Friday, July 19, 2013

Tangalang Pilipino's SANDOSENANG SAPATOS: A Tearful Fantasy Tale

July 19, 2013

"Sandosenang Sapatos" opened July 13 and will run for two weekends up to July 21 only.  Being based on a children's book, I thought at first I'd pass on it.  However, with very good word of mouth raves on social media and sold-out shows, they had to add new performance times!  I knew we had to catch it.  When I saw that there was a 10 am show on July 19, I resolved that this show will be part of our wedding anniversary celebration today.

From the very first scene when we see a little girl on a wheelchair with no legs, I knew this was going to be one tearjerker of a play.  I was not mistaken.

Susie is a very sad little girl.  She knows her dear shoemaker father had dreamed for her to become a ballerina.  But she felt she could not make her dad happy since she had no legs and feet.  Instead she retreats into her own dream world, the only place she feels happy with her shoe friends, one for each year of her life.  She wishes that on her 12th birthday that the shoe fairy could grant her greatest wish. Can her father finally have the ballerina he dreams about, or does fate have other plans?

This is only a short play, a little more than an hour only, with no intermission.  Tanghalang Huseng Batute is small and intimate.  The stage is just  two circular platforms surrounded by a wooden figure-8 path. However, the powerful poignancy this musical projects transcends the simplicity of the stage or the material.

This is mainly because of the enchanting central performance of young Trixie Esteban as Susie. Her voice has the purity and innocence of a child so all her sad songs and impossible dreams hit us hard with so much dramatic impact.  She is on the stage during the entire play, and she pulled off the complicated script and emotional singing without a hitch.  Very very impressive for a girl of her tender age. A new theater star is born!

Jonathan Tadioan and May Bayot portray Susie's parents.  The power of their voices is well-known to me from previous musicals I have seen them perform in.  Tadioan's deep baritone sounded so good in contrast with Susie's sweet gentle voice.  Their father-daughter scenes together were moving even when there were no words spoken.

As for the shoe friends, I am very impressed with their rollerblading skills as they danced and frolicked on that narrow wooden pathway on stage. Their costumes were very colorful and their playful interaction with Susie gave the entire show its most vibrant moments.  It was too bad that some of their lyrics were barely understood because of poor enunciation, poor lapel mic alignment, or even out of tune singing for some of them.

Now for the key character of the Shoe Fairy.  According to the poster, this character was to be played by the ever-fabulous Ms. Tessa Prieto-Valdes.  It was not Ms. Tessa who played when we watched, but instead it was Raquel Pareno.  I would have understood if it was Ms. Tessa, because her flamboyant personality is more important than the singing voice.  But if it was not Ms. Tessa, I wish the singing voice of her alternate would have been better.  Instead, Ms.Pareno's singing was weak, and had no magical impact at all, and this was a pity.  

Overall though, this play was all about Susie and her dad, and everything else simply fades into the background.  The stellar portrayal of these characters by Esteban and Tadioan captivates and rivets us.  Their chemistry as father and daughter was very palpable, and we feel the emotion of the story all the more.  I cannot deny that my wife and I had tears in our eyes, and so with many other people in the audience, both adults and kids.

Congratulations to Tanghalang Pilipino for another successful production!  The last TP production I watched was also written by Layeta Bucoy, and was a far from this story as could possibly be, the violent political drama "Walang Kukurap" (MY REVIEW).  Looking forward to the next TP productions, especially Virgilio Almario's "San Andres B." in November, and Nick Joaquin's "Mga Ama, Mga Anak" next February 2014.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Wolverine KINECT EXPERIENCE: Be His Claws!

July 16, 2013

Thanks to Ms. Stephanie Mayo, I was given an invitation by 20th Century Fox to attend an event that would give one the virtual experience of being the Wolverine himself!

The invitation goes ...

"To celebrate the release of this summer’s biggest international blockbuster THE WOLVERINE, 20thCentury Fox International are bringing Wolverine to life with BE THE WOLVERINE, a unique Kinect experience that allows users to take part in an out- of-home interactive adventure.

The experience allows fans the opportunity to ‘become’ one of the most iconic MARVEL characters, through simulated Wolverine fighting moves atop a speeding bullet train, whilst travelling through Tokyo. By slicing through obstacles and defending themselves from ninja attacks, fans will experience a virtual thrill ride, based on an exhilarating scene from the upcoming film, THE WOLVERINE.

BE THE WOLVERINE uses Kinect technology to register when fans walk by, scanning and activating a hologram to attract and invite interaction. On completing the experience, fans then have the opportunity to share a photo of them taking part via Facebook."


This event was organized by Robinsons Moviewolrd in cooperation with 20th Century Fox, Pepsi, and Magic 89.9.  The lobby of the Robinsons Movie World in the Galleria had a cocktail set-up ready by 3:30 pm.  Promptly at 4 pm, the food tables were opened to the guests.  Since this Wolverine film was set in Japan, the food served was Japanese courtesy of Yoshinoya and Miso-Ten. There was even an open Sake bar at the other end.  

There was a model wearing a Wolverine costume who was very game in his snarling Wolverine poses with his claws.  There was another guy in a Silver Samurai costume, whose clogs were so high, he can't really move too much.

The program proper was emceed by DJ Pat, the early morning jock of Magic 89.9.  He began talking about the Wolverine movie and of course, the Kinect Wolverine game.  Moviegoers who decide to watch Wolverine in Robinsons MovieWorld theaters in Metro Manila in the next two weeks can also play this interactive game absolutely free. The schedule of when the game will be in which mall is as follows:

What is more exciting is that Robinsons Movie World is giving  fans a chance to win one of five XBox360g Kinect consoles!  All they need to do is to buy "The Wolverine" movie tickets with any 16 oz. Pepsi drink from the Cinema Snack Express.

Guests were then invited to try out and play the Kinect interactive game.  DJ Pat was hilarious trying to give play-by-play annotations of the fighting techniques of the various guests.  

I was reluctant at first, but since I did not know anybody at the event (or so I thought), I gave it a try too!  It was not that hard actually.  You just need to keep your arms clawing in front of you knocking down signboards and fighting villains.  The relentless clawing motion eventually took its toll on my upper arms.  It was exhausting!  Anyway, I reached a score of 1.6M+. Not bad.  I got an premium Wolverine bottle opener for my efforts.  My arms still feel sore up to now! 

Here is Wolverine himself doing his own Kinect game.  He got less than 1M points.

There was a bit of a disappointment for me at the end of the event when they announced who were the Top 5 scorers. When they announced that the Number 5 scorer only got a 1.3M+, I thought my score would be among the Top 5.  But then they seemed to have totally missed my score in the recording, so that was too bad.  Would have liked to have won that Wolverine movie poster for my kids.  Bummer.  But hey, that's life.  I was trying to be like Wolverine, but it seems I was the Invisible Man instead.  Haha!


Actually there is an embarrassing epilogue to my Kinect experience today, about a video shown on the tv news tonight. Some texted me, and someone announced it on my FB wall!  All the while I thought I was anonymously doing my own thing there at the mall.  Now it seemed it had been broadcast on national TV. So it seems I was not Invisible Man after all.  Yikes!

Well, anyway, that is that.  I did not see it.  No one in my house saw it.  That's for the best.  That video would never be shown on TV again anyway. I naively hope.  Nah.

Friday, July 12, 2013

BONIFACIO: ISANG SARSUWELA (PhilStagers): The Supremo's Life and Death in Song

July 12, 2013

Today, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to see "Bonifacio:  Isang Sarsuwela", the latest original stage musical production by Phil Stagers Foundation.  Phil Stagers was also the company that brought us such historically significant theater such as "Cory sa EDSA" and "Joe: A Filipino Rockssical".  This time, Atty. Vince Tanada, the heart and soul of Phil Stagers, wrote, directed and brought to life a most controversial and misunderstood Filipino Hero, Andres Bonifacio.  

"Bonifacio: Isang Sarsuwela" is an epic stage production which covers a lot of historical ground.  It recreates onstage all the major events in the revolutionary life of Andres Bonifacio.  It starts with the establishment of the Katipunan, his marriage to Gregoria de Jesus, the bitter defeat of the Katipuneros at San Juan del Monte and their retreat to the mountains of Balara, the Magdalo vs. Magdiwang conflict in Cavite, the Tejeros Convention, his capture and kangaroo court trial, up to his tragic death in the mountains of Maragondon.

I do not think that you can show the life story of Bonifacio without showing Emilio Aguinaldo as well.  Their two lives are so intertwined yet their fortunes so different, and the play shows and contrasts this quite clearly.  The best scene was that where they were talking to their wives at either end of the stage, with parallel repeating dialogues, so well-written.  This play is also practically about Aguinaldo as well.  Of course, that persistent issue about Aguinaldo's role in the death of Bonifacio was inevitably shown as well, and quite painfully.  

We can see the focus of the play best when we see how the men around these two great men were portrayed.  We meet Bonifacio's loyal Katipunero colleagues, Emilio Jacinto and Macario Sakay, who were played as noble warriors.  We also meet the loyal men of Aguinaldo, Agapito Bonzón and José Ignacio Paua, who are played here as merciless laughing villains.  There was no doubt that this is Bonifacio's play.

As an actor,  Atty. Vince Tanada imbues Bonifacio with a lot of vulnerability we rarely see in previous portrayals of this hero.  We are not used to seeing Bonifacio cry before, but there is no doubt he was in a lot of pain especially toward the end of his life, both physically and emotionally.  His singing voice was no doubt the best in the whole cast.  It can solidly soar above the loud background music, which could drown other weaker voices. His modern (definitely un-Bonifacio-like) hairstyle is perhaps anachronistic on purpose, but that becomes a minor issue after a while.

Perfectly matched with Atty. Vince is the passionate PhilStagers muse, Ms. Cyndi Liper, as Gregoria de Jesus.  Her acting is top-notch as ever. And her clear soprano singing voice complemented Atty. Vince's high baritone during their beautiful duet numbers.  They really sound and look good together as the Supremo and the Lakambini.

Patrick Libao, who won raves, awards and fans (you can hear them in the crowd that night) playing Jose Rizal in "Joe," plays Emilio Jacinto in this play.  His Jacinto was portrayed to be at odds with his "tucayo" Aguinaldo from the very start.  He had a tendency to posture a lot which may be distracting, but maybe that was how he was instructed.  Despite his limited height, Libao also had a stage presence and solid singing voice that can rise above the company.

The main weakness I note about this show today was the nervous performance of Kevin Posadas as Emilio Aguinaldo.  For a major character, Posadas' stage presence was still weak and even awkward when it comes to acting and singing.  He flubbed a couple of key lines very obviously and sometimes would recite lines mechanically.  He still has to work on having chemistry with Adelle Ibarrientos, the actress who was playing Miong's wife Hilaria, and match her stellar soprano when they sing together.  It is just Day 1, so I hope he can eventually grow more confident into his vital role, so key to the success of this play.

The production is very much like"Joe" with the cast and chorus dancing modern dance moves interpreting the sarsuwela songs (by choreographer John San Antonio), ending in stirring tableaus.  This needs getting used to for people unfamiliar with the PhilStagers style.  I think this choreography is done more to appeal to college students who are the main audiences of their plays.  I admit hearing the lyrics "Pugad Lawin" with the singers flapping their arms like wings looked funny, though that may not be the intended reaction. I wish their flag poles were longer which may look better, but I guess those may be too exhausting for the actors to wave around.

I would sometimes feel that maybe "less could be more" in certain scenes where excessive interpretative dancing in the stage would distract somewhat from the dramatic songs being sung.  Case in point would be the "Mga Kababaihan ng Rebolusyon" song where I felt maybe just the four ladies singing and commanding the stage by themselves would have been more powerful than with all those back-up dancers cluttering up the background vying for attention.

The length of the show can be formidable as well, considering it lasts more than two hours without an intermission.  There are several scenes that may seem too long or repetitive, like those with extended dancing, be they chorus members, Katipuneros or Guardia Civil.  I thought there was a little too much time spent on scenes with side characters sometimes.  An example is that long scene showing how Tandang Sora was arrested and exiled to Guam, which did not really seem necessary in a play about Bonifacio.  

A play like this must have been a technical nightmare with all those lapel microphones and costume changes among so many actors.  However, there was only one major lapel mike glitch last night which involved Tandang Sora, who also had a near wardrobe malfunction, but Jerie Sanchez, the actress who played her, was a real trooper!  Some of the gun battle scenes still looked disorganized and haphazard, but then again this is only the first day of the soft opening so some adjustments in blocking can be made.  

Today is the very first time they are showing this show in public.  They are staged this show an incredible four times today (8 am, 11 am, 2 pm) and I am watching the final show of the day, at 6 pm.  They will have the same grueling schedule tomorrow and the succeeding weekends.  I commend the dedication and stamina of the cast considering the very intense dialog and songs the actors have to deliver in very highly emotionally-charged scenes.  

I could not say kudos enough to Atty. Vince Tanada and the whole cast and crew of "Bonifacio: Isang Sarsuela".  What I saw today is ready to fly with just a few more minor fine-tuning adjustments before its grand premiere on July 19, 2013.  I am sure the important patriotic message Atty. Vince Tanada had so deeply ingrained in his script will reach the youth for whom he has written and staged this show.  

Bravo to Phil Stagers once again and break a leg for a good long run!