY: 

Balag is a Tagalog word that refers to a trellis or lattice work for vines. (Source: LINK)

Angud is the end part of tree trunks discarded during illegal logging operations. After a tree is felled, a hole is bored at one of its end so that the timber may be pulled with a rope (usually by carabao) out of the forest. The end part with the hole, called angud, is then sawn off and discarded for charcoal..." (Source: LINK)


****************

The SONGS of BALAG AT ANGUD 
(Libretto by Layeta Bucoy, Music by Dodjie Fernandez)

Act 1 songs:

Kabaliwan, (Young & old Junyee, Luis, Musa and ensemble)
Palace Hotel (Luis, ensemble) 
Paghihintay (Theresa, Feliza, Luis)
Di Mapigilan (Musa, Young Junyee, Musa and Junyee as children) 
Awit Ng Tagumpay (Young Junyee, ensemble) 
Balag (Young Junyee, Musa and ensemble)
Kabaliwan reprise (Old Junyee, Young Junyee, Musa, Luis, ensemble)

Act 2 songs:

Baligtad na Kabundukan (Old Junyee, ensemble) 
Huwag Titigil, (Musa)
Napagod Na Puso (Tess, FelIza) 
Awit Ng Kasal (Old Junyee and Tess)
Kung Ako'y Iiwan Mo ( Old Junyee)
Angud (Old Junyee, Tess, ensemble)
Kabaliwan Reprise (All)



Saturday, September 1, 2018

Review of Atlantis' SIDE SHOW: Adjoined Aspirations

September 1, 2018



Daisy and Violet Hilton were a pair of twins conjoined at the hip. They were the star attractions of Sir's sideshow of freaks, which also included the Bearded Lady, the Dog Boy, the 3-Legged Man, Cannibal King among others. One day, talent scout Terry Connor and his musician friend Buddy Foster chanced upon their sideshow, and heard the twins sing. Realizing that he had hit upon a goldmine, Terry wanted to take the twins out of the sideshow and bring them to vaudeville. 

I had never heard of "Side Show" before Atlantis came out with their social media ads about their latest offering. Apparently this show by  Bill Russell (book and lyrics) and Henry Krieger (music) had been around since 1997 when it first opened in Broadway. It had a more recent revival in Broadway in 2014. Daisy and Violet Hilton (1908-1969) were actually real people, a pair of twins attached at their pelvises (but shared no vital organs) who embarked on a vaudeville entertainment career during the 1930s. 

The first technical aspects of the show that will catch your attention are the colorfully bizarre costumes (designed by Odelon Simpao) and transformative makeup (by Johann dela Fuente) of the 'freaks". Some "freaks", like Lizard Man and Geek, wore prosthetics designed by Bibo Reyes, showing off his other artistic talents aside from acting and singing (most recently in "Ang Huling El Bimbo". The sets designed by Lawyn Cruz are enhanced by the lighting design of Jonjon Villareal. Farley Asuncion is the musical director, leading the band providing the live accompaniment.

The different "twinning" outfits worn by Daisy and Violet throughout the show looked beautiful, especially the gold ball gowns they wore at the New Year's Eve Ball. If you look closely though (and I'm sure you will), the clothes (especially those red pants) did not look like they were specifically designed to be worn by conjoined twins, but for separate girls pretending to be conjoined. The performances of the actresses though would later make this minor observation moot.

The more outspoken liberated twin Daisy is played by Gab Pangilinan. The more reserved introverted twin Violet is played by Kayla Rivera. Their joint performance as the Hilton sisters walking together, jumping together, dancing together was an amazing feat. They had to be in perfect timing with each other all the time so that their pelvises will not separate and ruin the illusion of being conjoined. 

When they raise their voices in song, the resulting harmonies were heavenly. Both girls can hit the high notes and the low notes so they can sing either melody or second voice interchangeably. They had several spot numbers together, the best and most memorable of which are "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" the showstopping finale of Act 1, and "I Will Never Leave You," the dramatic climax of Act 2. 

Markki Stroem played Terry Connor. He was effective as a glib disarming salesman who had no trouble getting the girls interested in his ambitious proposal. Stroem's singing was also pushed to falsetto limits here, and he did very well in that department too, in songs like "Very Well Connected" and "A Private Conversation". 

David Ezra played Buddy Foster, a talented perfectionist song and dance man. Compared to previous roles I had seen Ezra play, Buddy has got to be the one where he was smiling the most. His tenor vocals were faultless as expected in numbers like "Stuck with You" and "One Plus One Equals Three," which also showcased his terpsichorean skills as well. 

Arman Ferrer played Jake, the Cannibal Man, a shadowy character who mostly stood in the background. He had genuine concern for the girls, especially Violet.  His deep rich singing voice was ideal for the this dark mysterious man, heard in songs like "The Devil You Know," and "You Should Be Loved," his love ballad duet with Violet. 

Wency Cornejo makes his stage debut as the character Sir, the girls' sleazy guardian and sadistic manager. He's got that leery look down pat, giving everyone a creepy feel when he was onstage. He was the character who opened the show with his welcome spiel and his introductory song "Come Look at the Freaks."

Three members of the ensemble also got featured roles. Tim Pavino was  Harry Houdini as part of the girls' "Flashback" number. Luis Marcelo was Rick in the two vaudeville numbers of Buddy and the girls. Ring Antonio got to showcase her soulful vocals as Fortune Teller and the girls' Auntie who raised them when they were abandoned as infants.

Earlier this year, the sleeper hit musical film "The Greatest Showman" refamiliarized us with the circus sideshow. With "Side Show," these legendary sideshow attractions come to life in front of our very eyes. Director Steven Conde successfully brought all the various elements together to make an entertaining and engaging show, even for people like me who knew nothing about the show nor its songs prior to watching. Gab Pangilinan and Kayla Rivera will surely enchant you as Daisy and Violet to guarantee your ticket is worth its price. 


**************



"Side Show" plays at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium of the RCBC Plaza in Makati from August 31 to September 23, 2018. Show times are 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with 2 pm matinees on Sundays. Tickets are selling at ₱4,000, ₱3,000 and ₱2,000 via Ticketworld.