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)


  1. Thank you very much Fred! We are honored by your citation! I personally would have wished you included Nor Domingo in your list of performances but that's just me. Thank you and thank you again!

  2. The theater will always be one of the best entertainment platforms. It relies on the talent of the actors rather than the setting, the props, etc. You're so lucky to be able to watch so much plays and concerts! Thanks for the list!

  3. Wow! You have watched so many theater productions in one year and it's amazing how you keep track of each one. Will any of these four mentioned productions be repeated in the next year?

  4. Beautiful list, Fred! I miss going to the theater. The last time was at the Danish Royal Theater to see a German opera. While in PH, I used to watch theater performances as well. I think, the most memorable was the Information for Foreigners by Anton Juan. It was a play that was a non-play. They used an entire building to stage the different acts, i.e., the audience had to go up and down the stairs, walk along the corridors, and the rooms, the balcony, etc. :P Haven't seen any of the plays in your list, but I would have loved to.

  5. Aww, you didn't include Chuva Choo Choo in the notable list, I rather liked that one, very fun and lighthearted. I would have loved to watch the play Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady though, your review is just glowing with praise.

  6. I just caught the Cinderella movie in Singapore, and it was pretty bad. The cast, the script and the costume were all disappointing. Perhaps I should start watching a bit more musicals and stage production to learn how to appreciate such shows

  7. I have not seen (nor heard) any of these. But that's also because I'm way behind with any pop culture and I'm also not a theater person. I did read The Bridges of Madison County though and I definitely shed a tear.

  8. Paano ako naging leading lady looks like a nice plot for a movie too with the Hero vs Villain concept. This would be a hit especially if they cast it well.

  9. Wow... Somehow I don't get myself to theatrical productions. In India there's a huge film industry of both Hindi (Bollywood) & regional films. There are also fabulous theatricals, stand up comedies & musicals, which sadly do not gain so much popularity as movies. But of late I feel I should support them and should go & watch them. Your post is inspiring me to do it. Gonna do it... :)

  10. Oh wow; you really are a theatre junkie, hehe! Thanks for sharing this list, you are really blessed to have caught so many shows in a year 😊

  11. Its been years since I last watched a play. And your lists are all interesting and I hope there will be another play on 2016.paano akong naging leading lady and the normal heart

  12. Its been years since I last watched a play. And your lists are all interesting and I hope there will be another play on 2016.paano akong naging leading lady and the normal heart