Friday, December 12, 2014

Review of Dalanghita Prod's KAILAN AT BAKIT: Dark Unsettling Stories

December 12, 2014

"Kailan at Bakit" is a set of three one-act original Filipino plays held at the Studio Theater on the 3rd floor of the PETA Center. (I never knew they had a small intimate theater venue up there before.). This show is the first production of Dalanghita Productions. One of the producers, Pertee Brinas, gave a very short introduction about their company which aims to produce all original local plays or musicals. This one weekend run of "Kailan at Bakit" is just a soft opening of sorts for this fledgling company. The big one comes in summer next year with the musical "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady."

1. BETANG (Written by Joanna L. Katanyag; Directed by Ed Lacson)

I had already seen this one-act play last July during the Virgin Labfest at the CCP. Here was how I reviewed the play back then:

"The situation in this play is so deceptively simple that the synopsis can be summarized in a single sentence: Octogenarian Lola Betang waits for her former lover boy to fetch her with him in the next life. However, the multi-layered performance of Ms. Sherry Lara as the title character Betang was able to show us so much more than that.  If there was a best actress for the festival, she would probably be one of the top contenders. The audience audibly responded to her, even when she was just batting her eyelashes or smiling coyly.

There was intense chemistry felt between Ms. Lara and the actor who played her long-awaited "sundo" (or, in Philippine superstition, a fetcher to the afterlife), Chino Veguillas. Veguillas possessed a palpable charisma that made many females in the audience swoon with Betang.  That theme song of theirs, "I Wanna Be Loved By You" by Marilyn Monroe, was so hauntingly perfect.  When they delivered those killer lines at the end, you'd have to be made of stone if you were not emotionally moved. Beautiful."

The luminous Ms. Sherry Lara reprises her role here as Betang. In the Virgin Labfest, Juliene Mendoza only played the minor third character, Betang's nephew Norberto. In this new staging, Mendoza takes on the main character of Betang's ghostly "sundo". Mendoza has always been a reliable actor and this time is no different. However, I do not know if it is because I had already seen this play before, but the romantic chemistry between Lara and Mendoza did not affect me as much as it did back in July. Maybe it was because I was already aware of how perfectly it had been portrayed the first time around. 

2. MGA BULONG NI RARA (Written by Pertee Brinas; Directed by Claudia Fernandez)

This play is set in a house inside a subdivision. Houseboy Nitoy is washing clothes and doing all the household chores because housegirl Gemma is in her first month of pregnancy. Her condition was the result of a one-night stand with hunky security guard Yuri, whom Nitoy also fancied. Their love triangle reaches a head when something disturbing happens to Yuri which had diabolical consequences.

The script throws us a weird curveball. From a funny love triangle story, it went to a totally unexpected direction that was not funny. Instead, it went from something light to something totally dark. This shift was so radical and sudden, with no clear explanations given. By the way, I also did not really get who the titular Rara is.

The three new actors all did well in their roles nevertheless. Flamboyantly helpful Nitoy was played by EJ Patacsil. The clueless guard Yuri was played by TJ de la Paz. The two of them have good playful chemistry together. The annoying Gemma was played by Ina Azarcon.  I am sure we have all met employees like her in real life. These three realistic characters as charmingly portrayed by these actors really made the supernatural twist come out of totally nowhere. I think the same initial premise of the play could be reused for a totally different and more interesting rom-com type of play, or even a musical.

3. FRESHMAN (Written and Directed by Chris Martinez)

Bonn is struggling to study for their Statistics finals the next day. He asks his classmate Ryan to his house to help him in his review. In the course of this study session, their conversations turn from small talk about school to unsettling discussions about the most bizarre of subject matters.

I had the most expectations for this play because Chris Martinez is well-known for his well-written, very funny films like "Here Comes the Bride" and "Kimmy Dora". There was nothing light or breezy or funny about "Freshman". The whole play is strange, and very uncomfortable to watch. (I did like that reference to a certain "review center", brought back memories of my own college days in Diliman.)

Ryan is a manipulative weirdo genius with repressed desires and violent tendencies. I guess there are really crazy people like that in college. Gio Gahol got all his character's idiosyncrasies down -- from the way he eats his potato chips, to his calculator rituals, to the secret of his "ballpen". He was totally committed to his role, did not fall out of character, no missed beat.

It was Bonn though that was unrealistically written, as portrayed here by Brian Sy. Is desperation to pass a subject enough reason to bear such indignities as this character was made to endure? In the first place, why does he not have his own calculator? The two of them can't be sharing this quirky calculator during the exam, can they? Two sick violent events happen to him that night, and both times, this supposedly macho jock just gets up to resume his review. I would have told that guy to get the hell out of my house after the first one. Of course, maybe I just did not get it.


"Kailan at Bakit" will run only for this weekend, December 12-14, 2014 at the PETA Studio, 3/F PETA Theater Center in Quezon City. There will be two shows on Saturday and Sunday, 1 pm and 5 pm. The 5 pm show is perfect appetizer for those who are watching "Rak of Aegis" in the main theater at night. The 5 pm show ends about 7:30 pm, just as Rak will begin at 8 pm. Each ticket costs P 600 inclusive all three plays already. For ticket reservations, contact number is 09985311389.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


December 10, 2014

Here are the Hot 100 Singles of 2014 as ranked by Billboard Magazine. (Billboard's year-end music recaps are based on chart performance during between the Dec. 7, 2013 and Nov. 29, 2014-dated charts.) 

1 HAPPY Pharrell Williams (#1 10 weeks)
2 DARK HORSE Katy Perry Featuring Juicy J (#1 4 weeks)
3 ALL OF ME John Legend (#1 3 weeks)
4 FANCY Iggy Azalea Featuring Charli XCX (#1 7 weeks)
6 TALK DIRTY Jason Derulo Featuring 2 Chainz
7 RUDE MAGIC! (#1 6 weeks)
8 ALL ABOUT THAT BASS Meghan Trainor (#1 8 weeks)
9 PROBLEM Ariana Grande Featuring Iggy Azalea
10 STAY WITH ME Sam Smith

11 TIMBER Pitbull Featuring Ke$ha (#1 3 weeks)
12 POMPEII Bastille
13 SHAKE IT OFF Taylor Swift (#1 4 weeks NC)
14 AM I WRONG Nico & Vinz
15 TURN DOWN FOR WHAT DJ Snake & Lil Jon
16 THE MONSTER Eminem Featuring Rihanna (#1 2 weeks)
17 SAY SOMETHING A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera
18 TEAM Lorde
19 LET HER GO Passenger
20 ROYALS Lorde

21 LET IT GO Idina Menzel
22 WAKE ME UP! Avicii
23 DEMONS Imagine Dragons
24 STORY OF MY LIFE One Direction
26 BLACK WIDOW Iggy Azalea Featuring Rita Ora
27 BANG BANG Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj
28 LATCH Disclosure Featuring Sam Smith
29 MAPS Maroon 5
30 LOYAL Chris Brown Featuring Lil Wayne & French Montana Or Too $hort Or Tyga

31 BEST DAY OF MY LIFE American Authors
33 SUMMER Calvin Harris
35 DRUNK IN LOVE Beyonce Featuring Jay Z
36 ANACONDA Nicki Minaj
37 BREAK FREE Ariana Grande Featuring Zedd
38 BAILANDO Enrique Iglesias Featuring Descemer Bueno & Gente de Zona
39 BURN Ellie Goulding
40 WIGGLE Jason Derulo Featuring Snoop Dogg

41 RATHER BE Clean Bandit Featuring Jess Glynne
42 DON'T TELL 'EM Jeremih Featuring YG
43 SHOW ME Kid Ink Featuring Chris Brown
44 WRECKING BALL Miley Cyrus
45 NOT A BAD THING Justin Timberlake
46 ROAR Katy Perry
47 AIN'T IT FUN Paramore
48 THE MAN Aloe Blacc
49 THIS IS HOW WE ROLL Florida Georgia Line Featuring Luke Bryan

52 DON'T Ed Sheeran
53 NA NA Trey Songz
54 HOT BOY Bobby Shmurda
55 HOLD ON, WE'RE GOING HOME Drake Featuring Majid Jordan
56 SING Ed Sheeran
57 RADIOACTIVE Imagine Dragons
58 MY HITTA YG Featuring Jeezy & Rich Homie Quan
59 COOL KIDS Echosmith

61 TRUMPETS Jason Derulo
62 ANIMALS Maroon 5
63 BURNIN' IT DOWN Jason Aldean
64 PLAY IT AGAIN Luke Bryan
65 2 ON Tinashe Featuring ScHoolboy Q
66 DIRT Florida Georgia Line
67 LOVE RUNS OUT OneRepublic
68 BOTTOMS UP Brantley Gilbert
69 SHOWER Becky G

71 ANIMALS Martin Garrix
72 LIFESTYLE Rich Gang Featuring Young Thug & Rich Homie Quan
73 AMERICAN KIDS Kenny Chesney
74 BRAVE Sara Bareilles
75 SWEATER WEATHER The Neighbourhood
77 NEW FLAME Chris Brown Featuring Usher & Rick Ross
78 LOVE NEVER FELT SO GOOD Michael Jackson & Justin Timberlake
79 DRUNK ON A PLANE Dierks Bentley
80 BIRTHDAY Katy Perry

81 BARTENDER Lady Antebellum
82 LA LA LA Naughty Boy Featuring Sam Smith
83 BLURRED LINES Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. + Pharrell
84 DO WHAT U WANT Lady Gaga Featuring R. Kelly
85 CAN'T REMEMBER TO FORGET YOU Shakira Featuring Rihanna
86 AMNESIA 5 Seconds Of Summer
87 NO MEDIOCRE T.I. Featuring Iggy Azalea
89 BELIEVE ME Lil Wayne Featuring Drake
90 23 Mike WiLL Made-It Featuring Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa & Juicy J

91 BEACHIN' Jake Owen
92 WHITE WALLS Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring ScHoolboy Q & Hollis
93 SHE LOOKS SO PERFECT 5 Seconds Of Summer
94 STAY THE NIGHT Zedd Featuring Hayley Williams
95 PARTITION Beyonce
96 STUDIO ScHoolboy Q Featuring BJ The Chicago Kid
97 0 TO 100 / THE CATCH UP Drake
98 I DON'T DANCE Lee Brice
99 SOMETHIN' BAD Miranda Lambert Duet With Carrie Underwood
100 ADORE YOU Miley Cyrus



2013 -- 2012

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Review of Dulaang UP's ANG MISIS KONG PROMDI: The Notorious and the Naughty

December 6, 2014

This play is set in London, during a supposedly more genteel era. Harry Horner is a lustful cad who spread the rumor that he is impotent so husbands, mothers and nursemaids will allow their daughters to be left alone with him. His friend Pinchwife just married a provincial lass Margery, and the poor guy is doing all he can to keep her out of horny Horner's sight. Pinchwife's sister Alithea is betrothed to marry an odd man named Sparkish, but Horner's good friend Harcourt has his own designs on her. So, who will end up with whom on this love carousel?

Such are the three of the major stories that are told in the comedy of manners written by William Wycherley in 1675 entitled "The Country Wife."  This type of comedy was a satire aimed at criticizing social behavior and beliefs. The version I saw this afternoon was the Filipino translation by Nicholas B. Pichay. I thought the language used by Pichay was easy to understand, sharp and really naughty. You can imagine all the rich variety of metaphors he used to describe Horner's "impotence", for instance. The word play was laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The actors had to act under long heavy curly wigs, thick white make up with rouge, and luxurious silk and satin costumes, and they all did so with over-the-top gleeful delight. 

Physically, Martha Comia seemed to be an unusual choice to play Margery. Because she was so petite, she looked like Pinchwife's daughter. You should see how el Tayek lifts Comia up and stands her on a bench like a little girl! Despite that though, she was able to give a very relaxed natural performance for this oddly written character. She has a knack for playing lustful ladies well, as she did in the last play I saw her in, "The Duchess of Malfi" also by DUP, where she played Julia. (Sue Prado alternates in this title role. Her looks and allure are very different from Comia's, so it will be interesting to see how she would do it.)

Neil Ryan Sese has the roguish charm to pull off the irresistible-to-women Horner. Tarek el Tayek was really funny as the clueless Pinchwife, who was the butt of everyone's pranks. I think this is the first Filipino play I have seen the very reliable veteran actor Leo Rialp in, where he played Jasper Fidget, an aristocrat who fell for Horner's ruse.

In an incredible piece of casting, Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino took on the role of a man -- the weird man with strange actuations, Sparkish. She received the loudest ovation for her outrageous performance. (RS Francisco is the alternate in this role, and again I can imagine he would do this in a totally different way.)

I am already a fan of Dolly de Leon who played Lady Fidget, a matron enamored by Horner's sex appeal. Her sense of comedy is faultless, with her little facial expressions saying so much. Carlo Tarobal and Karen Gaerlan played Harcourt and Alithea. Both of them did well enough, but their comedic timing still needed improvement compared to their more experienced co-actors.

Congratulations to Professor Emeritus Tony Mabesa for directing this piece of classic farce about sex, marriage and reputation to still be very entertaining for mature modern viewers, even when translated to the native tongue. He is very ably supported by his talented crew, composed of Shakira Villa Symes (Lights Designer), Jethro Joaquin (Sounds Designer), Clint Ramos (Set Designer), and Eric Pineda (Costume Designer). 

(L-R: De Leon, Gaerlan, Buencamino, Sese, Comia, el Tayek, Tarobal, and Rialp take their bows)

"The Country Wife/Ang Misis Kong Promdi" had been running since November 19, 2014. Last day of the show is on December 7, 2014. Both shows left will be in Filipino. For tickets for the 10 AM show, contact Fitz Bitana at 0916 988 8991. For the 3 PM and final show of the run, contact Vincent Pajara at 0936 303 3879.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Review of RWM's PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (And So You're Back): Flamboyantly Fun

December 6, 2014

I barely remember the movie that inspired this musical shown back in 1994. I knew it was about three drag queens (played by Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp and Guy Pearce) who were stranded in the middle of the Australian outback, but I recall nothing more. 

This year back in May, "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" returned back to pop consciousness as a splashy big musical theater production at the Resorts World Manila, starring Leo Valdez, Jon Santos and Red Concepcion. Oddly, I did not really get the chance or the urge to watch the show throughout that entire 3-month run. Then in October, we heard the news that this same show went on to play at the Resorts World in Sentosa, Singapore to much acclaim as well. After that success, the show has returned to RW Manila for a final limited 8-show engagement.  The right opportunity just came earlier this week, so that finally, I was also able to see it last night.

Tick (a.k.a. Mitzi Mitosis) was a drag queen burning out with his routine in Sydney. He receives a call from his ex-wife Marion who invites him to bring his act to her new casino in Alice Springs in the middle of the Australian desert, and at the same time meet the son he left behind, 8 year old Benjamin. Tick invites his two good friends to come with him, though the two did not really get along at first. Ralph (a.k.a. Bernadette) is a transsexual, who used to star in an old school sophisticated drag queen act called Le Girls. Adam (a.k.a. Felicia) is a brash newcomer in the drag act with more flamboyant routines. They drive from Sydney to Alice Springs in a bus they painted pink which they baptized with the name Priscilla.

RW shows are known for their lavish sets and costumes, and this one is no different. They used the LED backdrop to very effective use to create extra dimensions on the stage. The rotating center of the stage was put to good effect for set changes, character movement and show off their central set piece, the bus Priscilla herself. There was a live band playing the musical accompaniment for all the retro hit songs the actors were singing, which was great. Director Jaime del Mundo had all the ingredients for a successful musical show and he made the best use of them all.

Michael Williams has taken over the role of Tick from Leo Valdez. Williams has this sad face that felt so right for this role. He was great in those dramatic scenes and songs ("I Say a Little Prayer", "True Colors"), especially when he was with Guido Gatmaytan, who played Tick's son Benjamin ("Always on My Mind'). He was also fearless in drag ("I Like the Nightlife","I Will Survive"), though his solo routines ("MacArthur Park") seemed more subdued than other two.

Red Concepcion finally found the role that fit him like a glove as Felicia. I know he is a good actor and singer, but I always felt something lacking or not exactly right. From the first time he appeared on stage with the song "Venus", Concepcion really owned the stage with his flamboyant strutting, big dance moves, skimpy costumes and hyper eyebrow lifting. His other solo spots were also show-stoppers, lip synching to a La Traviata aria and flirting with danger in "Hot Stuff."

I have to confess that I was disappointed that I did not catch Jon Santos as Bernadette last night. Even in the first run, I thought the only big reason to catch Priscilla was to see the comic genius of Jon Santos in action. However, as the play went on, it was clear that alternate Raymond Concepcion can also inhabit the dignified skin of Bernadette very well indeed. His best numbers were "A Fine Romance" with the Les Girls, and its reprise with the mechanic they met on the road Bob (Henry Strzalkowsky). I can imagine his singing is better than Jon Santos'.

We have lead star actors playing in supporting roles and in the chorus. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo played smart and snappy Marion. Pinky Marquez played a very butch Shirley. To see OJ Mariano transformed into a tall Tina Turner-ish character named Ms. Understanding, with her sequined minidress, high heels and big green shaggy wig was great fun.  The three Divas -- Lani Ligot, Tammy Canlas and the always smashing Ima Castro (who had replaced Bituin Escalante from the first run) -- had strong voices and great harmony with each other. I did not know that Red Nuestro could dance so well.

There were some numbers that did not come across too well for me. Act 2 opening number "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" was rather lackluster. Felicia's final solo number "Confide in Me" was a bit of a let-down. They should have done "Like a Prayer" as the Broadway production did. In fact, the lack of songs by gay pop icons Madonna and Cher can be felt. The Filipina mail-order bride Cynthia was played too annoyingly as a stereotype, though her "talent" with the ping pong balls was hilariously staged. 

Overall though, this was a very entertaining show. The songs were all so familiar and so fun to hear and see come to life in those elaborate group numbers. For me, the absolute best numbers I was shamelessly singing along to the most were "Don't Leave Me This Way", "Go West" and "We Belong". Everything is so high energy. You will find it hard to resist getting up to dance with the cast at the finale. Even if you are not too much into the drag queen act, the nostalgia of hearing all this great retro music performed live with big production numbers is enough good reason to go catch it.

"Priscilla" has three more shows to go at the Newport Performing Arts Theater. Today December 6 there are two shows, at 3 pm and 8 pm, and tomorrow December 7, one last show at 3 pm. Tickets range from P3,700 to P1,200, with various discount promos you can check out at the RW website.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Review of TP's MELANIE: Engaging HIV Education

December 4, 2014

"Melanie" is a gay beautician who died from the complications of AIDS. From that tragic start, his friends begin to be aware of their own risky sexual behavior and the reality of HIV infection. They discuss the disease among themselves: its risk factors, its preventive measures, its laboratory testing, its medical management, its urban myths and its social stigma.

The cast is led by Phi Palmos who plays Babes, Melanie's transgender colleague in the beauty parlor. Babes would engage various characters in conversations about various aspects of HIV. There was his nephew Donn (Marco Viana), Donn's lover Jay (JV Ibesate), the promiscuous professor Raul (Jonathan Tadioan), the homophobic girl Nina (Antonette Go), among others. 

Tadioan and Palmos talk about risky relationships

Held in the intimate confines of Tanghalang Huseng Batute (or Studio Theater) of the CCP, "Melanie" is a different kind of theater experience. It employs a style called "Forum Theater," where the cast involves members of the audience in their conversations. This way, some members of the audience get to voice out their own opinions and ideas about HIV and AIDS.

Initially, the treatment of the topic was light and humorous. However as the play went on, owing to the critical importance of the play's advocacy, the tone turned serious until the haunting end. 

I have seen Phi Palmos before in PETA's big hit musical this year, "Rak of Aegis" where he stole scenes as a gay neighbor. Aside from the lines in the script, he also needed to be on his toes when he engages audience members in extemporaneous conversation. He is lucky if the audience member he picked was gregarious. But if he picked someone reticent, he would have to dig deeper to get that person to talk and to keep the energy of the show up. The big highlight of the show was a hilarious sequence when Palmos picked a girl from the audience to demonstrate how to put on a condom.

Viana, Palmos and audience member put on a condom

I am very impressed with the TP Artists in the cast! Viana, Ibesate, and Tadioan are all in the cast of TP's concurrent production "Prinsipe Munti". How they can juggle two shows and not get their lines mixed up is truly amazing. This is not to forget that they were all fresh from the critically-acclaimed TP production of the formidable "Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente" just last month.

After the show, the cast had a Question and Answer session with the audience members about HIV and AIDS. It was clear that several youngsters are still confused about these matters. Palmos, Viana and the others were all quite adept and knowledgeable to answer the varied questions. The cast it turned out were all graduates of seminars on HIV 101 and Stigma Reduction in order to equip them with the proper information. They forgot the meaning of the acronym ELISA (the test used to confirm HIV infection). It means Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay.

They mention that they would vary the emphasis of the play depending on the venue where they are showing it and its HIV profile. In Manila and Davao, they focused on gay relationships. In Cebu, they would shift more focus to intravenous drug usage, since most of their HIV cases were related to that.

Palmos leads the Q&A session

Kudos to writer Layeta Bucoy and director Tuxqs Rutaquio (the same team who behind "Prinsipe Munti") for this vital educational program (a joint project with UNICEF) which will probably be a recurrent and touring production for TP. Its premiere was last October 2013. This year, it was restaged this week in line with World AIDS Day last December 1.

Here are some important information about VCT or Voluntary Counselling and Testing given at to the audience after the show:

"Melanie" will have shows on December 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12 and 14, all at 7 pm. Tickets are sold at P800 and P600, with 20% discounts for senior citizens, government employees, military personnel and PWDs. Tickets can be bought at the CCP Box Office or via Ticketworld. Call Tanghalang Pilipino for further details 8321125 local 1621.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Review of Tanghalang Ateneo's RITE OF PASSAGE: "Equus" with Chickens

November 30, 2014

Isoy was left in the care of his strict and grumpy spinster aunt Susing, who made him drop from school and kept him at home doing chores like cooking or minding her chickens. He is at the awkward age of 15, and would rather spend his time peeking at their girl neighbor as she took a bath, or going to the cockpit with his favorite uncle Berning. Once at a drinking spree with the men, Isoy bares his inner turmoil and frustration about his aunt. This results in revelations about Isoy's errant mother who abandoned him and the father he never knew.

"Rite of Passage: Sa Pagtubu kang Tahud" was adapted by Glenn Sevilla Mas from a Kinaray-a short story by Maria Milagros Geremia Lachica. This production by the Tanghalang Ateneo, the second in their current season with the theme of "Navigating Identities," is directed by respected theater playwright, actor and translator Ron Capinding. The set by Gwyn Guanzon has transformed the front of the classroom-like Rizal Mini-Theater into a realistic nipa hut with a "batalan," shower stall and real soil around it. The effective lighting design by D Cortezano enhances the stifling tension of the story.

The script is basically in English with a heavy Visayan accent. There was also a good dose of Kinaray-a (or the dialect in Antique, where the play is set) which most of us do not understand but we could just make an intelligent guess as to what they mean based on the gestures of the actors. Some Tagalog also makes it in there, but not as much. The script is heavy with intense confrontations. There are several uncomfortable situations of a sexual nature, so that this is only for mature audiences. It is reminiscent of Mas' other coming-of-age play "Games People Play."

The central character Isoy is played by college freshman Cholo Ledesma. He had that awkward height and stance that served his portrayal of his disturbed character very well. His highlight should be that sick climactic scene which felt like "Equus" to me, only it involved a chicken instead of a horse. Now how sound guy Jethro Joaquin knew what sound effect to accompany that scene, I'd rather not know.

Despite the fact that Ledesma was onstage for practically the entire play, the more memorable performances come from the supporting adult cast. Veteran actress Frances Makil-Ignacio plays the always glum and negative Tiyay Susing. She may have seemed one-note in Act 1, but it turns out she was just warming up. In Act 2, her character simply exploded with all her pent-up bitter emotion all those years, and Ms. Makil-Ignacio truly displayed radiant bravura acting.

I had to ask an usher who that awesome actor was who played the consenting Uncle Berning. His face and complexion does not really look like he's from a remote barrio, but his natural acting more than made up for the physical disconnect. It turns out that Tiyoy Berning today was played by the director himself! I confess, I knew the name Ron Capinding, but I did not know how he looked like till today. I thought his role ran the gamut of emotions and Mr. Capinding more than effectively pulled it off. (The usual actor portraying this role is Teroy Guzman, a local Shakespearean actor whom I have seen play King Lear in PETA before. His take on this character should be interesting to see as well.)

Honestly, the play is not exactly easy or pleasant to watch. However, the ideas and questions it proposed are thought-provoking and controversial. The metaphors implied within the story and the set well-crafted and well-executed -- the circumcision, the cockfight, the bamboo fences at the end. Isoy's climactic scene with the chicken is sensational in the most disconcerting, upsetting, and disgusting sense. But what a brutal metaphor that was -- the ultimate flip-off! 

Kudos to director Ron Capinding and the rest of the cast and crew of Tanghalang Ateneo for daring to stage a sensitive and challenging play like this.

"Rite of Passage" runs November 27-29, December 3-6 and 10-13, 2014. Show starts promptly at 7 pm. Saturday matinees start at 2 pm.  All performances will be held at the Rizal Mini Theater of the Ateneo de Manila University. For details about the show and tickets, contact Acel Go at 09164802195. Tickets at P300 each only.

Review of Ballet Phils' CINDERELLA: Fun and Exuberant!

November 29, 2014

We are all familiar with the story of Cinderella from the classic 1950 Disney full length animated film. We know her Wicked Stepmother and Stepsisters who maltreated her. We know her Fairy Godmother who magically helped her get to the Ball. We know about the Prince and his kingdom-wide search for the owner of glass slipper the mystery lady who ran off at midnight left behind. We can see all this and more in the latest offering of Ballet Philippines this holiday season, Cinderella as choreographed by National Artist for Dance, Alice Reyes, who was present last night.

Instead of the traditional Prokofiev score, Ms. Reyes used various pieces by Tchaikovsky to create the perfect musical score for the ballet she had in mind. She added various original elements, like the dance of animals in the garden and the two mischievous brothers of the prince, to lighten the mood for her target audience, the children.

This is already the fifth staging of this original Alice Reyes ballet since she premiered it first in 1981. The restagers this time around are BP Dance School Director and Ballet Master Victor Ursabia and Ballet Master Ramon Victoria.

The sets and costumes were originally designed by Salvador Bernal, himself a National Artist for Theater Design. The palace set was so opulent and grandiose with meticulous details, enhancing the elegance and vibrancy of the dances performed.

Cinderella was played by a young, upcoming soloist Denise Parungao. She has such a pretty smile and and kind face, perfect for her lead role. Her very slim and lithe physique gives her a very light feeling when she dances, even as she performs difficult moves. (Monica Amanda Gana alternates in this role.)

The most elegant dancer on that stage last night was the regal Rita Angela Winder who portrayed Fairy Godmother, certainly younger and more beautiful than the one we know from the Disney cartoon. Her stage presence is riveting, always drawing audience attention to her dignified stance. (Katherine Trofeo alternates in this role.)

The male characters play second fiddle to their female counterparts in this program as they mainly play consorts and dance partners. Even the Prince had to dance in groups of  multiple dancers during Act 1. Richardson Yadao is a Principal Dancer of BP but he seemed to lack the regal stature and presence to be the Prince. There were some male members of the company (was that JM Cordero?) looked more "princely" than him, sad to say. He did show why he earned his rank in the company when he danced his solo spots with excellent flourish in Act III. (Earl John Arisola alternates in this role.)

However, definitely the most memorable characters for the audience in this show are the Wicked Stepmother Brunhilda and the comic Stepsisters Griselda and Prunella. 

Last night, Brunhilda was played by Isabelle Garachon, the wife of the French Ambassador, who was a professional dancer back when she was younger. Her face was made up to look scary and stern, but she had a natural sense of humor with her facial expressions. Her moves seemed more flamenco-inspired than ballet, very graceful. BP President Margie Moran-Floriendo will alternate in this role, I am very curious on how she would pull it off. There is a third alternate, Butch Esperanza, a guy -- now that might be fun!

The role of the two step-sisters are probably the most demanding of the whole cast. They had to do physical slapstick comedy in balletic style. That is as difficult as it sounds, but it had to look like they were having a lot of fun doing it. Dancing the clumsy and heavy-footed pair last night were Ma. Celina Dofitas (as Griselda) and BP Principal Dancer Katherine Trofeo (as Prunella). They were a riot with the kids and kids at heart in the audience. People were actually laughing out loud at their antics, as unseeming as it may be at a ballet. (Edana Mae Labitoria alternates as Griselda. Rita Angela Winder alternates as Prunella -- now that is something to watch out for!)

I am not really a ballet connoisseur by any measure, but judging this as a casual viewer, this is one full-length ballet my daughter and I truly enjoyed watching. The humorous elements Ms. Reyes added into her choreography really enhanced the enjoyment of the show. I would say that the degree of difficulty of the dancing was heightened because of the sense of comedy it had to project to the audience in the form of dance. This show proved that ballet can indeed be fun to watch!

Here is the cast schedule of performances released by Ballet Philippines:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Review of TP's PRINSIPE MUNTI: Seeing What's Really Important

November 28, 2014

"The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is a famous and well-loved book. I know I have read it sometime in my ancient past, but I honestly do not remember what is was about at all. Tanghalang Pilipino currently has a Filipino-language play adapted from the beloved novel by prolific playwright Ms. Layeta Bucoy. I brought my daughter to watch with me because she just had a Filipino book report about this same novel.

In this play, Principe Munti is the ruler of a small planet with three volcanos, only two of which are active. It also has only one Rose which the Prince loved. She is of a rare beauty and fragrance, but of a rather self-centered and petulant sort. When his relationship with his Rose sours, the Prince decides to leave his planet to explore other worlds. He goes off from planet to planet, where he meets extreme sorts of people -- a President who always wanted to order others around, an Actress who always wanted people to admire her, a Drunkard, and a numbers-obsessed Businesswoman. 

His journey brought him on Earth. There he befriends an Alamid (or Civet) who teaches him a vital lesson of seeing the most important things with his heart, not with his eye. Finally, he finds himself in a desert where he meets a Pilot whose plane crashed there. Before he leave to reunite with his Rose however, the Prince gets to impart to the Pilot the valuable lessons he had learned so far.

The conduct of the play was rather dark and contemplative, in contrast with most productions meant for children which were bright and cheery. The use of shadow puppetry by Teta Tulay (and the Anino Shadowplay Collective) to enhance the storytelling was the novelty here. The lighting effects by John Batalla was essential in delivering the dramatic interaction of live performances with the shadowplay behind the screens. The original music and songs of Toni Munoz was sparse in keeping with the play's style, but very effective in building up mood. 

The script by Layeta Bucoy was lyrical and somber in tone like the spirit of the book, but rather uneven. I do not remember the book anymore so the progress of the story felt totally new to me, which was good. There were points when the dry humor could be lost on younger members of the audience. Adults and older kids may find more fulfillment watching this show than very young kids. There were points in the middle when the story would bog down, only dependent on the vitality of the actors to enliven the scenes. 

The talented child actor Micko Laurente, all of 9 years old, was on stage the whole time and had to carry the show on his shoulders. This was a formidable role with lengthy lines of dialogue but Laurente pulled it off very well. His character is mostly reactive to the people he meets, so his performance was somehow affected by the performance of the actor with whom he is interacting. (Another child actor Allen Immanuel Ryce alternates in this role.)

Regina de Vera was a true vision of beauty as the Prince's Rose. Her pettiness though became tiresome and repetitive. Those encounters in the four planets with the strange adults went a bit too long for comfort and only mildly funny for the most part. There was a scene with another Rose on Earth that was so dreary and forgettable. The Prince's encounter with a train seemed unnecessarily long and pointless as well. Llorvie Nuevo's performance as the Snake was properly sinister,

However, it was Jonathan Tadioan who really hit it out of the park with his vibrant performance of the Alamid. This was the peak point of the whole show in its effective evocation of true joy and inspiration within his few minutes on stage with the Prince. Marco Viana was also very good as the Pilot. He has very effective chemistry with the Prince which is important to build up to the emotionally-shattering climax. I would say that these last 30 minutes or so contain the very beautiful heart and soul of the whole play, and most worthy of the ticket price paid.

Congratulations to the Director Tuxqs Rutaquio and the rest of the Tanghalang Pilipino cast and crew for creating another innovative and interesting play to develop the love of theater for Filipino children.

"Prinsipe Munti" runs from November 28 - December 7, 2014 with shows at 10 am, 2 pm ad 6 pm at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater). Tickets (P600, P800 and P1,000) are available through Tanghalang Pilipino (832-1125 loc 1620/1621 or 09052544930) or Ticketworld (891-9999 /

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Recap of THEATER AT SOLAIRE LAUNCH: Sophisticated Acoustics!

November 26, 2014

I have not been to the Solaire complex before today. First of all, I am not really a casino-goer. When they had concerts at their ballroom, like the Jacksons just earlier this month, the schedule did not fit mine. But today, I was invited to attend the inauguration of a facility which would make me return to Solaire time and time again. This was the Theater at Solaire.

The theater had a spacious and elegant lobby. There were 1,760 seats inside. Its main conceit is its usage of the Constellation Acoustic System, which enables the acoustic properties of the theater fit that of the event being held, all with just a touch of a finger. Theater at Solaire is first and only theater venue with this sophisticated sound system, and only the third such theater in the whole of Asia.

The guests were mostly dressed to the nines as the posh venue seemed to demand. There was a sumptuous buffet cocktail served along the corridor which included roast beef (rare!) and salmon among others. A particularly exciting souvenir given to the guests was a Solaire Swatch Watch, a limited edition made specifically to commemorate this special milestone.

The time in the ticket says 8 pm but the show began about 8:30 already with the assumption on the stage of Mr. Thomas Arasi (President and COO of Solaire), followed by Mr. Jasper Evangelista (VP for Brand and Marketing), with their respective opening remarks. Important people behind the theater were introduced. These were: Ed Concepcion (Theater Manager), Shax Siasoco (Venue Technical Director) and Sandy Hontiveros (Talent Center Manager). Finally, veteran stage performer Mr. Audie Gemora was introduced as Solaire's Director for Entertainment.

Mr. Gemora opened the show with his revue on how to put on a stage presentation, from a blank stage to the sets, costumes, screen backdrop, etc. until the show is ready, all set to the tune of "Putting It Together". Ironically, there were sound glitches in this first number where some lapel mics would lose sound. Not to worry though, these glitches would not happen again in the rest of the show.

Gerard Salonga appeared on screen talking about the theater and its special sound system. He came out on stage to demo the equipment with musician Robert de Pano and his trumpet. You can clearly hear the difference of sound quality with the Constellation on and off. After his short talk, Salonga went back to lead the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra in a Classical Suite. 

The three leading sopranos rendered solos, Karla Gutierrez, Myramae Meneses and Camille Lopez-Molina. Ervin Lumauag provided tenor counterpoint in certain songs, as other members of the Philippine Opera Company joined in others. The big highlight of this suite is the appearance of prima ballerina, Ms. Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and some male consorts from Ballet Manila. She danced a challenging number from "Sleeping Beauty" with her faultless pirouettes.

Maestro Ryan Cayabyab appeared on the big screen to talk about the multi-purpose rehearsal studio located backstage. He would segue to introduce the next suite about Filipino musicals. Robert Sena and the Ryan Cayabyab Singers (including Poppert Bernadas) would sing a song from "Stageshow." Karylle sang a song from "Rama Hari". Myke Salomon sang "Magsimula Ka" from the musical of the same title. Isay Alvarez sang a uptempo boogie number from "Katy!" Aicelle Santos sang "Basang-basa sa Ulan" from the mega-hit "Rak of Aegis". She would be joined by Sena and Salomon for "Halik." Finally, Ms. Isay came back onstage to sing "Minsan ang Minahal Mo ay Ako", later joined in by the others, to end this suite.

Ms. Solaire and Ms. Philippines-World Valerie Weigmann appeared on the big screen to talk about the dressing rooms and the other events which could be held in the theater. Sam Concepcion came out to sing Pharell's "Happy". He would be joined by a number of Solaire models. This segment would showcase different kinds of dancing. First up was Ednah Ledesma and two male partners for a ballroom exhibition. Regine Tolentino was fiery and fabulous in her dance number with the 38 Degrees, who lifted, flipped and threw her around. The Manoeuvres had an interesting dance number with only the LED lights on their costume visible in the total darkness. 

Mitch Valdez was the next person who introduced the next act on screen, the OPM Suite. Morissette, Christian Bautista and Yeng Constantino all had their solo spots, which were well and good. However, it was when they got together to sing "Sana'y Wala ng Wakas" that their set was elevated to different level. Their harmonizing sounded so very good indeed. 

Martin Nievera came out to sing his solo spot with the song "Kahit Isang Saglit." He then sang a little bit of "Music of the Night" (from "Phantom of the Opera") to introduce the final performer of the night.

Lea Salonga was on fire as she sang for ten minutes or so straight, with a medley of punishing Broadway songs that only she can sing so flawlessly well -- "Memory", "I Dream a Dream", "On My Own", "For Good" and to cap it all off "Defying Gravity". Words cannot adequately describe the power and the passion in her renditions of these iconic songs. You really have to watch the video below from beginning to end to know what I mean!

Audie Gemora came back on stage to reminisce with Lea about the last time they were on stage together, which was when Lea was only 9 years old. Then they led off to sing the Solaire song "Brighter Than the Sun". Everyone else in the cast of performers later joined in as well. The end of the rousing song was greeted by a merry rain of confetti, and this special night was over. 

The top-notch production staff behind this show is a Who's Who of current Philippine Theater. The director is Dexter Santos. The writer is Floy Quintos. Production design is by Mio Infante. Lighting design is by John Batalla. The impressive graphic designs were by GA Fallarme. Kudos to all for a great show!

Postscript: There was a bit of a problem for guests on their way out as there is no elevator or escalator going upstairs back to the theater lobby! Everyone had to climb up the steep high escalator or the regular stairs (three flights up!), even the ladies in their high heels (including Ms. Annabelle Rama, who was there with husband, Eddie Gutierrez). I am pretty sure though that the Solaire management will have this problem figured out in time for the big maiden presentation of this theater -- the international touring production of CHICAGO to run by the first week of December.