Saturday, July 26, 2014

Recap of BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE: The Accompanist is the Star

July 26, 2014

This concert was to be held Saturday July 26, 2014 at the Teatrino at the Promenade in Greenhills. I was worried that Saturday night in Greenhills is going to be a parking nightmare.  But with barely five days to go, I decided that this would be too good and precious a concert to miss and bought a couple of tickets. That day, despite worries about an INC event affecting traffic in the area of my daughter's school, we got to Greenhills and got a basement parking space with a lot of luck. In fact, on the day itself, I bought an additional ticket for my daughter to watch with us. That was to be the last ticket for sale, and we got it.

A few minutes after 8 pm, Mr. Rony Fortich addressed the audience and took his seat at the Mickey Mouse-adorned piano.  We first saw some artists come out and act as if they were auditioning for a show.  Mr Fortich then launched into a funny song of his own which set the tone for the whole concert, "He's Just the Accompanist" while all the other guest artists came in and submitted their music pieces to him, to the audience's warm applause.

With the first few songs, we realize that this will not really be a concert about very big musical theater hit songs only.  Many of the 35 guest artists would sing songs I have not heard of before, but that was good because it introduced me to so many other musical gems I would not have known of otherwise. It is too bad also that there were no introductions on who the singers were.  While I recognize most of them, there were those whom I did not know yet.

Joaquin Valdez opened the show with a strong vigorous song I did not know. This turned out to be "Shiksa Goddess" from Jason Robert Brown's "The Last 5 Years"--a musical he will star in this August with Nikki Gil. Topper Fabregas was hilarious as a waiter who longed for "The Man in Table 3".  Of course he did not miss promoting his upcoming show "Rabbit Hole" which he is directing. Carla Guevara-Laforteza was in an elegant black ballgown when she belted out "Woman" (from "The Pirate Queen"). Fred Lo was dapper in black with a red tie as he sang "So Close" (from the film "Enchanted") 

Gian Magdangal rendered for us a Tagalog ballad "Panaginip" (from Ryan Cayabyab's "Noli Mi Tangere"). There was a beautiful duet "It's Never That Easy / I've Been Here Before" (from "Closer Than Ever") sung by Cathy Asanza-Dy and Jenny Jamora, both so powerful! OJ Mariano and Bituin Escalante had a sassy little duet "Therapy" (from "Tick Tick Boom"), about "a problem of co-dependency". Michael Williams surprised the audience by singing the jazzy "Lies of Handsome Men." 

Of course, there are also very familiar songs in the first half of the show.  Kyla Rivera and Caisa Borromeo sang "What is This Feeling?" (from "Wicked"). OJ's solo number is "Home" (from "The Wiz"). Red Concepcion and Cris Villonco sang an energetic duet mixing two Filipino hits "Ale" and "Limang Dipang Tao".  Then looking back on his career as Musical Director of Hong Kong Disneyland, Fortich also played for us a suite from "Frozen" with Kakki Teodoro on "Do You Want to Build a Snowman", Mako Alonzo and Jill Pena on "Love is an Open Door", Gab Medina on Olaf's song "Summer", and Shiela Valderama-Martinez on the ubiquitous "Let It Go".

After an intermission of fifteen minutes, the second act opened with a group of kids singing songs from Fortich's two youthful original musicals. The first was the title song from last year's "The Bluebird of Happiness." The second is "Let's Get Cooking" from "N.O.A.H.", where the kids were joined by a vivacious Shiela Francisco. Fortich then introduced us to the song he wrote for an anniversary of HK Disney "Celebration in the Air" sung by Sweet Plantado and special guest who flew in just to sing for this show, Felix Rivera.

Bituin Escalante goes jazzy with her soulful rendition of "Guess Who I Saw Today." Franco Laurel draws from "Joseph the Dreamer" with his rendition of the song "You Know Better Than I". Menchu Lauchengco mesmerizes like only she can in the song "Raining" (from "Rocky"). Lorenz Martinez sings a hearty "On the Streets of Dublin" (from "A Man of No Importance"). The audience was taught to sing along to the chorus of this song.

Fortich introduced the next number to be a number of dueling divas.  Carla Guevara and Shiela Valderama belted their best to outshine each other in "Let Me Be Your Star" (from the TV show "Smash")  Following this was a number with Audie Gemora squaring off with Michael Williams in a very entertaining mash-up of "Stars" (from "Les Miserables") and "Impossible Dream" (from "Man from La Mancha.")  (VIDEO)

Fortich then dedicated his final song to his artists "You Have More Friends Than You Know" (from the TV series "Glee') (VIDEO).  This song was beautifully rendered by Felix Rivera. After this, Fortich then sang his own solo song entitled "Best Seat in the House" (a piano ballad by Barry Manilow), during which all the guest artists all came out and joined in onstage toward a gospel-like conclusion.  After some final words, all the singers gleefully sang "Seasons of Love" (from "Rent") (VIDEO). That was a glorious end to a most memorable night of beautiful music and amazing singing.  The giddy spirit of love for theater permeated the Teatrino last night, and we were glad we were there to imbibe it all.

*** Thank you very much Ms. Kakki Teodoro and Mr. Rony Fortich himself for filling in my blanks regarding the singers and songs I did not recognize.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Review of FLUID: Compromising Art

July 25, 2014

"Fluid" is a play about art, and the choices the artists make in the pursuit of their artistry. Written and directed by Mr. Quintos, Fluid was first presented in UP in 2004 and Ateneo in 2007. This time, it is being presented by De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s Technical Theater Program Batch 111 for a very limited run from July 24 to 26 at their SDA (School of Design and Arts) Theater.

Amir Montano is a young struggling painter.  His angst-y style with his subjects and colors caught the attention of Mira, an older art afficionado and would-be benefactor. When Mira offers to sponsor his first big-time one-man show, will Amir accept her "suggestions" in order to make his art more appealing to the rich customers?

Jom and Alben are a young gay couple, going strong for ten years. Both of them are struggling actors.  While grounded Alben is content with his current projects doing dead-serious classic plays, whimsical Jom dreams of being commercial and famous in musicals that he loves. When Jom plans to audition for a Singapore-production of "Rent", will Alben relent and do the same, and in so doing, forego his Shakespearean passion?

Simone, a shallow self-centered wedding coordinator, hides the 40-man Philharmonic orchestra behind a curtain as they perform the music for the reception. Renata, the liaison coordinator of the orchestra, would not stand for this. She also has more avant-garde ideas about what music to play despite the contract they entered with Simone. When Simone threatens not to pay them, will Renata accede to playing Simone's silly pop playlist instead?

These introductory scenarios are all presented in the first act. After a fifteen-minute break, the second act opens, set in an art exhibit that happens a year hence from the events of Act 1.  All six characters will cross paths during this grand event, and there they confront each other as to their real opinions about their art. At the end, will everyone get their respective artistic epiphany?.

Ana Abad Santos was riveting as Mira, a role she originated ten years ago in UP.  She essayed this cougar-ish and manipulative art connoiseur with a lot of class and conviction, I had seen Kalil Almonte perform recently in Ateneo, in Glenn Mas' "Games People Play".  His Amir was perfectly "jologs" in the first act, though he seemed to lack the maturity to create more credible impact in the second act.

JC Santos delightfully played the flighty Jom. His character loves bursting into song, and JC displays his singing chops very well in songs like "Corner of the Sky" and his coup de grace "Defying Gravity" on a crane.  It might not be far-fetched that this good-looking actor crosses over to the mainstream showbiz circles in real life as well.  Russell Legaspi plays the more serious thespian Alben.  He gets his chance to shine in that monologue recounting his "Rent" audition. That was one unforgettable acting moment for Legaspi.

I was very surprised to learn after the show that Amihan Ruiz, the actress who played the batty senior citizen Renata, is actually only in her 20's! Renata had the longest lines of the play which explains the whole essence of the play, and Ruiz definitely delivered with passion. Gel Basa mainly played comic relief in her role as Simone, a caricature of someone who had no respect for artists despite working closely with them. She was so irritatingly funny.

Anthony Falcon plays a nameless dancer in black who seemed to be the uniting spirit of the play, performing in between unrelated scenes. While his dancing skills were excellent, but I honestly do not know what to make of that seemingly extraneous character, 

The talented cast take their final bows

Kudos to Floy Quintos for another successful staging of his Palanca-award winning play (2nd place in 2004). The hilarious present-day references certainly enlivened the updated script more. The main message about the struggle of artists between their pure art and commercialism is timeless. It works as well now as it did ten years ago, and will work ten more years from now.


"Fluid" runs for only one weekend, from July 24-26, 2014, 1pm & 7pm, at 5/F SDA Theater, School of Design and Arts Campus, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, 950 Pablo Ocampo St, Malate, Manila. For ticket inquiry, contact +63 917 9285737.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review of TP's KLEPTOMANIACS: Rapping Through Social Realities

July 12, 2014

Tanghalang Pilipino's 28th theater season opens audaciously with "Kleptomaniacs."  This production prides itself for being the first Pinoy rap musical, originally written and performed completely in the style of OPM rap. Using this contemporary musical medium, writer/librettist Layeta Bucoy innovatively tells us a sad but all too real story of life in an urban slum area.

Tabo is a young simple-minded pedicab driver who impregnates his girlfriend, a colegiala named Vicky. This situation erupts into a battle of the two families, both of whom are against what they feel would be a hopelessly useless wedding. Only his ridiculed friend Ngongo and his precocious younger brother Butchoy support Tabo in his idealistic dream.

Their slum community was suddenly devastated by a destructive earthquake.  This earns the attention of their Mayor to create new housing in their area.  Because of his earnest nature, Tabo was assigned to come up with a list of the poorest of the poor who will qualify for the new free houses.  Tabo's naive honesty was met with derision by his avaricious neighbors, including his parents and Vicky. These tense events all led to an inevitable tragedy.

From the rousing rock-flavored overture care of live musicians, I knew I was going to like the music of this musical (with composition and arrangement by Jose Carlo Frios and Nina Virgin). It was just too bad that a lot of the incisive lyrics of Ms. Bucoy could not really be understood very well because of issues with the sound system or with the unclear rapping prowess of some cast members. A lot of times I just surmised the meaning of what was just rapped because of the situation, despite that I did not get all the words.

The most outstanding performer of this whole play is the youngest one.  Child actor Micko Laurente has a singing voice which can project so loud and crystal clear such that it can be heard above the rock musical accompaniment and the collective voices of the chorus.  His acting was so natural and moving in its simplicity. His Butchoy definitely stood out from the rest of the maddening crowd onstage, despite his diminutive size. 

Nicco Manalo is also remarkable as the lead character of Tabo.  He has a goofy charm that projects the naivete and idealism of his character very well from the stage.  In the second half, Manalo was able to portray the "rape" of his character so sympathetically with his expressive face and voice.

Ybes Bagadiong gave a notable supporting performance as the shady and vindictive Peklat. Aldo Vencilao provided the necessary comic relief with his hyponasal voice as the loyal Ngongo. Jonathan Tadioan, as usual, commanded the stage with his huge heft and deep voice in the character of Tabo's ex-hired killer dad Biano.

Angelina Kanapi was good as Vicky's mother Tisay.  Her haughty condescension against Tabo was delivered very effectively with her clear rapping of her lines. May Bayot usual belting voice seemed down with laryngitis hampering her impact as Tabo's mom Caring. I felt Thea Yrastorza was not too clear in her rapping as Vicky, so I hardly understood many of her lines.  Her chemistry with Nicco Manalo was also not convincing in the first act.  Luckily, the second half had nice romantic songs like "Momol" and "Remember" that fixed that problem.

The technical aspects of set decoration (by director Tuxqs Rutaquio), lighting design (by John Batalla) and choreography (by Nestee Gamilla) was topnotch.  I hope they can fix the sound issues with the microphones and the live band as the run progresses.

The message of "Kleptomaniacs" was loud and clear at its disturbing end -- that as long as there are kleptomaniacs in government, the wealth of the country is at their mercy. It was a downbeat and depressing conclusion with no ray of light in sight, unlike most musicals.  It paints a bleak though true picture of our current social conditions and it is very sad indeed. Is there no place for idealism anymore in these increasingly violent and dog-eat-dog times we live in now? 

After the curtain call, Direk Tuxqs announced that they are planning to show this musical to out-of-school youths.  To be honest, that announcement disturbed me. It is one thing to give them the enriching opportunity to watch theater which is of course good, but given the play's dark and even incendiary overall tone and message, it is far from being uplifting nor encouraging for the disenfranchised segments of our society.


Venue: Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Playdates: July 11-13, 18-20, 25-27; November 28-30, Dec. 5-7, 12-14, 2014. Fridays 8 pm; Saturdays 3 pm and 8 pm; and Sundays 3 pm. 

Tickets Prices: P 1000, 800 and 600. 

For tickets, call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or contact Tanghalang Pilipino at 832-1125 local 1620 for more details.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST X - SET D: Three Sensitive Dramas

July 3, 2014

Today, I was able to catch the last performance of Set D of the ongoing Virgin Labfest at the CCP.  Unlike last Thursday, I did not have an easy time getting the tickets this time.  I had to stand in line at the box-office for more than forty minutes, waiting for the last 10 minutes before showtime, in order to buy a ticket. It turned out they were waiting for festival ticket holders not to arrive before selling new tickets to walk-ins like me.  There might be a better way of doing this next year.  Anyway fortunately, the three new one-act plays staged today were all fortunately worth the wait.

Written by Reya Mae Espiritu Laplana
Directed by Jenny Jamora

Two girls, Hani and Lai (played by Allison Segarra and Isabelle Martinez, respectively), who considered each other BFFs, reunite after a year of being apart.  Lai went to pursue her high school in the big city, bringing with her the very bad habits she used to hate.  Hani stayed in town, betrothed to be wed soon in order to settle a debt.  Their reunion under their favorite star apple tree uncovers deep secrets they have never shared with each other.

This quiet provocative play was written by a 16-year old first time playwright in the person of Reya Laplana.  In fact, she had classes today so she could not attend the performance of her own play.  The topic was simple and the ending was actually visible from the very beginning. The remarkable achievement of the director Jenny Jamora was the successful creation of that thick atmosphere of tension that developed between the two characters and enveloped them before reaching that inevitable conclusion. 

Written by U Z. Elizerio and Maynard Manansala
Directed by JK Anicoche

This play was set at the wake of Berto, brother of Felicia and uncle of Corinne.  Felicia loved and admired her brother very much, wanting this wake to be a testament to his goodness.  However, Corinne carried nothing but hate and repulsion for her dead uncle, who had sexually molested her when she was a child.

The play treated the proceedings with humor at first, mostly care of Corinne's nerdy lesbian girlfriend Angie (Opaline Santos) and her harassed barangay councilor mother Felicia (Hermie Concepcion). But the very serious and uncomfortable topic of the story cannot be denied.  The ghost of the past is literally brought to life onstage with such vivid imagery, we can all feel Corinne's shame and rage as Sarah Salazar so shatteringly expresses them. Joel Seracho's sordid performance of the abominable Uncle Berto was a realistic horror to watch. 

Written by J-Mee Katanyag
Directed by Ed Lacson, Jr.

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.