Saturday, June 22, 2013

Viva Atlantis "TARZAN": The Jungle Comes to Life!

June 22, 2013

"Tarzan" is, for me and my kids, one of the less memorable Disney animated features.  So when there was announcement that there will be a stage musical version this year, my kids were not really interested to go for some reason. Unlike the other Disney films, I only know one song by heart from the original movie, which was the Phil Collins hit song, "You'll Be in My Heart."  As luck may have it, I won a chance to watch tonight with my daughter so we grabbed it.  Now, I am so glad that we got to watch this show!  It was so, so much better than what I imagined it to be.

The story is already familiar with us.  A couple survives a shipwreck with their baby, but were eventually killed by a leopard.  Their baby was adopted by an ape Kala, whose own baby had been killed by the same leopard.  Kala calls this human baby Tarzan, but it was difficult for Kala's husband Kerchak to accept him.  Years later, Tarzan now an adult, kills the leopard, and reconciles with Kerchak.  At that time, a father-daughter team of naturalists from England, the Porters, venture into Tarzan's jungle.  Tarzan and Jane meet and fall in love with each other, overcoming the communication gap.  Tarzan now has to choose whether he is ape or human.

The stage was awash with green color signifying the jungle setting.  The best feature of the stage was the dramatic lighting design, which really brought out the emotion is several scenes.  The best example of this exemplary lighting was during the song, "I  Need to Know" when the child Tarzan contemplates his real nature.  In the song "Waiting for this Moment" by Jane Porter, the set of strange plants and creatures was bursting in luminescent color as black lights bathed the stage.  To add another dimension to the stage, they make liberal use of harnesses to make actors "fly".  From the first time we see the harness subtly with the first leopard attack to the grand curtain call of Tarzan and Jane, I think this show had the most elaborate harness work I have seen on a local stage production.  The use of the Igorot "bahag" as the loin cloths for Tarzan and the apes was a remarkable costume decision.

The songs are written by Phil Collins, with a book by David Henry Hwang, based on the story by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The song "You'll Be in My Heart" remains to be the best song in the show.  In the first act, it was sung by Kala to the infant Tarzan, as it was in the film.  In the second act, this song was reprised by the adult Tarzan singing it back to Kala.  This song has beautiful lyrical content, and really catchy hook, which makes it memorable.   Unfortunately the other Collins' songs, while pleasant enough, had nothing much really that sticks to mind.  I felt that the best new song written for the show is the beautiful "For the First Time," a love duet between Jane and Tarzan.

Atlantis can really make those innovative casting decisions which make their productions very attractive to the public.  This time it was hiring Broadway actor Dan Domenech to be Tarzan.  Dan has the height, body build and moves to stand-out from the rest and be a credible Tarzan.  From the moment he made that visually-impressive swinging entrance up to his final signature Tarzan yell, Dan dominated the stage.  His singing was quite good too, best in his duets with Jane ("For the First Time") and Kala ("You'll Be in My Heart" Reprise).  He had that right combination of naivete, curiosity, strength and dignity that the role requires.

Rachelle Ann Go again impressed me with her delightful portrayal of plucky naturalist Jane Porter.  Of course, the role does not require as much character development as her award-winning stage debut as Ariel in "The Little Mermaid", but Rachel Ann has the deportment and accent of her role down pat.  Her mere presence on stage made even the plainest of scenes cute and amusing.  Her singing was absolutely transcendent on songs like "Strangers Like Me" and "For the First Time".

Ima Castro is a very talented singer with mad soaring vocals, but can seem miscast in many of her stage appearances, notably in the title role of "Aida" or as Saragghina in "Nine".  However in this show, she played Tarzan's devoted ape mother Kala to perfection.  Her quiet moments with Tarzan, and her husband Kerchak were very moving.  Her spotlight song is of course "You'll Be in My Heart" and she gives this familiar song her own surreally special vocal touch.

Calvin Millado is another very talented singer/actor that has some problem fitting well into the various roles given him in the past, such as the German magnate Hertz in "Rock of Ages" or as sexy UPS guy Kyle in "Legally Blonde" (see what I mean?).  But this time, I think Calvin has just portrayed his best role ever as Kerchak, the alpha ape tribe leader and Tarzan's reluctant adoptive father.  His solo featured song "No Other Way" was so masterfully and authoritatively sung with his deep baritone.

It is good to see some showbiz veterans back on stage in this show.  It is too bad that Eugene Villaluz was onstage very few times as Prof. Porter, Jane's eccentric scientist father.  He was so good!   He actually matches the delightfulness level of Rachelle Ann's.  He only has one featured song number, "Like No Man I've Ever Seen" and his much-missed singing voice is still very much there.  

Ex-Smokey Mountain member Jeffrey Hidalgo is also back as Tarzan's ape friend Terk.  He also has one featured number, the upbeat song the opens the second act, "Trashin' the Camp," where he sang, danced and sung with so much energy.   I hope to see them in more stage productions in the future.  

I have to commend also the talented kid Carlos Dala, who gave it his all as young Tarzan.  His singing in his dramatic solo "I Need to Know" is strong and effective.  (His alternate in this role is Warren Saga.)  Young Terk is played tonight by JM Urquico, who matched the energy of Dala. (His alternate in this role is his twin brother JC.)  I don't think I have seen Arnel Carrion (who played the greedy brutish villain Clayton) before, but he had very strong stage presence in this show.

Overall, director Chari Arespacochaga has delivered another colorful and entertaining Disney show, infused with beautiful stage images and moments.  The material may seem too familiar, or the songs too unfamiliar, but the immense talents of the hardworking actors make this jungle tale come to sparkling life.  Kids and adults alike will enjoy this show.  (They should have staged this back in May during the summer break so more kids could watch!)  In any case, kudos to the entire cast and crew for the enjoyable show!


The Viva Atlantis Theatricals production of "Tarzan" runs at the Meralco Theater for one more weekend, up to June 29, 2013.  For tickets, call 687-5853, local 661, or Ticketworld.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My Personal Candy Crush Saga

June 12, 2013

I completed Level 350 of Candy Crush Saga last week.  And since then, I have not played anymore.  Now, who is calling me an addict?  Haha!   I have looked back at this game, and why it was so hard to resist.

Who are these characters anyway?  Never cared to know their names...

Sometime in March this year, my kids downloaded this new game on the iPad called Candy Crush, that was supposed to be very popular.  It looked like "Bejeweled," but with yellow, red, purple, blue and green candy pieces, with that hypnotic music playing (which I dislike, so I always play on silent mode).  When I checked it out and tried the game myself, it turns out it was not really that new anymore.  Because this game was connected to Facebook, I was very surprised to see a LOT of my FB friends already right in the thick of their Candy Crush adventures. Seeing your own progress vis a vis your friends gives this game an additional challenge.

If you do not want to part with any money, which includes me, you need to connect with FB to progress as starting from level 30, there are points where you need to obtain tickets from your FB friends in order to board a train or a plane to get to the next levels.  

I reached Level 350 without having to spend a single cent on lives, on special powers, or what.  Nor did I have to turn back the clock of my tablet (as many true CC addicts do) to fool the app to giving me a fresh set of five lives.  I just play with lives that CC provide for free and the lives that my friends send to me.  

The first few levels were pretty easy.  Just form those trios, fours and fives in a row, and get points.  At first, it was just clearing the jellies.  Later on, these jellies got thicker and thicker, they needed to be hit so four to five times before they get cleared.  We get to have other challenges, like bringing down the ingredients, namely cherries and acorns.  Make sure they are in a column with an arrow at the bottom, and do not trap them in shoulders.  

Striped candy is formed when you align four in a row.  It can have horizontal or vertical stripes depending on how the direction of the last candy to complete the four.  The direction of the stripes determine the direction of the sweeping power of this candy.  If you complete a letter L or T with same color candy, this forms a Wrapped candy.  When these explode, they clear a nine square area around it.  combine five candies in a row and it forms those multi-colored chocolate balls, which we in the family, called "Buchi" (because they looked like one).  When you switch a Buchi with a regular candy, all the candy of that color on the board are cleared.

These special candies can also be switched with each other.  A Stripe-Stripe combo sweeps in cross directions.  A Stripe-Wrapped combo sweeps three layers in an up and down cross.  A wrapped to wrapped combo, now that is spectacular, as it produces a 9x9 square big explosion.  A Buchi-Wrapped combo makes all the candy of that color into wrapped and explodes accordingly.  A Buchi-Stripe combo is very useful since all candy of that color become stripes, then sweeps in many directions.  Of course, a Buchi-Buchi combination is the most special because it can clear out ALL the candy of all colors on the board.

In the much higher levels, there is another special candy shaped like fish.  When you clear such, it releases three fish that  eat isolated jelly squares.  If you are lucky, these would be the jellies you left at the corners.

The notorious Level 65.

It would be easier to fulfill these tasks if there were no pesky obstacles, but what game does not have them? 

A relatively easy obstacle are those black coils.  They can be switched with anything, and seems innocent at first.  You can see this and feel their effect in higher levels when entire columns of black coils block the sweeping powers of striped candies.

When you go beyond level 50, you will meet and HATE chocolate!  These things multiply so quickly and stay that way unless you can clear candy beside them.  Later you will see that if you clear all the chocolate, they are cleared for good.  Well, that is until those higher levels when there would be chocolate churning machines.

Even more irritating than the chocolate are those bombs!  These bombs indicate numbers on them, sometimes as high as 20, but many times as low as 3.  This number counts down every move you make, and you should clear the bomb with a same color combo before it reaches zero.  Or else, the bomb explodes, and the game ends right there and then.  Like chocolate, there would also be bomb churning machines in certain levels.  You would waste many moves just trying to clear the bombs, and not fulfilling your orders; not to mention you can still have plenty of lives left at that point.

There are many levels which you can clear in a single try.  Yes, even beyond 200 or 300.  Mostly though, you waste a life or two to figure out what this level is trying to make you do.  But then again there are those terror levels which stymies even the most serious of addicts.  It is true what they say, this game is purely out of luck, luck of what the next candies it will give you.  Yet, the sense of achievement after passing each level, especially the hard ones, is so indescribably satisfying.  Many times, you cannot help but elatedly shout "Sugar Crush!" when you see that phrase flash on the screen after a particularly challenging level.

My personal nemesis Level 147

The level where I spent the most time was that darned Level 147.  I spent a whopping 3 weeks before I conquered that monster which was supposed to be a simple "clear the jelly" type, but the combos that would make you destroy the thick multi-layer jellies at the bottom just would not materialize.  I also had a hard time at Level 165, 167, and 305, spending about a week each in those levels before passing.  There are surely others, but these are the stumpers I remember the most.  

I sometimes feel that the game knows when you are already frustrated and planning to quit.  Because just when you least expect it, you will get your elusive Sugar Crush, and you continue!  Especially if you see a friend gaining on you or passing your level!

The first level most people have difficulty with is Level 65.  I do not really remember that it was memorably bad for me, but a LOT of my friends have been stuck there for so long, such that this was the level where Candy Crush drove them crazy enough to quit.  I have helped a couple of FB friends out in completing this challenging level.

And then, there is the super easy Level 252, where you simply need to get 30,000 in 30 seconds.  However, they give us a lot of "+5" candies which give you a 5 second extension in time. I got a whopping 1.2 MILLION points.  My son was more patient than me, played the level again for me, and got an even more whopping 3.1 MILLION points!

OK, so now I am at Level 351 and have not been playing anymore for five days today.  There are only two FB friends ahead of me, and they are doctors, one dermatologist and one pediatrician.  You draw your own conclusion from that.  Another doctor is trapped back at 350 after two weeks, but maybe he has passed it by now, I haven't checked.  Let's just see. I am not closing my book completely on this saga.  Who knows, when I see many friends gaining on me at Level 350, I may again have interest to continue the game.  But for now, I have decided to simply stop.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Recapping "Game of Thrones" Season 3 (Part 4, Episodes 9-10)

June 11, 2013

My recap of Season 1 was posted HERE.

My recaps for Season 2 Episodes 1-3 were posted HERE; Episodes 4-6 posted HERE; and Episodes 7-10 posted HERE.

My recaps for Season 3 Episodes 1-3 were posted HEREEpisodes 4-6 posted HERE
Episodes 7-8 posted HERE.

Episode 9: "The Rains of Castamere"

The title refers to a song which describes the power dominance of the Lannister family. You do not see a single Lannister in this episode, yet it may mean that their hand is behind the what could be the most unthinkable scenes in GoT history (matched only by the final scene of S01E09, and you all know what a big shocker that was).

Danaerys finally sacks her first city. Jon Snow shows his true Crow colors. Bran Stark shows off his mind control powers over man and dire wolf. However important these may be, everything else that happened in this episode is secondary only to that shock of a heart-breaking, spirit-rending ending. 

What was supposed to have been a happy union between Edmure Tully (a picture of dread turned relief) and the unexpectedly pretty and nubile Roslin Frey, turned out to be the worst bloodbath ever seen on this show as the band played "The Rains of Castamere", involving the most unexpected characters. I am in deep shock and speechless for several minutes after watching this. I am still out of breath as I write this summary now as this whole sequence simply knocked the wind out of me.

Episode 10: "Mhysa"

This is the season 3 finale. The whole season peaked last week at the shocking Red Wedding. The purpose of this rather quiet thoughtful season finale episode is to show us the aftermath of last week's major event, and to set up the stories (cliffhangers of sorts) to be picked up in the next season. 

Arya sees Robb's head replaced by the head of his Direwolf. This drives her to commit her first killing in the name of revenge.

Theon Greyjoy's twisted tormentor turned out to be Ramsay Snow, the bastard son of Roose Bolton, the very same guy who drove the knife into Robb's chest in the name of the Lannisters. 

Ramsay sent Theon's "favorite toy" to Balon Greyjoy as a threat. His sister Yara defies her father and sets sail to save her brother.

King Joffrey dared to accuse his grandfather Tywin Lannister that he was a coward. Tywin tersely sends Joffrey back to his room. Tyrion tells Tywin that he intends to name Roose Bolton the Warden of the North, until a son of Tyrion and Sansa comes of age.

Shae was offered a monetary gift from Varys to leave Tyrion, as she is a "complication," but she rejects it.  We learn in this scene that Varys thinks that Tyrion is the only hope to save the Seven Kingdoms from Joffrey's tyranny.

Samwell and Gilly met Bran and his group at the Nightfort. Sam shares with them the dragonglass blades that can kill the White Walkers, but they later part ways. Bran and company wanted to continue going North of the Wall. Samwell wanted to get to Castle Black.  It was by Sam's testimony that the Night Guard sends out ravens all over to warn against the coming Army of the Undead.

Jon Snow gets one last sendoff of arrows from Ygritte. (She actually looked good in this scene.)  But he still manages to reach Castle Black alive to reunite with his fellow Crows.

Talking about homecomings, Jamie Lannister also makes it to Kings Landing, appearing before Cersei in a wordless scene that is full with meaning.

Despite the fact that Ser Davos helped Gendry escape, Melisandre surprisingly supports him when he explained to Stannis why he deserved to live, given the warnings about the coming clash with the White Walkers.

And finally, we come to the scene that gave this episode its name. "Mhysa" is the name Danaerys was called by the people she rescued from the city of Yunkai, and it means "mother." She was carried in adoration by her new people, as her three dragons fly around above them.


And so that is it. This Season 3 seemed to come and gone so fast. I liked this Season 3 better than Season 2, though Season 1 is still unbeatable in my opinion because of its shocking novelty at that time. The subsequent season have been following the set pattern where Episode 9 holds the surprising climax. We have another long year of waiting ahead of us. Spring of 2014 cannot come too soon.