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.