Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review of Actor's Actors' THE NORMAL HEART: Heavy HIV Heartbreaker

July 1, 2015

Actor's Actors is a theater company that started more than 20 years ago in 1992 by theater stalwarts Bart Guingona, Jaime del Mundo, Michael Williams, Menchu Lauchengco Yulo and four other partners. Since 1998, they started producing a series of provocative straight plays which they dubbed The Necessary Theater. 

I have heard about their productions, but I realize I have never watched a single one of their shows at all, not even their last two Gawad-Buhay award-winning plays: "John Logan's "Red" and David Ives' "Venus in Fur". Luckily, this year, I was finally able to catch one, and it had to be one of the more devastating plays about HIV, "The Normal Heart." 

HIV and AIDS are diseases that are so rampant in the Philippines now, especially among the young, yet we only hear about it every once in a while. Truth is, latest 2015 statistics already show that a whopping 22 new cases are diagnosed EVERY DAY! Despite being written and first staged in the 1985 when AIDS was a big health scare which had yet to be understood, "The Normal Heart" remains very relevant up to these days in our country where a stifling social stigma is still continually hangs above HIV/AIDS patients.


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 of homosexuals as the possible mode of infection. Harassed wheelchair-bound physician Dr. Emma Brookner advised him strongly that the only way to stop the spread of infection is to stop risky sexual activity. 

Ned begins his aggressive and active educational campaign. When a suspicious lesion was seen on the sole of the foot of Ned's new boyfriend Felix, Ned had to work overtime to draw more public attention to their cause. 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. The death toll continued to rise.

Author Larry Kramer wrote this play out of his own personal experience during the HIV crisis and his heart is bared in the play's fierce words -- the turmoil, the humor, the compassion and the insights. It started as an Off-Broadway play in 1985, with Brad Davis, and later Joel Grey, playing Ned Weeks. It debuted in London's Royal Court Theater in 1986 with Martin Sheen as Ned. It only made its Broadway debut recently in 2011, with Joe Mantello as Ned, Lee Pace as Bruce, and Jim Parsons as Tommy. This play won the Tony for Best Revival of a Play, while Ellen Barkin (as Dr. Emma) and John Benjamin Hickey (as Felix) received Tonys for Best Featured Actors in a Play that year.


In last night's staging held at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium of the RCBC Plaza in Makati, 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. 

The heartbreaking drama is guaranteed to bring sympathetic audiences to tears of recognition and identification. It is also powerful enough to move even the most unsympathetic audiences to a deeper understanding of the losing plight faced by an HIV/AIDS patient from the 1980s to the present. Its devastating message is evidenced by the warzone-like mess that the stage looked like by the end of the play. This play and its potent cast will definitely be rewarded come awards season.

Bart Guingona and Topper Fabregas

With Bart Guingona's raw and passionate performance, you can feel the boiling frustration within Ned Weeks. Ned always antagonized everyone around him with his abrasive attitude brought about by the the cavalierness of the people around him, and Guingona succeeds to convey just that. He was practically onstage the whole play going through the whole gamut of emotions with intricately-worded kilometric lines, and he nails them. Guingona also directed this play. Not only was he was able to get the best performances from his actors, the energy of the play never felt bogged down by the heavy drama. 

Bart Guingona and Richard Cunanan

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. Richard Cunanan again shines with a flawless laidback effortless performance as Ned's lawyer brother, Ben WeeksSince he is more known for his TV and movies, I did not expect TJ Trinidad's proficiency in stage acting as Bruce Niles. We can clearly feel the inner conflicts of a closeted homosexual in his subtle performance. 

Red Concepcion and TJ Trinidad

This is my first time to see PETA staple Nor Domingo in an English-language play, and he blew us away with the powerful monologue of his character NYC health officer Mickey Marcus, filled with angst and pain. In multiple smaller roles, Red Concepcion and Jef Flores once again display their acting versatility. Concepcion shone most as compassionate Tommy Boatwright. Flores' best moment was as the infuriating NYC Mayor representative Hiram Keebler. It is amazing to note that these three actors all have another theater projects ongoing this same week (Domingo in "Rak of Aegis", Concepcion and Flores in "Leading Lady").

Nor Domingo and Jef Flores

My favorite performance of the night was that of Roselyn Perez as polio-stricken, wheelchair-bound Dr. Emma Brookman. She is a veteran of the stage, and even one of the founding members of Actor's Actor, but I will have to confess that this is the first time I have seen her in a major role. While she was excellent in all her scenes, Perez' Dr. Emma in Act 2 Scene 12 was her memorable highlight. It was such a tour de force performance, unforgettable in its sheer bravado, seething with pulsating anger. My own personal background makes me identify with her mission the most, the desire to bring only the best possible quality of care to patients.

Roselyn Perez in Scene 12 (with Jef Flores in background as Examining Doctor) 

The stark and simple stage design was perfectly executed by Coco Anne and Baby Imperial. The lighting design of Meliton Roxas was likewise able to highlight the dramatic scenes so well with his expert play of light and darkness. There was a prop malfunction regarding a telephone at a crucial scene that distracted the audience, but I am sure they will make sure it won't happen again. 

Despite the period nature of this play, the topic is hardly a historical footnote. The issues tackled in the play are still very true in this day and time, especially in our country. Sadly, this powerful and thought-provoking play will only run for five shows in three days this weekend July 3, 4 and 5, 2015. Kudos to Actor's Actor for its initiative and civic responsibility in staging this important play for local audiences. I think it is a very educational and informative piece that deserves to be toured throughout our country to bring to the forefront the HIV/AIDS situation our country is in right now.


A Q&A session after the Press Preview featured a lady guest from Pinoy Plus. This is a locally-based support group for PLHIV (people living with HIV). This epilogue brought the play to its proper context in the present day in the words of an actual person who has been living with HIV for the past 24 years. She is physically well and socially confident because of the strong support she receives from her family and support group. Unfortunately, this is not true for all PLHIV, especially those belonging to marginalized groups. The main thrust of their organization is to reach out to all PLHIV in the country to provide them psychosocial support and to be their advocate in community and governmental matters.

The whole cast pose with the Pinoy Plus rep after the post show Q & A session

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XI - SET B: Bitterness and Bravado

June 25, 2015

Last year was the first time I had watched the Virgin Labfest in its 10th edition. I watched some pretty thought-provoking one-act plays then, and I would really like to watch more this year. This festival is all about giving the playwrights an opportunity to showcase their newest unstaged works. This year's 12 entries were selected from 156 plays submitted, the best of the best.

The 12 selected plays were once again divided into four sets of three.  For each ticket you buy, you get to watch three one-act plays staged in the intimate Tanghalang Huseng Batute.  I can only watch on Thursday matinees given my work schedule. Tickets were selling out very early on given the popularity of this theater festival. I bought my tickets as early as a month ago, May 21.

For today, I caught Set B. As before, I watched these plays without knowing what they were about and who would be acting in them. It turns out this is the most in-demand ticket of this festival as all remaining time slots showing Set B are already sold out!


Written by: Nicolas Pichay
Directed by: Ralph Pena

I have a feeling this particular play is the reason why Set B is the most popular set of the Labfest. The title alone makes it stand out. First it is a musical. I'm not sure if there had been musicals in the Labfest before, but I think being a musical is a plus among Pinoy audiences. Second, the bold, controversial and very provocative topic of macho dancers stirs up a lot of curiosity and interest.

The noted tandem of Nicolas Pichay as playwright and Ralph Pena as director is a dream pairing. Pichay is well-known as a Palanca Award hall of famer for his plays and poetry. Pena's directing credentials are Stateside as he had directed off-Broadway projects, even winning an Obie for "The Romance of Magno Rubio." However, with this project, the earthy and sensual topic of the material by itself upstage their illustrious credentials.

Before the play began, some macho dancers already took to the stage grinding their hips to a sleazy Boyz II Men song. Probably everyone in the audience were trying so hard not to look at the dancers straight in the eye in discomfiture. After they made their exit, the Philippine flag was brought out onstage for the National Anthem. This elicited nervous laughter among the audience.

The play was about a group of macho dancers in a seedy joint called The Tutubi Club: the brash Bert (Jojo Riguerra), the hirsute Daks (Tarek el Tayech), the young Juicy (Alexis Yasuda) and their aging elder Kuya Rudy (Paolo O'Hara).  Their former colleague Paul (Riki Benedicto), who had left the club a year ago for training for post modern ballet choreography, is called back to teach them new dance styles for a big show. However, their savings were depleted, their club is shutting down and their last sponsor backed out. How can the guys get through this very low moment in their lives?

Even though the storyline sounds serious, the treatment is lighthearted and humorous. The rhythmic songs have absurd lyrics about India and elephants, which do not really make much sense. Only the climactic hiphop style song by Kuya Rudy at the end had proper context in the story. The staging still looked rough. I do not know if this was just because it was their first show, or it was really done that way on purpose to immerse the audience into the sordid world where these characters lived. There is no clear closure in the ending, leaving this material open perhaps to be expanded further in the future.

The five main actors have excellent chemistry with each other, coming off as real good friends. I have only seen El Tayech in those elegant Dulaang UP productions of old British plays, so it is a surprise to see him looking as hefty and grungy like he does here. I have seen Riguerra before as a young gay boy's fantasy in "Maxie the Musical", so his role here is a bit down the same alley. Fair and clean-cut Yasuda had strong stage presence and comic timing. O'Hara came across like everyone's favorite elder brother. It was Benedicto though who really shone as a lowly macho dancer who got thrust into snooty high society dancing with less than happy results. His raw performance as Paul was very natural and effortless.


Written by: Herlyn Alegre
Directed by: Lawrence Fajardo

The team of Herlyn Alegre and Lawrence Fajardo was also responsible for one of the standout plays of VL IX entitled "Imbisibol". This had recently been turned into an award-winning indie film, also directed by Fajardo. The controversial material of "Huling Huli" also has a lot of cinematic potential.

This play deals with how some womenfolk in a small fishing village on an isolated island make a living by selling sexual favors in exchange for fish. It is said to be based on the recently exposed practice in Kenya called "joyoba," where sex is used as currency. They never mentioned if this practice actually exists here in the Philippines or not.

Melanie is an elderly lady still very actively selling sex to fishermen to earn money. She also pimps out the other women in town, and she earns a hefty commission from this. Stressed-out and sickly, Teresa wants out of this type of life already. However, young virginal NingNing is getting tempted to give in to the lure of money. The nets they are working on clearly signify that these women are trapped in this unenviable situation.

Ms. Peewee O'Hara is so grandmotherly in looks you'd be shocked by the language her mouth spews out as Melanie. Too bad the first time she makes a sexual trade with a fisherman was done offstage. It would have been more shocking if done onstage. Angelina Kanapi looks so sick as Teresa. I thought her cough was for real as it sounded so real. Turns out to be amazing acting because this cough was gone by curtain call. Martha Comia gets another sexually-charged role like what she usually does for Dulaang UP. She has got that right mix of innocence and worldliness in her face and body for these types of roles. 


Written by: Genevieve Asenjo and Mario Mendez
Directed by: Rody Vera

The final play of Set B is the quietest and most intimate. If you think the title alone already suggests that this is one serious play which will tackle very serious issues, you'd think right. This play was adapted from a scene in "Lumbay ng Dila," an award-winning 2010 novel by Genevieve Asenjo . 

Sadyah ran into her estranged mother Teresa in a mall. They go to Sadyah's posh condo unit to catch up on things. Sadyah is now a successful published poet. Teresa is a respected NGO worker now, but she used to be known as Kumander Rafflesia of the NPA in Central Panay. Their reunion started awkwardly with small talk. Later, this led to long-kept secrets being revealed and long-held bitterness being openly expressed.

This purely conversational play only depended on the skill of its actors to make the words come alive. There were still a little missed lines here and there, but this is only their first show so I am sure their delivery will get better. Kat Castillo plays Sadyah, but her character was mainly written to set-up the perfect acting showcase for Marichu Belarmino, who was positively luminous and riveting as Teresa. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review of BITUING WALANG NINGNING The Musical: Nostalgic '80s Melodrama

June 18, 2015

"Bituing Walang Ningning" is best known to me as a Sharon Cuneta movie back in 1985. Christopher de Leon plays her discoverer and manager Nico Escobar. Ms. Cherie Gil turned the villainess role Lavinia Arguelles into an iconic character of Philippine cinema, with an immortal line about a "second-rate, trying hard copycat" that everyone knows by heart. I have vague memories about this film. Not really a fan of this type of films back then, I am not even sure I ever watched it completely. 

However, it turns out, "Bituin" started its life as komiks serial penned by the prolific writer, Nerissa Cabral. In 2006, this was also made into a TV series, starring Sarah Geronimo, Ryan Agoncillo and Angelika de la Cruz in the lead roles.

This time the multimedia hit takes on another incarnation -- a stage musical with a script written by Freddie Santos, who is also the director of this production by Resorts World Manila (RWM), Full House Theater Company in cooperation with Viva Communications, Inc. (Viva). The script includes 11 songs by Filipino pop maestro Willy Cruz. 

The show was first announced six months ago in January 2015. It did not even have a lead actress to play Dorina yet. A nationwide search was launched to search for this new star. And in March 2015, 19-year old Monica Cuenco from Leyte won the lead role. Cuenco seems to have lived the life of Dorina. She had been an orphan since age of eight and grew up with an aunt, making ends meet by selling puto and joining singing contests. She narrowly missed the big prize, placing second in the 2011 ABS-CBN reality talent show “Star Power: Sharon’s Search for the Next Female Superstar” (won by Angeline Quinto).


Luckily I was able to leave work by 4:15 pm, earlier than usual. There was a very strong downpour that afternoon and since it was the rush hour, there was very heavy traffic most of the way. I had to buy a burger to eat along the way for my dinner. I reached the Resorts World Newport Performing Arts Theater already 8:10 pm! 

Fortunately, they decided to delay the opening of the show to 8:30 pm since maybe there are notably still several empty seats in the supposedly sold out venue that gala opening night. Ceremonies were kicked off by RMW Chief Entertainment Officer Colin Kerr and Ms. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo. Their introductory speech was entertaining, because Kerr would sing the title every time he would mention it, and later Ms. Menchu did the same. 

Director and scriptwriter Freddie Santos confessed how nervous and pressured he was feeling, especially since the original writer of the story Nerissa Cabral and the composer of the 11 songs in the show Danny Cruz were both in the audience that night. I was half hoping Sharon Cuneta would be there, but no dice. 


Dorina Pineda is a poor but spunky young girl who was also an obsessed big fan of singing pop-dance superstar Lavinia Arguelles. Lavinia's manager and boyfriend Nico Escobar discovers Dorina's own hidden prowess in singing. Nico decided to build Dorina up to provide competition and impart a lesson to the bratty and swell-headed Lavinia. However, as Dorina's star begins to rise, can she handle the intense intrigue that comes with success in show business?

All eyes are on newcomer Monica Cuenco in the lead role of Dorina. Her nerves and inexperience were quite evident in her acting and singing performances on this opening night. Even if they were melodically beautiful, her big showcase numbers "Pangarap na Bituin" and "Bituing Walang Ningning" did not possess not the flawless showstopping song deliveries you would expect for her to be convincing as the rising star seriously able to threaten the career of an established star. 

Her counter water-splashing scene did not work out perfectly as she again got water splashed on her as well. Her climactic conversation with Nico about their relationship in Act 2 meandered for a bit as she (and Mark) seemed to have missed some lines, as the English translations on the widescreen would betray.

It would not not fair to compare Monica with the previous Dorinas Sharon Cuneta and Sarah Geronimo, who were already big experienced stars when they got to play this role. Monica is experiencing an actual Dorina moment this night. This is only opening night and I understand the pressure she must have been feeling. She comes across as earnest and determined as she showed in her initial scenes. I hope she would be able to shake off these nerves and deliver more polished performances in the shows to come. As to matching Cuneta's and Geronimo's charisma and presence, that may be too much to ask.

Cris Villonco was the best overall performer in the show as she tackles Lavinia with such ferocious bitchiness, perpetually arched eyebrows and all. This showy role easily makes her the most explosive and memorable performer since everyone else was basically playing bland goody-goody roles. Villonco had measured campiness in her Lavinia that was delightful to watch, especially in that iconic water-splashing scene. I do wish she was given better songs to sing. While she sings them well, I did find it hard to accept her "Magandang Gabi sa Inyong Lahat" and "Ang Boyfriend Kong Baduy" as big '80s pop-dance hits though.

Mark Bautista also had very strong stage presence. However, he seemed trapped in restraints the way his Nico Escobar was written as a character who had an eternal frown on his face as he grapples with deep thoughts. He definitely shines more when he gets to sing. His first song was the ballad "Sa Duyan ng Pag-Ibig" (originally a midtempo 1980 Metro Pop entry by Passionata) which was not too familiar. But his next two other songs were both very popular and Bautista delivered them with so much passion. This guy's voice was perfect for these classic Filipino pop ballads.

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo obviously had fun with her featured role as entertainment journalist Edith, a role created to break the monotony of melodrama in the show. She mixed her intrigue-digging Inday Badiday character with touches of Maurice Arcache flair and Ogie Diaz cattiness, if you can imagine that. The "True or Untrue" segment in her show "Exclusively Edith" was hilarious, as she injected some Kris Aquino's "Deal or No Deal" into the mix. I was expecting Ms. Menchu to rip through a Willy Cruz ballad herself, but that was not to be as Edith did not have a song to sing.

Pinoy Dream Academy (2006) alumnus and finalist Ronnie Liang also had his share of the spotlight in his first musical theater venture as pianist and composer Garry Diaz. Liang had the height, looks and a good singing voice, but I felt his costume and makeup somewhat hampered his stage presence. Liang got to sing "Init sa Magdamag" (a duet with Karina Joy Macaspac) and an upbeat solo "Paikot-Ikot" (originally by Randy Santiago). 

Expect Jon Santos to steal all his scenes as Auntie, Dorina's flamboyantly gay uncle and guardian who ran his own sampaguita business. He gets to sing Cebuano folk song "Usahay" in an early scene with Dorina. In more minor non-singing roles were Michael Williams (who played Larry, a record company owner), Jay Roa (who played Zosimo, Nico's new business partner) and John Nite (who played Kuya Germs German Moreno with relish in his glittery coats and trademark accent). 

Unlike "Mamma Mia" and "Rak of Aegis" which took songs from one artist and incorporated them to tell the story of the play, "Bituing Walang Ningning" uses the songs of Willy Cruz mostly as song numbers of the singer characters only, not really material to the story being told at that moment. The only exceptions would be "Sana'y Maghintay ang Walang Hanggan" (sung by Nico, Dorina and Gary) and "Mahawi Man ang Ulap" (by Nico) which seemed apt for the situations when they were sung. The title song "Bituing Walang Ningning" was sung three times all in Act 2, but it was only at the final concert scene that it was in more meaningful in context.

(Photo Credit: JSS)

Those huge stars that adorned the stage during final concert scene were spectacular. However in some scenes, the huge stage could feel awkwardly empty. The colorful backdrop projections provided much needed help to keep things interesting. The occasional advertisements projected (notably) Aristocrat restaurant and Champion detergent) can be rather distracting. I also like the idea of having the actors also engage some members of the audience as they walked among the seats in the auditorium and shook their hands as if the audience were in attendance of the events portrayed during the show.

The live musical accompaniment was provided by the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Rodel ColmenarThe lighting director Shakira Villa Symes was able to create perfect dramatic atmospheres for the showstopping ballad song numbers. The effort by the production designers to create an 80s atmosphere was commendable. Those huge cell phones were remarkable.Thankfully for those seated on the sides, there were live projections on both sides with English subtitles, which can be entertaining in themselves (like "baduy" is "hokey" and "pangarap na bituin" is "wished-for star").

Being opening night, there were still a number of mic glitches which marred some scenes.  I am sure the production has observed and noted down the opening night hitches in the acting styles, blocking issues, excess or awkward dialogue and various tech problems and correct them accordingly in order to further streamline the show.

With modern Filipino theater going into exciting new directions with "Sa Wakas", "Rak of Aegis" and "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady", an old-fashioned melodramatic musical like this may find it hard to attract the younger audience who look for angst and excitement. The attraction of a musical like this though is very different. "Bituing Walang Ningning" evokes nostalgia for '80s showbiz and OPM, which is always fun to revisit for those who have lived it. (It was nice to hear "Kumusta Ka?" and "Points of View" again.) The multimedia success of this story is testament to its appeal among Filipinos. And as always, the musical talents of our Filipino artists cannot be overlooked. Kudos!


"Bituing Walang Ningning" runs up to July 18, 2015 at the Newport Performing Arts Theater, Resorts World Manila, at 8 pm on Thursdays to Saturdays, and at 3 pm on Sundays. Tickets are care of TicketWorld and sold at these prices: SVIP PHP3,300, VIP PHP2,500, Gold PHP1,900, Silver PHP1,400 and Bronze PHP1,000. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Recap of GAWAD BUHAY 2014: Awards Flood "Rak of Aegis"!

June 11, 2015

Last night, I was a witness to the seventh edition of Gawad Buhay Awards.  This local version of the Tony Awards as PHILSTAGE honors the best performances of the previous theater season among its members. 

Philstage is an umbrella organization of professional performing arts companies in the Philippines, including Ballet Manila, Ballet Philippines, Gantimpala Theater Foundation, Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit, PETA, Repertory Philippines, Tanghalang Pilipino, Trumpets, Actor’s Actors, 9 Works Theatrical and Philippine Opera Company. New among the roster of members are: Resorts World Manila’s Full House Theater Productions (eligible this year), Red Turnip Theater (eligible next year), and the newest company to join, Philippine Ballet Theater.

The show started promptly at 8 pm.   I could hear the show was already starting inside when I was still getting my ticket outside the Little Theater of the CCP. The emcee is the versatile and very funny actor Topper Fabregas. It seems I also missed an opening song number with Topper, Joaquin Valdes, Kim Molina and Red Concepcion (in drag wearing a corset!).

Nikki Gil (smashing in her body-hugging, bright orange gown) and her partner Steven Silva were already handing out the first set of awards.

Female Featured Performance in Classical Dance
Celina Dofitas, “Cinderella” (BP)
Edana Mae Labitoria, “Cinderella” (BP)
Rita Winder, “Cinderella” (BP)

No nomination were cited for Male Featured Performance in Classical Dance.

Male Lead Performance in Classical Dance
Richardson Yadao, “Cinderella” (BP)
EARL JOHN ARISOLA, “Cinderella” (BP)

Denise Parungao

Female Lead Performance in Classical Dance
DENISE PARUNGAO, “Cinderella” (BP)
Monica Gana, “Cinderella” (BP)
Dawna Mangahas, “Nutkraker” (BM)

Philippine Ballet Theater number

Topper came out in a basketball jersey with a huge V in front and the name Tolits at the back. He is wearing one of the costumes from the first nominee for costume design, "Rak of Aegis". He introduced the special number from the newest member of Philstage, the Philippine Ballet Theater, who rendered a dance number.

Liza Magtoto and Margie Moran-Floirendo

Ballet Phils. president Ms. Margie Moran-Floirendo introduced the sole nominee and winner of Outstanding Original Libretto, LIZA MAGTOTO, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta). Ms. Magtoto dedicated her award to her "original Tolits", her Dad. There was no nominee for Outstanding Original Script.  Then, both of them presented the next award.

Outstanding Translation or Adaptation
Virgilio Almario and José Lacaba, “Mga Ama, Mga Anak” (TP)
ROLANDO TINIO, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP) (MY REVIEW)

Topper in his "Scrooge" costume. Unwashed since the run?

Topper came out in a nightgown with nightcap and scraggly beard worn in the next costume nominee, "Scrooge" by Rep. He joked that in true Rep tradition, that costume had not been washed since the show ended its run. 

The next presenters were Joaquin Valdes and Mailes Kanapi. 

Tami Monsod. "I'd like to say something in Filipino, but next year na lang."

Female Featured Performance in a Play
Pinky Amador, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
LIESL BATUCAN, “August: Osage County” (Rep) (MY REVIEW)
Sheila Francisco, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
TAMI MONSOD, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
Madeleine Nicolas, “Mga Ama, Mga Anak” (TP)

Male Featured Performance in a Play
Richard Cunanan, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
Hans Eckstein, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
YUL SERVO, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)
Dido dela Paz, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)
Marco Viaña, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)

Bituin Escalante. To her sister Kalila who lost to her, "Sagot ko drinks mo mamaya."

Female Featured Performance in a Musical
BITUIN ESCALANTE, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Full House)  (MY REVIEW)
Kalila Aguilos, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
Antoinette Taus, “Grease” (9WT)

Pepe Herrera dedicates his award to his mom who encouraged him to follow his heart. 
I did not catch his performance as Tolits in "Rak", may have to try to catch him in the re-run.

Male Featured Performance in a Musical
PEPE HERRERA, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)  (MY REVIEW)
Jerald Napoles, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
Myke Salomon, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
Juliene Mendoza, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
Micko Laurente, “Kleptomaniacs” (TP)

A scene from "Sinta" by Dulaang Sibol

Next up was the presentation of the first Natatanging Gawad Buhay award, which is a lifetime achievement award. Before that, an excerpt from one of the awardee's works by his brainchild Dulaang Sibol, the musical "Sinta", was presented. 

Sir Onofre Pagsanghan, with Paul Dumol behind him

The first awardee was introduced and extolled by prominent playwright Paul Dumol. He is Mr. ONOFRE PAGSANGHAN, fondly called "Pagsi" by his students. Mr. Pagsi was very articulate, delivering his well-worded speech confidently without a script, calling himself a "very happy old man."

Nicco Manalo and group present a number from TP's "Kleptomaniacs" (MY REVIEW) (VIDEO)

Topper in his "La Revolucion Filipina" costume. For more audience impact. It worked!

Topper next came out on the stage practically naked with only a loin cloth and pencil-drawn abs on. This was from the nominated costume collection from the Ballet Philippine opus, "La Revolucion Filipina." 

The next presenters were Richard Cunanan and Shiela Francisco.

Carissa Adea

Female Lead Performance in Modern Dance
Dawna Mangahas, “Shutter” [from “Heart2Heart: Ballet & Ballads”] (BM)
Monica Gana, “Duet” [from “Art of Dance”] (BP)
Kris-Belle Paclibar-Mamangun, “Salome” [from “The Blue Moon Series”] (BP)
CARISSA ADEA, “Songs of the Wayfarer” [from “The Blue Moon Series”] (BP)
Jessa Balote, “Sari’t Bahag” [from “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika: An OPM Festival”] (BM)

Richardson Yadao

Male Lead Performance in Modern Dance
Elpidio Magat, “Shutter” [from “Heart2Heart: Ballet & Ballads”] (BM)
Earl John Arisola, “Duet” [from “Art of Dance”] (BP)
Rudy de Dios, “Aramica” [from “Heart2Heart: Ballet & Ballads”] (BM)
Jean Marc Cordero, “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)
RICHARDSON YADAO, “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)

No nominations were cited for Male and Female Featured Performance in Modern Dance.

Outstanding Choreography for a Dance Production
BAM DAMIAN, “Aramica” [from “Heart2Heart: Ballet & Ballads”] (BM)
Denisa Reyes, “Muybridge Frames” [from “Art of Dance”] (BP)
Bam Damian, “After Whom” [from “The Blue Moon Series”] (BP)
Alice Reyes, “Bungkos Suite” [from “The Blue Moon Series”] (BP)
Agnes Locsin, “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)

The cast of Kanser @ 35: The Musical

Following these awards, there was an operatic song number by the cast of the upcoming revival show from Gantimpala Theater Foundation, "Kanser @ 35: The Musical" featuring members of Viva Voce

Topper in his Full Gallop garb. He fit into Cherie Gil's costume?

Topper came back out wearing a black suit with a flowery shawl around him. This was a costume by Rajo Laurel from the third costume nominee "Full Gallop". He mentioned that he is different from Neil Patrick Harris because he is not paid for this gig, and that he only had one dresser with him. 

Karla Gutierrez from the Philippine Opera Company sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" to accompany the "In Memoriam" slideshow for departed members of the Philippine theater community. This list included young actor Aaron Ching and director Kokoy Jimenez.

Toots Tolentino (and his red shoes!) and Leloi Arcete

The next presenters were publicists Sir Toots Tolentino and Leloi Arcete to acknowledge their invaluable contributions to the theater world.

Happy Constantino and Myke Salomon

Outstanding Sound Design
Jethro Joaquin, “Noises Off” (Rep)
Jethro Joaquin, “Wait Until Dark” (Rep)
Bart Guingona, “Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)
Ryan Cayabyab (remastered by David Theo), “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)

Outstanding Lighting Design
John Batalla, “Wait Until Dark” (Rep)
Katsch Catoy, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
Martin Esteva, “The Last 5 Years” (9WT)
Bart Guingona, “Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)
KATSCH CATOY, “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)

Ballet Philippines number

A beautifully haunting and athletic modern dance excerpt from "After Whom" followed performed by Ballet Philippines followed. 

Topper in his "Priscilla" costume. In his own words, he looked like a "green p*n*s"!

Topper came out wearing a neon green outfit with huge green afro wig from the fourth costume nominee "Priscilla Queen of the Desert."

The next presenters were Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and partner Robie Zialcita.

Red Concepcion. His best role and performance ever!

Male Lead Performance in a Musical
RED CONCEPCION, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Full House)
Joaquin Valdes, “The Last 5 Years” (9WT)
Nicco Manalo, “Kleptomaniacs” (TP)
Michael Williams, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Full House)

Kim Molina. She looked genuinely shocked to win. 
I did not get to catch her as Aileen in "Rak", but I marveled at her voice as Viva in "Leading Lady". Hope to catch her in the rerun of "Rak".

Female Lead Performance in a Musical
Aicelle Santos, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
Joan Bugcat, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
KIM MOLINA, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
Nikki Gil, “The Last 5 Years” (9WT)
Tippy Dos Santos, “Grease” (9WT)

Maribel Legarda. "No, Myke Salomon and I are not having an affair."

Outstanding Stage Direction for a Musical
MARIBEL LEGARDA, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
Jaime del Mundo, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Full House)
Robbie Guevara, “The Last 5 Years” (9WT)

The next presenter was actress Sheenly Gener from Tanghalang Pilipino.

Mio Infante. On creating "ulan" and "baha".

Outstanding Set Design
MIO INFANTE, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
Miguel Faustmann, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
Miguel Faustmann, “Noises Off” (Rep)
Mio Infante, “The Last 5 Years” (9WT)
Mio Infante, “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)

Carlo Pagunaling. The most emotional acceptance speech of the night!

Outstanding Costume Design
CARLO PAGUNALING, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
Edgar San Diego, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Peta)
Rajo Laurel, “Full Gallop” (My Own Mann Productions/AAI and The Necessary Theatre)
Victor Ursabia, “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)
Valeen Vicente, “Scrooge” (Rep)

The cast of "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" perform

The cast of the recently-concluded hit musical "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" by the newest theater company Dalanghita Productions presented an excerpt from their show. I daresay this show will be raking in its own awards next year.

Puppetry and Song number by Teatrong Mulat

A delicate puppet performance from Teatrong Mulat followed. This theater company was the brainchild of the second Natatanging Gawad Buhay awardee,  AMELIA LAPENA BONIFACIO

Ms. Bonifacio, with her former students behind her

She was lovingly introduced by Bibeth Orteza and Dennis Marasigan, who were her students in UP.  Ms. Bonifacio was also still very sharp, delivering her speech without a script. She recounted her encounter with Jim Henson, and how she told him to avoid showing on Sesame Street scenes showing wastage, like throwing pies in the face or breaking plates, since these are against Asian sensitivities. 

Joaquin Valdes and Nikki Gil

An excellent song number, an excerpt from "The Last 5 Years" (MY REVIEW) followed, featuring a pair whom Topper called "the most good-looking couple", Joaquin Valdes and Nikki Gil. (VIDEO)

The next presenters were Eladio Pamaran and May Bayot.

Chris Millado. Thanked both families he had the privilege to direct last year. They put the "FUN" in "DYSFUNCTIONAL."

Outstanding Stage Direction for a Play
CHRIS MILLADO, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
Miguel Faustmann, “Wait Until Dark” (Rep)
Bart Guingona, “Full Gallop” (My Own Mann/AAI)
Chris Millado, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)
Bart Guingona, “Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)

Gio Gahol

Outstanding Choreography for a Play or Musical
Nancy Crowe, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Full House)
Gio Gahol, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
Nestee Mamaril Gamilla, “Kleptomaniacs” (TP)

Myke Salomon. Winning for his first gig as Musical Director.

Outstanding Musical Direction
MYKE SALOMON, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
Inday Echevarria, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Full House)
Joseph Tolentino, “The Last Five Years” (9WT)

Jon Santos, Michael Williams and Red Concepcion sing "True Colors"

The next number was an excerpt from "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" with Jon Santos, Red Concepcion and Michael Williams singing Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" in their drag queen glory. I'd call this the best excerpt performance of the night. (VIDEO)

The next presenters were Sandino Martin, Bart Guingona, and Juilliard-bound TP actress Regina de Vera.

Female Lead Performance in a Play
Baby Barredo, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
CHERIE GIL, “Full Gallop” (My Own Mann/AAI) (MY REVIEW)
Liesl Batucan, “Wait Until Dark” (Rep)
Jennifer Blair-Bianco, “Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)
Gina Pareño, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)

Male Lead Performance in a Play
Spanky Manikan, “Mga Ama, Mga Anak” (TP)
ROBERT AREVALO, “Mga Ama, Mga Anak” (TP)
Jonathan Tadioan, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)
David Bianco, “Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)

Winners tonight Kim Molina and Pepe Herrera sing "Mahal Na Mahal Kita"

Three pairs from the long-running musical "Rak of Aegis" took the stage to sing selected songs from the show: Aicelle Santos and Jerald Napoles, Kim Molina and Pepe Herrera (both winners tonight) and finally, Kalila Aguilos and Lorenz Martinez. (VIDEO)

Antonette Taus and Guji Lorenzana

The final set of presenters were Antonette Taus (decked in an immaculate white gown with a deep plunging neckline) and Guji Lorenzana.

Outstanding Ensemble Performance for Modern Dance
“ARAMICA” [from “Heart2Heart: Ballet & Ballads”] (BM)
“Muybridge Frames” [from “Art of Dance”] (BP)
“After Whom” [from “The Blue Moon Series”] (BP)
“Bungkos Suite” [from “The Blue Moon Series”] (BP)
“La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)

The winning ensemble of AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY 
(Pinky Amador, Sheila Francisco, Richard Cunanan, director Chris Millado, Tami Monsod)

Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Play
“Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)
“Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)

The winning ensemble of RAK OF AEGIS. 
Rak is the biggest winner of the night -- winning 11 of its 17 nominations!

Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Musical
“The Last 5 Years” (9WT)

No nomination was cited for Outstanding Ensemble Performance for Classical Dance

Chris Millado and Audie Gemora thanks the audience.

The show running more than three hours already, longer than "Leading Lady" as Topper wittily put it. Philstage president Audie Gemora hurriedly thanked everyone on and behind the stage for all the services rendered gratis, all for the love of Philippine Theater. 

I left after those "final" words since it was already very late. But it turns out, Topper ran out to remind the gentlemen that the show was not over yet! The final major awards were presented by Bibeth Orteza, Rafa Siguion Reyna, and none other than "Armida Siguion-Reyna" (of course, it was the hilarious Jon Santos dressed in Ms. Armida's trademark "Aawitan Kita" baro't saya!). Too bad I missed out on seeing that last part.

Outstanding Modern Dance Production
“Aramica” [from “Heart2Heart: Ballet & Ballads”] (BM)
“Muybridge Frames” [from “Art of Dance”] (BP)

Outstanding Production of Existing Material for a Play
“Full Gallop” (My Own Mann/AAI)
“Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)
“Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)

Outstanding Production of Existing Material for a Musical
“The Last 5 Years” (9WT)

Outstanding Original Musical

There were no nominations cited for Outstanding Original Musical Composition, Outstanding Classical Dance Production, Outstanding Original Play and Outstanding Production for Children. 

Several stage performances were not eligible for awards because they were not staged by Philstage member theater organizations.  I hope university productions, like Dulaang UP or Tanghalang Ateneo, as well as other professional theater groups, like Atlantis or PhilStagers, will also be included in the Philstage roster in the future.

Mabuhay ang Teatrong Pilipino!