Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Full Monty (Viva-Atlantis Theatricals)

April 21, 2013

Viva Communications and Atlantis Productions have merged to form one company, Viva-Atlantis Theatricals, which aims to bring high quality theater productions featuring Filipino artists both locally and abroad.  "The Full Monty" is its maiden production.  On its line-up this year will be "Tarzan" and "The Addams Family." I was confused at first because "Piaf," which we saw last month, is by Atlantis Productions alone.  It turns out that Atlantis will still produce a line-up of its own including a re-run of "Rock of Ages" and the horror-musical "Carrie."  All in all, this will be more exciting theater for all of us!

"The Full Monty" started as a critically-acclaimed and sleeper international hit British movie (directed by Peter Cattaneo and written by Simon Beaufoy) in 1997 about six unemployed blokes who planned to stage a strip show to make big money the easy way.  This musical theater version, with a book by Terrence McNally and score by David Yazbek, premiered in 2000, transplants the setting from Sheffield, England to Buffalo, New York.  As with the film, we follow the story of two best friends, Jerry Lukowski (divorced, battling for child custody) and Dave Butatinsky (married but very insecure), trying desperately to cope with miserable unemployed life after having their steel mill closed down. 

Seeing how the womenfolk enjoy the local Chippendales-type strip show, Jerry has the wild idea of setting up their own strip show to earn a quick big buck.  The buddies gather together a group of desperate guys, Harold Nichols (their previous supervisor), Malcolm (a shy mama's boy security guard), Horse (an older black guy laid off from McDonalds) and  Ethan (no real talent but physically well-endowed anyway) to dance with them.  As their main selling point, Jerry boasts that their show will feature "the full monty."  Will the guys be able to pull off their daring brave show, as well as figure out their own individual personal insecurities and family problems?

Mark Bautista was unexpectedly excellent as the lead character Jerry.  He has really come a long way from that boy who supposedly stowed away on a cargo ship to get to Manila to try his luck in a singing contest won by Sarah Geronimo many years back.  I was impressed when I saw him as Crisostomo Ibarra in "Noli Me Tangere the Musical" (My Review).  But this was a new high point in his career as he had grown very confident as an actor, delivering his lines in clear English with a stable New York accent to boot.  His range as singer has also improved.  His falsetto in the dramatic song "Breeze on the River" is very good.

Jamie Wilson had been relegated to smaller supporting roles in several shows lately, like "Rock of Ages" or "Piaf".  But being the second lead Dave reminded us how good a singer he is and how funny he is, unafraid to laugh and make fun of himself.  He easily steals all the scenes he is in because his sense of self-depreciating humor is just so infectious.  Even a line as simple as "They're holding hands." was delivered with such precise comic timing to maximal LOL results!

Marco Sison, the fair 80s balladeer (of "My Love Will See You Through" fame) who has not been heard of lately, would not really be the guy you'd think of first to play Horse.  He shows in his featured number "Big Black Man" that his golden voice is still there, and shows off his multi-style dancing chops as well. He looked a bit tentative and unsure in his other scenes though, occasionally losing his supposed black man swagger.  

Arnell Ignacio strangely chose played the proud Harold in a very subdued manner.  He unexpectedly seemed shy and lacked stage presence for some odd reason.  His singing voice was just okay, but not too impressive when heard together with Jamie Wilson in their duet "Rule My World."  Arnell  also looked ill at ease with Ima Castro who played his pampered wife Vicki.  Castro though simply sang the hell out our of her song "Life With Harold", as well as the reprise of "Rule My World" in a duet with Ciara Sotto, who played Dave's wife Georgie.

OJ Mariano did not exactly look like a scrawny pigeon-chested friendless loser, but he manages to convince us that he is.  His highlight song was "You Walk With Me" where he sings about his mother.  Nino Alejandro also showcased his crystal clear vocals when he joined OJ in this tender song.  Alejandro otherwise had the thankless role of Ethan, who had to fall on his back repeatedly while attempting a "Singin' In The Rain" wall climb dance move.  

Ms. Jay Glorioso ruled the spotlight in her featured song "Jeannette's Showbiz Number":  She played their frank and funny pianist Jeannette with comic glee.  She was right in her element here.

My wife and I enjoyed this show very much, so much more than I was expecting.  There was hardly a dull moment throughout the two acts.  Both the comedy and dramatic highlights were all on perfect point.  The material in itself was really so good, very well-written.  This show is not only about an the climactic "full monty" strip show at the end, which I know is the main point of interest for many.  It is actually an interesting examination into the male psyche, as well as an insightful treatise on the relationship of husbands and wives.  The lyrics of those songs were so witty, so real and so affecting, on top of having very clever rhymes.

For me, the best songs of the show were: 

1.  " A Big-Ass Rock":  A comedy number where Jerry and Dave tell Malcolm how they could help him commit suicide.  
2.  "Rule My World": In two beds on opposite sides of the stage, Dave worries about his big belly, while Howard is worried about his wife's spending.  
3.  "The Goods":  As the guys actually try stripping for the first time, they see visions of ladies finding them physically inadequate.
4.  "Let It Go":  The Hot Metal guys show the audience what they got in this hilarious finale number!  The critical lighting effects in the crucial "full monty" moment were excellently executed.

Congratulations to the director Ms. Chari Arespacochaga, along with the entire cast and crew  of Viva-Atlantis Theatricals for their successful debut production!  Looking forward to the rest of their planned shows lined up for this year.

"The Full Monty" will run at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater at the RCBC Plaza in Makati from April 19 to May 5. For details call Atlantis Productions at 892-7078 or Ticketworld at 8919999.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Recapping "Game of Thrones" Season 3 (Part 1, Episodes 1-3)

April 18, 2013

Episode 1: "Valar Dohaerys"

This most anticipated episode picks up from all the conflicts that ended the previous season. The title means "All Men Must Serve."

Picking up from the last scene in the last season, we see the Night Watch guys dispose of a member of the White Walkers who was about to kill Sam, who failed in his duty to send warning ravens.  We see a Giant mingling with Jon Snow, Ygritte and the Wildlings. We see Catelyn Stark put in prison by her son Robb for freeing a Lannister. 

We see the Red Witch still with her clutches firmly around the neck of Stannis Baratheon, much to the dismay of his loyal comrade Davos Seaworth. We see Cersei quite unsure what to make of Margaery's charity work with orphans. We see Danaerys narrowly escaping an assassination attempt as she was deciding whether to buy the Unsullied, an army of warriors who did not care if they had nipples. 

No Arya yet. No Brienne of Tarth yet. No Jamie Lannister yet.

The absolute highlight of this episode was that scene where the imp Tyrion Lannister asked for his rights as the proper heir of Casterly Rock, but was firmly put in his place by his father Tywin with a scathing speech calling Tyrion an "ill-made spiteful little creature" who waddled about shamefully carrying the Lannister name.  Very well-written and acted scene.

Episode 2: "Dark Wings, Dark Words"

Nothing really exciting happened in this episode. We get to see the characters we did not see in the first episode. No real big highlights in this one. Tyrion only in a minor scene with Shae. No Danaerys and her dragons too.

Theon Greyjoy gets tortured for what he did to Winterfell. Arya and her two companions meet the Brotherhood Without Banners.  Later, Arya meet the Hound, who had been captured by the Brotherhood. Joffrey teaches Margaery how to use his crossbow. Bran Stark sees an older boy in a dream, then meets him in real life. Lady Brienne and her talkative hostage Jaime Lannister continue their walk towards Kings Landing, until they encounter trouble on the bridge. 

The best scenes were those where Catelyn Stark tells Talisa her guilt about her inability to accept Jon Snow and the resultant misfortune this brought to her family.; and that one where Sansa Stark confesses to Margaery and her Grandmother Olenna about the cruelty of King Joffrey. This was a very female oriented episode.

Episode 3: "Walk of Punishment"

The action seriously picks up in this episode, after the two previous establishing episodes. Every scene was important. The ending was a scene with a shock level of unseen since the first season. You will definitely stick around to watch Episode 4.

At the funeral of Catelyn Stark's dad, Hoster Tully, we meet Catelyn's uncle, Brynden Tully and his expert archery skills; as well as Robb Stark's uncle Edmure Tully, who was such a loser. Catelyn continues to lament about her lost sons.

In Kings Landing, Tywin's children and staff jockey for position around his table. Tyrion gets assigned to the thankless job of Master of the Coin, since Baelysh is off to get married to Catelyn Stark's sister. Tyrion treats his servant Podrick (who saved his life) to a treat with three whores, but it turns out the virgin lad had tricks up his sleeve because the ladies did not accept any payment for the time they had with him!

Arya and Gendry join the Brotherhood guys, but their stout friend Hot Pie stays behind to become a baker. Mance Rayder and the wildings come across a grisly bunch of horse body parts in the snow. The surviving Night Watch are back in Kraster's place just in time for Sam to witness Gilly give a boy. Melisandre looks very anxious to leave Stannis Baratheon. A servant from his sister (?) helps Theon Greyjoy escape from torture and potential rape. 

In a surprising decision, the Khaleesi trades one of her precious children to buy ALL of 8000 of the Unsullied, as well as those yet in training! This was much to the dismay of her advisers Jorah Mormont and Berristan Selmy (and I bet, everyone else watching this episode on TV).

As captives of the Locke gang, Jamie Lannister surprisingly speaks up to spare Brienne the indignity of rape. But for all Jamie's cockiness, he gets hit with a shocking surprise absolutely no one watching will expect. I will not spoil it here. You have to see it to believe it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sa Wakas (Culture Shock Productions)

April 14, 2013

"Sa Wakas" had been advertised as a new Pinoy rock musical which will use the music of the band Sugarfree to tell its story, in the same manner as "Mamma Mia" was created out of ABBA songs.  I have heard the name of this local band who gained prominence in the last decade but disbanded in 2011.  Honestly though, I could not really name a single hit song of theirs.  The thing that interested me here however is the effort of creating a musical theater production out of Pinoy rock songs. I find this exciting that is why I took time out to check it out.

Topper is a struggling high concept photographer.  His fiancee Lexie is an ambitious neurosurgery resident.  His other woman is Gabbi, an arts magazine editor.  Topper is feeling burned out with his first relationship which he feels is getting nowhere, and then he meets this other girl who seemed to jive with his artistic inclinations.  So yes, "Sa Wakas" tells a familiar story of a guy torn between two girlfriends, but aside from being told through the beautiful and meaningful lyrics of Sugarfree songs, this was told in a most unusual order of events so surprising and so touching at the same time.

I have to admit that of the 21 Sugarfree songs used for this musical, I really only knew one, which was "Hari ng Sablay."  Honestly, I did not even know that that song was by Sugarfree (sorry!).  The songs chosen had very poetic lyrics with generally slow somber melodies that seem to blend with each other.  "Hari ng Sablay" really stood out memorably and you can hear why it was their biggest hit.  The scene where this song was used in the play was also very well staged.  There are other songs which sounded familiar but I did not really know very well, but they all sounded really good.  The best I can remember was "Bawat Daan" (said to be especially written by Ebe Dancel for this musical) which I felt was a fitting song to close the first act with an intense trio arrangement for the three voices.

Fred Lo plays Topper.  I have heard of his name but I have not really seen him in a lead role yet.  I know he played the lead in the recent local production of "Rent", but I did not get to watch that one.  Fred has that matinee idol look and a great pop singing voice to boot, that makes him a great choice to play Topper.  He was onstage in all the scenes and was singing all the songs practically.  The way he makes reaching those high notes sound so effortless was very impressive.  Fred's alternate in this role is Victor Robinson III.

The actresses who played the two women in Topper's life were both new to me.

Laura Cabochan took some getting used to playing Dr. Lexie as she did not exactly have typical looks for a lead theater actress in the local scene.  You do not typically see a Chinese girl in such a role, which makes it so refreshing.  She was so convincing and natural as a stressed-out and competitive Neurosurgery resident doctor, with her manners and clothes.  Her singing voice was strong and vibrant, and blended well with Fred Lo in songs like the dramatic "Kwarto", the sweet "Tulog Na" and the funny "Ang Pinakamagaling na Tao".  I was impressed to read that she is a Summa Cum Laude graduate in Theater Arts from the Ateneo, and this play is her professional debut.  Laura's alternate in this role is Caisa Borromeo.

Justine Pena had her moments as the Number 2 girlfriend Gabbi.  Her best moment was the scene where she meets Topper in his photo exhibit with the song "Hari ng Sablay."  She was really vibrant too in that scene on the rooftop where she and Topper got to know each other better.  Her singing was generally proficient, but there are songs where her low register did not sound very good.  She unfortunately also had a scene where she had such a bad costume choice, wearing that ugly "Avengers" sleeveless t-shirt with a long skirt  distracted from the drama of the scene with the song "Mariposa," and was unbelievable for a girl who was supposed to have been an editor of a fashion magazine!  Justine's alternate in this role is Kyla Rivera.

Hans Dimayuga took good advantage of the chance given him to step out of the Ensemble and portray Topper's elder brother working abroad.  He was very vocally impressive in his featured duet with Fred Lo on the song "Dear Kuya."  The other members of the Ensemble were Cassie Manalastas, Mikou David and Abi Sulit.

The subject matter of this musical is mature, and so is the treatment.  There are scenes of smoking (which was sad for me to see in these young singers), some sensuality and a lot of cursing which makes it not appropriate for younger audiences.  Overall though, it was the innovative way the common story was written and executed that makes this a play worth taking the time to watch.  I liked the way the writing so intricately yet carefully interconnected so well with all the previous scenes. A slight medical comment though, "his aneurysm burst" would have been a better line for Lexie to say instead "he developed an aneurysm," when she was relating about a surgical mortality.

And yes, if the producer wanted to showcase the beauty of the Sugarfree compositions, it succeeds with flying colors.  It will make you seek out these songs and listen to the genius of Ebe Dancel's original lyrics more closely.  Sometimes the band or the ensemble was louder than the lead singers so that the lyrics could not be heard too well.  A original cast CD would have sold so well at the lobby, but unfortunately there was none available.

Kudos to producer Charissa Ann Pammit and director Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan for this work to promote excellent Original Pilipino Music in the theater arena.

“Sa Wakas” runs from April 13 to 28, weekends only, 3pm and 8pm shows, at the PETA Theater Center in Quezon City.  Tickets at P1000, P700 and P500 only.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Graduate (Repertory Philippines)

April 5, 2013

"The Graduate" was a 1967 film directed by Mike Nichols, and starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft that is considered one of the landmark films of the 1960s.  The film also boasts of a fantastic soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel.  It was about a new college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) who was seduced by Mrs. Robinson, wife of Ben's dad's best friend.  Their illicit affair continues until the day Benjamin meets and actually falls in love with Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine.

For me, the movie was more interesting in the first half during Mrs. Robinson's seduction of Benjamin.  Those scenes were really funny as they were sensuous.  Mrs. Robinson is the most famous cougar in film history and this iconic reputation is deserved as portrayed by Ms. Bancroft.  The second half when the conflict with Elaine came up, I felt the film became quite contrived with how the story developed and climaxed with an open ending on the bus.  Still, I was very curious how this story could be brought to life onstage.  

The play was adapted for the stage by Terry Johnson, based on the 1963 novel by Charles Webb and the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry.  The first act was quite loyal to the film with several of the classic lines and scenes, but adjusted for the set limitations.  The one new scene there was one rather long drunken conversation between Mrs. Robinson and Elaine.  The second half again had the problems of the film in terms of contrived situational content.  It does go beyond the open ending of the movie, and had some closure-like dialog between Elaine and her parents at the church before she left, and between Elaine and Benjamin in bed at the hotel where they went after eloping.

One of the most surprising casting choices was that of Ms. Pinky Marquez as Mrs. Robinson.  Ms. Marquez had such a squeaky clean image that I knew of.  She was perfect as Marmie in "Little Women", as well as the Mother Superior in "The Sound of Music" few years back.  I knew her more as a flawless singer than an actress.  And now here she is tackling one of the boldest female roles I have seen in a stage play.  In the first act, the fearless Ms. Pinky went beyond what Anne Bancroft did in the film and went totally commando (with only a towel for minimal modesty)!  While Mrs. Robinson really shone in the first act and Ms. Pinky gives the role her all, it was too bad the character got too monotonously angry and bitter in the second act as written, so there was not much range for Ms. Pinky to display.

Reb Atadero played the central title character Benjamin Braddock.  His name is familiar, but I am not really sure I have seen him before on the stage.  But after this play, he will definitely be remembered. Benjamin Braddock will be his signature role. Again it was in the first act where Atedero definitely shone in all his naive, nervous, stuttering charm with all the excellently written lines for his character.  I am sure it was difficult for him not to be self-conscious during that long scene where he had to strut around the stage clad in his "not-too-tighty whities" just after he had a naughty romp in bed with a beautiful naked lady, but he was able to pull this off with confidence.

Cara Barredo played a delightful Elaine.  I can completely see why Benjamin would fall for a girl like her, given the odds.  Even if her best scene was also in Act I when Benjamin brought Elaine to a stripper joint, but it was her scenes that lit up the rather dreary Act II.  She makes me smile whenever I see her on stage.

The supporting cast was excellent.  Jeremy Domingo was once again very convincing as the devastated Mr. Robinson, as intense as ever.  His confrontation scene with Benjamin in Act II was his highlight.  Joel Trinidad stole several scenes in his hilarious multiple roles as hotel manager, psychologist and priest.  This play's Director Jaime del Mundo tackled the role of Benjamin's father, Mr. Braddock, with authority.   The actress who played the stripper (Natalie Everett) was truly daring with her jiggly burlesque dancing, just as it was done in the movie.  Angela Padilla though looked too young to be credible Benjamin's mother. 

I also have to comment on the music.  This classically beautiful moody music  by Simon and Garfunkel is the heart of the original movie.  In this play, a guy was singing "Sounds of Silence" and "Mrs. Robinson" et al live (?), a capella, unplugged.  There were many times when the singer would be off key, be unsure with lyrics or would suddenly shift pitches mid-song.  Is this done on purpose for effect? I do not know.  I knew this isn't a musical, but I wish this singer sang better, instead of sounding careless or haphazard.  The disappointing singing was distracting from, rather than enhancing the mood, in my opinion.

As for the minimalist set,  I was admiring the very deep and wide stage (they even covered the orchestra pit) with one bed at the back wall.  This back wall will play with our sense of perspective as the play proceeds.  The shutters on the doors on both sides provided for very dramatic lighting effects.  

"The Graduate" is one very mature comedy that also demands maturity from its audience. Act I is perfectly written and staged -- a true audience-pleaser.  I think because of how fantastic Act I was, people can expect too much from Act II which it may not deliver for all.  I guess there is not much that can be done with the way the play had been written even though I felt that the play could have been tightened more during those many wordy scenes that bog the play down, especially in Act II. Overall though, the play is both fun and thought-provoking.  Once again, it was the talents of the Filipino actors that really make this play come alive and be so vital despite its inherent limitations.


“The Graduate” shows are scheduled on April 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27 and 28, at Onstage, Greenbelt 1, Makati.  Because of the nudity and mature themes, this is Rated R.  Only adults 18 year-old and above are allowed to enter.

For ticket reservations, call Rep at (02) 571-6926 or Ticketworld at (02) 891-9999.