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.

PETA's "Bona": In Awe at Eugene Domingo Live in Action

August 25, 2012



The story is already familiar with most fans of Filipino cinema.  "Bona" is a Lino Brocka film of 1980 starring Nora Aunor as Bona, a fiercely loyal fan of a movie bit-player Gardo played by Phillip Salvador.  In my vague memories of that movie, Bona practically becomes a maid for Gardo as her adulation turns to blind love.  Gardo's callous attitude and response to her voluntary servitude drives Bona to a scalding conclusion.This time though, since the role of Bona will be taken on by current star comedienne

Eugene Domingo, director Soxy Topacio and scriptwriter Layeta Bucoy turned the play into more of a comedy in the first act, with the melodrama of the whole situation taking over in the second act.   They used videos to bridge various scenes, such as the Star of Tomorrow tv show scenes, or the movie shooting scenes, making this a multi-media play.  The set was spare, but they took pains to create a bathtub with a running faucet on stage, telling us that it will play an important role in the play, and indeed it did.

Eugene's Bona is not jobless nor penniless.  She is a working woman, a call center agent holding multiple online jobs on the side in order to support the education of her nephew Bingo (BJ Lacson) and the vices of her wanton sister Binky (Olive Nieto). She has a gay best friend Baldie (Joey Paras) who also enjoys borrowing money from her in order to support his relationship with his "baby", Ralph.  However, when she gets hooked on the reality show Star of Tomorrow, particularly being obsessed with Contestant #5 Gino Sanchez (Edgar Allan Guzman), her world completely turns upside down.

I have one hitch about the story, the turning point was rather shallow. It was not too convincing that a woman like Eugene's Bona could simply quit her job, consciously turn her life around and become a "Gino's Angel" just after watching his brief cheesy stint on TV. Unlike Nora's Bona, this new Bona seemed so sensible and no-nonsense in the beginning of the play, how could she just drop everything she was and she has for someone she just admired from a television show? They seemed to have just glossed over that critical point with one cavalier sentence then that is it. Once we get past that motivation issue though, watching Bona's self-depreciation unfolding on stage is something else, a very involving and unnerving experience.  

"Bona" is Eugene Domingo's personal showcase as you may expect.  It seemed to have been written and conceptualized with her in mind, and she thoroughly owned the role. She dominated the stage with her presence and performance, from when she entered and lit the candle of her altar, up to when she exited the door of Gino's apartment at the end.  She was remarkably so real and accessible, as if you were just watching your next door neighbor going cougar over a macho movie starlet and implode into her own trap of naivete, so you do feel affected. Whatever you see of Eugene on TV and her movies, that would exactly be how she was onstage.  What you see is what you get.  You should see her face during her steamy love scene with Gino!

I have never seen a previous performance by Edgar Allan Guzman before.  He has got his spoiled and smarmy mama's boy character down pat.  He has the charm and swagger of a reality show contestant and neophyte actor.  He has the guts to walk around the stage with nothing more than boxer briefs on.  He got the whole lead-antihero thing going all the way to the end. Guzman was so effective the way his Gino played and used Bona, you will thoroughly understand and agree with what she does at the end.  Of course, there is no convenience of slow-motion and freeze-frame in a play, as this iconic scene ended the Brocka film.

The rest of the supporting cast did their jobs well.  Special mentions have to go to Joey Paras did well with his funny (albeit stereotypical) flamboyant gay best friend role Baldie, as well as Juliene Mendoza in his less showy but effective portrayal of Bert, Bona's landlord and suitor.  I did not exactly like how Gino's manager Ronald (Jeff Henson-Dee) and his minions (Dudz Terana and Junevir Tabor) were portrayed, but hey, maybe that is really how it is in the real seedy world of local showbiz.  The language of the play is acceptable given the situations depicted (there will be fight scenes and intimate scenes), but will not be appropriate for very young audiences.

Congratulations to Direk Soxy Topacio, Ms. Eugene Domingo and the rest of the cast and crew for this successful adaptation of a modern Pinoy film!  Do catch "Bona" at the PETA Theater as it runs every weekend with 3pm and 8pm shows  up to September 23, 2012.


Tanghalang Pilipino's "Walang Sugat": A Glorious Sarswela!

August 16, 2012

I have long heard about Severino Reyes' "Walang Sugat", since my elementary days in fact, as an example of a sarswela.  A sarswela is a musical play usually about romantic love, but incorporating current political issues to spice it up.  I never thought i would ever see a staging of this legendary title, until I found out that Tanghalang Pilipino will be opening its current season with this!  That Cris Villonco will play the lead role of Julia is another reason why this musical is a must-see for me.  It was also very interesting that movie director Carlos Siguion-Reyna will be directing.  This play was supposed to have had its Opening Gala performance at the CCP Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino last August 9, 2012.  However, because of the rains and flooding brought about by the severe monsoon rains, it had been postponed to tonight, August 16.
 

Without unnecessarily spoiling the story, "Walang Sugat" is the love story of Julia and Tenyong, during the last years of the oppressive Spanish occupation, during the Revolution.  When his father was tortured to death by his Spanish captors, Tenyong decides to avenge his death by joining the revolutionary forces.  After being away for more than a year fighting the war, can Tenyong return in time to claim back Julia who had already been promised by her mother Juana to marry the stuttering spoiled brat Miguel?  

This 3-act long play (with two intermissions!) tells us this story with some beautiful love ballads, comical duets, and patriotic hymns.  The most famous hymn is of course "Bayan Ko," which is practically another national anthem for most of us.  In my ignorance, I totally did NOT know that "Bayan Ko" is part of this sarswela!  It was most stirringly performed to end the first act, and reprised in the other two acts as well as a recurrent theme song.  The libretto is by Severino Reyes, whom we know better as Lola Basyang.  The music was by Mike Guison Velarde, Jr., Fulgencio Tolentino, and Constancio de Guzman(who was the one who set Jose Corazon de Jesus' poem "Bayan Ko" to music). 

In this production, the classic costume design was by no less than National Artist for Theater and Design, Mr. Salvador Bernal.  The choreography of this show was care of the well-known premier dancer of Ballet Philippines, Nonoy Froilan.  Josefino Toledo is the musical director.  As for the stars of the show, Cris Villonco and her crystal clear soprano were perfect as Julia!  Noel Rayos cut a dashing figure as Tenyong, and his singing was also very strong.  

The comedy of the play is as strong as the story of love and war.  The audience was really laughing out loud at the hilarious situations.  People who think this show will be a stuffy historical drama have a most funny surprise coming to them.  The comedy mostly involved the characters of the help, Lucas (Jonathan Tadioan) and Monica (Jennifer Villegas), as well as the bratty suitor Miguel (Nar Cabico) and his old lusty father Tadeo (Red Nuestro).  Even the classy Noemi Manikan-Gomez who plays Julia's practical motherJuana gets some pretty funny lines and songs. Their operatic singing voices were all very strong as their comedic timing.

The scene-stealer would be Jelson Bay in his role as the outspokenly frank and sassyPadre Teban.  He brought the house down when he said, "Tingnan niyo, kaming mga pari ang magiging pinakamakapangyarihan sa lipunan!" (or something like that).  It would be interesting to see other shows when veteran actors like Bodgie Pascua and Lou Veloso would play Tadeo or Padre Teban (as they alternate in these roles).  

I will admit that it was not easy to get into the story in the beginning.  I could hardly understand what was being sung in the first song!  However, as the play went on, we too get used to the tenor of the Tagalog language used and get absorbed into the story more and more.  It was a familiar love story, reminiscent of "Noli Me Tangere".  In fact, since Cris Villonco also played Maria Clara (in last year's TP production of "Noli Me Tangere"), I thought Julia is also going to the convent!  But the third act is really fantastic, and the ending is positively glorious!  I had no idea how the story would go at all, and that is the best for people watching this for the first time.  I am not surprised why this sarswela was a hit then when it was first staged in 1902, and should be a hit in its present incarnation now.

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"Walang Sugat" will only run for the last two weekends of August, 2012.  There will be 3pm and 8pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays, and a 3pm show on Sundays.  The final show will be on August 26, Sunday, 3pm.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Snow Patrol: Fallen Empires Tour Manila (My Recap and Videos)

August 9, 2012

To tell you the truth, I only went to watch this Snow Patrol concert to hear two of my favorite alternative rock songs sung live!  These are "Chasing Cars" and "Run."  After both of them were sung within the first hour, my concert was already fulfilled!  However, listening to the other songs of this band performed live made me an even bigger admirer of their music.  



Despite the severe monsoon rains and floods, and the other foreign concerts this week (Smashing Pumpkins the day before, and Tears for Fears the day after), the Araneta last night was alive and jumping for Snow Patrol!  This is after all a current band at the height of its career, not a nostalgia act like the other two.  



The voice of lead singer Gary Lightbody was something else.  He was not kidding when he said they were better seen live than heard recorded.  Yes, there were times that the guitar twangs or even Gary's wailing went out of tune but you can disregard those in the scope of the show as a whole. All their songs have that anthemic feel to them.

They started the show with "Hands Open."  The next songs were "Take Back the City," "Crack the Shutters," (familiar but I forgot it was theirs - VIDEO) and "This Isn't Everything You Are."  And then they sang one of my awaited songs, "Run."  That song is really beautiful.  The next songs were "In the End," "New York," "Set Fire to the Third Bar," "Make This Go On Forever" and "Shut Your Eyes." And then they sang my second awaited song, "Chasing Cars" which really brought the house down.  The next songs were "Chocolate," "Called Out in the Dark," "Fallen Empires," and "Open Your Eyes". "You're All I Have" closed out their regular set.  After a brief break, where the audience raucously cried for more, they came out again for their encores numbers, "Life-ning" and finally "Just Say Yes."


The light shows and the video backdrops were awesome to see. You can see that best on the video of "Fallen Empires" and the final song "Just Say Yes" (VIDEO).  I did not know they also did this electronic-sounding upbeat music.


Gary also did not forget to pay his respect to the victims of the current monsoon disaster.  He dedicated the first song of their encore set, the haunting  "Life-ning" to them, and the country as well. He seemed to genuinely in awe of the Filipino spirit.



Too bad though that they did not sing their other hit song, "Signal Fire".  Even if I only knew two songs very well coming in and the heavy rain and flooding I had to drive through on the way home, I do not regret that I watched this concert.  This really makes me want to listen to their CDs and get to know them better.

Live Blogging the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremonies


July 27, 2012

The Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics is dubbed "Isles of Wonder." The show is directed by Danny Boyle.  $42M budget (less than the $100M budget for Beijing) was spent for this spectacle.  The volunteers had 284 rehearsals! Anticipation was high as to how it could top the Beijing extravaganza four years ago.  I was hoping that the show would be much better than their uninspiring (ok, ugly) logo (reportedly worth £400,000!).


Bradley Wiggins, the first British winner of the Tour de France just last Sunday, rings the Olympic Bell to open the ceremony.  This 23 ton bell is supposed to be the largest harmonically-tuned bell in the world, made in the same Whitechapel Bell Foundry as the Liberty Bell and Big Ben.

The field in the middle of the stadium is an Old English Village with trees and houses and hills, where country folks were playing cricket. On a VTR, we see scenes from Ireland, Scotland and Wales with children's choirs singing folk songs.  Kenneth Branaghsteps out of a horse-drawn carriage and recites a passage from Shakespeare's "The Tempest" on the hill.

As a vibrant lady (deaf Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie) and her band played drums, a tree atop a hill is elevated and more people climb out of it. These people roll the turf away, and chimneys come out from the ground as the field transforms into anIndustrial Revolution scene.  Metal workers come out and work on five circles of fire. As the chimneys go back into the ground, the five Olympic rings are raised and united above, spewing fireworks unite on top of everything.

A VTR showing James Bond Daniel Craig escorting the Queen into a helicopter and flying over the city.  They even fly over a statue of Winston Churchill who wave at them.  An actual helicopter flies above the Stadium.  In a big surprise move, the "Queen" who jumps out of the plane and floats in a British flag parachute!  The real Queen Elizabeth II(in the same pink dress) comes out with the Duke of Edinburgh onto the Royal Box.  The Union Jack is carried to a flagpole and raised. The UK National Anthem sung by choir of deaf children wearing pajamas.  

The British National Health Service is features with a number with dancing nurses and doctors tucking children into bed. JK Rowling comes out reading Peter Pan!  Big replicas of story book characters like Captain Hook, Queen of Hearts, Cruella de Ville, and of course Voldemort come out.  A flock of Mary Poppins fly down over the field to drive out the Dementors and villains, as children dance with glee.  The final image of a huge metal (?) baby sleeping on the field is very weird though.

When he was bored stiff playing his one single note in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's performance of Chariots of FireRowan Atkinson drifts off and dreams about running on the beach (to the tune of Chariots of Fire).  He gets left behind, so he hitches a ride with a car to win the race, in true Mr. Bean fashion!  He awakens and  messes the final note on the keyboards to the feigned disgust of the conductor. Hilarious!

We then see scenes in a typical British household, folks watching television, as the teens go out to party on the town. All the scenes with the cellphones and cameras were a little pointless.  However, we get to hear a series of famous British songs like:  "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen, "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Back to Life" by Soul 2 Soul, "Sweet Dreams" by Eurythmics, "Firestarter" by Prodigy and "Uprising" by Muse.  Scenes from classic British films (like "Oliver" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral") were being shown in the background.

Sir Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, was given the spotlight.  Interesting, but seemingly unconnected with the other parts of the program.

There was then a nice montage of Olympic Torch Relay scenes.  Ever dapper David Beckham was shown driving a speedboat on the Thames bringing the torch to the stadium.   There was solo number by a Scotiish singer Emili Sande from Zambia singing Abide with Me, interpreted in dance by some Bollywood style dancers.  

It was now time for the athletes parade!  205 countries!  There was even a group of so-called Independent Olympic athletes.  Every nation has at least ONE female athlete for the first time in history.  The parade seems less formal than I recall from previous Olympic opening ceremonies, with athletes carrying camcorders and walking out of line.  

Maria Sharapova carries the flag for Russia.  Novak Djokovic carries the flag forSerbia Pau Gasol takes over Rafael Nadal to carry the flag for Spain.  Stan Wawrinkacarries the flag for Switzerland, not Roger Federer.  The blue boots worn by the Czech Republic team caught attention, but looked strange.  Eye-catcher of the parade is a gorgeous lady in red in the Paraguay team.  She turned out to be Leryn Franco, a javelin thrower.  The USA has 538 athletes including their Dream Team.  So that is how their controversial "made-in-China" uniforms look like.  The host team UK has 558 athletes led by cyclist Chris Hoy.  Aside from the members of the British royal family, among the dignitaries I recognized cheering their team on were Queen Sophia of Spain, and First Lady Michelle Obama from the USA.

There was a light show on the whole stadium while a rock band Arctic Monkeys play"Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor".  They segue to play "Come Together" while human "doves" with illuminated wings were riding bicycles going round on the track.  A lone winged biker then takes to the air to end the number.  That looked dramatic, but it just stopped there and did not lead to anything else.

There were inspirational speeches by Sebastian Coe, Chair of the Organizing Committee; then Jacques Rogge, IOC President.  The Queen herself opens the 30th Olympic Games of the Modern Era open.  The Olympic flag is then carried in by 8 flag bearers, then raised with the Olympic Anthem.  An ailing Muhammad Ali makes an dramatic appearance!

Outside, the Olympic Torch relay resumes as David Beckham's motor boat lands on a dock to transfer the flame to the runner who will bring the torch into the stadium, Stephen Redgrave, a senior British rower.  Inside the stadium, Sarah Stevenson leads the athletes for Oath of Sportsmanship, as did representatives of officials and coaches.  After the oaths and a relay that traversed 12,800 miles, the Olympic Flame finally enters the Stadium!  The flame is transferred to group of current young athletes carry it around the track. There was also a gathering of surviving British Olympic medallists of all time on the field.

During the Athletes Parade, each team had a child carrying what looked like a copper vessel.  It turned out that these were actually the lamps which would comprise theOlympic Cauldron.  Seven young athletes first light a number of  lamps on the ground.  The flames spread to neighboring lamps arranged concentrically, which then all elevate and come together on the top as the Olympic "cauldron" in the middle of the field!  It was really difficult to top the spectacular cauldron lighting staged in Beijing, so the London guys should be commended for thinking out of the box! Amazing colorful fireworks went up all in, around and outside the stadium.

Sir Paul Mc Cartney comes out and sings "Hey Jude", and led the everyone in a sing-along. This ends the 4 hour long spectacular opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics.


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.