Friday, March 15, 2013

Himala: 10th Anniversary (PETA)

March 15, 2013

"Himala" is recognized as one of the best Filipino movies of all time.  This 1982 film, directed by Ishmael Bernal, written by Ricky Lee and starring Ms. Nora Aunor, tells the story of a barrio lass Elsa who was apparently blessed to witness an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It further explores the effects and implications of this visionary experience to Elsa's family, her friends, her neighbors and her hometown of Cupang.  

In 2003, a musical play based on "Himala" was produced, directed by Soxie Topacio, written by Ricky Lee with music by Vincent de Jesus.  It would turn out to be one of the most iconic original Filipino musicals of all time.  To celebrate its 10th anniversary, PETA stages "Himala:  A Celebration of the Musical".  Advanced publicity calls it a concert with the well-loved songs from the 2003 musical.  Upon watching it today, I would not really call it a concert only.  For me, it looked like an actual re-staging of the musical.  The show did not only consist of singing and orchestral accompaniment, but it had a set, props, lighting, choreography, acting, the works!

Elsa was played by Ms. May Bayot-de Castro.  In certain angles, she actually looked like a bigger version of the Superstar.  Her voice was not technically perfect this night, but it perfectly conveyed the tumult of emotion being experienced by her character.  Her dramatic songs were wrought with deep feelings and she delivers.  I confess that I was sort of distracted that Ms. Bayot looked too hefty and mature to be the young innocent visionary.  There was a physical disconnect of sorts which may have diminished my full appreciation of her performance.

All the female supporting characters all performed so well!  Ms. Isay Alvarez-Sena played Nimia, Elsa's childhood friend turned prostitute.  She sang her featured song, the witty "Kami ang Tunay na Birhen" with naughty glee.  Being the only bad girl there set her apart from the rest.  Elsa's best friend and aide Chayong was played by Ms. Cynthia Culig-Guico.  This is the first time I have seen her, and she looked a little mature to be the girlfriend of Myke Salomon.  However, she had that that fragile look and vulnerable nature that made her so realistically tragic.  Her soprano singing was beautifully resonant.  Ms. Dulce played Elsa's mother Aling Saling.  Her amazingly solid full-bodied voice can really project over the amplified piano and the chorus behind her (a problem of many of her cast mates).  

There were also three male supporting characters.  OJ Mariano played Orly, a film maker who wanted to film Elsa's vision and ended up capturing more than what he originally planned.  He had a very good-sounding pop tenor as we know, however many times, his singing would be drowned out by the piano.  We just saw him in "Rivalry".  Next month, he will be in "The Full Monty".  Very hard-working guy.  Myke Salomon played Pilo, the suitor of Chayong.  He can really hit those high notes as well, and his singing has really improved since I saw him first in "Care Divas" and "Aida."  The parish priest was played by Melvin Lee.  Honestly I did not recognize him at all since the only image of Melvin Lee I had was from "Care Divas" and "Sabel" both PETA shows where he dressed in drag.  I also did not know that he had a solid tenor voice!

The singing of the company playing various characters in the town was also remarkably excellent.  Standing out among them were Red Nuestro and Onyl Torres.  The chorus was composed of Viva Voce (led by Glenda Liao and Ivan Nery) and the UST Singers Alumni.  Fantastic singing and harmonies all around!  There was always a solid wall of melodic voices which surrounded the auditorium throughout sung parts of the show.

The musical played exactly as I recalled the highlights of  original film.  If you remember a certain scene of chilling violence in the second half of the film, it is also here in a most nightmarish dance interpretation in the Act 2.  Fans of original Filipino music and theater should catch this very special show as the singing and musical accompaniment led by Jed Balsamo on the piano were all of top-notch quality.  I have always heard Vincent de Jesus songs to be so happy, funny and witty ("Juan Tamad," "Care Divas", etc) , but "Himala" showcases his very serious, solemn side.  Aside from the souvenir program, they are also selling the original sheet music book of the "Himala" songs, as well as a limited edition CD soundtrack.  An event like this would likely take another 10 years to come back.  Do catch it this time!


“Himala  A 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Musical” will be staged at PETA Theater Center on March 15, 17, 22, and 24 at 8 p.m. and March 16 and 23, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are P650 (balcony), P1,000 (orchestra) and P2,000 (elevated orchestra). For ticket inquiries, contact PETA at 725-6244, 0917-5765400, 0918-9005370 or TicketWorld at 891-9999.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

PIAF (Atlantis Production)

March 7, 2013

"PIAF", a brutally frank 1978 play written by Pam Gems, is all about French torch singer Madame Edith Piaf.  I did not really know much about her or her life and career, except for her signature song "La Vie en Rose." I know there was a movie about her life which won Marion Cotillard international stardom and an Oscar for Best Actress, but I have not seen that yet (and now I should).

The picture that "PIAF" paints of Edith Piaf is not exactly flattering at all.  We see her very humble beginnings as a street singer and prostitute, her big break to sing at a club, her arrest, her French resistance efforts during World War II, her career rise and fall.  We see her heavily dependent on the company of men, alcohol, and later morphine. We meet the real woman behind the beautiful voice, potty mouth, coarse behavior and all.

This is an ultimate acting piece for the actress who will play her.  It is an awards-baiting role, and indeed it had won a Tony in 1981 for the actress who originally played Piaf on Broadway, Jane Lapotaire. I have no doubts that even if this is only March, we could practically give the Best Actress to Ms. Pinky Amador already.  She was giving this character everything she's got.  It is her powerful, full-bodied smokey singing voice that is front and center in this play.  Even if her spoken voice was already quite strained, her singing was still breath-taking! 

Ms. Amador's rendition of "If You Love Me (Really Love Me)" (originally "Hymne a l'amour", lyrics written by Piaf) was simply ethereal and beautiful.  Good thing that song was rendered in English.  It is too bad I am not familiar with her French songs. The final song "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" was also very powerfully sung, but I wished this last song would have been sung in English too so its message can be understood by more members of the audience.   I was expecting the song "La Vie en Rose" to occupy a more climactic position in the play, but it didn't.  

The hard-working supporting cast consisted of two females and eight males.  They did everything on stage. Aside from acting multiple roles, they also moved props and dressed each other.  The females were Ima Castro (mainly as Toine, Edith's best friend) and G Toengi (mainly as Marlene Dietrich).  The males (Jamie Wilson, Reuben Uy, Altair Alonzo, Hans Eckstein, Mako Alonso, Nel Gomez and Sandino Martin) played the men who went in and out of Edith and her life, from her discoverer Louie Leplee (Wilson), to the love of her life French boxer Marcel Cerdan (Eckstein), to her protege singer Charles Aznavour (Uy), to last husband 20 years her junior Theo Sarapo (Martin).

The stage design by Faust Peneyra was impressive with huge brown walls and doors covering all sides of the stage with lights passing through the slats in the upper sections, which had some surprises in store as the play went on.  The lighting effects by Martin Esteva was very dramatic and vital in the story telling, a star of the show in its own right.  The huge "PIAF" in red lights illuminating the left side of the stage was very striking.

I cannot say this show is for everyone.  The play played like an indie film, graphic and gritty.  The language is uncouth and can be downright dirty.  This is definitely for mature audiences only - Rated R.  However, for people who love serious theater, this is a must-see.  Even if the whole play was already excellent, Ms. Amador's bravura performance alone is already worth the price of admission.  She was fierce and fearless.  This is the best I have seen her.  She is transformed as Piaf.  You do not see Pinky Amador anymore.  This is a worthy showcase for her 30th year in show business.  You would think you are actually watching Piaf herself.  Kudos to Director Bobby Garcia and the rest of the Atlantis crew for this amazing initial offering for this year.


"Piaf" runs from March 8 to 23, 2013 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. For information, call Atlantis Productions at 892-7078.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

No Way to Treat A Lady (Repertory Philippines)

March 2, 2013

"No Way to Treat a Lady" is the second offering of Repertory Philippines for its current season.  It bills itself as "A Musical in the Key of Murder."  That got me intrigued because of this interesting mix of genre, just like "Sweeney Todd," which was a personal favorite musical of mine.  So despite my unfamiliarity about its story, music or who the local cast was, and my apprehension about it being a dated piece, I went out of my way and schedule to see it.

This story of this play was first a 1968 novel by William Goldman, inspired by the Boston Strangler.  It had a movie version also in 1968 starring Rod Steiger, George Segal, Lee Remick and Eileen Heckart.  In 1987, Douglas J. Cohen adapted the story and wrote the book and music for a dark comedy-musical done Off-Broadway.

The story was about two adult men who were both held under the thumbs of their domineering mothers.  Detective Morris Brummell (Joel Trinidad) still lives with his stereotypical Jewish mother Flora (Sheila Francisco).  Unemployed theater actor Kit Gill (Audie Gemora) still lives under the big shadow of his recently departed mother, celebrated Broadway actress, Alexandra Gill (Pinky Marquez).  Kit's sick mind hatches a plan to murder senior women who reminded him of his mother, leaving a signature of lips using red lipstick on his victims.  Brummell's investigation leads him to meet a lovely art gallery hostess Sarah Stone (Carla Guevara-Laforteza), sparking a romantic side plot.  How will Detective Brummell nail the serial killer and still get the girl, in light of his mother's overbearing ways?

Ok, I had to admit, the story is not too exciting.  As I feared, like Rep's first show this season "Boeing Boeing," this show's material was hopelessly dated, 1970-ish.  (Actually, Rep's next and most hihgly-anticipated show will also be set in the 1960s, "The Graduate." SCOOP!  Replacing Cherie Gil as Mrs. Robinson will be Ms. Pinky Marquez!)   The side plot about Brummell and his mother was really a tired cliche already.  The music and songs were mildly funny and not entirely memorable.  There were some flashes of smart wit here and there, but these were few, especially in this day and age where wit in comedy scripts demands to be more complex and rapid-fire. Most attempts at humor can tend to be groan-worthy because of its simplicity and familiarity.

However, it is a testament to the talent of the Filipino cast that we still are able to appreciate this play as a whole.  There were only five persons in the cast and they all did remarkably well, in their roles (multiple roles for two of them).

Director and lead actor Audie Gemora, fresh from his last Rep role as "Sweeney Todd" plays another serial killer here, Kit Gill.  He had to wear various costumes and play the various characters Gill had to assume in order to gain the trust of his victims before he killed them. He played a priest, a dance instructor, a waiter, a cop, and to top it all off, a FEMALE bar-goer (the dress! the legs! the shoes!)! Of course, his strong singing voice remains top-notch despite the unmemorable songs.  

Joel Trinidad effectively had that foolish naive mama's boy vibe playing Detective Brummell.  He plays it so successfully charming such that the audience will root for him to both catch the killer and get the girl. 

Carla Guevara was so right for the role of Sarah Stone.  She positively shone in two featured song numbers of hers, one funny delightful one with Morris' mother Flora entitled "So Much in Common", and one sad contemplative one, the lyrically dramatic "One of the Beautiful People".  Her voice is really one of the best in local musical theater.  She can make any song sound soulful and heartfelt.

Sheila Francisco had the scene-stealing role of Morris' mom Flora Brummell. Her happy song with Carla Guevara about having lots of things in common was her highlight.  You got that domineering Jewish mom stereotype from her garish costume and awful wig.  But Ms. Sheila was able to make us sympathize with her as well.

Pinky Marquez not only played the Norma Desmond-like diva Alexandra Gill, she obviously had a lot of fun playing all the other various victims of Kit Gill.  She was very cute as the first victim Mrs. Sullivan.  That was a precious little scene at the head of the stairs with her precarious wobbling.  She was most memorable as the lusty Spanish lady dancer Carmella.  You won't forget how she laid down on the divan!  She was also hilarious as the drunk actress/bar-goer Sadie who had illusions that she was Blanche duBois.  I enjoyed her very witty conversation with Kit in that part before he went for the kill.

It was just disappointing that the material seemed below the massive talents of the cast involved. They gave it their all and made the whole play more interesting and funnier than it really was.  I can  honestly say though that this stellar cast is more than enough reason for you to make that trip to Onstage to see this show.  These special actors definitely rose over and above the limitations of the material they had to work with to give it that extra spark and life. Congratulations!

The Cast :  Carla Guevara, Shiela Francisco, Joel Trinidad, Audie Gemora and Pinky Marquez

"No Way to Treat a Lady" opened yesterday March 1, and will play March 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 8 p.m.; and March 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 3:30 p.m. at the Onstage in Greenbelt 1 in Makati City.  Tickets are at P1200 for Center Orchestra, P800 for Side Orchestra and P500 for Balcony.