Friday, December 21, 2012

UP Concert Chorus 50th Anniversary Gala Concert

December 21, 2012

Last September I got news that the UP Concert Chorus was going to have a 50th Anniversary Concert this year.  However I did not hear when this was going to be held.  In fact, I forgot all about this event, until by sheer serendipity, I saw a poster of this in the lobby of our building!  Given that I had the opportunity, I resolved to catch this special concert.



When I got to the University Theater, only Balcony tickets were for sale.  All the seats in the Center and Side Orchestra were sold out.  And why not, I believe those prime seats were only being sold for P300 and P200 each!  Anyway, the theater was not really that big, so we can recognize faces on the stage from our seats in the Balcony.

The show began about 15 minutes after 7pm when the multi-generational UCC with singers from Batch 60s to 2012 formed on the stag amidst great applause.  They began by singing "Battle Hymn of the Republic."  I am not really sure why, if there was any story behind this song choice, which I imagined was their Invocation.  A most rousing version of the Philippine National Anthem followed.  The show was emceed by Mr. Chinggoy Alonso, who was a member of UCC in the 1970s.

The next segments were special numbers from every batch (divided per decade) of UCC members. There were introductory videos which preceded each batch.  Unfortunately the font was too thin and too dim, orange with poor contrast from the black background.  Everything was not legible from where we were seated, which was too bad.

Batch 60s was represented by Ms. Becky Demetillo-Abraham who sang a folk song "Hurry Sundown" with a mellow voice that evoked the hippies who may have sung it back then.  She was accompanied by Leter Demetillo on guitar and back-up vocals.

The 60s and 70s batches joined forces in a trio of songs, the best of which was their version of "May Bukas Pa". They also broke formation to sing "Neneng" which was a funny medley of Filipino folksongs. I recognized Ms. Kitchie Molina and Ms. Joscephine Gomez in that batch of singers.

UPCC Batch 80s was in more colorful get-ups.  They sang a lively medley of songs with dancing, including "Pumapatak ang Ulan" and "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In."  They then sang "Kalesa" which they mixed with an unexpected partner "Oppa Gangnam Style"!  Of course, the dance step fit right in with the "Kalesa" lyrics, ingenious.  They ended their set with "Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika".  No 80s song in their set.

UPCC Batch 90s started with a serious choral piece first.  Then they segued to singing Filipino pop classics "Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka" and "Mambobola."

This was followed by a rendition of the Broadway song "Love Changes Everything" by a couple of UCC couples (UCC members who also married a UCC member).  They are Raymond Roldan and wife Jeannelle,  whom I knew as the writers of "Song of Joseph," and Lionel Guico and his wife Cynthia, who were introduced as theater actors.

UPCC Batch 2000s rendered a couple of religious songs, one English and one Filipino.  Their final song was their version of Fantasia's "I Believe."  They has three awesome soloists whose voices simply soared in that seriously belted diva number.  The guy soloist matched his female co-singers in the lung-busting notes in the soulful end portion of the song.

A 10 minute intermission followed.

The Second Act opened with an In Memoriam slide show.  Unfortunately again, we cannot read anything on the screen.  The main and final tribute was for their beloved late Dr. Rey T. Paguio, who conducted the UCC from 1969 to 1999.  After this, Dr. Dot Gancayco, who headed the organizing committee of the 50th anniversary celebration, delivered her thank you speech.  Her enumeration of prominent UCC alumni was very impressive.

The stage was then given to the current batch of UCC, which they called the Golden Batch.  Their first song was entitled "Ama Namen" (not the church hymn we know) which featured a spectacular soprano whose name eluded me.  They sang three more songs, before they sang an amazing Michael Jackson tribute medley which featured a solo from their conductor Jai Sabas-Aracama.

After this, the other alumni of UCC all gathered again on the stage to render the final series of songs.  Very notable here are the beautiful Christmas songs they rendered.  The very sad "Pasko Na Sinta Ko" featured a solo by Jonathan Badon, and guitar by a UCC alumnus who is now an Ambassador, Mr. Vic Lecaros. The solemn "Payapang Daigdig" featured the original soloist who was none other than Ms. Kitchie Molina.  After a rousing version of "Simbang Gabi", they began to call all UP Alumni to go up the stage to join them to sing.  I had half the mind to go up, but I wanted to watch the rest of the show from my seat.



One of the original conductors of UCC in the 60s, Dr. Ramon Santos, was called in to conduct and lead the choir to sing Handel's "Hallelujah".  This classical Christmas hymn was sung with sheer perfection.  But they reserved their best for last as they sang a most touching version of "UP Naming Mahal" which totally captured my heart.  What a fitting finale for a fun and nostalgic evening!

Looking back, not joining a choir in college was one of the regrets in my youth.  But then at that time I was not really sure what I can do yet and I was too timid to pursue anything except my studies.  Watching their reunion show tonight showed their audience with pride how UCC not only molded musical talent among the members, but also improved their personalities and built lasting friendship.  Watching this show let me know what I missed because of my reluctance to try out the unknown back then.  Oh well, as the Apocalypse did not occur tonight (as was hyped ad nauseam in the past few days), my own chance to be a member of a serious choir may yet come by in the coming years.

Congratulations to the UCC for their 50 years past and 50 and more years to come!


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Camp Rock the Musical (Repertory Philippines)

December 8, 2012



By some freak streak of luck, I once again won tickets to go see "Camp Rock the Musical" today from herworld.com (the same website from which I won the "Rama Hari" tickets just last week). This show produced by Repertory Philippines had been showing since November 16, 2012, under the direction of Mr. Audie Gemora.  Strangely though unlike other Rep productions in the past, I felt no compulsion to watch this show at all, and neither did my kids.  Maybe it is because we know the story already, or maybe it is because my own daughter played the character of Caitlin in their musical theater workshop production of "Camp Rock" just last summer.  But hey, a free ticket is a free ticket!

The generally young (supposedly "teenage") cast was basically unknown to me and the general public.  Of course, I recognize Markki Stroem, who is a familiar name and face from his joining "Pilipinas Got Talent" on TV.  He already had his stage debut on "Next to Normal" (Atlantis). I also recognize Cara Barredo, who had a charming turn as Beth in Rep's "Little Women" a few Decembers back, there playing a minor role as Caitlyn.  The rest of the young actors were yet untried, so I was a bit apprehensive that it would feel like a high school production, as early reviews seemed to suggest.

Anyway, arrived late again but only for maybe less than ten minutes, but seating was not difficult.  Since we had watched the two Original Disney Movies of the same title, getting into the story was not difficult.  The first number I caught was the reprise of the hit song from the first movie "This is Me" by Mitchie Torres, just as her beau Shane Gray and his brothers arrived in camp. After a few more scenes, it was clear that this musical play would be following the story of the second Camp Rock movie, which was subtitled "The Final Jam."  (This is not the same play as the summer production of my daughter, which was based on the first movie.)

As with Camp Rock 2, the story is about how a flashier rival summer talent camp called Camp Star threatens the very existence of Camp Rock.  Mitchie rallies her friends together to try and beat Camp Star in a televised Final Jam face-off.  However, in her obsession for performance perfection, her relationship with Shane gets strained.  Can these young romance problems be solved?  Which camp will win Final Jam?  Since this is a Disney script, I guess you can pretty much guess the answers to these questions.

The stand-out in the newbie cast is clearly the actress who played Mitchie, Morrissette Amon.  Amon simply dominated every song she sang because of her powerful vocals.  We are witnessing a debut performance of a future star.   Even in a big group numbers, her vocal chops rose above everyone else.  Her chemistry with Stroem though was not too good in the first act.  I don't the problem is with Amon though.  Maybe Stroem is too mature, too tall or too mestizo for her, I don't know, but there seemed to be no connection between the two.  Fortunately, it did get better in the second half though.

There was a side story where the youngest Gray brother Nate (Nacho Tambunting) is attracted to pretty Dana (Justine Pena).  However, she was unfortunately was from Camp Star, and he becomes dorkishly tongue-tied around her.  Their scenes were more charming than those of the leads as their chemistry was more palpable.  Their seemingly-Jason Mraz-"I'm Yours"-inspired duet song number entitled "Introducing Me" was quite endearingly performed.

The girl who portrayed the snooty Tess Tyler (Cheska Ortega) and the guy who played the star performer of Camp Star Luke Williams (Nelsito Gomez) also had good voices, stage presence and dance moves, as did the guy who played Barron James (Justin Valiente).  They can certainly stand out from the rest of the crowd on stage.

For me, the action and songs of Act I was rather dull and forgettable.  However, Act II really did a good job to pick up the pace of the story as well as the catchiness of the songs and energy of the choreography.  this is most evident in the climactic numbers of Final Jam which were "Tear it Down" (by Camp Star) and "What We Came Here For" (by Camp Rock), right up to "We Rock" at the end.  Overall though, "Camp Rock the Musical" was actually fun and entertaining.  The songs were so Disney-catchy and the humor was oh-so-wholesome.  It will lighten you mood and make you smile.  It will definitely make you feel young again.  I did.  I'm glad I got to watch it.

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"Camp Rock the Musical" runs up to December 19, 2012 at Onstage in Greenbelt 1.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Rama Hari (Ballet Philippines)

December 2, 2012


I have long heard about the 1980 theater classic "Rama Hari," who starred Basil Valdez, Leo Valdez and a then relatively unknown singer named Kuh Ledesma.  This epic show was  a collaboration among giants in the theater world.  The choreography was by Alice Reyes, the founder of Ballet Philippines.  The libretto was by Bienvenido Lumbera, a National Artist in Literature, adapting stories from the Indian epic "Ramayana". The music was by Ryan Cayabyab, who was only 26 years old back then when he wrote the score.  The set and costumes were by the late Salvador Bernal, also a National Artist.

                                     


This year, Ballet Philippines (under Ms. Margie Moran) brings all the magic back to the CCP from November 30 to December 9, 2012, with a cast headed by pop stars Christian Bautista and Karylle.  This is must-see theater!

Must see, yes.  But I have not had the time to go buy tickets.  Then just earlier this week, I chanced upon a promo in Facebook for free tickets to Rama Hari from herworld.com.  I just answered the questions and shared their FB status, and did not think much about it anymore.  Then, last Thursday November 29, while doing surgery in the operating room, I unexpectedly get a call from Ms. Kae of herworld.com announcing that I had won THREE free tickets to this show on December 1!  I picked up the tickets that very afternoon.

Being a Saturday, my clinic on December 1 was only supposed to be up to 2 pm. However, it did not end on time.  I saw my last patient by 4 pm.  Without having eaten lunch yet, I immediately went home to pick up my wife and daughter.  We unfortunately reached the CCP Main Theater already past 6:30 pm.  We barely sat down, already regaled by the clean white stage design, and Christian Bautista's amazingly soaring voice that we caught, when after he sang, the intermission was announced!  We barely caught the last 10 minutes of Act 1.  So this article will basically be a review only of Act 2.


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Act 2 tells the story of Rama and Sita encountering the evil brother and sister duo Ravana and Soopranakha.     Sookpranakha lusts after Rama and tries to seduce him.  Sita was deceived, lured and abducted by Ravana.  Rama enlists the help of Monkey King Hanuman to help him get Sita back.  Will the devoted couple ever get back together again?

Wait a minute, isn't that already the whole story we read in all the press releases for this show?  So what on earth happened in Act 1?  Anyway....

It took a while to figure out what was going on onstage.  The conceit here is that the story of Rama and Sita were being simultaneously told in both dance and song!  While Christian and Karylle were playing Rama and Sita as actors and singers, there were Jean Marc Cordero and Katherine Trofeo  playing the same characters Rama and Sita as ballet dancers.  Even the supporting roles of Ravana, Soorpanakha, Hanuman and Rama's loyal brother Lakshmana, have both singers and dancers to represent them.  Your eyes will be very busy following all the action on stage, not to mention the English subtitles they are flashing overhead!

When it reached the Ravana/Soorpranakha episode, I did not expect the language of the play to turn modern, funny and even vulgar!  There were definitely Parental Guidance moments in that part of the play, not only in the dancing, but also in the song lyrics!

                                        

Christian Bautista and Karylle really carried the show very well as Rama and Sita.  They both look regal in stage presence and demeanor.  And their singing is flawless!  Soaring and effortless, this was a vast improvement of my previous viewing experience of their performances in "West Side Story" years back, which was sadly lacking in excitement or power.  But tonight, their performances as Rama and Sita were memorably stellar, though both were a bit stiff in the dancing department but we can overlook that.

As for their ballet counterparts, Katherine Trofeo danced Sita very well indeed.  Very very graceful.  That part where she was being ravished by Ravana was heartbreaking and dramatic.  On the other hand, Jean Marc Cordero, in my opinion, unfortunately did NOT have bearing enough to look like a Rama.  He did not feel credible as the King and Hero.  The male dancers who essayed Lakshmana (Luis Cabrera, Jr.) or Hanuman (Emmanuelle Guillermo) all had better physicality than Jean Marc, so he pales in comparison when he is dancing with these other guys.  His ill-fitting old-rose-colored outfit did not really complement him as well.

                                     

The singer who played Ravana (Christian Rey Marbella) had a fantastically high voice.  His songs were reminiscent of those of Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar."  The more famous Ravana may have been Robert Sena, but Mr. Marbella did not disappoint.  The dancer who played Ravana (Timothy Cabrera) similarly had that appropriate sinister look, presence and dancing skill.  The singer who played Soorpranakha (Amparo Sietereales)  had a lot of fun with her naughty role and sang powerfully with evil glee, and so did her ballet counterpart (Rita Angela Winder) match this with lustful dance moves.  The singer who belted the songs of Hanuman (Breznev Larlar) had a strong voice to match his sense of humor, as did the dancing counterpart of this simian role (Guillermo) with his physical comedy.

"Rama Hari" was really a stage experience of a different sort we rarely encounter now.  The live music played by the Philippine Philaharmonic Orchestra, with the amazing vocal stylings of the UP Concert Chorus, was perfectly rendered and in sync with the busy stage action. It is indeed must-see theater.  Go catch it as it runs only up to December 9, 2012.

Monday, November 26, 2012

JLo Dance Again World Tour Live in Manila!

November 26, 2012

This was a most anticipated concert ever.  Jennifer Lopez, whose music career was revived when she became a judge in the last season of American Idol,  was a well-loved performer in this country, where "Let's Get Loud" is a videoke standard.  It became controversial  when the price list was released, showing probably the most expensive tickets ever sold for a local concert.  P26,000+ for Patron tickets was unprecedented.   Even the General Admission tickets were at P2500+ each.  However, despite this, those incredible P26K tickets quickly sold out, and later so did the rest of the sections.  When we decided to buy in September, there was nothing left but those at the upper and outer edges of the MOA Arena.  And they said, the Philippines was hard up financially!



When we reached our seats, there were some front acts performing, who were unknown to me.  Most of them were dance groups and singers.  I recognized Jay-R dueting with the last female singer.  This is the third time I have seen Jay-R sing front act for a foreign act at the MOA Arena (after Taylor Dayne and the NKOTBSB concerts).  Is he now the Front Act King?

The concert proper started at 9 pm.  There seemed to be a theme of Hollywood-glamour, with her dancers in white fur stoles and top hats and canes.  When she ripped off her white gown, J Lo was wearing a sparkly nude catsuit.as she went into her first song, "Get Right".  After that, she sang "My Love Don't Cost a Thing." (VIDEO) Her local fans were all singing along in that song.  After that was another new song, "I'm Into You," followed by another Filipino fan favorite, "Waiting for Tonight" where J Lo was performing on a moving white stage, which was being pushed around on the stage.


The second set was prefaced by a boxing ring with dancers boxing onstage.  J Lo then stepped into the ring and sang "Goin' In."  (VIDEO) At this point, the people in the P26K area dared to approach the stage already.  J Lo was very generous in reaching out to them and shaking their hands.  I am sure everyone there is getting their money's worth!  She then spoke about her origins from the Bronx, which led to a medley of her songs with rappers, such as "I'm Real" and "Ain't It Funny."  The last song of the medley sounded like "Jenny On the Block" but I could not hear it very well.

In the next section, her male dancers were all wearing glittery blue suits.  When J Lo came out, she was wearing a snazzy blue outfit herself.  The songs in this set were funky, I was not familiar with any of them, but her dancing was really amazing to watch.


The next set was introduced by slow music, so we were expecting her to sing a ballad as she entered in a glamorous flowing green gown (not the one she wore with David Duchovny in that MTV Awards Show).  She sat down beside her guitarist and started to sing a slowed-down acoustic version of her first hit song, "If You Had My Love"  (VIDEO). The audience of course was loudly singing along.  J L decided to stop and call a woman from the audience to sing along with her!  This lucky woman (I hardly though she was young) not only sang with J Lo, but also got to bear hug her for a long time.  She had certainly gotten more than her P26K worth!  After this, as video of her twins played, J Lo sang another ballad "Until It Beats No More."

The next section had J Lo playing the bongo drums at the top of the stairs.  When she stops and dances down the stairs, we hear the recognizable tune of "Let's Get Loud!" (VIDEO)  Of course, everyone was standing up, dancing and singing along!  Toward the end of this song, J Lo was covered by her dancers with big red feather fans.  After a few moments, she burst out from under the fans wearing a fiery red dress and continued her hot dance with her new hotter costume. After that number, she stayed on stage to talk to the audience, nothing of which I understood.  She was given a Philippine flag by someone, and she drapes it around her and takes pictures with it.  I do not know if a conservative nationalist would take offense at this action.


J Lo then sang "Papi" (VIDEO).  This was then followed by a dramatic introduction to the hit that signaled her rebirth into pop world superstardom, "On the Floor." (VIDEO)  At the end of this upbeat song where again everyone was on their feet dancing and jumping, J Lo bade her goodbyes and left the stage.  We knew it was not over yet of course.  The lights did not come back on yet as the audience clamored for more.   A video with quotes about love began on the screens.  Then finally, J Lo appears onscreen and utters the words, "Dance Again." (VIDEO) The audience then got up on their feet and sang and danced along to this most infectious hit song.  When a huge fountain of silver confetti exploded around the stage at the end of this song, we knew this was already truly the end of the show, and it was.

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It was obvious from the start that, as expected, this show is more about the dancing and performing, rather than the singing.  J Lo is truly a fantastic performer as she really gives it her all throughout her show.  She can connect to the audience and she seemed genuinely friendly.  Watching her shake her famous bootie in the flesh (so to speak) is certainly a surreal experience.


I also made the conclusion tonight that the acoustics of the MOA Arena really leaves a lot to be desired. My companions and I could barely make out anything anyone onstage was saying.  Even the lyrics of J Lo's songs are unrecognizable and we merely relied on the tune to identify the songs.  For the MOA Arena, I had been in the Patron area for the Taylor Dayne concert, Upper Box in the NKOTBSB concert, and Lower Box in the Icons concert, and now Gen Ad for this J Lo concert, the sound was not really perfect in ANY section.  I would say so far, it was when I was at the Lower Box that I had heard the best sound quality.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Book of Mormon (Pantages, Los Angeles)


October 21, 2012


I knew this musical was going to be a satire about the religion of the Mormons.  Knowing that this was written by the makers of "South Park" already prepares you somehow how scandalous the material is going to be.  I knew the subject matter of the play will make it difficult to for it to see the light in very conservative and onion-skinned Manila.  I felt sure that if I wanted to see it (this is after all a multiple Tony Award-winning musical), the only way that I was going to see would be it in the States.  

It was lucky that this show is having a run at the historic Pantages Theater just when I was going to Los Angeles for a high school reunion. Schedules were not so clear yet so we could not buy tickets in advance.  On the only possible day I could watch which was October 13, the matinee show was at 2 pm.  My cousins brought me to the Pantages Theater about 2 hours before the show to join the lottery for which we could buy tickets for the show for only $25 each, compared to the expensive $120-$180 original prices.  As luck would have it, my cousin Ted was one of the 13 lucky ballots drawn!  When we got to enter the theater at 2pm, we discovered that the seats raffled out were actually on the very front row!  It was very exciting as I have never seen a musical from the very front row, much less in a famous theater like the Pantages.

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The show itself started nicely enough, with a clean catchy tune called "Hello" where the new Mormon missionaries were introducing themselves.  The lead character is the ambitious over-achiever Elder Kevin Price (Gavin Creel), who was disappointed that he was paired with the incompetent nerd and uncontrollable liar Elder Arnold Cunningham (Jon Bass).  Price was even more shocked when they get assigned to far-off Uganda, instead of his original choice of Orlando, Florida.

When the two reach Uganda and see the sorry state of the people there, living under the constant persecution of a General Butt-F*****-Naked (Derrick Williams), Price gets more and more disillusioned with his mission, eventually requesting for a transfer.  While the idealistic Cunningham, inspired by the lovely Nabulungi (Samantha Marie Ware), had to resort to unconventional means to get his message of conversion across, especially since he has not even read the "Book of Mormon" himself!  

From this simple premise arises one of the most politically-incorrect yet optimistic and fun musicals ever written.  There was something said or done in each scene which can offend in either religious or racial contexts.  The name of the general alone lets you know that this show will be peppered by frank profanity and sexual references.  

However, the music is so easily accessible, catchy and even vaguely familiar so that all of the very naughty references could actually be excused somehow (by most people, that is).  As cute as the "Hakuna Matata"-like song "Hasa Diga Eebowai" sounds, its English translation is blasphemous, and can really be offensive to less tolerant people.  My personal favorite part of the show was the "Uncle Tom's Cabin"-like presentation by the Ugandan tribesmen of the Mormon teachings as taught to them by Elder Arnold Cunningham.  Very silly and outright hilarious!

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A very controversial show like this can only be conceived, produced, performed and succeed in the USA, it seems.  The totally irreverent sense of humor may not be taken well anywhere else.  Remember, this is a product of Trey Parker, Matt Stone and their gang.  You expect them to push the boundaries of comedy musical theater, and "The Book of Mormon" definitely does.  Take the whole experience as good-natured friendly ribbing only, and you will certainly have a LOL-rollicking good time!  This is NOT something to take too seriously.  Even the Mormon Church itself did not, even taking out ads in the Playbill, declaring "the book is always better."  Now that is what I call positive action, taking full advantage of this show's immense popularity to promote their religion further, and that is playing it smart.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Atlantis Productions' "NINE": A Major Casting Coup and More

September 22, 2012

I remember being disappointed when I saw the film version of the Broadway musical"Nine" shown a couple of years back.  The film, a glamour project which featured renowned film stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, Penelope Cruz and Kate Hudson, seemed too disjointed to be good and even memorable.  I don't remember much of the film frankly.  


However, when Atlantis started to promote its own local production of "Nine" with Jett Pangan, surrounded by major actresses like Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Cherie Gil, Eula Valdez and others.  I resolved that I need to watch this show and see why this musical won many Tony Awards back in 1982, including Best Musical, Best Original Score (Maury Yeston) and Best Director (Tommy Tune). The film must really have done something wrong, or this musical is simply not film-able -- I needed to know why.

"Nine" is the story of revered Italian film director Guido Contini (Jett Pangan) and the women in his life. Mainly there was his wife Luisa (Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo), his mistress Carla (Carla Guevara-Laforteza) and his star actress Claudia (Eula Valdez).  Peripherally, there was his mother Magdalena (Joy Glorioso), his film producer Liliane(Cherie Gil), and the prostitute who initiated him Saraghina (Ima Castro).  Yanah Laurel plays Stephanie, a scathing film critic who could not stand Contini, while Sitti Navarro plays the Lady of the Spa where this musical is set.

I thought the title "Nine" referred to the number of women who played important roles in his life, but no.  "Nine" was the age when Guido became a man, well sort of, making it the most impressionable and influential age in Guido's growing up.  The nine year old Guido (Ethan Baranda-Paras, son of actress Phoena) actually played an instrumental role in adult Guido's self-discovery and survival in this play's climax.  

Jett Pangan is really becoming the go-to guy when the lead is a middle age male character, as he was also cast as the husband in "Next to Normal" and "Jekyll and Hyde". His performance of the rapturous "The Bells of St. Sebastian" and the climactic "I Can't Make this Movie" were very strong vocally and emotionally.

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo was perfect as the perfect wife, Luisa.  She was very sweet in "My Husband Makes Movies" as she was infuriated in "Be On Your Own."  Ms. Menchu can do no wrong as she gets absorbed into her characters in her every project.

Carla Guevara-Laforteza as Carla, wow!  I can't believe I knew her first as the very sweet Kate Monster. She was very daring indeed as Carla as she sexily slinked on the stage in her fishnet stockings and cavorted with Guido.  Her singing voice was appropriately sultry in her featured song "A Call from the Vatican".

Eula Valdez was a riveting presence onstage as Claudia, and it was quite understandable that she is Contini's muse.  She simply oozed with glamour even as she was only sitting there on her central pedestal.  She was a revelation in her singing the dramatic song"Unusual Way." She nails it and how!

Cherie Gil was a dominating featured character in the first act as Liliane.  Her serio-comic rendition of "Folies Bergere" was flawless and on point performance-wise, a true showstopper. Her very hoarse voice though was precariously on the brink the whole time when she spoke, and especially when she was singing.  I hope she can take care of her instrument for the rest of the run.

Ima Castro was the unexpected choice to play the prostitute Saraghina.  Her vocal prowess was certainly there during her song "Ti Volglio Bene/Be Italian."  However, there is some physical disconnect with the way she looked and the character she was playing, so it was not too convincing.

The stage design is the most elaborate and wondrous I have ever seen for an Atlantis production. The whole RCBC theater stage was converted into a marble spa with multiple pedestals, stairs and doors where the actors performed on its multiple levels.  This is definitely award-winning stage design, in both its look and functionality.  When an actor was performing on the top most tier, it looked absolutely breathtaking.  No words I write can fully capture the majesty of that stage.


(Photo Credit to Ga Fallarme for broadwayworld.com)

I am glad I did not let my disappointment in the film version stop me from watching this play.  This play is for adults only because of its mature theme. There will be some potentially scandalous scenes for some conservative audiences.  However, overall, it is an excellent production.  It is definitely going to impact the most on the middle age group, who could easily identify with Guido's midlife crisis portrayed.  There is an important life message in there somewhere which each member of the audience would have to figure out for himself.

Congratulations to Director Bobby Garcia and the rest of the Atlantis cast and crew for another thought-provoking and very entertaining show!

Altantis Production of "Nine" will run only on the weekends Fridays to Saturdays from September 21 to October 7, 2012.  Do catch it and be enthralled, not only by its exotic look, but also by its deep introspective message!

Friday, September 21, 2012

American Idol Season 11 Live in Manila! (Sept. 21, 2012): Recap and Videos!

September 21, 2012


We reached the Araneta Coliseum early enough, about 630pm, or so I thought.  We entered the new and improved Green Gate with the new facade.  When we got inside, the lobby was so much brighter and cleaner ambience-wise compared to the lobby we remember, and that was great.  When we got to the second floor though, it was still the same.

Anyway, it turned out, people had already been falling in lines to enter the Upper Box Areas, both for the reserved seat of Section A, and the unreserved seats of Section B.  The rehearsals were still ongoing inside the theater and so they were not letting people enter the auditorium proper yet.  It was already a little past 7pm when the doors were finally opened, and as predicted people surged in and scrambled to their seats.

The people still had to wait another antsy full hour or so before the concert began.  The audience was quite diverse that night.  My daughter and I were seated in an area where in front of us was a gaggle of senior citizen matrons on a night out, while in the row above us was a group of what seemed to be English-speaking beer-guzzling exclusive school graduates.  

It was almost 845 when Ryan Seacrest appeared on the big screens to announce the beginning of the show.  There was a pandemonium of screams when the lights were dimmed and the auditorium became a sea of multi-colored glow sticks.

The initial VTR introducing the current group of Idols was shown.  Instantly you knew something was was wrong with the huge LCD screen backdrop as there was an entire square section in the upper left section that was not working and was black.  During the intro, you cannot see the whole face of the Idol being introduced, but that did not stop the rabid fans from screaming for their favorites. Even that early you knew who were the most popular idols -- Colton, Phillip, and of course, Jessica!

The LCD screen problem continued to distract for the most part of the first act.  The technicians would try to fill the gap by fitting in patterns from another section of the screen, but it was obvious the patterns were not correct, but better than when it was just black. 

The show opened with the top 9 (except Phillip) singing "Sing" (My Chemical Romance). This opening song would actually set the trend for the entire first act, song choices were familiar not the really big hits, a little underwhelming.  I mean, like Deandre sang "Master Blaster," Skylar and Hollie dueted on "Undo It" (Carrie Underwood), Erika sang Pink's "Glitter in the Sky" (in a fantastic restrained performance with her new pink hair!) (VIDEO).  Things livened up when Colton, Erika, Jordan and Hollie did "Moves Like Jagger."

Next up was Heejun with John Legend's "Green Light" in a rather weak performance, followed by his cheesy rendition of LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" with Deandre and Jessica.  Then the boys sang "Everybody Talks" by Neon Trees before giving way to Elise and her two songs Led Zep's "Whole Lotta Love" and Adele's "Rumor Has It."  Elise was very good in these rocking songs, but she was not exactly connecting with the audience too much.

When Colton Dixon came out, the females in the audience went wild with their screaming! His version of Switchfoot's "Meant to Live" started shakily but ended OK.  He then introduced his upcoming single "Never Gone," though the melody did not really stick with me.  He had a big moment though when he sat behind the piano and sang Billy Joel's "Piano Man" (VIDEO).  His voice was rather high-pitched than solid, but it was a very moving performance of the song.  The LCD screen suddenly worked properly at this point to the delight of the audience, but temporary only as it bogged down again after a while.

After that the Top 9 (still without Phillip) came out to sing a medley of Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are" and One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful."  It was as corny as the numbers we see on TV but the young audience was buying it.  When Colton came out wearing a white tank-top, he looked like a skinny white ghost in the bright stage lights, but hey, his fangirls still screamed so loudly to greet his entrance.  

Then Ryan Seacrest again appeared on the big screen to announce an intermission. The gap lasted more than 20 minutes.

When the lights dimmed for the Act 2, the LCD screen was already working properly!  And the audience screamed with anticipation when the picture of a smiling Jessica Sanchez appeared on the screen!  She had a grander entrance than anyone else at that point, framed by silvery crystals.  She came out wearing a glittery black outfit singing Beyonce's "Best Thing I Never Had" (VIDEO).  Then she sang her version of Prince's "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore" (VIDEO) with Deandre and Joshua singing and dancing backup.  The three of them then segued into a rocking version of Ike and Tina Turner's "Proud Mary",  You should hear the audience scream when Jessica growled!  They love it.  

Next up was Skylar Laine, who was surprisingly had local fans despite being very country.  She sang a couple of country rock songs "Gunpowder and Lace" (Miranda Lambert) and "Stay with Me" (The Faces).  Sweet Hollie Cavanagh was next as she entered to the opening beats of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" (backed up by Elise and Erika).  Her next song was Demi Lovato's "Give Your Heart a Break."  Just two solo numbers for these two girls, while lower-ranked Colton had 3!  You know who is really popular, huh?

Third placer Joshua Ledet sang Bruno Mars retro hit "Runaway Baby" and his vocal showcase James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World."  Jessica joined him for his third song "I Knew You Were Waiting For Me" (VIDEO). This guy really has strong vocal chops. His style though is really retro, and not current at all.

We were then brought back to the night of the AI finale.  The screens then showed Ryan Seacrest again when he was announcing the winner.  The girls in the audience again screamed in anticipation.  They knew Phillip Phillips was next!

Phillip was just wearing a drab olive t-shirt.  He went through his four songs in his true WGWG style with his signature spastic dance moves. His fangirls loved it.  He sang Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" first, then his version of Usher's "Nice and Slow".  Two duets came next, Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" with Elyse (VIDEO), then Damien Rice's haunting "Volcano" with Jessica (VIDEO).  All in all it was a solid set, but Phillips was really just always stuck to one spot while singing.  No movement at all.  Of course, he ended his set with his coronation song and first single "Home" (VIDEO). He was first backed up by Colton and Deandre, then the rest of the other Idols joined in singing the anthemic chorus.

This led to the finale number (VIDEO) where the girls started singing Pink's "Raise Your Glass", then the boys countered with The Wanted's "Glad You Came."  Phil looked geekily awkward in the group number, changing into a white t-shirt this time to be coordinated with the rest of the Idols.  I am sure he was thankful he did not have to dance in any of the other group numbers in Act 1, haha!  That was it after that fun song.  Ryan Seacrest appeared on screen again and finally bid everyone goodbye.

So, another AI tour ends.  This is the last show of their tour, and their only date in Asia.  I cannot help but feel many in the audience were disappointed that Jessica would not sing any of her big diva ballads that she sang on TV.  No Whitney Houston. No "And I Am Telling You." I am pretty sure those senior ladies seated in front of us were waiting precisely for those songs.  Anyhow, 30 songs were performed, no joke!  The second act was much better than the spotty first act.  All in all though, it was a very young fun night!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

PhilStagers "Ang Bangkay": The Dark Side Very Up Close

September 20, 2012

I was fortunate to have been invited to a special staging of a play written, directed and starred in by Atty. Vincent Tanada.  This special limited two-day run (from Sept 19 and 20, 2012) was spurred by the recent victory of this play entitled "Ang Bangkay" ("The Corpse") at the prestigious Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, First Prize in the category for full length play.




The other better known plays by Atty. Vince and PhilStagers, like "Enzo Santo," "Ako si Ninoy,""Cory ng EDSA" and their latest one "Joe." In total stark contrast, this play is dark, sinister and morbid as its title, "Ang Bangkay."  A play like this can only be staged in an intimate theater venue, not a big auditorium. Tonight's show was held in the PhilStagers home studio in Sampaloc, which seats only a maximum of 70 people.  And while his previous plays were geared to student audiences, this one is strictly for adults only for its "high level of violence, sex scenes and coarse language."

When I arrived at the venue at show time of 7pm, things were running very late.  The PhilStagers cast and crew had just come from an unexpected "emergency" showing of their fun and rollicking "Joe" at 3pm in Pasig.  Now they had to internalize a totally different set of characters for a play with a totally different and darker mood.  This was going to be very tough for them.

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"Ang Bangkay" is set in a small town in Pangasinan in the turn of the century 1900.  First-class undertaker Señor Segismundo (Vince Tanada) of Funeraria Corintho had just lost his wife Milagros.  He ruled over his 25-year old virgin daughter Isabel (Monique Azzereda) with an iron fist, literally tying her down to her bed.  The two servants of his household, the serious senior Meding (Glory Ann Nacional) and the lusty junior Oryang (Cindy Maree Liper), were constantly cowed and terrorized by his tempestuous temper.  When his poor assistant undertaker Limuel (Jordan Ladra) asked the Señor for a big favor, the wheels were set in motion for a most scandalous and diabolical series of shocking events ever portrayed in Philippine theater.





The level of intensity in the acting of the five members of this talented cast was non-stop from beginning to end.  They gave it their all, with no inhibitions whatsoever for whatever the scenes called for.  They were all totally immersed in their characters.  There was no indication whatsoever that they just came from an afternoon of singing and dancing in a happy rock musical.  Atty. Vince simply commanded the stage whenever he was on. Glory Ann's acting was haunting and totally possessed.  Cindy was able to handle funny and crazy with riveting charisma.  That final scene of beautiful Monique must just be so draining on her emotions.  Jordan held his own despite his limited stage time.

The gestures and facial expressions were inspired by Greek drama in its latitude, very broad and loud. The text of the script was exceptionally deep and rich Tagalog. The dim lighting, period costumes, Gothic hair and make-up, macabre music and eerie sound effects all added to the total somber mood. The atmosphere was solemn and serious with capital S's.  The audience was totally quiet and absorbed while the unsettling story unfolded in front of them in close-up detail.

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Atty. Vince shared in a post-show Q&A session that he wrote this to prove to a critic that he is more than just a writer of light-hearted musicals involving historical Filipino personalities. "Ang Bangkay" certainly takes us to the very dark side of Atty. Vince. There was nothing light and breezy about this play at all.  This is not for the weak of heart or delicate constitution.  This is a play that Atty. Vince himself calls "cruel and merciless."  I fully agree. You will not forget it once you have seen it.  Watch this at your own risk, and you should.  



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tanghalang Pilipino's "WALANG KUKURAP": Political Drama Goes to Extremes!

August 15, 2012


After tackling a 110-year old sarswela for its season opener, Tanghalang Pilipino goes all the way to the other extreme of the theater spectrum to give us a contemporary political thriller for its second offering.  Publicity defined "Walang Kukurap" as a "production which blurs the lines between art and life, fiction and reality, as it vivisects the darkest parts of the Filipino soul."  With such a stark description, I had no idea exactly what kind of play I was getting into.  


I only knew of playwright Layeta Bucoy recently when she adapted Lino Brocka's movie"Bona" for PETA, as a serio-comic theater piece for Ms. Eugene Domingo.  Now with her exciting script for  "Walang Kukurap," we know that her success with "Bona" was no fluke.  Ms. Bucoy has certainly gone a long way from writing tabloid erotica or ghosts stories, and has now become a playwright to reckon with. 

We are presented with what is supposed to be a typical small town in the Philippines. Director Tuxqs Rutaquio calls it a modern-day version of Rizal's San Diego. As the characters play mah-jong in the first act, we immediately know this will not be just an ordinary play about an ordinary town. We will be shocked right away with its frank and graphic violence, not only in the dialog generously peppered with crisp profanity, but more so in the unspeakable action that unfolds. 

This tense atmosphere will pervade through the play's two acts and 25 scenes. Within its span of two hours, we will be treated to scenes of bloody torture, mutilation, assassination, murder, as well as multiple scenes of double-crossing, underhanded deals, political gimmickry and intrigue in all its forms.  Is this really how corrupt politics is in a typical small town in our country nowadays?  If Ms. Bucoy wants us to be disturbed, I assure you, you will definitely be disturbed with what you will see in that small intimate space inside the Teatro Huseng Batute of the CCP.  She was not dubbed the "Female Quentin Tarantino of Filipino Theater" for nothing.


The senior cast was composed of actors we have seen before on other plays, movies and tv.  It is the women characters who were the most memorable.

Suzette Ranillo played Cristina, the widow of the beloved ex-mayor who is now running to be vice mayor. It is her character who witnesses the corruption around her and struggles as it starts to corrupt her.  Her acting style and line delivery can be distractingly reminiscent of Ms. Nora Aunor at times.  Her scene with the intense Lou Veloso (who plays her Papang) and another one with brash Peewee O'Hara (as Panchang, the tricycle driver-mom whose son was killed in a brawl) were outstanding!

Sherry Lara plays the proud and wily Mayor's wife Purita, Those scenes of hers as she prepares the statue of the Virgin Mary for the procession showing her fluidly transforming her character as she interacts with her husband and incumbent mayor Molong (Crispin Pineda), and later her brother-in-law Paquito (Paolo Cabanero) was amazing.

Mymy Davao plays the ruthless and opportunistic accountant Melba. She dominates the scene whenever she is onstage with her strong stage presence.  Her scene as she strikes a cruel deal with the young lawyer Vic (Remus Villanueva) was particularly chilling.

The other senior members of the cast are Ced Torrecarion (who plays Christina's cousin and town gambling lord Alex) and Ding Navasero (who plays the rich and influential trapo Santiago, Sr.)  On the night I watched, Mr. Navasero majorly flubbed his climactic campaign speech in the final act, which considerably diminished the final impact.  Ironically, this was just after he had a great scene with his son (Nicolo Magno) talking about how he had manipulated the town's politicians to his benefit.


The younger cast members were mostly members of the TP Actors Company,  who regularly undergo an intensive training program under the TP.  Who knows, one or all of the young talents who are with TP Actors Company now could be the future Nonie Buencamino, Shamaine Centenera, Allan Paule, Irma Adlawan or John Arcilla, all of whom also owe the honing of their craft to the Actors Company.

Again the more memorable performances from this group were also by females.

Doray Dayao plays Doray, the poor and idealistic mayoralty candidate.  It was surprising to read from her CV that she is just a new Actors Company scholar.  She completely won the audience attention and sympathy as she quixotically rallied against illegal logging and floods. The scenes where she interacts with her SK-chair son Gutierrez (Nar Cabico) were the liveliest in this play. I was jarred to witness this one character who sincerely wanted to do good for the community playing the comic relief in this dark play.

Regina de Vera plays Rhoda, the socialite daughter of Melba, whose life had been molded by the political whims of her mother.  She always kept in character with her sassy and snappy collegiala Taglish lines.  This was whether the scene was funny (like how she defended herself wearing stiletto shoes during her campaign) or dramatic (as in a couple of confrontation scenes with her cousin Marky, played by Marco Viana).

The other TP Actors Company members in this production are:  Jonathan Tadioan (as the Chinese drug lord Lu), Ralph Mateo (as Purita's son Dino), April Joy Inigo (as the singer August) and Jovanni Cadag (as the stuttering Pong).

Congratulations to Tanghalang Pilipino, Layeta Bucoy and Tuxqs Rutaquio for bringing us this bold and shocking piece of theater.   In her notes, Ms. Bucoy points out that "Walang Kukurap" "simply aims to unsettle," not exactly to lead or inspire.  "Walang Kukurap" will certainly jolt us to the disgusting corrupt realities of our current local political systems.  As we are disturbed by what we see on stage, we are being challenged to decide on what to do next to correct the situation.  It is then up to us to take the challenge and do what is needed to bring our beloved country back onto the straight path, and we should not blink in doing so.

"Walang Kukurap" will play Fridays (8pm), Saturdays (3pm and 8pm) and Sundays (3pm), from September 14 to October 7, 2012 at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute of the CCP.

Potted Potter: A Case of Emperor's New Clothes?

September 1, 2012

Even when I first saw the posters for "Potted Potter" who promised to deliver "all seven Harry Potter books in 70 hilarious minutes," I was sold since I read all the books and watched all the movies and lived J.K. Rowling's world.   I knew there would only be two actors, one will play Harry and the other will be playing all the other characters.  "Potted Potter" is an Olivier Award nominee created by two British guys Daniel Clarkson andJefferson Turner. It supposedly played to sold-out audiences the world over.

Despite the fact that the ticket prices were rather expensive for an unknown act (P3,000 Orchestra, P2,000 Loge and P1000 Balcony), I went ahead to purchase five tickets for my whole family.  This would only be in Manila for a week only 10 shows, oddly starting its short run on a Tuesday and ending on Sunday (last 2 shows today), I got tickets for the Saturday night show maybe in the first week they were out. With the effusive advertising blurbs I read pre-show, needless to say, I was stoked with anticipation.

The show started with the two actors introducing themselves and what they would be doing over the next 70 minutes.  The Manila show did not feature the original duo of Dan and Jeff, instead we got Gary Trainor and Jesse Briton.  Gary would be playing Harry, and Jesse would play the rest of the other characters.  Gary is the Harry Potter nerd, narrator and producer, and Jesse did not know a thing about any of the books and was (ir)responsible for the props. Gary had an Albert Brooks vibe to him, while Jesse was more the roguish Chris Rock type.

While everything started very energetically, it became plain to see (for me, at least) that this show was nothing like intelligent spoof that I expected.  Gary and especially Jesse really tried hard to wind up the audience with exhortations for applause, and the occasional Filipino references (Boracay, walis tingting, even Eraserheads!).  However, when they "finished" the first book in less than five minutes with a brick representing the Sorcerer's Stone, it dawned on me that this show would simply be a silly and juvenile one, with stupid little props. I had to temper down my expectations if I were to enjoy the rest of the show.  

The show only came alive for me in Book 4 when they engaged the audience in a "Quidditch match."  They divided the audience into Griffindor and Slytherin. The comedy actually came more from the reaction of the audience as Jesse threw the 'quaffle" among them to try to shoot into the hoops, and the two cute kids who volunteered as seekers as they clobbered the "golden Snitch."  For me, this was the only part that made the show laugh-out-loud funny.

The last three books were a blur.  They made a tiresome prolonged joke about Dumbledore's prophesy that between Harry and Voldemort, only one will live and the other will die.  It was good for extra snickers only when they got the audience interacting with them.  In the last book they broke into a song number, which was good to break the monotony of narration.   Then it ended already!  I just said to myself, that was it?

OK, I was disappointed in the show.  I may have had too high expectations about this production because of the hype.  They should have just said this is strictly for kids, and not really for "the whole family."  I felt this show was a case of the "emperor's new clothes."  There was really nothing in it.  The occasional improvisations by the actors were funnier than the actual scripted parts.  This was definitely no "Forbidden Broadway" which was one smart and sharply witty parody show.  For "Potted Potter," I was only mildly amused at parts as the comedy was more physical than really witty.  Mostly, "Potted Potter" is just childish empty foolishness.  I did not feel I got my money's worth.  My wife and eldest daughter share my opinion.  At least, my two younger boys seemed to have fun.

"The Phantom of the Opera" in Manila: Fantastic Stage Design, Fantastic Christine!

August 26, 2012

It took more than 25 years before Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera"was finally formally staged in the Philippines.  I had already seen this classic musical live on Broadway at the Majestic Theater, as a film adaptation starring Gerald Butler andEmmy Rossum, and just last year, the 25th Anniversary Concert at the Royal Albert Hall.  I know this play and its music very well I think. Yet I still felt compelled to watch this production because I am very curious on how they could possibly bring the show to life in a local theater such as the Cultural Center of the Philippines, more than anything else.

The story is already very well known.  Christine Daae breaks out as the up and coming star of the Opera Populaire, under the tutelage of a mysterious "Angel of Music."  Her mentor reveals himself to be a masked man who had built a labyrinthine underground lair in which he hides and creates his musical opuses.  When Christine accepts the romantic advances of Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny and her childhood friend, the Phantom lets hell break loose in the Opera House.  Christine reaches a point of no return, and has to choose whether her heart belonged to the Phantom or Raoul.

The cast in this international tour is uniformly amazing.  Jonathan Roxmouth played an excellently dramatic Phantom.  His singing voice was big and strong when it needed to be, and soft and pleading when it needed to be.  There were some big notes that wavered at the start, particularly noticed in his solo aria "Music of the Night."  Not sure if those were microphone problems only though, because in general the voice was solid.  However, he still managed to pull things together and give a grand finish to all his songs. Last night, it was the alternate David Schlacter (not Anthony Dowling who did the press conference) who played the noble and dashing Raoul.  His performance in his featured song "All I Ask of You" with Christine was excellent, though he admittedly seemed wanting for a little more stage presence. 

Phantom Manila Stars Claire Lyon, Anthony Dowling and Jonathan Roxmouth at the Press Con
(photo from Jonathan Roxmouth's FB page)

For me, it was the singer/actress who perfectly portrayed and sang the challenging role ofChristine Daae who gave the best performance of the night. It turns out that she was the alternate Emilie Lynn of the USA who played Christine last night (not Claire Lyon who did the press conference). In any case, all of Christine's classic songs were sung with effortless ease and heartfelt drama -- from "Think of Me," "Angel of Music," "All I Ask of You,"  "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," and "Point of No Return" -- all so beautifully rendered.  That exquisite soprano voice of hers singing the word "SOAR" at the rooftop with Raoul did just that. I really could not believe that Ms. Lynn was only the alternate as she definitely delivered a STAR performance!  I wonder what Ms. Lyon could still do to top how the superbly sterling Ms. Lynn portrayed Christine.

As for the supporting characters, I give special mention to the following.  Andrea Creighton plays brassy resident soprano Carlotta solidly with much humor.  My favorite Carlotta moment, the big note at the end of the song "Prima Donna," was delivered flawlessly! Rebecca Spence on the other hand played the severe ballet headmistressMrs. Giry with requisite dread and seriousness.  The guy who played Carlotta's consortUbaldo Piangi had excellent vocals as well as good comedic timing.  I was hoping the one we saw was Pinoy tenor Dondi Ong, but it was hard to see his face well because of the heavy darkening make-up.  It turns out though that Piangi was played by Thabiso Masamene that night.

I have to say something more about the awesome production design.  It was said that P15 million budget had been spent to bring the “jaw-dropping scenery and breathtaking special effects” to CCP.  I was most curious to see how they will recreate the subterranean candle-lit world of the Phantom which needed a boat to navigate through.  It was the most memorable scene for me when I watched the Broadway show.  It took some time to set the stage up as the first few lines of the "Phantom of the Opera" song was being sung, the stage was bare with only stage smoke.  However when the "candles" started to appear and the gliding boat...the whole number was dreamlike.  Really amazing how they pulled this illusion off!

The Phantom's Underground World
(photo from Jonathan Roxmouth's FB page)

In addition, it was also great to see the elaborate Hannibal production in the beginning of the show complete with the life-size elephant, the grand Masquerade ball with the grand staircase and the myriad of colorful sparkling costumes, and the whole finale confrontation scene of the three leads in the climax up to the final disappearing act of the Phantom when he was uncovered by Meg Giry at the end.  The audience gasped audibly in each of these stage spectacles.  The tour version of the Grand Chandelier, as much a star of the show as the actors, was indeed huge and ominous.  However, I thought it did not "crash" very well on this night we watched.  The timing seemed off and the "falling" seemed too slow, thus the audience response was thus rather tentative. 

Overall, this tour production of the Phantom was executed and staged very well.  The tickets may have been expensive, but the magical production design and wonderful special effects is well worth the steep price of admission.  While I am pretty sure a full Filipino cast could have pulled off the singing and performing parts, but the main highlight of this show is the grandiose world-class sets and ornate costumes which could not have been possible (or financially sound) for a local production.  I must say that of the other international touring musicals we have seen at the CCP Main Theater lately, namely "Cats" and "Mamma Mia," "Phantom of the Opera" is the best and grandest of them all!

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The Phantom of the Opera runs from August 25 to September 30, 2012 at the CCP Main Theater, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Roxas Blvd. Pasay City. Tickets are available via Ticketworld. Ticket prices: P7,280, P6,032, P4,680, P3,640, P2,340, and P1,820. For more info, visit facebook.com/POTOManila and ticketworld.com.ph.