Saturday, February 15, 2014

Review of Dulaang UP's ANG NAWALANG KAPATID: Energetic Epic Mythology

February 15, 2014




Apart from the Ramayana, the other major Sanskrit epic is the Mahabharata.  Traditionally, the authorship of the Mahabharata is attributed to Vyasa. Scholars estimate that this epic probably originated in the 8th and 9th centuries BC. The title means "the great tale of the Bhārata dynasty". It is the longest-known epic poem, with about 1.8 million words in total, an incredible ten times the two Homeric epics and four times the Ramayana

Based on the Mahabharata, ANG NAWALANG KAPATID was first written in 2010 by Floy Quintos for the Ateneo Children's Theater, with an original score by Ceejay Javier.  Now in this reincarnated version produced by the Dulaang UP, this former children's musical gets a decidedly darker and more mature treatment. The book now includes stories which were abridged because they were not appropriate for kids.  The music became heavier, more dramatic and now played by a live band.


The complex story is about a royal family headed by two brothers.  The original king was Pandu, but he was cursed by a deer he was hunting that he could not bear offspring with his wife Kunti.  Pandu passes the kingship to his blind brother Dritarastra.  

Kunti asks the gods to give her three boys, and they acceded, giving her Yudisthira, Bhima and Arjuna. Dritarastra's queen Ghandari was also blessed by the gods with one boy, Duryodhana. Unbeknownst to everyone, Kunti had another child by the sun god before she got married to Pandu. Raised by the the monkey king Hanuman, this abandoned boy grew up as Karna.  

From there, the play revolves around the relationship of these five boys as they faced insecurity, pride, jealousy, avarice, violence and death.



The Filipino text and lyrics were very well-written and clear in its narration of the complicated tale.  There were just some lines I could not make out clearly when the actors were singing them in a low key, but you could always get the story back in context.  There were a number of beautifully dramatic songs interspersed among the prose, like the touching "Lukso ng Dugo", which dripped with raw emotions.

The best feature of this musical play is not exactly the singing, as you can hear a number of bum or dropped notes here and there.  It is actually the very energetic choreography used to drive the story forward.  In songs like "Dharma" and "Shakalakalak", the choreography was festive and boisterous.  When it came down to the climactic "Dakilang Giyera" at the end, the drama was so thick as the actors danced, stomped, and somersaulted all over the stage leading up to its bloody, writhing and moaning conclusion.  As the music died down after that exhilarating number, the whole audience was so moved to erupt into spontaneous applause.

The young cast all did their roles very well.  The boys who played the rivals approximated each others talents and looks and physical agility.  They were initially difficult to tell from each other especially with their difficult names, and generally similar make-up and hairstyle, but eventually you will get who is who. Jon Abella (as Yudisthira) and Vincent Kevin Pajara (as Duryodhana) play the principal rivals for the throne with ferocity.  Ross Pesigan plays the bastard son Karna who was supposed to have been the eldest of the boys, but he actually looked younger than the others, which adds to the confusion. John Paul Basco also deserves mention for his outstanding performance as bluish-hued god Krishna



It was actually the ladies who provide the more effective dramatic performances.  Ronah Adiel Rostata plays the proud Reyna Kunti.  Being the mother of the three Pandava brothers and Karna, she figures in a lot of heavy-duty dramatic singing.  Liana Ilka Chase Salazar plays the self-sacrificing Reyna Ghandari.  Her best moment comes at the very end when she sings "Doon sa Paroroonan" with Rostata.  Dianne Formoso was a forceful performer as she played the fearful goddess of death Kali. Her raspy solo "Kali" comes near the beginning, and you will not forget it. 

For me, the best performer overall is Teetin Villanueva, who played the role of Draupadi, the wife of Yudisthira, whom Duryodhana covets.  Her strong clear voice is really a level higher than everybody else's.  She has a powerfully distinctive voice you can clearly hear and identify even when she is singing along with the chorus.  Her character also figures in a most beautifully-staged segment depicting how Krishna intervenes when Duryodhana attempts to humiliate Draupadi for shaming him.  She really possessed the stage at that moment, despite everything else going on stage.

Like "Collection" last year, director and choreographer Dexter M. Santos again successfully interprets another Floy Quintos script into yet another audacious Dulaang UP production.  It was amazing how he staged how the queens gave birth to their divine children, as well as those other memorable scenes I already mentioned. The daring way how he interpreted the afterlife drew audible gasps from the audience.  Santos was able to make the most of Gino Gonzales' color-coded costumes, Ohm David's expansive set and John Batalla's frenetic lighting effects, uniting these technical elements into his one effective vision.



Congratulations to Dulaang UP and its entire cast and crew for another grand must-see production to close its 38th Season. The previous shows this past season were "The Duchess of Malfi" (MY REVIEW) and "Teatro Porvenir" (MY REVIEW).  While these shows had their merits, this last one is the best of the season for me.

Here is a teaser which showcases the excitement and grandiosity of "Ang Nawalang Kapatid": This video should more than convince you to go and watch.




Do not miss it!  Tickets are selling out fast! There are only few available shows left:

February 19 7 PM
February 20 7 PM
February 21 1 PM

For tickets and inquiries, call Samanta Hannah Clarin or Camille Guevara 9261349 / 4337840 or email dulaangupmarketing@gmail.com.

Like the Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas Facebook page (LINK) and follow @Official_DUP on Twitter for more details.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Review of MARCO POLO: Promise in Development


February 8, 2014


Last night at the Meralco Theater was the press preview of what is reportedly the first musical composed by a Filipino intended for West End in London and Broadway in New York, entitled "Marco Polo: An Untold Love Story the Musical".   It was written and composed by Rogelio Saldo Chua, who is also the artistic director. With such an audacious claim, we came to expect a lot from this production.  

The musical tells the fictional love story created for Marco Polo, the brave adventurer from Venice and Princess Kogajin, the daughter of the great Emperor Kublai Khan. The three-hour show in two acts (with intermission) spans the story from Marco's teenage years in Venice to his days in Cathay, striving to prove himself, a mere son of a Venetian merchant, worthy of the love of the Mongol princess, amidst political intrigue in the royal court.



Theater actor David Bianco (whom I last saw as a philandering pilot in the Rep comedy "Boeing Boeing") takes on the role of Marco Polo. I was pleasantly surprised that he could sing very well with a strong baritone.  He was convincing as a teenager, but those giggling chase scenes with the princess looked awkward and too childish. I feel some more production work is needed to highlight his solo singing spots better, as those scenes still come off as rough around the edges, lacking drama.  

Playing opposite Bianco is Fil-Am singer-actress Stephanie Reese playing Princess Kogajin She had played Tuptim in the revival of King & I on the West End and Kim in the German version of Miss Saigon, and these international experiences showed in her performance, in acting and especially the singing with her sweet soprano. Her smile and voice were a little too sweet to be convincing that she was supposed to be accomplished Mongol warrior though.  Her modern-looking high-heeled shoes can also be a bit distracting, and amusing to see.  She also needs to work more on her wushu skills.



Easily the best performance of the night was from Pinky Marquez, who played Kogajin's sympathetic mother, the Empress Wu.  Ms. Marquez dominates all the scenes she was in, with her magnetic stage presence and soaring soprano voice.  She is regal and motherly at the same time, with a confident voice that resonates with these two qualities of her character.

One of the big reasons I wanted to see this show was the presence of the name of George Yang on the poster.  As predicted, the founder of McDonald's Philippines plays the venerable emperor, Kublai Khan.  I had long heard about his opera singing, and had always been curious to hear it, and thankfully, I heard him sing last night.  I am amazed at the way he tackled his difficult songs and delivered his long lines, considering that he was pushing 75 already.  It is never too late to launch a new career at any age. 



Veteran actor Chinggoy Alonso appears as the narrator Rustigielo as well as a handful of other small roles, most notably the Pope who blessed Marco Polo before his long journey. Mr. Alonso's long stage career contrasts over the other less-experienced younger cast members with his more bombastic attack. 

Three supporting actors also had fine performances, vocally and acting-wise.  They are: Miguel Faustmann as Marco's goofy Uncle Maffeo,  Nicky Triviño as Khan's dignified eldest daughter Toragana, and Enrhil Serguino as the supportive Mongol Lord Koghatal.

Two actors were notably nervous last night. Brent Metken, a senior Australian actor who played Marco's father Niccolo, was delivering lines so languidly like it was still a rehearsal. To his credit, he did not flub a line but he he has to up the energy of his future performances. On the other extreme, there was John Alaras, this young guy playing one of the antagonistic Mongol barons.  He was way over-the-top in his delivery with annoyingly fake laughing. While he did liven things up onstage when he is there, it was not necessarily in a good way.



The musical featured about 23 songs and three colorful Chinese-inspired dance numbers. The songs were pleasant to hear, though not particularly memorable or hummable upon just one listening.  The costumes designed and executed by Odit Sarte for the most part looked very good and vibrant.  I am not really sure though how accurate they are culturally or historically for that part of the world at that time in the past.

Last night, the play still felt like it was in development in several parts.  There were many scenes that still looked a bit roughshod needing further polishing, particularly those sword fights. The big comedy song numbers, though funny, still looked a bit awkward with the rather amateurish choreography.  

With this press preview over, the cast and crew now know how to adjust themselves accordingly in time for the Gala World Premiere tonight.  This musical definitely has promise, especially with more judicious streamlining of the script, songs and improvements on the stage design and the blocking on the big stage. 



"Marco Polo: An Untold Love Story the Musical" will have a limited two show run at the Meralco Theater tonight Feb. 8, at 8 pm and tomorrow Feb. 9, at 3 pm.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Review of PETA's RAK OF AEGIS: Singing in the Flood

February 1, 2014




First there was "Mamma Mia" which gathered the discography of one musical act ABBA and used their songs and lyrics to tell a coherent story.  Last year, "Sa Wakas" did the same to the hits of the local band Sugarfree to excellent results.  This time, the music of the ultimate local female rock duo Aegis gets the same treatment from writer Liza Magtoto, and out came "Rak of Aegis."

This musical play is set in Barangay Venizia, a poor community wallowing in flood waters for several months now.  Aileen Dimaraan loves to sing, and wishes her singing will bring her fortune when she gets noticed by Ellen Degeneres.  When her Youtube music video goes viral though, her dreams for fame and fortune are caught between familial, personal and even societal conflicts.  


Barangay Venizia scene

Aicelle Santos, who stole the scene as young Katy de la Cruz in the revival of the original Filipino musical "Katy!" last year, beautifully essays the charming but flawed role of Aileen. Her singing is undeniably strong, as we have heard before. Those punishing wailing high notes of the Aegis girls were actually given more class and pathos when Aicelle sings their songs.  (Joan Bugcat alternates in this role.)

For me, the finest senior performer in the cast was Juliene Mendoza, who played the supposedly antagonistic role of Fernan, the sleazy developer of the neighboring subdivision. I say "supposedly" because the way Juliene played him, we end up thinking he was pretty cool and likable. His singing was so unexpectedly good. After seeing him outshine the leads in "Bona" and "Lorenzo," he is one of my favorite theater actors now. (Nor Domingo alternates in this role.)

Also doing better among the adults was Kakai Bautista as Mercy, Aileen's mother.  The way her role was written was so well, such that even she was stricken with leptospirosis, she never descends to abject negativity.  Her singing was not perfect musically, but nevertheless, it was perfect for the role she plays.  (Neomi Gonzales alternates in this role.)


Fernan and Mary Jane confer

Isay Alvarez  plays barangay captain Mary Jane in a pretty straightforward, no frills way.   Her singing voice was very good as expected, but somehow there was something lacking. I think it is not her, but maybe it was the way her role was written, because it did not really have a big highlight for her to shine. (Kalila Aguilos alternates in this role.)

Ms. Isay's husband Robert Sena is unfortunately caught in a very morose and joyless role as Kiel, the constantly angry father of Aileen. Even the singing he had to do felt almost maudlin in its heaviness.  He does his best, but the role is too negative for a play like this. (Juliene Mendoza alternates in this role. I'm curious how differently he'd handle this Kiel character, especially since he is already so good in the Fernan role.)

After debuting in the challenging lead role of "Lorenzo" last year, Poppert Bernadas now takes on the role of Kenny, the unproductive son of Mary Jane and suitor of Aileen. The way his role was written, it was hard for him to get the audience to side with him.  His singing voice was definitely strong and faultless. (Myke Salomon alternates in this role, and it should be interesting to see how he attacks this difficult role.)  


Tolits and Aileen swoon

Kenny's rival for Aileen's affections was Tolits, the guy who runs the boating operations in the flooded streets of Venezia.  Jerald Napoles (no relation to Janet) plays him so coyly.  He gets to deliver the funniest and the cheesiest pick-up lines.  The girls in the audience love him. His singing voice is full and soaring as well. (Pepe Herrera alternates in this role.)

Gay neighborhood sari-sari store owner and Aileen's BFF Jewel is played with utmost bombast by Phi Palmos.  He wears the most outlandish costumes and gets to deliver a lot of funny lines as well.  He also gets to singing in two voices a la Marcelino Pomoy, which was a delight to watch and listen to.  (Ron Alfonso alternates in this role.)

The Ensemble plays the various other neighborhood characters in the play.  Gimbey dela Cruz stood out exceptionally because she was so wacky and outrageous.  I also recognized Carlon Matobato and John Emmanuel Moran, who were familiar to me from other PETA plays they had before.


Aileen's Viral Video

 I am not really aware of all the Aegis songs, but the familiar ones were here, like "Halik", "Sinta", "Luha", "Mahal na Mahal Kita", "Bakit (Ako Ngayo'y Hate Mo)", "Christmas Bonus", "I Love You Na Lang Sa Tago", and of course the ubiquitous "Basang Basa sa Ulan." They would either sing entire songs or only sing certain segments to fit the situation. At times, they just use the familiar melody of a hit, and sing totally new lyrics into it. Kudos to Musical and Vocal Director Myke Salomon for the excellent musical and vocal arrangements of the Aegis hits.  

Above all, congratulations to Director Maribel Legarda and Playwright Liza Magtoto who told the story in a way that felt somewhat predictable in the First Act, but the Second Act turns out to be something else than what would seem expected.  The concept of setting a musical in a flooded urban poor community is brave and unprecedented. The use of video projections to move the story forward was also very effective.

The very innovative actualization of "flooded" Barangay Venizia was by Set Designer Mio Infante.  He occupied the stage and a big part of the orchestra section with his multi-tiered set that had a river of "polluted" flood water running through it. 

Among the credits, there was a special mention of Shoe Designer Maco Custodio, but you will have to watch the show to see why he was credited prominently.


Sanzzy Curtain Call

The title has nothing to do with the story, so you are in for a surprise treat as to how it unfolds.  There are a lot of laughs here (even a jab at a currently famous condo invitation), but like all PETA productions, there is always a very important social message as well.  This show was thought-provoking as it was fun and entertaining.

"Rak of Aegis" runs from January 31 to March 9, 2014 at The PETA Theater Center located at No.5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City. Tickets are now available via www.ticketworld.com.ph, 891-9999. For more information, call PETA at 725-6244 or 0917-5765400, petatheater@gmail.com or visit www.petatheater.com.



******  UPDATE: August 22, 2016




The review above was written two years ago when I watched the very first show of Rak of Aegis. Since then it had been a theater phenomenon, running well over 250 shows in five separate runs. This current run, called "Rak of Aegis 5.0", is said to be its final run ever. All the shows were sold out weeks before, even weekday shows. I did not think I would ever get to watch it but unexpected circumstances led to my ticket to tonight's 8 pm show on its final week. This run ends on August 28, 2016.

The cast had already expanded to have three to five alternates for all the major roles of Aileen, Mary Jane, Kiel, Tolits, Kenny, Jewel and Fernan. When I saw the cast list outside the theater, I did not know any of these actors on board last night, so at first I was disappointed that I will not see more familiar actors. However as the show went on, they all turned out to be so good that I eventually warmed up to them. Like before, all of them really sang these notoriously lung-busting Aegis songs exceptionally well.

Tonight, Aileen was played by petite powerhouse "The Voice 2" runner-up Alisah Bonaobra. Bonaobra was a better singer than she was an actress for now, but she will definitely improve in that aspect as she gets more shows under her belt. (Kim Molina, Tanya Manalang and Aicelle Santos alternate as Aileen. Too bad I never got to see Molina's Gawad Buhay winning lead performance.) 

Mary Jane was played by Tricia Jimenez, who was so unexpectedly good as the Kapitana. As I wrote above, I was a bit underwhelmed by Isay Alvarez's performance of this lackluster role. However, I think with time, I guess the writing of this role and its singing demands have really improved, especially in the second half, which was full of inspired duets I did not recall from before. (Sweet Plantado-Tiongson, Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, Carla Guevara-Laforteza and Isay Alvarez alternate as Mary Jane.)

The Kiel tonight was portrayed by veteran pop singer Renz Verano, who was really one of those who stood out for me. This role was also expanded with more difficult rock singing numbers. Verano was one of those performers who earned spontaneous applause right after his very powerful and gritty belting songs. (OJ Mariano, Lorenz Martinez and Robert Sena alternate as Kiel.)

The character with the most audience impact is still Aileen's cheesy loverboy Tolits. Joshua Bulot, the Tolits last night, really connected with the girls and matrons in the audience with his boy-band good looks, soaring vocals, pick-up lines and six-pack abs. (Pepe Herrera, Benj Manalo and Jerald Napoles alternate as Tolits. I have been hearing raves about Manalo's performance, so too bad I did get to see him on. I also missed Hererra's Gawad Buhay winning interpretation.)

Vince Lim played Kenny last night, and his vocal range was really impressive, complete with a rocker's wailing. There were some funny references about his being Chinoy. Like Mary Jane, this character's development seemed better this time compared to the first run. (Myke Salomon and Poppert Bernadas alternate as Kenny.) 

The rest of the cast I saw last night were Joann Co (as Mercy), Ron Alfonso (as Jewel), and Gie Onida (as Fernan), who all shined in their featured song numbers. I did not get to see the other alternates Neomi Gonzales, Jimmy Marquez and Jon Santos in these roles. The ensemble last night was composed of Gio Gahol, Paeng Sudayan, Gold Villar, Abigail Sulit, Jet Barrun Concepcion and Roi Calilong. Other members of the ensemble in other shows are: Carlon Matobato, John Moran, Gimbey dela Cruz, Gab Pangilinan, Via Antonio, Raflesia Bravo and Teetin Villanueva.


"Para Kay Aileen," the Aegis song where the lead character name Aileen came from, was now included as the upbeat first song that opened the second half of the show after the intermission. There is also the inclusion of the hit song "Sayang na Sayang" as a duet between Kiel and Mary Jane. These two characters whom I thought were very dry in the original show turned out to be my favorites in this new incarnation, thanks to the rich portrayals by Verano and Jiimenez.