Saturday, August 31, 2013

TP's IBALONG: Environmentalism Ahead of Its Time

September 1, 2013

Last night, my daughter and I were fortunate enough to attend the Gala Night of the re-staging of Tanghalang Pilipino's "Ibalong".  It was first staged as the last production of TP's 26th season, just earlier this year for the month of February 2013.  It was coincidental that last night was the closing of the Ibalong festival in Legaspi City this whole month of August.  

This musical version of the Bicolano epic was supported by Legazpi City since its conceptualization. and it was recently just staged in that city last August 21-22 as part of the festival.  Legazpi City Councilor Alan RaƱola was in attendance last night to receive a certificate of appreciation from TP.  Also in attendance was the daughter of Mr. Merito B. Espinas, the author of  "Ibalong: The Bikol Folk Epic-Fragment" which brought the epic to national consciousness when it was published in 1966.

"Ibalong" was about the elementals that possessed the earth and the incursion and domination of humans into their territory.  The central character is the beauteous Oryol, a half-serpent half-human elemental, who was torn about her loyalty to her kind, and fascinated with the humans as well, as represented by the proud and over-achieving hero Handyong.

The story was told in two acts.  The first act was about an hour and 45 minutes long, while the second act was about an hour.  The production design is very imaginative. The stage was magically transformed into a lush jungle with an innovative curtain where the elemental creatures slither about.   The fantastic, very colorful costumes of these creatures are the main conceit of this production.  

Oryol (former Ms. Saigon Janine Desiderio) was quite a visual achievement with her long green serpentine body controlled by puppeteers dressed in black.  The other remarkable costume was that of the giant wild pig Opon (Red Nuestro), whose big mouth was controlled by the actor's hands while he was "talking".  The fighting dance sequences between man and elementals were amazingly and meaningfully choreographed.  There were even two high poles at both ends of the stage used to very good effect.

A problem last night was the sound.  Frankly, I did not understand anything that was being said or sung in the first fifteen minutes or so.  Oryol was the lead character but either her mic is weak or misplaced so that the sound was intelligible.  When Janine Desiderio was singing her opening monologue, her notes were powerful and resonant, but I do not know exactly what she was telling us.  This would happen many times during the first act and it was truly disappointing just try to connect events in our heads by deduction.  That is why the first act felt so long.

Luckily, the second act was much better in terms of pacing and story-telling, giving the play a powerful and memorable ending.  All the actors, Janine Desiderio (as Oryol), Remus Villanueva (as Handyong), Cheeno Macaraig (as Makusog) and May Bayot (as the goddess Gugurang), all shone in their singing and acting in this second half.  

The last song solo by Trixie Esteban as Daragang Magayon was beautifully haunting.  This young lady, whom I just saw in "Sandosenang Sapatos" last month, really has a promising future ahead of her.  She also played young Oryol (with her own little serpent tail) at the beginning of the play, and she can deliver her lines more crisply and clearly than the adult performers.

Overall, the story is a very timely message of caring for our environment.   This message seemed so much ahead of its time since it was written well well before thinking green and respecting the Earth was in vogue. It also reminds man to temper his greed and power-madness.  Man and Nature needs to respect each other in order to live in full harmony with each other.  This important message is delivered loud and clear.

It was so astute for the people of Legazpi City to share this local epic mythology with the rest of the country in the form of musical theater.  It was indeed fascinating to know of these characters.  I have never heard of another serpent being in other local Filipino myths until I saw Oryol last night.  And she was no frightful creature, mind you.  When she was a serpent, Oryol knew fully well how to use her feminine charms as well as her fighting skills to protect her kind.

Kudos to Rody Vera for his adapted libretto, Tucxqs Rutaquio for his efficient direction and wondrous set design, Leeroy New for his inventive costumes and puppet designs, Alden Lugnasin for dynamic choreography, and the rest of the Tanghalang Pilipino cast and crew!

This re-staging of "Ibalong" runs Fridays (8 pm), Saturdays (3 pm and 8 pm) and Sundays (3 pm) up to September 15. 2013 at the Little Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.  Tickets are available at the CCP Box Office and Ticketworld outlets at P800 for adults and P400 for students.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

PAMANA: Relive the Spirit of Ninoy and Cory!

August 22, 2013

"Pamana" tells the story of a typical low middle-class Filipino family.  Lola Azon is a retired Metro Aide street sweeper during the Martial Law time and a big admirer of her namesake, Pres. Corazon Aquino.  Her son Edgar has grown disillusioned with how the government went after the EDSA Revolution, so he decided to be an OFW, working in Dubai, then Switzerland. Azon's grand-daughter/Edgar's daughter is Trina, who has to make a decision whether she will join her dad abroad or stay put in the country she is just discovering to love.

The actors all did very well to essay their roles.  Of course, Malou de Guzman was very effective as Lola Azon.  We believe her and we feel her pain.  She had perfect chemistry with another theater veteran Bodjie Pascua, who played her husband Turo.  Their number together "The Noise Barrage" was very memorable. Kakki Teodoro had a nice soprano lilt in her voice. As Trina, she represents the idealistic youth. I liked her best in "Ang Tatay Ko" where she tells us about her long-distance relationship with her OFW dad via the Internet. It was refreshing to see Jett Pangan in a Filipino play after "Jekyll and Hyde" and "Nine".  His voice is really solid as he tackles his rather one-dimensional cynical role of Edgar the best he could.

The best and most original part of the play for me was the very first major musical number, where there were parallel stories being told simultaneously, Lola Azon telling us how she was inspired by the Ninoy Aquino funeral procession in 1983, as Trina tells us how she was inspired by the funeral of President Cory in 2009. The presence of those four honor guards, whom we clearly remember steadfastly stood around President Cory's coffin for several hours during her actual funeral parade, lends further sentimental punch to the scene.

As for the rest of the play, truth to tell, the family conflicts it tells us are simple, common and oft-tackled in movies and other plays already.  It was only the way that this story, which spans three generations, had been integrated with several inspirational video messages of Ninoy and Cory Aquino which distinguish this play from others.  We will revisit the best of the best moments and memorable quotes of the two dearly departed icons in the videos edited by Jun Reyes.  Ninoy's poem about the "Candle of His Life" was especially beautiful, poignant and apt.

I can't explain exactly why, but somehow I felt that the Meralco Theater was too big for this play. The material seemed better fit for a smaller stage.  I felt that they had some difficulty filling up the big stage.  I sort feel that it might work better and raise more goosebumps in a more intimate venue like the PETA Theater.

For me, the only sequence that actually needed that big of a stage was the interpretation of Jim Paredes' EDSA-1 anthem "Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo", complete with a simulated tank and flag waving.  The images during this big number were haunting and truly captured the essence of that historic event.

This show is a production of the Ninoy & Cory Aquino Foundation in partnership with Indie.Go Media and the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA).  It calls itself a docu-musical tribute to Ninoy & Cory Aquino.  Its aim is to remind Filipinos of the exemplary lives of the elder Aquinos, Ninoy's "spirit of sacrifice" and Cory's "faith and selflessness."

Being a play about political figures, this show is politically-charged.  Knowing then that this show is a tribute, you do not expect it to be an impartial version of our country's recent history.  This show is "yellow" through and through, and targeted for a "yellow" (or at least unbiased) audience as well. The writer Rody Vera did try to balance this with the point of view of the Edgar character who was disappointed with the country after EDSA 1 and left.  This is NOT for the staunchly anti-"yellow" (who probably have a different version of events), unless they can respect the spirit of the proceedings with an open mind and a civil tongue.

I was originally supposed to have attended the gala night scheduled on Ninoy Aquino Day, the 30th anniversary of his assassination at the airport tarmac.  However, because of the adverse weather brought about by the enhanced monsoon, that gala show was cancelled and deferred to Saturday night.  The event was supposed to have been attended by the Aquino family, including President Noynoy Aquino himself.  To watch this play with the children Ninoy and Cory left behind in attendance would have been a more emotional experience.

Kudos to director Maribel Legarda, musical director Vincent de Guzman, esteemed composers Ryan Cayabyab and Fr. Manoling Francisco SJ, and the rest of the PETA cast and crew for bringing this inspirational story to life in a form so vivid and sincere.  This may not have been a perfect play, but it is a perfect tribute.  

"Pamana" only has three public performances slated, all this weekend:  August 24 at 3 pm, and August 25 at 3 and 8 pm.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

PETA's BATANG RIZAL: Patriotism Made Young!

August 18, 2013

"Batang Rizal" is a play by PETA that I have heard about for a very long time.  This musical about the child Jose Rizal had been first staged way back in 2007, and had been toured around the country several times since then.  I knew that this is a play I would like to watch with my children.  When I found out just a few days ago that PETA will be re-staging this modern classic at the PETA Theater for a limited engagement this month, I made sure my whole family went to watch it this rainy Sunday morning.

"Batang Rizal" tells the story of Pepito (Vic Robinson), a student of Rizal Elementary School, who is in deep trouble for accidentally breaking the expensive new Jose Rizal statue donated by their oily Mayor Rafcu (Wylie Casero) for their Linggo ng Wika celebrations.  Pepito encounters a magical Book which teleports him from the present time back to the late 19th century in Calamba, Laguna when Jose Rizal, or Pepe (Lemuel Silvestre), was still a young boy like him.

From such an innovative scenario, we are given an inside view into the psyche of the still young and innocent boy Rizal, still being bullied by other kids for his diminutive stature, only beginning to be wakened to national consciousness by his elder brother, already very devotedly attached to his mother.  The situation gets more interesting when Pepe is likewise brought by the magic Book to present times and he meets Pepito's teacher and classmates. Ultimately, the young Rizal and his modern day friends will be taught lessons in nationalism and heroism.

We will get to see all the stories we hear about Rizal's childhood unfold on the stage as they have been skillfully integrated into the script.  The oft-repeated fables of the "Turtle and the Monkey" and the "Moth and the Flame", were retold in imaginatively via hand puppets.  We will hear the young Rizal himself recite "Sa Aking Mga Kabata," the poem he supposedly wrote when he was only eight years old.  There was even an episode about Rizal's mother being arrested and incarcerated, which I have never before heard of until I watched this play.

The young adult cast playing children was so cool and natural, not trying too hard at all to be childlike.  Vic Robinson is charming as the lead character, Peping.  Hard to believe this guy had already played a romantic lead in "Sa Wakas" just a few months ago, and here he is now playing an elementary-age kid.  This is the first time I am seeing Lemuel Silvestre on stage, and yet here he is now playing co-lead as Pepe.  He may not be conventionally good-looking as Robinson is, but Lemuel's charisma steadily grew as the play went on.  Most importantly, he is credible as the titular young Rizal.

Peping has his friends: the bossy Bambam (Timee Gorrecho), the big cutie crybaby Chiqui (J-mee Katanyag), and of course, his crush, the pretty Kaye (Rissey Reyes).  Of course, as in any school, there are those bullies: the naughty Manuel (Ron Alfonso) and his gang Raffy (Rafael Sudayan) and Ella (Divine Aucina). These mischievous bad guys were quite the hit with the crowd with their boisterous antics. 

What is amazing about this supporting cast is that in complete contrast to the relentlessly zany characters they play in the present time, they also play the very serious characters in young Rizal's life on the other side of the time tunnel.  Casero also plays Rizal's older brother Paciano (though he did look old enough to be Rizal's father).  Katanyag, Gorrecho and Reyes also play Rizal's sisters Saturnina, Maria, and Narcisa respectively.  Alfonso tells the grim tale of the execution of Gomburza with the garrote. Sudayan plays a wicked Spanish friar selling indulgencias.

The most remarkable extreme transformation was by Ms. Noemi Gonzales. She was just so perky and crazy as their ditzy Filipino teacher Ma'am Tangolang, who has a penchant for channeling opera diva Sylvia la Torre. Yet in a total turnaround, she was also a serenely solemn and very dignified presence as Teodora Alonzo, fondly called Donya Lolay, Rizal's mother.  You would never imagine that these two exceedingly contrasting characters were just played by just one very talented actress.

This play was brilliantly written by Christine Bellen, with such loving respect for the Filipino language.  It also features lively all-original music composed and arranged by no less than Vincent de Jesus. Dudz Terana directs the action very well, mixing the serious and the comic moments with much control.  The moment when Pepe realizes the lesson of the "Moth and the Flame", and that moment when Pepe discovers how exactly he became a hero, were so beautifully and sensitively written and staged.

This is by no means a very serious play about patriotism.  As PETA targets this play for children, the audience is also treated to rollicking, laugh-out-loud, schoolyard comedy.  This 2013 script was obviously updated to include hilarious present day pop references, like the current Pork Barrel issue, Ser Chief, Juan de la Cruz's "latigo ng katarungan", and many others.

My whole family really enjoyed our two hours (no intermission) watching "Batang Rizal" this morning.  I do not wonder why this play had already achieved its status of being a beloved PETA production. It definitely deserves to be seen by all Filipinos, young and old, all over the country.  

To celebrate Buwan ng Wika this month of August, do bring your whole family to watch "Batang Rizal"!  This play will run August 16-18, August 23-25, August 30-31 and September 1 at The PETA Theater Center.  There are two shows per day, 10 am and 3 pm.

For tickets and more information, contact 725-6244, 0917-5765400. Tickets are selling for P600 for adults, and P400 for students.  These shows sell out because entire groups of students book these shows, so hurry to reserve your seats!  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Repertory Phils' ALICE IN WONDERLAND: Curioser and Curioser!

August 16, 2013

This year, the Rep Theater for Young Audiences (or the Rep Children's Theater) continues its 20-year strong tradition by presenting a musical theater adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic 1865 novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.   This particular adaptation of the novel, now entitled ALICE IN WONDERLAND, had book and lyrics by Jim Eiler, with music also by Jim Eiler and Jeanne Bargy.  

There is not much of a plot to speak of here.  Of course, we are all familiar with Alice who fell into a dreamland of odd characters and situations.  There have been numerous adaptations in various media, but I am pretty sure we are most familiar with the classic 1951 Disney animated movie of the same title, which is probably what we all have in mind when we think of Alice and her adventures.  Recognizing budget constraints, it will really be a challenge for the director Ms. Joy Virata and her staff to bring all of these fantastic events so well-known to many to convincing life on stage.

Indeed, when the play began with the chorus showed dressed in very bright colored costumes, we knew this will be more of a show memorable for its innovative costumes, make-up and production design than its story or songs.  The theme of the set design and the costumes for this Repertory production appeared to have been geometric shapes inspired by Japanese origami.  And these were truly spectacular and looked expensive!

(Photo Credit:  Repertory Philippines FB Page)

It was rather tough going at the start, with the scene of Alice (Daniella Gana) and the White Rabbit (Nacho Tambunting) falling into a very deep rabbit hole seemed to have come short of its intended illusion.  I was thinking maybe some wind and echo effects would have been helpful.  After that however, with the much anticipated scene of Alice shrinking and growing was very imaginatively done.  Now that is thinking outside the box!  

While it was filled with some rather inventive visual candy, like the how the Caterpillar was formed by four different people playing separate segments of its body ("When I Become a Butterfly"), Act 1 felt rather dull, not only for me but also for my daughter, who watched with me.  Those episodes involving the duck, lorry and dodo birds, and the French mouse, and the Duchess, her cook and her baby, were not too interesting for me.  

Act 1 ended with a show in the Palace Music Hall.  Again the numbers in this part were more miss than hit for me. I hope they can tweak this part up further in future shows, as this is only their first public performance tonight.  Despite their striking and literally shimmering costumes, the "Tweedle Brothers" number failed to fly.  I personally found the "Walrus and Carpenter" portion not done so well (yet, I hope).  The singing was not clear.  The costume of the Walrus was not at par with the others.  This scene was only saved by those cute oysters. 

(photo credit: Repertory Philippines FB Page)

When it came to Act 2, now we're talking!  It actually started with an audience sing-along ("I'm Mad, You're Mad") led by the Cheshire Cat (Nic Campos) and Alice with those LSS-inducing lyrics, "I'm mad. You're mad.  We're all mad here!" Not only the kids, but everyone in the audience really followed the hand gestures too!  From that sparkling start, Act 2 turned the whole show around for the better.

The next sequence was the iconically hilarious and very colorful Mad Tea Party ("Time for Tea"), with its three insane characters: March Hare (James Stacey), Dormouse (Josh Ramirez) and the Mad Hatter (Joel Trinidad).  Some pretty corny jokes were exchanged in this scene, but it was all in the spirit of good delightful fun, with some carefree audience participation as well for the kids.  (This gave me the thought that maybe they should have also integrated some audience participation parts to liven up Act 1 as well.)

Following that is the fantastic staging of the Croquet Games.  Again, the colors of the lights enhanced the elaborately rich costumes of the King and Queen of Hearts.  This highlight was made more memorable by the brilliant performance of Ms Bituin Escalante as the deranged Queen who wants to cut off the heads of everyone who goes against her ("Off With Your Head").  This scene for me was the highlight of the show.

The rest of Act 2 with the Mock Turtle ("The Turtle Tango") and the final Trial scene ("Sit Down, Sit Down") did not let up the momentum, and continued entertaining us up to the inevitable end and curtain call.  

(Photo Credit: Repertory Philippines FB Page)

Through all of this, the most impressive actor of the show is really the very young Danielle Gana, whom I learned is only 14 years old. Playing Alice, she was on stage for the whole show.  She still manages to capture our attention all the time with her verve and stage presence, despite all the strange, colorful and fantastical creatures that share the stage with her.  Mentored by Michael Williams, this 10th grader has a big future ahead of her in the entertainment scene.

Overall, my daughter and I had fun watching "Alice in Wonderland," mostly because of the very vibrant Act 2, which in itself is already worth the admission price.  If you just grin and bear with aimless first act, you will be amply rewarded in the most enjoyable second act.  I bet you, you will go out of the theater singing "I'm Mad, You're Mad" on your lips!  We confess we did.

Congratulations to Ms. Joy Virata for her successful direction of this very challenging piece of Children's Theater.  Congratulations also go to Ms. Liesl Batucan for being Assistant Director, as well as onstage as the Duchess.  (It is interesting to know that Ms. Liesl played Alice in the 1997 Rep production.)  The biggest kudos go to the Technical Staff, particularly set design (by Gino Gonzales), costume design (by Raven Ong), lighting (John Batalla) and make-up (Ely Maalat) -- these are the biggest stars of this show.


Repertory Philippines' 'Alice in Wonderland' will run weekends, from August 17 to December 15, 2013 at Onstage, Greenbelt 1, Makati City. Do catch it with your young kids!  Call (02) 571-6926 or (02) 571-4941 or get your tickets from the new Repertory Philippines Website at

The run will be very long with multiple shows, so there will be alternates for all the roles. Alternates for the role of Alice are Chaye Mogg, Becca Coates and Rachel Coates.  For Rabbit, alternates are Reb Atadero and Jim Ferrer.  For Queen of Hearts, the alternate is Natalie Everett.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

LEADING LADY: Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo Debuts at 50! (with VIDEO)

August 15, 2013

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo  is no doubt the First Lady of Philippine Theater now and maybe throughout my twenty years or so of being a fan of local theater.  I find it very amazing that this concert "Leading Lady" is only her FIRST solo concert, and she only had it now at the ripe age of 50!  

This concert is the third and final installment of the "Triple Threat" series of monthly one-night-only concerts at the CCP Little Theater featuring theater stalwarts who could sing, dance and act.  Last June, the first show starred Nonie Buencamino.  The second show last July was all about Audie Gemora.  Sadly, I was not able to see both of those shows due to schedule conflicts.  I almost missed this concert too, but luckily the stars intervened in my favor.

The stage had a piano at left, and a bunch of props on the right behind a folding divider. Behind the piano, the stage had so many lights set up.  I was imagining now this concert was going to be lit by those lights, and beautifully it was.

Ms. Menchu entered the stage wearing a black sleeveless one-piece pantsuit, with only earrings and necklace as accessories.  Nothing too fancy.  She first talked about her love for the theater, the butterfles in her stomach, and how she wanted to connect with her audience, from the front row to the back.  With Mr. Rony Fortich at the piano, she launched into her first song "You There in the Back Row" from the show 13 Days to Broadway.

She followed that up with "Everything's Coming Up Roses" form Gypsy and "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" from the musical of the same title.  

 (photo credit:  Ms. Girlie Rodis)

After that she talked about her first audition for Repertory Philippines The King and I back when she was 15.  She did not get a role then, though her brother Raymond (then 12, now her director for this show) did.  But this show ignited her passion for musical theater.

She began in ingenue roles, and had a funny spiel talking about all the shawls she had to learn to act with.  She then sang a series of ingenue songs, like "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story, "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" from The Sound of Music and "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" from Sweeney Todd.  She's still got that sparkling soprano lilt in her, even though she confesses she has not sung any of those songs for years.

                               (video credit: Jude Bautista)

Then she talked about her transition to more mature songs, getting to sing songs like "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl, then "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables, ending the series with "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from Evita.  She was not only singing these songs, she was in full character.  

After this, she talked about singing mature love songs as a leading lady, then she segued into a medley of "As Long as He Needs Me" (from Oliver!) and "My Man" (from Funny Girl).  She also sang "Stars and the Moon" from Songs for a New World.  She was bathed in blue lights during this song which she described as a song with "all the emotions written into it."  Beautiful rendition.

(photo credit:  Ms. Girlie Rodis)

She then talked about how she found it difficult to make people laugh in comedies.  She followed that spiel with a different yet still amazing performance like I don't think I have ever seen her do before.  The song is "(Not) Getting Married" from Company.  That wonderful song was a true show-stopper.  Ms. Menchu was so vibrant and funny in that song marked with very fast delivery of very tongue twisting lyrics.  Guest singer Teenee Chan and even the pianist Mr. Fortich sang support for this song.

The next song was "Send in the Clowns" (from A Little Night Music).  So much emotion and drama in this inherently dramatic song.  After this, she talked about her dream to play Elphaba in Wicked, then, as green lights played around her, sang a heartfelt "The Wizard and I."

                               (video credit: Jude Bautista)

She introduced her next song calling it the most beautiful song she has heard.  To the surprise of the audience, she sang a song in Filipino. It was "Magbalik Ka Na Mahal" from Rama Hari by Ryan Cayabyab. She confesses that her Filipino was not too good.  However, after hearing 

her rendition of that love ballad, you wouldn't believe it to be true.

The next song is "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife.  I know the song, and I knew Ms. Menchu has sung it.  But I never knew how powerful this song could be before.  Ms. Menchu really owned this song. This was THE highlight among many highlights of the show.

The final song in her official programme was "Colors of My Life" from Barnum.  And the lights on stage burst into multiple colors as the song was describing.  Certainly sums up her most colorful life as a theater actress.

(photo credit:  Ms. Girlie Rodis)

Of course, the audience will not let her go simply after that.  She acquiesced by serenading us with a song from Passion called "Loving You."  I was waiting for her to sing this, and was so happy she actually did. She mixed in the song "Not a Day Goes By" (from Merrily We Walk Along), and mash-up was seamless. 

For a final encore, she toasted us with her water glass (which miraculously did not run out through the length of the show despite her frequent sips) and the song "Ladies Who Lunch" from Company.  She was charmingly fierce in her rendition.

So there goes the very successful first solo concert of Ms. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo.  I feel so fortunate to have been one of those who have witnessed her grand solo concert debut.  Life begins at 50 indeed, especially for a talented trooper like Ms. Menchu.  We already knew she would be so good, yet she even surpassed all our expectations.  So many good things still remain to be discovered in her already illustrious career in theater in the years to come.  And we will all be there to watch and cheer her from our seats as she regales us on the stage.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

PET SHOP BOYS Live in Manila: Concert Recap and Videos!

August 7, 2013

Ever since the first announcement of this PET SHOP BOYS concert, I really resolved to watch it as this duo is one of my favorite acts from the 1980s.  Their greatest hits CD "Discography" is on constant repeat in my car back then, and even now, if the mood hits me.  It was back in 1985 when we first heard the unusual style they had on their debut single and first hit song, "West End Girls," which went all the way to Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Like the Tears for Fears concert, I thought this concert will also be as highly-anticipated by the 80s college set.

Unfortunately, that was not really what happened tonight.  The Smart Araneta did not fill up as I was expecting.  By 8 pm, there were still a lot of vacant seats.  Most people were up in the Upper Box B area. The General Admission was even closed off maybe because of poor sales. By 8:30 pm, the Patron seats looked better as more fans trickled in.  There was no front act. When the lights were killed and the coliseum was in pitch black darkness, we knew it was already going to be main act.

Right from the very beginning, we knew this was going to be more than an event for our ears. This was also very much a dazzling feast for the eyes as well.  The video screen in front of the stage first had a vertical orange line which eventually morphed into a cone, then into a tube where two figures were walking through.  This is it! 

Trippy images from last night's concert (photo care of Harry Hawson)

The first song "One More Chance/Face Like That" was not familiar, but that thin high-pitched voice of Neil Tennant and the synthesizer style of Christ Lowe were unmistakably very familiar.  The second song was one of their earlier hits, the top ten song "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)".  In that song, the screen fell to the stage, and we finally saw Tenent and Lowe in the flesh.  Tennant is much bulkier with a bald head already.  We still do not see much of Lowe's face, as it was before.

After that hit, a long series of unfamiliar songs followed, but the beats were so catchy and dance-able as their known songs.  Throughout this stretch, we would be regaled by some pretty awesome light displays which bathed the whole coliseum with strobe and laser lights of different colors and designs.  On stage, there would be dancers with bull-like head gear prancing around.  The PSB knows they cannot stage a show with only the two of them, this concert was going to be a totally immersive experience of light and sound.

After the minor hit with a memorably long title "I Wouldn't Normally do this Kind of Thing", the audience rose to their feet for the first time when we heard the first note of "Suburbia"!  That song is only a low charting single in the US, not even hitting the Top 40, but here it is BIG!

Following that, there were unfamiliar songs again, including a cover of a Bruce Springsteen original called "Last to Die."  This was followed by a surprising cover of  the famous "West Side Story" song, "Somewhere", done PSB-style.  The next unfamiliar songs all deserved to be bigger hits because of their infectious beats, "Leaving," "Thursday" (with that catchy "stay for the weekend" chorus), "Love, Etc." and "I Get Excited."

The distinct intro strain of their 1987 hit "Rent" (SEE VIDEO) made the audiences very excited again. Then all the big hits came, and the audience was all on their feet dancing.  It was started by "It's a Sin" (SEE VIDEO) then "Domino Dancing" (SEE VIDEO), their Village People cover "Go West", then their hit cover version of "Always on My Mind," which ended their regular set, with a release of glittery confetti all over the stage.

The lights remained off, so we knew it was not over yet and clamored for more.  Their signature hit has not been sung yet!  Sure enough, that was the first song of the encore set, "West End Girls"!  They sang one last song which is I believe their latest single, "Vocal".

With that final song, this very artistic light design intensive concert came to an end.  I am slightly disappointed that they did not play a couple of my favorite PSB hits, "Heart" and "What Have I Done to Deserve This".  However, you would not believe that this is a old nostalgia act from the 1980s with the way this awesome, inventive, and entertaining show had been staged. Their concert title is certainly apt.  This Pet Shop Boys concert was indeed ELECTRIC!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

MADZ '89: A Rare and Nostalgic Reunion Concert

August 4, 2013

Tonight, we had the opportunity to catch a rare event, the Reunion Concert of the "winningest" batch of the Philippine Madrigal Singers -- Madz '89.  Madz '89 won 10 first prize awards in international choral competitions held in Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Austria and Italy back then -- a truly stellar achievement.

This special concert is part of the ongoing celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the acclaimed singing group.  This concert is on its second night tonight, held at the Auditorium of the Abelardo Hall, a building which is also celebrating its 50th year this year.

There were celebrities spotted in the audience.  Ms. Irene Marcos Araneta was there.  I also saw Mr. Ryan Cayabyab, also Moy and Sweet of The Company.

Before the start of the concert proper, noted baritone and choral conductor Jonathan Velasco took the mic and introduced all the singers on the stage, giving us information about what they are doing now, as well as some trivia about how they were back then.  Many members of that batch are already acclaimed musicians from here and abroad, like Monet Silvestre, Jonathan Zaens, Sal Malaki, and of course, Jonathan Velasco.

The songs were introduced by means of a Powerpoint presentation overhead on stage.  A short introduction was also given per song.  Too bad the font was not too clear from the balcony area.  After the introductions, the singers sat down and began the show.

As per most other Madz concerts, the first act was composed of serious art songs in different languages: German, Italian, French, Latin and English. These are some selected songs from the competition days back then.  Among the more remarkable songs they sung were:  "Trauergesang" by Felix Mendelssohn which was introduced as the song Germany remembers Madz '89 for up to now; and "Gloria (from Misa)" (VIDEO) by Ryan Cayabyab, which was hailed as an eclectic mix of cultures in a musical piece.  This last song featured a remarkable tenor solo by the same soloist back in 1989, Edward Granadosin.

The second act is fun with more popular music. First the girls entered to sing a couple of songs by themselves, "Ang Aking Awitin" and "Waray Waray".  Then the boys entered to sing by themselves as well, as the Haranistas.  They sang "Ikaw ang Lahat sa Akin" again with Edward Granadosin as soloist, which was amazing, to say the least.  Then it was a hilarious song entitled "Sa Ilalim ng Punong Saging".  Both songs garnered them standing ovations. The accompanying guitarist was Mr. Ed Nepomuceno, also a member.

They sang  "Katakataka" (VIDEO) with an amusing use of deep bass voices in the arrangement. "Beeh ... Buti Nga" by the Hotdog was given an amazing acapella arrangement by Annie Nepomuceno.  Florante's "Handog" (VIDEO) was dedicated to the Madz's recently departed mother, National Artist for Music, Prof. Andrea O. Veneracion, whom they lovingly call "Ma'am OA".  The final song of their regular set was "Sana'y Wala Nang Wakas" by Willy Cruz.

Of course the audience would not just let them go that easily, and demanded for encores.  The Madz graciously and generously obliged with four.  The first song was "L'important c'est la Rose" (VIDEO) featuring clear flawless flute-like whistling by Mr. Sal Malaki.  Malaki also led the Madz in their next song, doing a soaring solo for Paul McCartney's "Yesterday".  Another Beatles classic followed with "Let It Be," this one beautifully arranged by Ryan Cayabyab.

The final encore number was a performance of song legendary among the Madz entitled "Italian Salad", a comedy number featuring solos by Jonathan Zaens, Jonathan Velasco, Edward Granadosin and a particularly funny exasperated performance by Armando "Boyong" Robles grasping at the high notes.  This hilarious number ended this memorable concert on a very high and joyful note.  Looking forward to the 75th anniversary concert!  Congratulations to Madz '89!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Spotlight Artists Centre's KATY!: Vaudeville Lives Again!

August 4, 2013

I was fortunate enough to have seen the original production of KATY! back in 1989, with Mitch Valdez as Katy and Celeste Legaspi as Olivia.  I honestly do not recall much of it anymore, except that it was very colorful, raucously funny and with great songs and great singing.  

I missed the re-staging of KATY! back in January of this year at the LittleTheater of the CCP.  That show starring Isay Alvarez as Katy and Dulce as Olivia was a critical and box office success.  That is why when the opportunity opened up for me to catch the re-run of the re-staging, I wholeheartedly welcomed the chance.  Thank you, Ms. Gimbey de la Cruz!

KATY! is the life story of renowned Filipino vaudeville jazz singer Ms. Katy de la Cruz.  The music is by Ryan Cayabyab.  The libretto is by Joey Javier Reyes.  The direction is by Nestor U. Torre. Great names all.  The result of their collaboration is this fantastic, timeless, vibrant musical about an iconic star of the Philippine stage.  The key factor for the success of a production is really the actors and the cast in this instance did not disappoint.

We see three actresses play her growing up from from a naughty precocious little girl (Leana Tabunar) to a naive spirited young lady (Aicelle Santos) to the mature star we all know her for (Isay Alvarez).  The singing of the three Katy's was so on-point!  They all sounded like the real Katy de la Cruz.  I was actually afraid for the severe stress this impersonating is costing their vocal folds.  

Not only did they have to growl their way into classic Katy songs, there was also that high-pitch shrill speaking/shouting voice they had to do.  This was especially true for Batang Katy Leana Tabunar.  It was scary to listen to, but man, she was so good!  

Young Katy Aicelle Santos seemed to have had to sing the most challenging songs to sing, with "Bituing Tahimik" and "Balut" among them.  And anyone who had to sing a duet on a famous song with the one and only Dulce is really up for a big challenge, and young Aicelle passed this test with flying colors.  

Isay Alvarez actually took the stage only in Act 2.  She definitely showed her full range.  Her songs went from the very slow ones like her sad duets with her father and her husband, to elaborate song-and-dance numbers like "Aba, Ba, Ba, Boogie" during the American Liberation scene to "Basta't Masasayaw" where she had to tap dance with Epy Quizon as Dolphy.

Ms. Dulce, as usual, was in flawless voice.  Her highlight is the show's most famous song "Minsan ang Minahal ay Ako" which was actually a lesson being taught by the old jaded star Olivia to the young bright-eyed Katy.  She also had a patriotic song to sing in Act 2 called "Luha sa Kinalimutang Lupa" which also brought the house down.

Tirso Cruz III played a delightful Tatay, strict but loving and supportive of his only daughter's career.  Gian Magdangal plays a very charming Peping on the piano in Act 1, though his acting in Act 2 was a bit of a downer with the awkward way he delivered his morose lines.  Maybe it is more of the lines than the actor. The ladies playing Katy's theater friends, Hanna, Patsy and Mary Walter, were all very charming and funny, and great singers to boot.  Having Epy Quizon to portray his dad was an inspired decision.

As a whole, this musical is really highly entertaining,capturing the very essence of Katy de la Cruz and vaudeville.  Act 1 is so much livelier and funnier than Act 2, which was saddled with themes of war and death.  However, the song numbers were there to liven things up when the story was getting a bit too serious. The costumes were so good looking. The sets may be simple and small in certain scenes given the huge stage of the Meralco Theater.  But they sure did not scrimp on the big song and dance numbers.

Congratulations to the cast and crew of Spotlight Artists Centre for successfully reviving one of the vital theater musicals in the history of Philippine Theater!

KATY! runs only up to today!  Catch the last two performances this afternoon at 3pm and tonight at 8pm at the Meralco Theater.  Do not miss this last chance today.