Friday, January 3, 2014

My Yearend Roundup: The BEST of PHILIPPINE THEATER 2013

January 3, 2014

Last year, I had seen 28 theater productions, 21 of which were musicals. That is only a fraction of everything the very active local theater scene has offered for the general public in the past year.  I will recount here what I feel were the best that I have seen and written about for 2013.


This category is the hardest to rank because the productions were all very good. The talent of Filipino musicians are in full display.  For this list, I am just going to include productions who had their first run in 2013.

1.  The Bluebird of Happiness (Trumpets)

The whole production had a vibe that you were not watching a Filipino play.  It had a distinctly foreign flavor, very much like a Disney production.  While the story was based on a Belgian play by Maurice Maeterlinck, this production is proudly all-Filipino.  The sprightly music was composed by Rony Fortich, whose seven years as Musical Director of HK Disneyland must have rubbed off on his musical stylings.  The sweeping musical arrangements were care of Mon Faustino. The book and libretto by Director Jaime del Mundo was so witty and insightful, such a joy.  (My Full Review)

2.  Lorenzo (Green Wings)

"Lorenzo" boasts of music by Ryan Cayabyab, with book & lyrics by Juan Ekis & Paul Dumol in the collaboration of Joem Antonio.  Cayabyab's music in this show is very much reminiscent of "Jesus Christ Superstar" with its edgy rock opera feel where the voices of the cast soar and wail to heavenly heights.  Veteran director Nonon Padilla skillfully integrates the past and present stories of the two Lorenzos into one seamless meaningful whole, both socio-political and religious aspects. The most memorable aspect of this play is its unique and spectacular production design courtesy of Gino Gonzales, with multiple Japanese references, from Kabuki to Giant Robots, used to drive the story forward. (My Full Review)

3.  Sandosenang Sapatos (Tanghalang Pilipino)

This is only a short play, a little more than an hour only, with no intermission.  Tanghalang Huseng Batute is small and intimate.  The stage is just  two circular platforms surrounded by a wooden figure-8 path. However, the powerful poignancy this musical projects transcends the simplicity of the stage or the material.  This is mainly because of the enchanting central performance of young Trixie Esteban as Susie. Her voice has the purity and innocence of a child so all her sad songs and impossible dreams hit us hard with so much dramatic impact. (My Full Review)

Honorable Mentions:

Sa Wakas (My Full Review)
Maxie the Musicale (My Full Review)
Bonifacio Isang Sarsuwela (My Full Review)

Revival of the Year:

Katy! (My Full Review)


1.  The Producers (Repertory Philippines)

Director Jaime del Mundo was able to harness the grandiosity of the script and scale it down to a production that fit very well into the confines of the Onstage stage.  That challenge of making the most of the limited stage space was addressed so well by Mio Infante by his set design.  The costumes in the colorful "Keep It Gay" and the spectacular "Springtime for Hitler" scenes were a triumph for designer Raven Ong. Audie Gemora stole the scenes from under the leads Carlo Orosa and Topper Fabregas with this flamingly wild performance as director Roger de Bris. (My Full Review)

2.  The Addams Family (Atlantis)

The set design, as was the standard for all Atlantis productions, was impeccable.  The cast had been completely transformed into the well-known, and mostly, well-loved characters, thanks to the amazing make-up talents of Johann dela Fuente, in full cooperation with the costume designs by Pepsi Herrera and Edwin Tan.  You certainly cannot see Arnell Ignacio or Eula Valdez or Jamie Wilson (or anybody else for that matter) as how you usually know them.  You just see them as their character. (My Full Review)

3.  The Full Monty (Viva Atlantis)

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

Honorable Mentions:

Carrie (My Full Review)
Tarzan (My Full Review)
No Way to Treat a Lady (My Full Review)

* Note:  I was not able to watch "Cinderella."


Collection (Dulaang UP)

The title is nondescript, does not say much.  The ticket simply billed it as a "very dark comedy."  I totally did not expect what would come out on stage.  The very first scene was an auction with no less than the Banaue Rice Terraces as a piece of real estate up on the block. This shocking opening already sets the over-the-top, bombastic mood, pace and scope that would characterize the next three hours of complex, witty and mesmerizing theater.  The play would go from the mystic 17th century to the electric future, with a vivid script in both English and Filipino, on an impressive and innovative set that looked like it had doubled the size of the old Wilfrido Ms. Guerrero Theater stage miraculously.  Jeremy Domingo and Teetin Villanueva owned the stage with electric performances. (My Full Review)

Honorable Mention:

Teatro Porvenir (My Full Review)

* Note:  I was not able to watch "Der Kauffman" nor any of the Virgin Labfest plays.


Piaf (Atlantis)

This is an ultimate acting piece for the actress who will play her.  It is an awards-baiting role, and indeed it had won a Tony in 1981 for the actress who originally played Piaf on Broadway, Jane Lapotaire. Even if this was shown early in March, the Best Actress of the year award belonged to Ms. Pinky Amador already.  She was giving this character everything she's got. It is her powerful, full-bodied smokey singing voice that is front and center in this play. Even if her spoken voice was already quite strained, her singing was still breath-taking! (My Full Review)

Honorable Mention:

Closer (My Full Review)

* Note: I was not able to watch "Red" nor "The Maids".


Looking forward to more vibrant productions of the various local theater companies this year! Action already starts this January 2014 with "Rak of Aegis" by PETA, "Wait Until Dark" by Repertory Philippines, "Mga Ama, Mga Anak" by Tanghalang Pilipino and "Ang Nawalang Kapatid" by Dulaang UP.  And of course, there is the much-anticipated, big, sold out visiting foreign production of "Wicked" at the CCP.

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