Sunday, December 20, 2015

My Yearend Roundup: The BEST of PHILIPPINE THEATER 2015

December 21, 2015

For the year 2015, I had seen and written about 44 theater productions: 12 musicals, 17 full-length plays, 12 one-act plays and 3 experimental productions. 

Still, that is only a fraction of everything the very active local theater scene has offered for the general public in the past year.  The remarkable array of straight plays of various genre were offered, more than there were musicals. Heavy traffic conditions going to Manila and especially Makati is a very real challenge nowadays. However the passion for witnessing Filipino theater talent and creativity remains a strong incentive for me to catch as many productions as possible. Too bad that I had not been able to see "Time Stands Still," "Saturday Night Fever: The Musical," and "Maniacal" because of schedule conflicts. 

I will list here what I feel were the best among those theater shows I have seen and written about for 2015. (My 2014 list was posted HERE.)



Book by: Carlo Vergara
Music and Lyrics by: Vincent de Jesus
Directed by: Chris Martinez

Mely Moran is a homely hardworking 35-year old woman who gets hired to be the maid of Fuerza Filipinas. Her sister Viva, on the other hand, gets recruited by a nefarious group of supervillains, the Kayumanggilas. Mely and Viva had long been at odds with each other since childhood because of their disparate personalities. However, with this latest and biggest misunderstanding, their unstable and adversarial relationship as sisters results in a conflict that would threaten the very safety of the whole world. 

Whatever shortcomings the very complex script may have with all the characters it had to deal with, it is the talent and charisma of the actors that become the crowning conceit of the whole show. Every actor just seemed to embrace their character perfectly, possessing voices that were able to soar with the punishing arrangements. It was one of those rare productions that brought together actors more known for their English plays and those more known for Filipino plays. I found this very exciting.  

Other Notable Productions:

Mabining Mandirigma (My Review)
#Popepular (My Review)

Notable Performances: 

Bituin Escalante, Kim Molina, Natasha Cabrera, Gianina Ocampo, Nar Cabico and Markki Stroem (Leading Lady), Delphine Buencamino and Antonio Ferrer (Mabini), Vincent Tanada and Cindy Liper (#Popepular), Myramae Meneses (Kanser@35), Cris Villonco (Bituing Walang Ningning), Fred Lo and KL Dizon (Manhid)



Book by: Marsha Norman
Music and Lyrics by: Joseph Robert Brown
Director: Bobby Garcia

From war torn Naples, Italy, young Francesca met American soldier Bud Johnson and decided to go back to the US with him to get married. 18 years and two teenage children later, 1965, Francesca lived a simple farmer's life in remote Winterset, Iowa. One weekend, while the rest of her family was out to the State Fair in the city, Francesca met a "National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid who asked her directions to a Roseman Bridge. Feeling an irresistible attraction borne out of her loneliness, Francesca fell deeply in love with Robert and gave in to her passionate desires.

Joanna Ampil was able to fully evoke the loneliness and unhappiness of her character so well that we reluctantly "understand" what she did. This whole show is Ampil's showcase and she carried it with full heart and soul. Francesca Johnson will be her signature role as far as the annals of Philippine theater history is concerned. 

Other Notable Productions:

La Cage Aux Folles (My Review)
The Secret Garden (My Review)

*** Foreign Touring Production: Singin' in the Rain (My Review)

Notable Performances: 

Joanna Ampil, MiG Ayesa, Nino Alejandro, Emeline Celis-Guinid, Carla Guevara-Laforteza (Bridges), Audie Gemora, Michael de Mesa, Sheila Francisco (La Cage), Caisa Borromeo and Noel Comia Jr. (The Secret Garden)


A. One-Act: 


Written by: Eljay Castro Deldoc

Directed by: Ed Lacson, Jr.

Maria Isabella asks the kite master Sr. Melchor Antebades to make her a kite which could bring her up among the stars, so her love Lorenzo would see her. Sr. Melchor gave her an incredible list of materials she needed to collect all from all over in order to make this kite. Maria Isabella asks her younger friend, a nameless butcher's apprentice, to accompany her on her trip. They never thought that their quest for these materials would take them 60 years!

This script was written by Eljay Castro Deldoc based a book by Dean Francis Alfar entitled "A Kite of Stars" (I have to look for this book!). This was unlike any other play I had seen in the Virgin Labfest before, because of it was a whimsically romantic play for children. It was imaginative the way the fantastic tale was told with puppets and shadowplay. I can totally imagine TP or PETA picking this timeless one-act play up and developing it into a gorgeous full-length production which can run forever to entertain generations of kids for years to come. 

Other Notable Productions: 

Hintayan sa Langit (My Review)

Notable Performances: 

Nonoy Froilan and Edna Vida Froilan (Hintayan sa Langit), Gio Gahol and Acey Aguilar (An Expected), Dido de la Paz and Meann Espinosa (Mapagbirong Haplos)

B. Full-Length: Original Filipino Material or Filipino Adaptation: 

Best:  MGA BUHAY NA APOY (My Full Review)

Written and Directed by: Kanakan-Balintagos

Leda Santos was very excited that her estranged daughter Aurora Alba was moving back home. To welcome her back, Leda hosted a family get-together in their spacious garden at their mansion in Sampaloc. Invited are Leda's sisters, Lili and Selmah, and their respective families. Leda's artist son Aran was also happy that his sister is coming home, but he was constantly at odds with his mother, even during the party itself. The deeper the night got and the conversations got more intense, long-repressed family secrets all come spilling out, threatening to rip the broken family further apart.

The entire first two acts were but an extended introduction to the main meat of the play in the explosive Act 3. In fact, Act 3 alone is already worth the price of admission for the impressive flow of the dialogue and the array of fine acting on display. Kanakan-Balintagos has written and told an intricate story about how a life full of pain, heartache and suffering in one person affected the life of every person in her immediate family, mixed in with Palawan folklore. This is an uncommonly powerful piece of Filipino theater with distinct ethnic pride. 

Other Notable Productions: 

The Horse and his Boy (My Review)
# R </3 J (My Review)
Arbol de Fuego (My Review)
Juego del Peligro (My Review)
Noli at Fili Dos Mil (My Review)

Notable Performances:

Irma Adlawan (Mga Buhay na Apoy), Joel Trinidad, Reb Atadero and Cara Barredo (Horse), Roco Sanchez and Francesca Go (# R </3 J), Cherie Gil, Jake Macapagal, Angeli Bayani and Divine Aucina (Arbol), Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, Arnold Reyes and Adrienne Vergara (Juego), Lucho Ayala, Jack Yabut and Neomi Gonzales (Noli at Fili), Jasmine Curtis Smith, Sarah Facuri and Micah Munoz (No Filter), Jojo Cayabyab (Haring Lear)


Best: THE NORMAL HEART (My Full Review)

Written by: Larry Kramer
Directed by: Bart Guingona

The setting is 1981 in New York City. Writer Ned Weeks is very distressed that many of his fellow gay friends have been dying of a mysterious disease affecting the immune system. Initial evidence points to promiscuous sexual practices among homosexuals as the possible mode of infection. Ned Weeks begins his aggressive and active educational campaign. However, the gay community of that time, including Ned's friends, was very resistant to this idea of changing their habits. The government was not inclined to help in their marginalized cause as the death toll continued to rise.

The caliber of the acting in this ensemble piece of theater was astounding. Every actor in the eight-member cast had their big difficult dramatic moment which they attacked with such deep-seated emotional ferocity. You can feel the boiling frustration within Ned Weeks with Bart Guingona's raw and passionate performance.You can witness the gradual withering away of Felix Turner from a vibrant bon vivant into a pale white ghost with Topper Fabregas' sensitively delicate performance. Roselyn Perez, as polio-stricken, wheelchair-bound Dr. Emma Brookman, gave such a tour de force performance, unforgettable in its sheer bravado, seething with pulsating anger. 

Other Notable Productions:

33 Variations (My Review)
4000 Miles (My Review)
This is Our Youth (My Review)

Notable Performances: 

Jef Flores (This is Our Youth, 4000 Miles), Bart Guingona, Topper Fabregas, Richard Cunanan, TJ Trinidad and Roselyn Perez (Normal Heart), Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino and Teroy Guzman (33 Variations), Jamie Wilson and Jeremy Domingo (Run for Your Wife), Nicco Manalo (This is Our Youth), Baby Barredo (4000 Miles)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review of Atlantis' THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY: Lyrical Loneliness

December 5, 2015

"The Bridges of Madison County" is a popular 1992 novel by Robert James Waller, selling more than 50 million copies worldwide. In 1995, a film version was made starring Hollywood royalty, Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, in the lead roles. In 2013, a musical play was crafted with book by Marsha Norman (who also wrote "The Secret Garden") and music and lyrics by Joseph Robert Brown (who did "The Last Five Years"). Not really too fond of this genre, I was initially not inclined to brave the ever-worsening Makati traffic to go watch it. However, the rave reviews this show got from its first week made it difficult to resist.

From war torn Naples, Italy, young Francesca met American soldier Bud Johnson and decided to go back to the US with him to get married. 18 years and two teenage children later, 1965, Francesca lived a simple farmer's life in remote Winterset, Iowa. One weekend, while the rest of her family was out to the State Fair in the big city for four days, Francesca met a "hippie" National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid who asked her directions to a certain Roseman Bridge which he needed to take pictures of.  Feeling an irresistible attraction borne out of her loneliness, Francesca fell deeply in love with Robert and gave in to her passionate desires.

This is a story that would evoke different reactions from men and women. Women see this story as wish-fulfillment for a strong handsome man to sweep them off their feet and rescue them from their humdrum existence. For men though, this is a horror story of what may happen behind their backs if they, as husbands, were not sensitive to their wives' hidden frustrations about their lives. The success of the book and the movie are already proof of the story's connection with its audience. The creation of this musical thirty years after the book came out was further proof of its timeless appeal, mainly for women.

I have long-heard of Joanna Ampil and her singing and acting talents already recognized in the West End in London. However, this is the very first time I was seeing her perform. I was blown away from the very first note that came out from her as she opened the show with her first song "To Build a Home."  Her singing was, in a word, glorious. I did not immediately catch that she was Italian as the accent was very subtle, but I did not mind. Ampil was able to fully evoke the loneliness and unhappiness of her character so well that we reluctantly "understand" what she did. This whole show is Ampil's showcase and she carried it with full heart and soul. Francesca Johnson will be her signature role as far as the annals of Philippine theater history is concerned. 

Migs Ayesa we first knew from his stint as contestant in the TV search for the new lead singer of INXS. We are fully aware of his soaring rock vocals which he already showed local audiences as the crazy rock star Stacee Jaxx in the Atlantis production of "Rock of Ages." His Robert Kincaid was the ideal paperback romantic hero, a shy silent loner with his sculpted torso who sings well too, the stuff of an insecure husband's nightmares. Ayesa impressibly nailed all his punishing notes down, although his singing voice may tend to be nasal in the higher registers. He also had several effectively quiet moments singing serious sentiments in acapella in songs like "It All Fades Away", which were likewise impressive.

I do not know if this was Nino Alejandro's first major theater production, but he certainly played the role of the cuckolded husband Bud with restraint expected from his inarticulate character, with his open face wordlessly clear of his gradual realizations. His numerous phone call scenes could have been so simple mundane, but with them, Alejandro was able to make us feel his growing anxieties. His featured song “Something from a Dream” was poignantly expressive of his love for his wife. 

Neighbors and close friends Charlie (Jamie Wilson) and Marge (Emeline Celis-Guinid) somehow put two and two together when they saw Kincaid's truck parked outside the Johnson farm overnight. These two were a delightfully nosy couple yet they knew their place. Celis-Guinid surprised us with her sultry rendition of a radio love song “Get Closer” in total contrast with the shrill voice of Marge. Wilson can play any character with empathy and homespun charm. He also gets to sing a moving song "When I'm Gone" with Alejandro. 

The goings-on of the two Johnson kids, Michael and his rebellious phase (played by Bibo Reyes) and Carolyn and her prize steer (played by MIkkie Bradshaw) were obviously just thrown in to prolong the story, but those petty squabbles between these two tended to make the storytelling a bit messy. There was an additional character, Robert’s ex-wife, Marian, that was not entirely necessary. However, the beautiful Carla Guevara-Laforteza made magic with her one featured song "Another Life”, with guitar playing to boot!

When you first enter the theater, you see a bare stage with a wooden floor and three walls of framed photographs surrounding it. During the course of the play, the company ensemble (Steven Conde, Nel Gomez, Franz Imperial, Yanah Laurel, Abi Sulit and Teetin Villanueva) will be revealing surprises from behind these frames. The props were so simple yet so effective in delineating space and even perspective. You should see how those step ladders become doorways, the refrigerator or Roseman bridge itself. I even like the sink and counter with the realistic carrots. This innovative set design was courtesy of Faust Peneyra.

The songs in this musical were a curious mix of show tunes tinged with Country and Gospel flavors in keeping with its setting in the American heartland. The love songs were quite Pop in style, laced with R&B and Rock. Musical director Ceejay Javier led his orchestra through these various styles. Joseph Robert Brown's style of flight-of-ideas songwriting (which we heard in "The Last Five Years" with mixed results) is clearly dependent on the singer's talents to breathe life and emotion into them. As usual, the Filipino performers rise up to the challenge successfully. Kudos to director Bobby Garcia for another triumphant production!


"The Bridges of Madison County" opened last November 20, 2015 and will be winding up their run on December 6, with two shows at 3 pm and 8 pm. Venue will be at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater at the RCBC Plaza, Makati City. Ticket prices from P3000 to P900. Check out to buy your tickets.

To get a feel of the music, below is a video of one of the best and most memorable songs from the show, the love duet "One Second and a Million Miles" rendered by the original Broadway stars, Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale: 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review of Repertory Phils THE SECRET GARDEN: Melancholic but Moving

November 29, 2015

"The Secret Garden" is a 1991 musical with Tony-award winning book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon, based on the 1911 novel of the same title by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I know two songs from this show from previous Broadway concerts, but I had never seen the actual musical performed yet. I was excited when I learned it was being staged by Repertory Philippines, and directed by no less than the renowned Anton Juan. Though I had a basic idea what the story of the novel was, I had no inkling on how it would be told as a musical.

A spirited 10-year old English girl living in India was left orphaned by a cholera epidemic, so she had to be brought back to England to live with Sir Archibald Craven, the widower of her mother's sister Lily who died in childbirth. While Mary was haunted by ghosts of her parents and other departed people in their household in India, her uncle is still grief-stricken with the death of his wife several years back. While she spends her days exploring the house, Mary finds her sickly cousin Colin who had been confined to quarters since birth by his uncle Dr. Neville Craven, as well as her aunt Lily's forgotten garden, closed down since her death. While her Uncle Archie was away, Mary sought to help both Colin and the garden recover their vitality. 

For what was supposed to be a production aimed for children, the book and music of this show can be too morose and depressing and even creepy for comfort. Those pale-hued antique-looking costumes and the seemingly sheet-covered sets add to the lonely and dreary atmosphere. Throughout the show, there were several slow monotonous, occasionally dissonant, songs being sung by a chorus of ghosts, including dear Aunt Lily herself included in full white lady regalia. Very young kids can get restless or sleepy with some parts of this.

 (Photo Credit: Dr. Phil Fernando)

However, what kept the audience riveted were the performances of the talented all-Filipino cast, who never fail to bring even the most foreign of stories into vivid convincing life. Two children lead this cast: Ashlee Factor (as Mary) and Noel Comia Jr. (as Colin). The two kids did very well indeed. Factor had a harder time earning our sympathy since her character Mary was headstrong and disobedient, yet eventually she also won us over with her perseverance and good heart. Comia on the other hand gave a winningly charming performance despite being in a difficult role that required him to be a miserable cripple.

Among the adult cast members, I would cite Caisa Borromeo and her ethereally pristine soprano as the ghost Lily to be the best vocal performance in this show. Her songs were the most melodious of the lot, namely "Come to My Garden" and the exquisitely beautiful "How Will I Ever Know". Lorenz Martinez had a rather drab role in Archibald, but he gets to showcase his tenor my personal favorite song in the show, "Lily's Eyes", a duet with Noel Rayos, who had just the right touch of sinister as Archie's brother, Dr. Neville CravenBecca Coates in the role of the maid Martha shines in her featured song number "Hold On"There were probably only two upbeat songs sung by young gardener Dickon (a chipper Red Concepcion), that manage to cheer the dark mood up for a while. 

All in all, this was a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, transported to aristocratic England.  For me, it was worth it just to see "Lily's Eyes" and "How Would I Ever Know" performed live in the proper context within the play. The more eventful second act is more engaging than the somewhat turgid first act. The magical transformation of the generally gray and colorless set and costumes at the end made for a moving final tableaux which will make you smile.


"The Secret Garden" has five more shows left (Dec. 5 8 pm, Dec. 12 and 13, 3:30 pm and 8 pm) at Onstage, Greenbelt 1, Makati City. Ticket prices range from P1000 to P500. Check out Ticketworld or call Repertory Philippines at 843-3570.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Recap and Videos of SAM SMITH Live in Manila 2015: Sincere, Soulful and Sentimental

November 22, 2015

Late last year, I bought tickets on the afternoon of the first day of ticket sales, and already failed to get the section I preferred. Anyhow, I got good enough seats for my purposes. If you see the poster, the tickets prices were not too high )nothing Madonna 58K-crazy!), so this concert set for May 10, 2015 quickly sold out. 

By December 7, 2014 though, there was a surprising announcement of a postponement of this much awaited concert. Sam Smith posted a message online to explain that he had "serious issues" with his vocal cords that needed to be addressed by an American specialist. He adds that this is "horrible" for him and he is truly very sorry. Tickets for the original date will be honored for the new date yet to be announced. By July 15, 2015, the new date was confirmed to be November 21, 2015.


We reached the Arena about 7:30 pm. It was different this time. Instead of everyone entering the venue via the entrance on Coral Way like all the previous concerts I had been to before, some of us were diverted to walk all the way around the building to enter via the Marina Way. It was my first time to see that part of the MOA Arena.

When we reached our seats, there was a lone DJ on stage playing electronica mixes. I recognized "Need You Tonight" by INXS as one of the songs in the mix. It was not yet 8 pm yet this front act was already playing. His set ended by about 8:15 pm. He did not speak anytime during his performance. I did not even hear him introduce himself.

Sam Smith on the Screen

By about 9 pm, the house lights dimmed and the show was about to begin. There were flashes of light on the stage whenever Sam Smith's distinct tenor voice started to sing. The first three songs he sang were not too familiar to me but they were very catchy just the same: "Life Support," "Together" and "Leave Your Lover." 

In his spiel, he mentioned he about his cancellation, which is why this night is a "specially special night" so intends to sing harder than he does. Since Smith only has one album so far, it was not surprising that some fans knew ALL his songs by heart, singing along with every lyric. Then as the light turned red with designs on the floor, we hear the strains of "I'm Not the Only One," a song that went to #3 in the UK and #5 in the US. The whole audience was singing along with him the whole time during this well-loved song. 

Sam Smith candidly told us a lot of personal stories behind the songs in his debut album "In the Lonely Hour", an album that signified himself being as honest as he could in the language of music. He called this album "a diary of mine." The next song is the first "really honest honest song" he wrote, "I've Told You Now." The next song I have not heard before, but it was really rousing and uplifting, "Nirvana." His signature vocals, head tones, and runs were all so especially on point in these poignant songs.

The next two songs were familiar upbeat songs that Smith had. He does not really dance too much in these songs, just like Rick Astley did back then in his upbeat songs. Everybody was singing along to catchy chorus of "Like I Can" (VIDEO) and dancing along to the Sam's dance instructions in the super-groovy "Restart." His next number was a medley of R&B covers including "Tears Dry on Their Own" by Amy Winehouse, "Ain't No Mountain HIgh Enough" by Diana Ross and "Le Freak" by Chic, which featured the strong vocals of his three back-up singers. The lighting effects of the stage were spectacular during this medley.

He then slowed down the pace again, singing two songs that he felt are the heart and soul of his debut album. He talked about falling in love with someone who did not love him back, now that he has moved on from this heartbreak, the resulting songs are now not his songs anymore, but his audience's songs already. The first of these songs is the pensive "Not in That Way," which he mixed with Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love" to the audience's delight. The second is the very popular song "Lay Me Down," (VIDEO) his first hit as a solo artist, hitting #15 in the UK and #8 in the US.

Smith upped the tempo again with his infectious next song "La La La," a #1 song in the UK, #19 in the US, credited as Naughty Boy featuring Sam Smith. He ended his regular set with the only song in his album that was not about love, but about another artist he did not like who sang not for passion but for money. The song is "Money on My Mind," another #1 song in the UK. He mixed in a familiar line from Cece Peniston's anthem "Finally" in the final chorus of that song.  

The audience clamored for more as the house lights were dimmed. After a while, the keyboardist started to play a slow melody. Sam Smith came out and said that he will sing his 2012 song with Disclosure called "Latch" (VIDEO), his first US Top 10 hit that peaked at #8. He asked everyone to shine their phone lights as he sang a slowed-down version of this hit song. The next song was a letter his "first boyfriend" which drew cheers from his fans, "Make It to Me." He saved his biggest hit for last "Stay with Me" (#1 UK, #2 US). He called the night "amazing" an opinion which I am sure his audience all shared. That last song gained a new meaning as the fans all wanted him to stay on with them. 

The Stage Lights were Spectacular!

Concert was finished in little over an hour only. I was a bit disappointed that he did not sing "Writing's on the Wall" from the latest James Bond film "Spectre." Nevertheless, with Sam Smith's candor, friendliness and his soaring vocals, this is surely one of the best,most sincere concerts I have attended ever.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Recap and Videos of INFINITE EFFECT MANILA 2015: Synchonized Sensation

November 8, 2015

Back in August 2015, my daughter wanted to watch this Kpop boy group called Infinite. I had absolutely no idea this group even existed before she told me about them. Tickets sales started September 19, and we bought our tickets on the very first day. She gave me links of their videos to watch and played their songs in the car so I can be more familiar with their music. Their songs were very pop, very catchy in beat, not difficult to like.

On concert day November 7, we were in the MOA Arena by about 6:30 pm. The atmosphere there was very festive with a lot of excited girls. There were still a lot of fans in the lobby because they were not yet admitting people into the VIP sections until 7 pm. My daughter wanted to buy a baller for a friend, but this was already sold out by the time we got there. Some fans were lining up to buy some expensive soda (P150 a glass!) to be able to get a "free" Infinite poster. Some fans were lining up to get a free photo taken at the Pulp booth. Of course, my daughter simply had to line up in both lines as well to get these souvenirs.

While waiting for the concert to begin, they were showing Infinite music videos on the big screens. Fans were already singing along and screaming whenever the face of their favorite Infinite guy was on screen. By 8 pm, the house lights promptly dimmed and the official Infinite Effect tour teaser was projected on the screen. Fans were screaming like crazy with their official lightsticks. The concert was beginning on time!

From the start, Infinite immediately sang four consecutive fast dance hits: BTD, PARADISE (VIDEO), BE MINE (VIDEO), and the song that first grabbed my attention about this group, DESTINY (VIDEO).  Infinite is noted for their synchronicity when dancing and it was really very evident. It was a bit awkward to see one of them, Hoya (Lee Howon), sitting out these hard core dance songs there on the right side of the stage. My daughter said he had a foot injury recently hence this odd arrangement. He still sang his parts, but it was obvious he was itching to dance.

They had their obligatory opening spiel, with each boy addressing the audience with their some Tagalog (which of course thrilled the fans) and their limited English. They mostly spoke in Korean, depending on a female interpreter to get their message across. However, the sound system was not so clear in our part of the Arena, so I honestly cannot understand much of what anybody was saying onstage. However, the true fans there, including my daughter, seemed very excited nevertheless whatever it was they said.

After their group ballad number LOVE LETTER (VIDEO), the next set featured individual and smaller group numbers. This started with EVERY DAY (a solo by blond-haired Nam Woohyun). This was followed by the energetic hip hop-flavored song PRETTY by INFINITE H, composed of Hoya and the hyperactive Jang Dongwoo). Too bad Hoya cannot move normally here, but Dongwoo regaled the fans with his athleticism. The next was a solo by the serious and mature-looking Kim Sunggyu called KONTROL (VIDEO). A trio dubbed INFINITE F, composed of the the crowd favorite Myungsoo, tall and lanky Lee Sungyeol and the very boyish Lee Sungjong, followed with their own hit number, HEARTBEAT.

The boys sang a few more newer songs and engaged the audience more closely before they bade the audience their individual goodbyes. I was impressed that some of them really tried to say some Tagalog sentences, not just words!  They ended their main set with three consecutive hits: BACK (VIDEO), THE CHASER (VIDEO) and BAD (VIDEO). 

When they came back after the calls for an encore, they had another fast song COME BACK AGAIN. Their final song of the whole concert was a tender ballad called TOGETHER. After that song, they made their final bows and bid their final goodbyes amidst the shower of silver confetti falling on them. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review of Trumpets' THE HORSE AND HIS BOY: Spellbinding and Spectacular!

November 5, 2015

I confess that only know of Narnia from the 2005 film "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe". I have never read any of the classic C.S. Lewis books. When news about Trumpets releasing a locally-written stage adaptation of the fifth Narnia book "The Horse and his Boy," excitement ran high on social media. I honestly had no idea what the book was about. But I know how Trumpets always came up with excellent stage productions of world-class quality, like "N.O.A.H." and "The Bluebird of Happiness". I know I needed to watch this new show. 

Reb Atadero (Shasta) and Joel Trinidad (Bree)

A poor boy named Shasta meets a noble (and talking) war horse named Bree. Bree convinces Shasta to leave his slavehood behind and go with him back to his home in Narnia. Meanwhile, a young girl also ran away from home on her loyal (and also talking) horse Hwin in order to escape an unwanted marriage. The two meet and decide to go to Narnia together to escape their cruel fates. But when they learn that Narnia was in danger of an enemy attack, they pick up their pace and traverse the wide harsh desert in an effort to save Narnia from grave harm. With encounters with kings and queens, doppelgangers, haunted gravesites and a giant lion along the way, their quest was an epic adventure of fantastic action and romance.

Shasta Riding Bree in the Moonlight

With the title alone, we know that a horse will figure prominently in the story. Curiosity was high as to how they will portray this vital character on stage. Once we see Bree for the first time though, we gasped in wonder at how this magnificent animal looked and moved. The pride and bossiness courtesy of Joel Trinidad (and the men behind him) truly made Bree come alive so realistically, imbued with Trinidad's trademark sense of humor. The female horse Hwin was brought to life by Jill Pena (and the men behind her) in the same elegant way. That impressively breathtaking scene when they were "rushing" through the desert was a successful stage illusion with lights care of John Batalla and movement by Dexter Santos. You should see how the horse reared on their hind legs!

Jeremy Domingo (Aslan)

Aside from the horses, as this story was in Narnia, we were also excited to see the majestic revered lion, Aslan. The mechanism within this great beautiful beast looked heavier than the horse as he looked like he was made of wood. Jeremy Domingo's booming voice was kingly, fatherly and awe-inspiring as it should be for this iconic role. There would also be Mr. Tumnus the faun as campily played by Nic Campos, and the Sallowpad, the raven who foretold the future, played by Maronne Cruz

Justine Pena (Queen Susan), George Schultz (King Edmund) 
and Nic Campos (Mr. Tumnus)

Reb Atadero had that face of unspoken wonder and naivete, which made him very good for the role of Shasta. Cara Barredo was feisty and fiery as Aravis, a girl who knew what she wanted and who can take care of herself. The character of the Storyteller grew more and more involved in the story in a most fascinating way, as portrayed by Mayen Cadd and her melodious voice. Mako Alonso was over-the-top villainous as Rabadash. Arya Herrera stole scenes as Aravis' funny and talkative friend Lasaraleen. Steve Cadd had strong presence both as the wily sheik Tisroc, as well as the Viking-like King Lune.

Mako Alonso (Rabadash) and Steve Cadd (Tisroc)

In true Trumpets tradition, the whole production was, in a word, magical. The action began slowly as the Narrator started to tell her story on an empty stage, with just a map of Narnia projected on a simple cloth background (graphic designs by GK Fallarme). But with scene after the scene after that , the audience is transported to exotic lands of opulent palaces, battlements and ramparts. and talking beasts. Mio Infante has certainly outdone himself once again as he created these huge wonderful set pieces that transformed the spacious stage of the Meralco into this whole new fantasy world. Infante was also responsible for the elaborate Arabian-inspired costume design. Puppetry and shadowplay by Otto Hernandez added to the mysterious allure of the scenery and storytelling.

Cara Barredo (Aravis)

Ms. Luna Grino-Inocian is a most talented writer who was able to wonderfully adapt the book for the stage, and we know the Narnia books are not exactly simple material to successfully transpose into other media.  She loves Narnia and her writing obviously reflects this. The way her script made the revelations come logically one by one made the story compelling, engaging and easy to understand, despite the multitude of characters with difficult to pronounce names. All the way to the end, we will receive yet another welcome and awesome surprise to cap the whole magical night. (Ms. Grino-Inocian also wrote Trumpets' 1997 musical adaptation of the first Narnia book "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", which sadly I was not able to watch.)

Shasta's Vision in the Desert

Congratulations to Director Jaime del Mundo for bringing all this homegrown talent together into one cohesive and memorable project. There were some songs here sung by the Storyteller, as well as touching duet by Shasta and Aravis, but this is not really a musical, as Trumpets was more known for. Del Mundo's gamble on a big project like this has definitely paid off as this would go down as one of Trumpets most artistic accomplishments. 


"The Horse and his Boy" opens tonight November 6, 2015 8 pm at the Meralco Theater. The run is very limited, only 9 shows on these dates: November 7, 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22, 8 pm shows on Saturdays with 3 pm matinees Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets (P2000, P1700, P1500 and P800) are available via TicketWorld, or through the Trumpets office, phone number 9014364. A check with TicketWorld site this morning shows the tickets are really fast running out already, so hurry up and don't delay further. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Review of Red Turnips THIS IS OUR YOUTH: Hip and High

November 5. 2015

"This is Our Youth" is about three young people living in decadent New York City during the Reagan years. Dennis Ziegler was a hot-headed, sharp-tongued drug dealer. Warren Straub was a mousy, insecure nerd who liked collecting various pop memorabilia. Jessica Goldman was the pretty but feisty and opinionated girl Warren had his eyes on. One night, Warren stole $15,000 from his father and brought the cash to Dennis' flat. While Dennis cooked up a plan to have a night of drugged debauchery with Warren, Warren thought of how he could get Jessica to like him back.

This play written by Kenneth Lonergan debuted 1996 off-Broadway with Mark Ruffalo leading the cast as Warren. It then had its West End debut in 2002, with movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Warren, Hayden Christensen as Dennis and Anna Paquin as Jessica. In its many restagings over the years, Warren had been played by Casey Affleck, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Kieran Culkin; while Dennis had been played by Matt Damon, Chris Klein and Michael Cera. 


Red Turnip Theater Company is presenting their latest project in another venue than their original home in Whitespace. It is called A_Space Gallery, located on the 5th floor of a condo building at #110 Legazpi Street, Legazpi Village, Makati, right behind Greenbelt 5. You can park in the mall and simply walk over. They call this particular show a 0.5. While the show may be smaller in scale, cast and venue, the Turnips promise that it won't be smaller in terms of artistic challenge.

It was a small room with two doors, one for the audience, and one for the actors. There was a performance area in the center, where there was a mattress and a small TV. There was a refrigerator in one corner, a pair of armchairs on one side (with a turntable beside it) and a table on the opposite side. Pillows were strewn around in a circle for the audiences to sit on. Fortunately for the older members of the audience who can't Indian sit on the floor anymore, there were also chairs provided against the walls. 

For this Red Turnips production, Nicco Manalo is Warren, Jef Flores is Dennis and Cindy Lopez is Jessica.

I know Nicco Manalo is a very good actor but I knew him only for his work in Filipino language productions. He was very good as the lead character Tabo in "Kleptomaniacs" (My Review). He deserved the Best Supporting Actor award he won for his work in the indie film "The Janitor" (My Review). I was pleasantly surprised that he can also deliver a very effective and engaging performance in flawless American English. Manalo imbued his Warren that naive damaged persona which makes audiences root for him. His tender scenes with Jessica were endearing. His bullying scenes with Dennis were heartrending. 

Jef Flores is really having a banner year this year. I only saw him in a lead role early this year in Repertory Philippines "4000 Miles" (My Review). I thought that was star-making performance for this new actor. This was followed by ensemble work in "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" (My Review) and "The Normal Heart" (My Review). He is also the Prince in the Rep's currently running production of "Snow White". This guy can really nail those long wordy monologues! In "4000 Miles", he had a lengthy 10-minute monologue, which was impressive. In "Youth", Flores topped that with another mad motor-mouth monologue of 15 minutes or more, which ran the gamut of crazy emotions from Alpha male to nervous wreck, as Dennis went "high with fear."

Cindy Lopez really had to work harder to get her edge in since her role was much smaller and less showy compared to the two guys. Her first scene with Warren was very well-written and delightfully performed together by Lopez with Manalo. That dancing scene was beautiful and romantic. I was maybe looking for a bit more energy from her, as her delivery of lines was rather flat and singsong. Jessica's second scene with Warren was a downer, very puzzling and disappointing for me. However, this may be more a matter about the script than Lopez' acting. 

This is only the second play Topper Fabregas directed, the first being "Rabbit Hole" (My Review) also by Turnips. Fabregas revealed that he and co-Turnip Jenny Jamora had long wanted to play Warren and Jessica themselves. (I personally think they can still totally pull this off.) It must have been quite a challenge to block the action in this type of intimate venue where the audience surrounds the actors. After tonight's press preview, some adjustments may still have to be made about the location of the props, which may not be easily seen by everyone in the audience. For example, from where I was sitting, I could not see the sculpture on top of the refrigerator, which turned out to be critical in the story. 

Like it or not, the script contains a lot of profanity and talk about drugs, as is already typical with "modern" youth dramas, it seems. There was actual smoking (real pot or not, I would not know) and a scene of cocaine preparation, so this show is not for the very young. 

Despite being set in the 1980s, the angst we see onstage can also be so millennial, which is why it works now as it did back then. The musical choices were perfect, making that dancing scene so poignant. The lighting by Joseph Matheu was so subtly done, but the mood was greatly enhanced by it. The actors Manalo and Flores are already at the top of their game even before premier night. This is an funny and engrossing theater experience the way it was executed by Fabregas and his crew.


"This is Our Youth" will have shows on November 6, 7, 8, 20, 21 and 22, 2015. It will have 8 pm shows on Friday and Saturdays, with 4 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Venue is the A Space_Gallery, 5th floor, 110 Legazpi Street, Makati (Opposite Greenbelt 5). Get your tickets via TicketWorld ( or call 8919999). You can also email for more info.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Review of Artist Playground's AUDIRE: Sonic Sponteneity

October 31, 2015

This latest project of Artist Playground is a very unique one. It is a one-woman show entitled "Audire (Listen Carefully)". I purposely did not read any advanced information about it because I wanted to be surprised. It turned out though, that maybe I should have read some background about it. I would have been able to appreciate the project more. 

The show opened in total darkness. Four ladies in black came out shaking boxes. When they reached the stage, they placed various items (like toys, accessories, household items, etc...) on the floor upstage. (They would give her different props in each of her four segments in this show.) Enter Ms. Angelina Kanapi in a white dress. She began playing around with the stool and the other things there on the stage.  Her unusual choice of words seemingly meant nothing, a flight of ad-libbed ideas. Her strange gestures and facial expressions all seemed as random as her props. 

That first segment was very bizarre. There were a lot of incomplete words and phrases. I do not remember much of it. The second segment, we see Ms. Kanapi strumming chairs like a guitar. I felt she meant to act like a drugged out rock star. Finally, after singing what sounded like a Nirvana song, she collapse and convulsed on the floor, then lights out. The third segment, we see Ms. Kanapi tie her hair into to pigtails and begin talking like a bratty child to her yaya. She began jumping up and down as a tot in a tantrum shouting words so foul they sounded so funny. The fourth segment, we see Ms. Kanapi in an sultry and earthy mood. This final part felt like a frank excerpt from the "Vagina Monologues".

Then it was over. I am not going to pretend I totally got what just transpired in the last hour. After the curtain call, Ms. Kanapi thanked the staff who helped her with the show. She was joined on the stage by the artistic director of Artist Playground Roeder Camanag, on behalf of show director Jeffrey Camanag who was sick today. They engaged the audience in a post-show discussion about the performance. In most shows, the play proper was enough to speak for itself. For this particular experimental type of production, this Q&A session was a most essential part to grasp the whole meaning of the show and its very special concept.

It was only a post-show realization for me that Ms. Kanapi totally improvised everything she was doing based on the sounds (music, sound effects, noises, whispers, moans, silence) she heard. This meant that the whole show was actually extemporaneous on Ms. Kanapi's part based on the totally random sounds given her by the sound technician. Every show then will be not be the same as the one before. I did not spoil anything for you by telling you what happened in the show I watched. You will see a totally different one every time. This was an eye-opening revelation that made me see the whole performance in a whole new light. This show was not a case of the schizophrenic emperor's new clothes.

So that is what the title meant. Ms. Kanapi should listen carefully to the soundtrack to react to and spontaneously perform. The audience should listen carefully to the soundtrack to understand where Ms. Kanapi and her various strange antics were coming from. 

It was a delight to see Ms. Kanapi performing live.This prime collaboration with the sound man is a pet concept that had been playing in her mind, only to find fruition now thanks to the exploratory thrust of Artist Playground. I knew Ms. Kanapi from her most unusual and quirky roles in indie films I've seen, like "Hustisya" (My Review) with Nora Aunor, a couple Lav Diaz opuses namely "Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan" (My Review) and "Mula Sa Kung Ano ang Noon" (My Review), and just this week "Matangtubig" (My Review).  I cannot think of another actress with such a wacky, unconventional yet intuitive soul who can pull this daring type of performance art off. 


If you want to experience this different type of theater, you can catch the last few shows of "Audire". There is one show on November 4, 2015 at 7pm, then three shows on November 7, 2015 at 3, 5, and 7pm. Tickets at P250. Students only pay P200. Venue of the show is The Little Room Upstairs, Rm. 1701 Landsdale Tower, Mother Ignacia Ave. Quezon City. Look up Ms. Roj Regoso on Facebook for inquiries and reservations.