Saturday, January 31, 2015

Recap of MICHAEL BUBLE Live in MANILA 2015: A Charming and Comic Crooner

January 31, 2015

We had a family event to attend earlier in the evening, so we got to the MOA Arena area by around 8:15 pm. I thought there was still enough time to catch the concert. However, I never imagined that the whole Arena parking building would or could be totally filled up. The open parking areas nearby were also all full. I had to make a major roundabout to make it back to the main mall parking. It was already past 9 pm when I got a parking slot. We still had to rush to the Arena and climb up flights of stairs. 

We reached our seats by around 9:20 pm already. I was happy to see that the people really left our reserved seats vacant despite our tardiness. I was very relieved. I had a feeling maybe we already missed about three or four songs already when we arrived. (Friends would tell me later that I missed the front act performance of Naturally 7 and the two songs (namely "Fever"and "Haven't I Met You Yet?") Buble began his concert with.)


We caught Michael Buble smartly dressed in a snappy black tux (which he would be wearing for the whole show) towards the end of a joking spiel. The stage had three big screens behind him to ensure that everyone can see him. The center screen had some nifty graphic designs to serve as his backdrop. The first song we heard him sing "Try a Little Tenderness." He introduced the next song as a 1948 song written by Sarah Geronimo (?!). No one reacted so I thought I simply heard wrong. The song was Sinatra's "You Make Me Feel So Young." Then he sang Van Morrison's "Moondance" and another Sinatra song "Come Dance with Me." Buble finished this set off with "Feeling Good" and "I've Got the World on a String." He started off in very good voice.

Then he began to joke around again, introducing his band mates with bizarrely funny stories. This guy is a comedian, an irreverent one at that. He confessed that he cracked a Sarah Geronimo joke that no one got. He was told that Sarah G. was actually in the house, and the camera showed her on the screen. He is not afraid to bring race into his jokes! He introduced his pianist as a Fil-Am guy which of course got the audience excited. Then he took that back, saying, "(he) was just a "stupid" Chinese guy. He introduced the next song as something no Filipino would ever sing. It turned out to be Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," obviously goofing off, and letting the audience fill in the high notes. I did not notice if Arnel Pineda was also in the audience that night.

The loud applause began when the audience heard the intro to his recent hit song, "Everything." Following this, he sang another popular standard "That's All." He then talked about collaborating with Barry Gibb, then sung his cover of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" Then he said he will sing the wedding theme song of his grandparents. Surprise, surprise, he sang "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" (VIDEO)! 

He mentioned that he owes his career to the reception he got during his first Manila stint back in 2003. My wife and I were one of the lucky ones to have been there at the Podium for his free mall show back then. He talked about his time spent with Kris Aquino the night before, and complimented her for being so nice. Apparently, Kris mentioned that her favorite among his songs was "Hold On", so he sang it for the audience even he did not really sing this in concerts. 

The next song was the very popular hit "Home" (VIDEO) which was accompanied by video of different types of families on a sofa. Great song. However, I do not know if Buble was having difficulty with the songs or it was the sound system where we were seated, but his voice sounded thin at points and a number of high notes were being dropped from this point. We did not mind too much as the show was going so well.

He announced he will now do his fast songs. He unexpectedly sang "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk! Then, he surprised the people in the VIP seats by going down the stage and making his way into the aisles. Of course everybody wanted to touch him and shake his hands as he did this. He went to a secondary stage set up at the back of the orchestra section and this made the people around this stage to go wild. There he worked the crowd more as he sang with a great-sounding acapella singing group called Naturally 7 to cover Motown hits like "Who's Loving You" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." 

He then sang "To Love Somebody" and everybody was singing along. He made his way back to the big stage via the song "All You Need Is Love". This number ended in a arena-wide confetti shower with red and white hearts. Certainly a most beautiful and festive sight to see!  I thought he would end it there, but he went on to sing "Burnin' Love" (with Buble dancing like Elvis) and another of his sprightly originals, "It's a Beautiful Day." 

Then, Buble bid the audience goodbye and exited the stage. We all knew better though -- the house lights were still off, so we know there is more to come. So we clamored for more.

Buble came back on stage with a big over-the-top flourish with his dramatic and stormy version of "Cry Me A River." This ended in a fantastic stunt on his stage backdrop as you will see in the video above. He then went on to sing "Save the Last Dance for Me". He ended everything softly with "A Song for You" (by Leon Russell). The ending was rather unusual. He shut off his microphone and began to sing the last lines of the song acapella, powerfully projecting his voice over the din of the crowd. We could hear that he was singing something where we were seated, but the words were not so clear. It might have sounded great in the orchestra area but I would not know.

That ended an excellent evening with wonderful music and songs. His voice may not have been as strong as expected the whole night, but his genuine friendly personality, goofy charm, sharp showmanship and generosity as a performer were more than enough to carry him through to make this a most memorable concert.

Monday, January 19, 2015

My Personal Recap of POPE FRANCIS IN MANILA: Days of Mercy and Compassion

January 19, 2015

Our country the Philippines is the only majorly Catholic country in the whole of Asia. Despite this, only two Popes had visited us. The first was Pope Paul VI in 1970. The next two Papal visits were by the same long-serving Pope, Pope (now St.) John Paul II. 

Pope John Paul II came here in 1981 and again in 1995. I was a fan of this Pope. I remember following his life and career back then. I even had a scrapbook about newspaper articles about him, and all about his first visit here. Sadly, I have no idea where that scrapbook is now. I had no idea how to access any of his events back then as a young student. However, I was able to see him on the street in the Malacanang Palace area. In 1995, he came again as part of World Youth Day celebrations. He was already much older and weaker. I saw him again on the street in the Malacanang area again.


Now its 2015, 20 years later. We finally have another Papal visit. The current Pontiff, Pope Francis, visits the Philippines for five days. As days approached his arrival, I had no idea where and how I will go see him. The security precautions for this Papal visit were so much more stringent compared to the 1995 visit. Here is a summary of his schedule:

DAY 1: 

On the morning of the Pope's arrival January 15, I was still at work when I suddenly gathered guts to call my high school classmate who lived in the San Miguel area and asked him if I could stay overnight at his place. Fortunately, he accepted my request. I went to meet him at his place of work via LRT and went to his home with him. There was a directive that only residents of the San Miguel area will be allowed to be in the secured area the next day. So therefore, thanks to my friend, the next day January 16, I was able to see the visiting Pope in person in the Malacanang area yet again. 

Believe me, the Pope was seated beside the apostolic nuncio whom we see in the window. 

DAY 2: 

I actually saw him twice this day. The first one was on his way to Malacanang along JP Rizal St, as his convoy came in from Nagtahan. Unfortunately for all us waiting, he was not on his Popemobile, but only in a black Volkswagen sedan. We were doubly unlucky because the Pope was seated on the right side of the back seat, and all of us were only allowed to stand and wait on the right side of the road! So all we caught was a fleeting glimpse of the Pope's profile as his car drove by quickly. My phone camera only caught Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto seated beside him. Lucky that my friend's SLR camera caught the Pope's face, albeit in shadow (which he would later enhance). It was explained that he rode a closed vehicle because he was on his way to a state function. He rode Popemobile en route to his duties of a pastoral nature.

Thank you Dennis and Florence Teo for this enhanced photo of that first quick glimpse we had.

I was unsatisfied, so I decided to walk over to the other side of Malacanang Palace, on the corner of Aguado St. near San Miguel Church. There were only four rows of people in front of me so I thought it was a cinch for me to get a better picture here. Unfortunately as the Popemobile drove by, everyone in front of me raised their phones, cameras and iPads! No picture I took caught the Papal face. However, MY EYES AND MY HEART CLEARLY CAUGHT HIS MAGNIFICENT SMILE since he was facing squarely in my direction. I was tired and hungry by the end of that but the joy and exhilaration of seeing the beloved Pope in person and so close carried me through my long walk to my ride home.

Believe me, the Pope is behind that camera in front of me! You can see him on the LCD screen.

From Malacanang, the Pope was driven straight to the Manila Cathedral where he celebrated his first Holy Mass for the Religious community. Later that afternoon, the Pope had a meeting with selected families at the MOA Arena. I was so tired from my activities that morning that I slept the whole afternoon when I got home. I totally missed the live broadcast of those events, and just caught excerpts on the news. 

DAY 3: 

The Pope went to Tacloban on this day when the city was under Signal #2 as Typhoon Amang just had its landfall there in the Eastern seaboard of the Visayas. I had to work that day so I was not able to witness his Mass which was delivered in the airport open air as it rain was pouring with strong winds. The images from that Mass of the pope and the congregation all wearing yellow raincoats were very moving. His day trip, which was supposed to have lasted up to 5 pm, had to be cut short because the plane had to leave by 1 pm because of the bad weather. He humbly apologized profusely as he took his leave.

While the Pope arrived safely back in Manila, there were accidents that happened in the Tacloban airport. The private plane carrying Cabinet officials skidded off the runway because of the strong winds. Luckily, there were no major injuries. Worse, a young female volunteer was killed when a scaffolding with a speaker fell on her head. This would be the one sad event that marred an otherwise positive and successful Papal visit. The Pope would be able to personally commisserate with the distraught father bereaved of his only child.

DAY 4:  

I had wanted to attend the event at the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas in the morning. However, the gates open at 4 am, but the people were already lining up as early as the night before!  In fact, people were also lining up already for the Luneta Mass event scheduled at 330 pm also as early as the night before. Because of this and the very real threat of rain, I decided to forego going to UST or Luneta already and just watch the proceedings on TV. 

It rained during the UST event. It started with the testimonies from various youths. First up were two ex-street children. The girl could not control her emotions and burst into tears when she asked the Pope why bad things happen to children. A new engineering graduate who volunteered in Tacloban after Yolanda also spoke about the problem of the youth with too much technology and information. 

During his speech, Pope first talked about 27 year-old Kristel Mae Padasas, who lost her life in the Tacloban airport the day before and offered her a moment of silence. Then he deviated from his original prepared speech and delivered a response to the statements of the youths in Spanish. 

The Pope blesses the children who sing for him.

Important lessons learned during the Pope's talk at UST:

"If you don't know how to cry, you cannot be a good Christian!"

"To think. To feel. To do. And we should use these three languages harmoniously."

"You lack only one thing: To learn how to beg. To learn how to receive. To learn how to be evangelized by the poor. Do you know you are poor? This is what you need to serve. To offer your hand out of your own poverty. To learn how to love, and to learn how to be loved."

The event ended with children doing hand gestures to the 1995 World Youth Day anthem "Tell the World of His Love" amazingly sung live by Darren Espanto. With the Pope there holding the children's hands for the entirety of the song, this was a most touching finale.

I'm awed by the multitudes who braved the rain and the cold to attend this special Mass.

The final Mass at 3:30 in the afternoon was a mammoth event. An estimated 6 million people attended that Mass. To think that this was able to happen on a very wet and cold day is nothing short of a miracle. The stage and altar was beautiful. The ritual services celebrating the uniquely Filipino feast of the Sto. Nino (Christ Child) were very solemn. The first reading was remarkably read by a blind girl reading in Braille! 

The homily of the Holy Father was very meaningful as ever. He reminded us the the meaning of sin is that we have forgotten that we are children of God.

Pope Francis listens to the Words of Thanks for him.

The messages of thanks delivered by Archbishop Soc Villegas, president of the CBCP and Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle of the Archdiocese of Manila were also very inspiring. Fr. Villegas described the Pope as "typhoon-proof" and called him "our sunshine". Fr. Tagle told the Pope to "send us Filipinos out to spread the light of Christ."

DAY 5: 

Pope leaves by a PAL direct flight to Rome at around 9:30 am. At almost 7:30 am, my dad suddenly wanted to go see Pope Francis one last time. So, the two of us drove out, braved the crowd at Quirino Ave. near Adriatico St., waited for about an hour, and was rewarded with one last final fleeting glimpse as the Pope rode his Popemobile en route to his Shepherd One. 

My Papa is all smiles as he awaits El Santo Papa.

Here is my video of our last Papal encounter. I started recording when the motorcycle escorts passed by. The Pope appears only in the last ten seconds of this short clip. Really a fleeting quick glimpse, but another memory to cherish forever.

By the time we reached the house, the Papal plane had already taken off. He will reach Rome in 14 hours. I pray for him as he has repeatedly asked us to do in all his speeches. I pray for his safety and health. The world needs his charismatic presence and inspiring wisdom. I pray that we, the Catholics of our country, cherish and apply this renewing experience we just had. It has to be lasting and transformative, as the Pope said: in our thoughts, in our feelings and most importantly, in our actions.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My Yearend Roundup: The BEST of PHILIPPINE THEATER 2014

January 1, 2015

Last year, I had seen and written about 36 theater productions: 12 musicals, 16 straight full-length plays, 8 one-act plays. 

Still, that is only a fraction of everything the very active local theater scene has offered for the general public in the past year.  I had not been able to see "Dani Girl",  "Grease" and other productions running in Makati in the second half of the year because of the problematic traffic situation. I was out of town when "Imaginarium" was shown. 

I will recount here what I feel were the best among those theater shows I have seen and written about for 2014.


Best: RAK OF AEGIS (My Full Review)

This musical play, based on the lyrics of Aegis songs, is set in Barangay Venezia, 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.  

Aicelle Santos 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.

Honorable Mentions:

Ang Nawalang Kapatid (My Review)
Ang Huling Lagda ni Apolinario Mabini (My Review)
Filipinas 1941 (My Review)

Notable Performances: 

Aicelle Santos and Julienne Mendoza (Rak), Roeder Camanag and Poppert Bernadas (Mabini), Teetin Villanueva (Ang Nawalang Kapatid), MIcko Laurente (Kleptomaniacs, Prinsipe Munti)


Best: SHREK THE MUSICAL (My Full Review)

The swamp home of the grumpy green ogre Shrek was overrun by fairy tale characters who were exiled there by Lord Farquaad of Duloc. Shrek with his new friend Donkey accepts the challenge set by Farquaad to save the Princess Fiona from her imprisonment in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. However, Fiona has a dark secret of her own that needs true love's first kiss to solve. Who will set her free from her nightly curse? Will it be Farquaad? Or can it be Shrek?

Franz Imperial was actually very good as Shrek!  His singing voice was full and very solid. He had Shrek's Scottish accent down. He had excellent buddy chemistry with the Donkey and romantic chemistry with Fiona, such that he did not feel like a short-notice replacement at all. Imperial was able to project the inner goodness of the gruff ogre from under all of that green rubbery make-up. This pinch-hitter hit a home run!  As Princess Fiona, Shiela Valderrama performed like I had never seen her perform before. Her songs showed off her comic flair on top of her flawless strong vocals. 

Honorable Mentions:

Ghost the Musical (My Review)
Priscilla Queen of the Desert (My Review)

*** Foreign Touring Production: Wicked (My Review)

Notable Performances: 

Franz Imperial and Shiela Valderrama-Martinez (Shrek), Cris Villonco and Ima Castro (Ghost), Red Concepcion, Michael Williams and Raymond Concepcion (Priscilla), Nikki Gil and Joaquin Valdez (The Last 5 Years)


A. One-Act: 

Best: ANG NAGHIHINGALO (My Full Review)

Intoy suddenly suffers a stroke and needs P300,000 for brain surgery to drain the hemorrhage.  Being an ice cream seller who was just recently laid off from work, he did not have the money for this. Intoy's wife Felisa seeks the help of Intoy's three elder siblings, Guido, Doreen and Ate Linda. As Intoy lies critically in the ICU, his three siblings end up squabbling over past family issues instead of coming up with the cash.

At first, this play did not seem so promising because of the rather common and morose initial premise. However, as the play progressed, especially with the entry of Bong Cabrera as loud-mouthed Guido, the play's hilarious over-the-top nature revealed itself.  The entry of Dolly de Leon as Linda, the flamboyant loan shark eldest sister, further upped the comedy scale even more.  

Honorable Mentions: 

Betang (My Review)
The Missing Peace (My Review)

Notable Performances: 

Sherry Lara and Chino Veguillas (Betang), Dolly De Leon and Bong Cabrera (Ang Naghihingalo), Sarah Salazar (Bago Ilibing), Gio Gahol (Freshman)

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


The play is about Willy Loman, a travelling salesman and also family man happily married to Linda, with two grown sons, Biff and Happy. As he gets older though, his boss takes him out of the company payroll and makes his earnings per commission-basis. With this demotion at work, his own sanity begins to unravel. Willy's stubborn pride makes him resist help from his family and friends. Ghosts from his past, like his elder brother Ben and the mysterious woman from Boston, insidiously creep into Willy's present dementia, throwing his family into a major turmoil.

"Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente" is no doubt a formidable play. It runs for about three and a half hours long. The main characters all have lengthy soliloquies, made more difficult by being in delivered Filipino. Some lines can be awkward to say in Filipino because they possessed a distinct American flavor in the words. The innate complexity of this play automatically makes the actors who take on this big challenge a notch above other actors. 

Honorable Mentions: 

Rite of Passage (My Review)
Ang Misis Kong Promdi (My Review)
Hakbang sa Hakbang (My Review)

Notable Performances:

Nanding Josef, Yul Servo and Gina Pareno (Pahimakas), Frances Makil-Ignacio and Ron Capinding (Rite of Passage), Guelan Luarca and Dolly de Leon (Middle Finger), Delphine Buencamino (Hakbang sa Hakbang), Tarek el Tayech and Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino (Ang Misis Kong Promdi), Ana Abad Santos and JC Santos (Fluid)


Best: AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (My Full Review)

This play is set in a small Oklahoma town on one warm summer. Violet Weston reunites with her three willful daughters, Barbara, Ivy and Karen, when there was an unexpected death in the family. Fireworks fly when family secrets are revealed as mother and daughters clash, dragging the rest of the family along in their downward spiral.

The role of Violet, the dysfunctional wife and mother made worse by her dependency on drugs given for her oral cancer, was played by Sheila Francisco. Ms. Francisco had us all mesmerized by the sadistic web she is spinning. She owned that pivotal second act set around the lunch table completely. 

Honorable Mentions:

Rabbit Hole (My Review)
Wait Until Dark (My Review)
Cock (My Review)

Notable Performances: 

Sheila Francisco (August), Liesl Batucan (Wait Until Dark, August), Agot Isidro (Rabbit Hole), Cherie Gil (Full Throttle), Topper Fabregas and Jenny Jamora (Cock), Carla Laforteza-Guevara (Noises Off)


Looking forward to more vibrant productions of the various local theater companies and more scintillating performances from multi-talented Filipino theater artists this year 2015!