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.