Sunday, September 16, 2012

JOE: A Filipino Rockssical (Philippine Stagers Foundation)

July 22, 2012

This is the first play I have watched from the Philippine Stagers Foundation (or simply Philstagers), a theater company that has been in existence for more than 10 years now.  Philstagers began its life in 2001, evolving from the Dulaan Bedista Alumni Production.  It was founded by Atty. Vince Tanada, a young man who just passed the Bar Exams that same year, a lawyer by profession, a playwright, stage director and actor by passion.  

Despite my apparent interest in musical theater as you can read in my other blog posts and reviews, I have to confess that I have only heard about Philstagers last year when they garnered much popular acclaim with "Cory ng EDSA," which nabbed the title of Best Musical in 2011, in both the Aliw Awards, and the new Broadway World Awards.  Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to watch "Cory ng EDSA" during its run. At that time, I did not know where they staged the plays nor how to buy their tickets. Fortune intervened this time, as I stumbled upon the opportunity to catch their new show "Joe: A Filipino Rockssical" by pure chance.  I will now see what Philstagers is all about.


I learned that Philstagers had actually been producing two shows a year since its inception. There were some very interesting titles in their list of shows, Filipino musicales such as "Desaparecidos" (2004), "Enzo ...Santo" (2006), "Ako si Ninoy" (2010), and of course, "Cory ng EDSA" (2011).  It was interesting to note that, like this current production of "Joe," our National Hero had been tackled by Philstagers twice before, "Ang Joe ni Josephine" (2003) and "Josephine's Joe" (2005).  I am thinking that this show "Joe" is the musical version of those two straight plays.  Atty. Vince Tanada is the writer and director of all of these Philstagers productions.  He had won a number of Aliw Awards both as Best Director and Best Actor. Basing on his message as printed in their programme, Atty. Vince writes about going against more "big-time" or "mainstream" theater companies.  He seems to be quite the passionate rebel, yet secure in his own place in the local theater industry.

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Despite the rains brought about by Typhoon Ferdie in that afternoon of July 22, 2012, theSta. Cecilia Hall of St. Scholastica College in Manila was still fully packed with college students .  It is always gratifying to see the youth watching theater. It was also in college when I first got the theater watching bug.

"Joe" is a three-act musical with 20 scenes.  It runs for about 2 hours without an intermission. As its subtitle denotes, the play will fuse both modern rock with classical Filipino styles of music to bring across a story about Jose Rizal.    

It was written as a play within a play, as a group of schoolmates reunite 12 years after high school to help their former classmate stage a big Malacanang-commissioned musical play about Jose Rizal. The main controversy to be tackled would be about the issue about regarding the questionable signing by Rizal of a retraction statement in order to gain Church approval to marry Josephine Bracken. The structure of the play was quite complicated as it attempts to parallel this old conflict with the modern-day conflict of "History vs. Art" being experienced by the writer-director in the play, Joecas (played by writer-director Vince Tanada himself).  The story also spans several years as it follows the lead characters from high school to present day then to old age.

The play had been both meaningful and entertaining, trained for the young audiences it targets. The music and lyrics of the songs were spot on for the two musical genres this play fuses.  The united voice of the chorus was solid and moving.  The choreography is memorable especially that surprisingly catchy move of leaning backwards to mimic Rizal's fall after being shot.  The set pieces were few but more than appropriate to create the location of the various scenes at the high school, the classy condo of Jocas, and Dapitan.  The costumes were smartly color-coordinated to reflect the running emotion of a set of scenes.

I did not know any of the actors in the cast before this show, but they were quite impressive.  Patrick Libao essayed the iconic title role of Jose Rizal very well, his diminutive stature adding to the realism of his look.  His singing voice was also very strong.  Vince Tanada was likewise very good as Joecas, the tormented rocker-playwright so engrossed in his own artistry despite personal consequences.  His rock tenor voice was unexpectedly soaring.  I was quite taken with the performance of Cindy Liper as the researcher Joanne.  She has very expressive eyes.  The scene-stealer award goes to little Gabby Bautista playing the optimistic orphan Turing.  His stage presence is unmistakable as his confidence onstage is magnetic.  No wonder, as this kid was first recognized by the Aliw Awards for his acting at the tender age of 4 just three years ago!

The favorites of the females in the audience were Jordan Ladra (as the NPA rebel/musician with the very Western name of Hunter) and Kierwin Larena (as the fat classmate turned sexy club DJ named Bimbo).  The statuesque beauty of Monique Azerreda owns the stage as she played the controversial Josephine Bracken.  Comic relief came in the form of the gay beauty salon owner Ambo (played hilariously by Chin Ortega) and his high school enemy now friend and top fashion designer Julia (Adelle Ibarrientos-Lim), as well as Rizal's wacky sisters Maria (Patricia Lopez), Narcisa(Jerie Sanchez) and Trining (Nikki Joy Villaviray).  There were also notable comic turns by Junelyn Villareal (as the actress hired to portray Dona Teodora Alonzo), andJV Cruz (as the fictional hunky but stuttering Rizal aide, Crisanto).

Did the play get its message across to the young audiences?  I would think so, if you base it on the effusive standing ovation that came with the curtain call.  It seems Atty. Vince Tanada himself as the writer of this play was treading the same grey-zone waters where his writer character Joecas was in the play.  Did it really tell us whether Rizal signed the retraction or not?  The characters themselves were arguing about that point. An emblematic scene showed Rizal tearing down a brown banner saying "Kasaysayan" (History) and it was replaced by a white banner saying "Sining" (Art). What exactly does this mean?  Is it up to the artist to interpret history as he sees fit?  Should art protect the image of the hero?  These abstract questions it seems will already be up to the audience to answer for themselves.

I have a minor gripe is about the occasional use of profanity in the script.  I guess those colorful words are there to make the play "cooler" and more accessible to the younger audience.  (I think my age is showing!  Haha!)  But precisely since the play is targeted to the youth, I believe that the language could still be "cool" without any profanity.  I was a bit concerned since I brought my young kids with me, but then I saw that there is an even younger kid in the cast with them, and little Gabby can hear these words every time they go onstage. The gay scenes are used for laughs so they can be excused, but some more conservative members of the audience may find the sexual references (both homo- and hetero-) uncomfortable.  

That said though, my kids did find the play very entertaining as a whole, as did me and my wife.  I am pretty sure you would enjoy and be moved by this wittily funny yet sincerely patriotic play as well.

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The show we caught yesterday was the last show at the St. Scholastica College.  The rest of the run of "Joe" are as follows:

July 29 Tanghalang Pasigueno (at the back of Pasig City Hall) 8am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm,
August 4-5 SM North Edsa Cinema 9, 8am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 
August 7-9 Dagupan Convention Center 8am, 11am, 2pm, 
August 11 Teatro Marikina 8am, 11am, 2pm, 
August 12 SM Centerpoint Cinema 1, 8am, 11am, 2pm, 4pm
August 18-19 SM North Edsa Cinema 9 8am, 11am, 2pm, 
August 25-26 SM North Edsa Cinema 9 8am, 11am, 2pm

Call this number for tickets:  0927-3913447.

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