Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review of GTF's KANSER @ 35: THE MUSICAL: Putting a Long-Running Play into Song

August 27, 2015

"Noli Me Tangere" is probably the most well-known novel written by a Filipino author in the Philippines. Every Filipino who went through local high schools should know the story and all the characters of this book written by our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. 

One of the many plays based on "Noli Me Tangere" is KANSER of Gantimpala Theater Foundation Inc. It is hailed to be the longest running play in Philippine theater history. To mark its 35th year in existence, “KANSER@35” will be presented for the first time as a full length musical theater production. The libretto was written by Jomar Fleras. The music was by Jed Balsamo, while choreography was by Paul Alexander Morales. This show is under the direction of Franniel Zamora

I think making it a musical is a brilliant idea, as songs should make the show more appealing to more audiences. The casting of pop singers and reality TV stars in the lead role of Ibarra is also a smart move to attract the youth to watch.


Of course, we all know the story of Crisostomo Ibarra and how he came home from Europe to find his father's grave desecrated by the friar Padre Damaso. Continual verbal taunts, an attempt on his life and false accusations eventually push the intellectual Ibarra to take up arms. Meanwhile, Ibarra's lady love Maria Clara learns about who her real father is from her mother's letters, given to her by the slimy Padre Salvi. In shame, she bid goodbye to Ibarra and enters the convent instead. 

The best performer in the entire ensemble is Myramae Meneses as Maria Clara. She is totally at home with this role, maybe because she also played Maria Clara before. In fact this is already the THIRD time I have seen Ms. Meneses play the saintly heroine. I saw her as MC the first time in "Noli Me Tangere the Opera" in UP Diliman. I saw her again when that show was brought to Newport Performing Arts Center in Resorts World Manila. In any case, Ms. Meneses was in excellent soprano voice and was never lazy in her performance. You can really see her passion in those emotional songs in the homestretch, peaking during that haunting scene in the nunnery.

Jacob Benedicto and Myramae Meneses

Crisostomo Ibarra was played by Jacob Benedicto. Benedicto, who joined the blind auditions of "The Voice" and was a housemate in "Pinoy Big Brother", had a pop singer's voice, but he can project his baritone higher and stronger as the songs required. Despite this being his first stage play, he did have a strong stage presence especially during the first act. However, during the second act when Ibarra was arrested, Benedicto seemed to be very uncomfortable with the torn shirt he was made to wear and it showed in his acting, which suddenly seemed awkward and tentative. I am sure he will continue to improve as the play continues its run. 

(In other shows, the role of Ibarra will be played by pop crooner Michael Pangilinan. I am very curious to hear him hit the big notes, since his singing style is cool and easy.)

Carlo Angelo Falcis, Carlo Manalac and Myramae Meneses

The two actors who played the antagonistic friars did well in their roles, both in acting and singing, although they may need to work on the stage presence more. Carlo Angelo Falcis comes with all the fire and brimstone of Padre Damaso, but somehow he needs to be more formidable and hateful. Carlo MaƱalac only achieves the full creepiness of Padre Salvi in his scenes with Maria Clara, especially the scene with the letters. 

Vien Alen King was a good Elias. Like Benedicto, King is also a product of a reality TV show -- "Protege" . However, his voice had a distinct airy quality that really stood out when singing side by side with Jacob Benedicto, who has a fuller-bodied voice. 

Vien Alen King and Jacob Benedicto

Kate Alejandrino displayed excellent dancing skills as Sisa. These were best seen during that scene where the church workers were molesting her. That scene bathed in red light was truly disturbing to watch, and I felt it may a bit too graphic and scary for young viewers. Unfortunately, I noted she may be hoarse or just had a very weak voice when she was singing yesterday. (Michaela Fajardo alternates in this role.)

Maria Victoria Mina was so over-the-top as Dona Victorina, as that role should be done. She steals every scene she is in. Her colorful ruffled gowns and ornate hats make sure of that, and also her brilliant singing voice. Her catfight with Meldea Flor Chua as the whip-lashing, leg-baring Dona Consolacion was downright fun to watch, livening up the serious proceedings. 

Meldea Flor Chua, Queen Mia and Joey de Guzman

The supporting cast include Bodjie Pascua (Pilosopong Tasyo), William Serrano (KapitanTiago), Albert Daniel Silos (Basilio), Angelo Gabriel Ilustre (Crispin), Joey de Guzman (Tiburcio), and Norman PeƱaflorida (Alperes). The ensemble is composed of Glenda Liao (Sinang), Roxy Aldiosa (Tia Isabel), Jobeth Rozul, Iona Ventocilla (Maria Clara, understudy) Ma. Victoria Mina, Princess Perez, Francis Cruz III, Dusty Suarez (Lucas), Angelo Moratilla, Jonel Velado (Bruno), Jovito Bonita, Michael Galang, Roby Malubay (Tinyente Guevarra) Michael Jullian Musa and Syd Calam (Padre Salvi, understudy).

The period costumes were outstanding especially for the ladies. The main sets were also very good, providing a stage for dramatic cast tableaus. The music and the songs were very good as well. My favorite song was that one where all the main characters were singing about letters with secrets. The two emotional duets of Ibarra and Maria Clara, one for their first meeting and one for their final goodbye, were also very well-written and well-sung.

As the show I watched was the press preview, there were still a lot of technical issues that need to be addressed. The lighting seemed too weak for the big stage of the AFP Theater, and a lot of scenes looked very dark. The screen for the video projections was so dim you can hardly make out what it is showing. The sound was still rife with glitches with non-functioning microphones and loud feedback. There were also a lot of transition problems between scenes causing lags. I trust these could be addressed readily for future shows, starting on Opening Day today.



KANSER@35 show schedules and venues are as follows: 
AFP THEATER, CAMP AGUINALDO, QC: August 28 and 29: 9 am, 12 pm and 3 pm ; 
STAR THEATER, STAR CITY: Sept. 4: 9 am, 12 pm, 3 pm; 
CINEMA 3 , SM SOUTHMALL: Sept. 11 and 12: 11 am, 2 pm

For more information, booking reservations, and show buys, call GANTIMPALA Marketing Office at tel. numbers: 998-5622 and 872-0261 or text at mobile number 0921-251 3733 or send email to

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review of MLQ - Ang Buhay ni Manuel Luis Quezon: Sage Statesmanship

August 25, 2015

Last August 19, 2015, the occasion of President Manuel L. Quezon's 137th birth anniversary, a musical about the life and times of MLQ debuted at the brand spanking new Kia Theater, the newly-renovated New Frontier Theater in Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City. Commissioned by the QC government, this show was first performed in 2009 at the PETA Theater for the 70th anniversary of QC. This year, the creators were requested to restage it as part of the 75th anniversary of QC to give opportunity for more students to watch the show.

The Stage of the new KIA Theater

Three students, Manny, Louie and Quiel, have a school history research project about Manuel L. Quezon (or MLQ). They visit the QC Memorial Circle and decide to base the outline of their report on MLQ's epitaph which states: “Statesman and Patriot, Lover of Freedom, Advocate of Social Justice, Beloved of the People”. From there, we see the story of MLQ from an impoverished child from a farm in Baler, to an interno in San Juan de Letran, to a law student at the UST, his whirlwind marriage to Aurora, and his political career until he became the first President of the Commonwealth era.

Arnold Reyes and Chinie Concepcion

Multi-awarded film, TV and theater actor Arnold Reyes plays a dashing and dignified Manuel L. Quezon. He authoritatively declaims his speeches and pronouncements -- very presidential. He also knows how to play to the teenagers in the audience with some "kilig" moves up his sleeve, which he displayed to the delight of the girls during his scenes with Chinie Concepcion as his wife, Aurora

Pesigan, Comia, and Deocareza

As this production is geared for high school students, the execution of this potentially dry history lesson was made more lively by incorporating various dynamic theater devices into the narrative. The three students were there so the kids in the audience will have someone to identify with. Joshua Deocareza plays the nerdy guy LouieRoss Pesigan plays the take-it-easy guy Manny. The two of them had a faux MMA fight in the last act which was quite fun. Pesigan proved to be a favorite among the girls at curtain call. Martha Comia plays the English-speaking Quiel. It is from her that we hear the various sources of the MLQ story like books and websites. This is the most wholesome role I had seen Martha play (after "Duchess of Malfi," "The Country Wife" and "Huling Huli"). 

Richard Cunanan and the Chorus

There was live singing of kundiman by a trio of ladies (Kathleen Francisco, Ruth Alferez and Joann Co) as sort of Greek chorus. The kids' teacher (played by Ron Alfonso) summarized the whole timeline of the transition from Spanish to American rule with a wacky stance and style. The discussion of the Independence missions were tackled in a interview-type TV show format hosted by Quiel and Louie with guests MLQ and Sergio Osmena (played smartly by Randy Villarama) -- very nicely done. Various pop references abound from Minions to "Watch Me" by Silento which drew delighted LOLs from the young crowd.

Ron Alfonso 

The various Spanish and American side characters were made objects of humor in side-splitting skits featuring a couple of scenes-stealing actors. Richard Cunanan took on the role of a screeching leg-baring Spanish friar, an American judge and even MacArthur himself. Topper Fabregas in particular was quite a hit with the audience with his over-the-top portrayals of a whip-lashing Cabo de Guardia Civil, an American opportunist with a deep Southern drawl and a rapping W.A. Jones of the famous Jones Law.  

Topper Fabregas

The show ended with the eulogy of Claro M. Recto for MLQ. While the words were eloquent, it felt too slow and long for the ending. The words were flashed on the screen behind Joel Saracho who was delivering the speech as Recto, but there were so many words scrolling upwards you can hardly follow it. Fortunately there was still a finale song number with the whole cast singing the inspirational song "Inang Bayan" (composed by Roy del Valle), saving it from a downer of an ending. 

The Whole Cast at the Finale

The pace of the play was quite at a fast clip. Some of the historical data (names, dates, events) may just flash right by as they are cited. Some of the data may actually get lost during the various gimmicks -- like songs, raps and jokes -- employed to liven them up.  Teachers will have to follow this play up with a review of that period of history right away or else the opportunity may be wasted. But still I thought the writer and director George de Jesus III told the life story of MLQ quite effectively for school children within an hour and half time. As school material though, this play really needs a follow-up discussion in the classroom to be truly effective instructional material.


The exterior of the new KIA Theater

"MLQ" will have six more shows daily this week up to August 28, 2015, with two shows a day at 10am and 2pm, at the KIA Theater, Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City. Admission is FREE, but I think you have to reserve your tickets. I got my ticket reserved by contacting Ms. Chinie Concepcion via private message on Facebook.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Review of 9 Works LA CAGE AUX FOLLES: Funny, Feeling and Fabulous

August 23, 2015

I knew the basic story of "La Cage Aux Folles" from the hit 1996 movie "The Birdcage" starring Robin Williams. As far as the musical itself, I only know one song, "I Am What I Am". This 9 Works production of "La Cage" initially ran earlier this year, but I missed that one because of schedule conflicts. The reviews of that show on social media were glowing, so I wished there would be a rerun. Well, I got my wish, as they ran the show again beginning last August 15. I was not going to miss it this time.

Georges ran a nightclub featuring female impersonators, where his partner Albin is the star drag queen diva performer Zaza. One day, Jean-Michel, Georges' 24-year old son from a one night stand, came home with news that he is getting married to his girlfriend Anne. However, since Anne's parents were of the ultra-conservative sort, he wanted Georges could invite his real mother Sibyl and to request Albin not to attend at all. When he gets wind of this, Albin is hurt very deeply. But when a problem arose on the critical day of the visit of Anne's family, Albin still could not let Jean-Michel, the son he raised, down -- but it has to be in his own fabulous way.

Audie Gemora has already been showered with all sorts of accolades for his performance as Albin since the first run of this musical in the first quarter of this year. Clearly we can see why. We know he can be glamourous and scandalously funny in drag from his award-winning featured performance as cross-dressing director Roger deBris in "The Producers". In the showy lead role of Alban, Gemora stayed in character with class, restraint and dignity, even as he was practically onstage in the whole duration of the play. He positively slayed the showstopping closing song of the first act "I Am What I Am," imbuing the anthem with hurt, pain and indignation.

Michael de Mesa is unceasingly charming as Georges. His role may be considerably lower-key in acting moments and in costumes, but de Mesa still manages to shine right through. He is probably the only member of the cast who does not wear a wig or a dress, but his presence was never overwhelmed in all the diva drama, feathers and ballgowns. I have not heard him sing since he was Collins in "Rent" way way back, so hearing de Mesa sing and dance again was an additional thrill.

Everybody else in the cast seemed to be having a lot of fun. Standing out were Joni Galeste (as Anne) with good girl vibes and killer ballet moves, and Sheila Francisco (as Anne's mother) with her repressed ebullience fighting to come out to the open. Some of the cast may be overdoing the flamboyance, coming across as annoying than funny. Some of the cast may look uncomfortably miscast, with physical disconnect with their role.  Anyway, what is important was that everything was done all in the spirit of fun, where exaggeration is the norm, with no inhibitions holding them back. They are who they are.

The technical aspects of the set were all in their colorful and fancy best, with all those glittering lights. Those showgirl costumes were all so glittering and extravagant -- no expenses were spared in that department. The choreography was very good, especially the tap dancing which was a true joy to watch. 

Kudos to Director Robbie Guevara and the rest of the 9 Works cast and crew for this entertainingly funny, feeling and fabulous show!  A definite must-watch! 


"La Cage Aux Folles" will run weekends at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater at the RCBC Building, Makati up to September 6, 2015.  For tickets and inquiries contact 0917-554-5560, 586-7105, Ticketworld at 891-9999 or email

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review of Red Turnip's 33 VARIATIONS: Baffled by Beethoven

August 22, 2015

When you base it on the synopsis, "33 Variations" does not sound an easy show to watch. This straight play runs for almost three hours, about two subject matters which most people will not exactly consider thrilling. The first is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and the second is Ludwig von Beethoven. Yet if social media raves were to be believed, this play has been playing to excited audiences since it opened about three weeks already. After much delay, I finally got to watch the matinee show today, before it ends its run tomorrow.

Musicologist Katherine Brandt is at a crossroads in her life. She wants to go to Bonn, Germany in order to find out the answer to the mystery why Beethoven obsessively wrote 33 variations out of a simple waltz Katherine considered to be mediocre. However, even as her mind is still very much vital, her body is slowly being progressively debilitated by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). On the personal front, Katherine also struggles to connect with her only daughter Clara, a relationship that is getting more strained with the years. 

Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino plays Katherine Brandt with such internalized passion. The role is inherently difficult. She to show the physical ravages of ALS (the limping, the slurring, the choking) along with the emotional nightmare it brings along with it. Her determined performance in the whole of Act 2 as the disease was worsening while Katherine clashes with her best friend and her daughter was so heart-wrenching to watch. 

I had seen Teroy Guzman before playing King Lear in glorious Filipino in a PETA production. In this play, Guzman will be playing wild-haired musical genius Beethoven during a difficult phase in his life where he was struggling with poverty and gradually losing his hearing. His big moment was in Act 2 when he was describing and acting out the tormenting process of creating a particularly tricky variation. That one scene (with pianist Ejay Yatco and all the lighting wizardry of John Batalla) is by itself worthy of the admission price already.

Rem Zamora was a delight playing the stuffy Schindler, a professed "friend" of Beethoven who serves him hand and foot. Paolo O'Hara can sometimes feel out of the period the "contemporary" way he acted as musical lightweight Diabelli. But I appreciated it eventually because his witty interactions with Zamora provided the rare islands of humor in this verbose sea of despair.  

Roselyn Perez's role as German music library curator was very limited but she was able to mine the most out of it especially when her character Grete warms up and becomes Katherine's close friend. She has the funniest scene of the play when she suggests to Clara something which she thought would arouse Katherine flagging nerves. Frankly though, in the total analysis of the play, that scene could have been cut out without affecting the storytelling. However, Perez really had fun with that scene and it was refreshing to see. 

Ina Fabregas and Franco Chan, new actors, play Katherine's daughter Clara and her nurse boyfriend Mike. Fabregas was good, but still rather tentative in the way she was acting. Her best scene would be that when she found out about Katherine's exit plans. Chan, on the other hand, is an acting natural, shining in that classical music concert scene in Act 1 and that "I am only a nurse" confessional scene in Act 2. 

If there was something that really bothered me during the time I watched this play, it was the sound quality. I am not sure if it was the acoustics of the room or the microphones, but from where I was sitting, I could not understand every word that was being delivered by the actors, particularly Ms. Shamaine herself. It was a shame that I could not fully appreciate the show-stopping scene of Act 1 where all the characters were speaking because I could not make out most of the lines. That scene looked good, but unfortunately, it did not sound good for me. It did not seem to bother the other members of the audience because they greeted that scene with loud applause.

The set design by Ed Lacson, Jr. was very smart in its economy, with the windows of WhiteSpace lighting up to show Beethoven's "sketches" (or rough musical drafts) when the music is played. Pianist Ejay Yatco was always in full Beethoven character throughout the show where his piano is front and center of the whole performance area. The period costumes were very elegant as designed by Raven Ong

Jenny Jamora was very brave to take on the direction duties of this complex (occasionally disjointed, occasionally meandering) 2007 play written by Moises Kaufman as her directorial debut. Based on the audience reaction at curtain call, she has succeeded.


"33 Variations" will end its month long run today August 23. It will still have two final shows at 3 pm and at 8 pm. The play venue is at the WhiteSpace, along Chino Roces Ave. Ext. in Makati. Tickets are selling from P1000 to P1500 via Ticketworld or at the venue.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Recap of FULL RANGE - The Music of JESSE LUCAS: Enchanting First Encounter

August 20, 2015

Honestly I am not familiar with Mr. Jesse Lucas until his name was cited in this year's Triple Threat series at the CCP. Previously, the CCP had concerts by actors who could sing, dance and act. This year, they decided to highlight composers and their output for film, television and theater.  I know the work of the other two composers, Vincent de Jesus and Rony Fortich, who will have their turn in the next two months. However, tonight is my very first introduction to the music of Jesse Lucas.

The show opened with Jesse Lucas entering the stage and sitting down behind a grand piano on center stage. He began to play a song called "Awit ng Hiling" from a rock musical called "Junto Al Pasig". The singing was led by Sandino Martin, who was later joined by Jun-Jun Quintana and members of the Valenzuela City Center for Performing Arts (VCCPA). I knew Martin from his film work, and was surprised that he can actually sing very well in "Manhid." He opened the show with a strong vocal performance tonight.

The next performer was Liesl Batucan, whom I haven't seen her since "August Osage County" last year. She sang one of Lucas' earlier works entitled "I Will Listen" from the show "Benilde the Musical". She introduced this song as originally sung by a young Faith Cuneta as a mother to a deaf-mute child. After her affecting rendition of the song, she introduced Roeder Camanag who played the original character and sang the next song in the show "Urbana and Felisa". The song is "Muli Sa Iyong Alaala".

The next big number was called the Showstopper Mash-Up, which were songs from the musicals "Quiapo", "Urbana and Felisa" and a couple of Gantimpala Theater productions of fairytales: "Sleeping Beauty" and "Cinderella". This number was led by the powerful yet pristine belting voice of Natasha Cabrera. There were also a trio of girls from the VCCPA who played Cinderella's wicked sisters with twerking glee. A cosplaying girl named CMKC was weaker in her singing beside the other ladies.

It was only at this point that Jesse Lucas spoke to address the audience. He seemed really shy and soft-spoken. He introduced the music video of his various credits on Film (from indies like "Alienasyon" to commercial hits like "Crazy Beautiful You") and Television (from "Maging Sino Ka Man" to "Bridges of Love") shown as a slideshow. Too bad they did not do this like an Oscar show montage where the theme music will play when the poster or scenes of the movie or show were shown on screen.

After this slideshow, he played a clip from a personal favorite film he scored -- Dennis Marasigan's "Sa North Diversion Road". A lady in a white ballgown came out to sing the theme song -- the lead actress from the film herself, Ms. Irma Adlawan. This was a most pleasant surprise for me because I had never seen this esteemed actress sing before. She made that torch song "Sa Kanyang Piling" sizzle.

Lucas also had a Pop Collaboration with film director Jose Javier Reyes for a song called "Kung Bakit" which was rendered tonight by VCCPA talents with the Pillowcase Band.

The next number was a suite from Lucas' historical musical "1898 Ang Pagpatay kay Luna" first staged by Tanghalang Pilipino in 2002.  Sheila Francisco started with a dynamic song that started calm and low, which she eventually took up one whole octave (or more) with mad energy.  Franco Laurel had a handsome look and high baritone as he delivered the second song. He should be singing in theater more. The final song in the set was rendered by the acrobatic voice of Sweet Plantado with restrained power. This was such an amazing trio!

The next set showcased a couple of ballets for which Lucas had written the music. The first number was from "Chanted Journeys" featuring a pas de deux by Lobreza Pimentel and Peter San Juan (of Philippine Ballet Theater) dressed in Igorot tribal costume, while Ms. Camille Lopez-Molina provided ethereal background vocals.  The second number was a group dance featuring more than twenty male ballet dancers from the Philippine Ballet Theater and the UE Silanganan Dance Troupe. The syncopated musical accompaniment was so energetic and driving, fascinating to hear and watch. Both numbers were choreographed by Gener Caringal

The next group of songs were labelled Art Songs, displaying Lucas' talent in challenging classical musical compositions. The first song was "Tawag", a poem of Maningning Miclat set to music by Lucas and sung by Banaue Miclat-Janssen. The soprano vocal quality of Ms. Janssen was so clear and flawless. This song should be part of a collaboration by Lucas and Janssen called "Ginugunita Kita" shown in UP last May and to be restaged at the CCP next month. If this one song is an indication, that full show should be a must-see. The next song was "A Mi Retiro" from "Pepe Rizal: Sa Isip, Sa Salita, Sa Gawa" sung by a powerhouse trio: sopranos Rica Nepomuceno and Camille Lopez-Molina with tenor Al Gatmaitan. The big revelation for me was Ms. Nepomuceno whose slight frame belied her incredibly strong reverberating pipes.

The concluding set were love songs from three of Lucas' musicals. First up was Tex Ordonez with "Nasaan Ka" from "Darna", followed by Ayen Musni-Laurel with "Muling Magmamahal" from "Daan ng Krus." I have heard the names of these two ladies, but I have not heard their voices as clearly as now. Their rich voices certainly need to be showcased in more shows. The next two songs were from "Sandosenang Sapatos". First up was "Tatawirin ng Pag-Ibig" so beautifully sung by Bodjie Pascua. He truly imbued this song with so much passion and emotion. Finally, Sandino Martin and Jun-Jun Quintana came back on stage to lead the singing of "Kaya Ko", later joined in by all the other singers to close out tonight's concert.

This is one concert in which I did not know a single song, but I was certainly not bored with this show. The direction by Floy Quintos kept the show interesting until it gradually built up to a rousing and most memorable conclusion. I am happy that I braved the rain and traffic to catch this show tonight. It may be lower-key than the Lebron James event at the MOA Arena or the "Singing in the Rain" opening night at the Solaire that same night, but this show introduced me to a homegrown talent for whom I have gained much admiration for after this initial encounter with his diverse musical output. Kudos Mr. Jesse Lucas!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Review of PhilStagers' #POPEPULAR: Pontifical Paradigms

August 9, 2015

Before watching this show, I only knew that this latest PhilStagers' musical would be about Pope Francis. I had no idea whatsoever how theater wunderkind Atty. Vincent Tanada could possibly do a full-length musical about the new Pope. In his previous musicals I had seen about heroes like Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio, I had my expectations as to how the story would go. But "#Popeular" will really be all original, written from scratch. Knowing how skillful a storyteller Atty. Tanada is, I was really excited to see how it would go.

The play opened with the Papal visit to Manila in January 2015. As the Pope when through the city streets on his Popemobile, there were five Filipino individuals gathered there in the crowd, all fervent admirers of this beloved new Pope. The complex libretto of this musical would then find parallelisms between the Pope's own life and the lives of these five people. The research required to come up with such a detailed script was obviously a gargantuan undertaking. Having been co-written by a Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Gregg Banaga, we are assured that the text of the script is true to the Catholic values it espouses.

Vincent Tanada (as the Pope on his "Popemobile")

So in effect, we will be learning not only about the life and times of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, but also, we will be learning about the lives of five real-life modern Filipino heroes. All these six life stories were told in a most interesting and engaging way. The five Filipinos we will meet during the course of the show are: Dr. Ed Gomez (marine biologist and environmental activist), SPO1 Mark Lory Clemencio (one of the ill-fated SAF 44), Ronald Gadayan (a very honest NAIA janitor), Joey Velasco (a noted Christian-themed painter) and Kristel Mae Padasas (an active church relief volunteer). As diverse as the life stories of these six personalities were, "#Popepular" manages to intertwine them into one cohesive whole.

Vince Tanada (as young Jorge Bergoglio)

Like all the other PhilStagers productions, Vincent M. Tanada was the writer and director, as well as lead actor and singer. He uses a Latino accent to portray the Argentinian Pope. This may not always be easy to understand at first, especially when he was speaking in Filipino, but we do get used to it eventually. His portrayal of the pontiff was delightful and fatherly as required, in his pontifical garb and balding head. This calm and regally benign role called for a more restrained acting style than we usually see him do. 

But lest his fans worry, Tanada also gets to play the young Jorge Bergoglio who was a club bouncer and tango dancer in his youth, so they will still be seeing him as this dapper and dashing persona in several scenes. His high baritone voice is as powerful as ever, capably conquering the high notes musical director Pipo Cifra made him sing. 

Patrick Libao (as Ronald Gadayan)

Cindy Liper (as Kristel Mae Padasas)

As usual, Patrick Libao and Cindy Liper shine brightly in their roles as Ronald Gadayan and Kristel Padasas,respectively. Libao possesses a singing voice of a bright tenor quality and a strong stage presence. Liper's skills as a dramatic actress can really rivet people's attention on her when she is onstage. Chin Ortega played Dr. Gomez. His singing voice and acting chops are similarly impressive. Veteran actor Bernardo Bernardo also plays this role in other shows, so that should also be something to watch out for.

Chin Ortega (as Dr. Ed Gomez)

JV Cruz played "Heartist" Joey Velasco with infectious cheerfulness at the start, which made the latter part of his story with his wife (played by Adelle Ibarrientos) and the street kids he nurtured (played by Gabby Bautista and Clara Mariano) much more poignant. Kenneth Sadsad plays SPO1 Clemencio with due military dignity and confidence. His relationship with his wife and young son Karl (played by Peter Parker Tanada) was both very moving. The singing voices of these newer lead actors may not yet be as polished as the veterans, but with repeated performances, I am sure they will be honed to more perfection.

JV Cruz and Adelle Ibarrientos (as Mr. and Mrs. Velasco) 
with Gabby Bautista (as Emong)

Kenneth Sadsad (as SPO1 Clemencio)

The progression of the play is easy to follow despite the multiple individual storylines we are following. The first half of the play was very engaging as we are introduced to each of the characters. The songs "Ang Papa ay Ako, Ako ay Siya" and  "Diyos Ko'y Diyos Ninyo" was especially very moving for this part of the show. In the middle there was a romance segment, where the love stories of Gadayan, Velasco and Clemencio were told, set to the song "Love is Love" as the couples danced the tango. I thought this was a very innovative and most entertaining part of the show. 

"Love is Love"

The second act details each of the characters as they go through some personal travails. While they may also be of some importance, I felt these scenes took a rather long time to play out. This length of time devoted to relatively minor events like Gadayan lending money to his sister or Clemencio training in the police academy sort of derailed the momentum at the midpoint a bit. Anyhow, it gets back on track when the individual sacrifices of these modern heroes were actually played out. Most remarkable of these tragedies staged were the stormy mass in the Tacloban Airport and the bloody Mamasapano incident.

The Mass in Tacloban

Since "#Popepular" is a 2-1/2 hour show without an intermission, this momentum is very important to maintain, or else the audience may start getting impatient, especially the youth. But then, grabbing one's attention is really one of the hallmarks of a PhilStagers' production. There would always be a catchy song, a cool dance step, a humorous line or an interesting gimmick to get our attention back should it wander off occasionally. 

The message of this play about conversion and transformation may be very serious and ambitious, but Atty. Tanada really knows how to tell it to the youthful audience he targets -- educational, entertaining and enriching. Watching this play is certainly an uplifting experience you should not miss.

Glorious Finale

Tickets cost P250 for students, and P300 for regular patrons. Call Ms. Cherry Bong Edralin via 0917-750-0107 or 218-3791 for more details. This show will be touring in various Metro Manila and provincial venues. I will be posting the show venues as they are released.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Recap of The Music of REY VALERA: Nourishing Nostalgia

August 2, 2015

Rey Valera is really a big name in OPM when I was growing up. It really seems like all his songs from the late 70s all the way through the 80s and early 90s were big hits, either for himself or for other singers. Many of those songs became theme songs for major movies and telenovelas. There was a lot of excitement when this tribute concert was announced. And true to the buzz, the concert was actually sold out several days before concert day.

The man of the hour - Mr. Rey Valera

The concert proper began with an overture of Rey Valera tunes by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra led by Maestro Gerard Salonga. Then most unexpectedly, they immediately introduced the man of the hour -- Mr. Rey Valera. He went on stage to sing "Kamusta Ka". The clear voice is still there, effortlessly reaching those deceptively easy, but really very high notes. After the song and a few words showing his incredible humility, Mr. Valera was escorted down the stage and brought to his special seat in the audience with his wife.

Mr. Valera, Maestro Gerard Salonga and some of the orchestra

Tippy Dos Santos and Edgar Allan Guzman

The first guest artist was Edgar Allan Guzman, who looked dapper in a burgundy suit with his suspenders hanging down. He sang two obscure (for me) English songs which I have heard only for the first time tonight: "Don't Let Your Woman Cry" and "Hello". He then made way for Tippy Dos Santos who sang an upbeat Filipino song I also did not know, called "Manghuhula". Their set was ended by both of them singing "Naaalala Ka" as a duet. Now finally, that's a song I can sing along to!

Antonio Ferrer

Maestro Salonga commented that Valera also had rare break-up songs in his discography. The orchestra then played a sublime instrumental version of "Kung Tayo'y Magkakalayo" with only a piano and two cellos playing. Amazing arrangement.

After that, a female dancer came out to dance a flamenco-style number. Surprisingly, tenor Antonio Ferrer came out to sing an operatic, Spanish-flavored version of Valera's novelty hit "Ayoko Na Sa Yo". That well-applauded, out-of-the-box rendition was a creative brainchild of Mr. Mickey Munoz, the managing director of the ABS-CBN Orchestra.

Michael Pangilinan

The next were two spot numbers from two young upcoming singers with very different singing styles. Michael Pangilinan sang a quiet version of "Walang Kapalit", accompanied only with an acoustic guitar. This was followed by a bravura version of a crowd favorite "Sinasamba Kita" by belter Morissette Amon

Morissette Amon

The orchestra played an instrumental version of "Kahit Maputi Na Ang Buhok Ko." The next singer is Ms. Vina Morales, who came out decked in a glittering blue gown with a deeply plunging neck line. First, she sang "Malayo Pa Ang Umaga", a very beautiful song I forgot was from the Valera songbook. It was the theme song from the telenovela "Agua Bendita" which starred Morales. Her next song was the theme song from one of the most successful telenovelas of all time, revived again just recently "Pangako Sa Yo". Ms. Morales brought the house down with her impassioned delivery of that famous song.

Vina Morales

The next singer was the the inimitable Rico J. Puno. His appearance tonight was most unexpected because he just underwent a 7-hour heart surgery last April. But this did not deter the veteran singer from performer his heart out with songs Rey Valera wrote for him.

First number was "Ako Si Superman", a song which Puno rejected before, and became a hit by Valera himself instead. His second song was "Sa Daigdig ng Alaala," a challenging ballad which he still pulled off quite well, despite some obvious difficulty. Finally he sang "Sorry Pwede Ba?" sitting down on the edge of the stage. This prompted a couple of ladies seated in the front row to approach him to take photos. Ever the irreverent joker, Puno did not shirk from making naughty (and even macabre) potshots at tonight's honoree, but we know it was all in the name of good fun.

Rico J. Puno

The next singer was someone I did not really associate with Rey Valera -- Martin Nievera. However, he sang his own excellent versions of two of Valera's most famous songs: "Kung Kailangan Mo Ako" and "Maging Sino Ka Man."

Martin Nievera

The final singer was Ms. Sharon Cuneta. She sang a lot of Rey Valera's songs as theme songs for many of her hit films. She even had a best-selling album containing her versions of Valera songs only. It was Rey Valera who gave Ms. Cuneta her massive breakout hit, "Mr. DJ". She sang a beautiful version of that iconic song as her first number of the night. She would also sing "Kahit Maputi na ang Buhok Ko" and "Tayong Dalawa" (a song she allegedly sang live for the first time). 

It was so heartwarming to hear Sharon sing again. We could not help but sing along with her. Barring that bizarre moment when she called a female doctor up on stage to assure everyone that her healthy breasts were real, Sharon delighted us by effusively sharing a lot of personal stories about Rey Valera. These truly showed the value of their storied professional relationship and the depth of the personal friendship.

Sharon Cuneta

Rey Valera was then called back up onstage and all the singers joined him. Valera acknowledged Sharon's role in making him well-known by constantly thanking him every time she sang "Mr. DJ" on TV. There was a lot of fun banter between him and his closest friends there, Rico J and Sharon. Given a guitar to play, he started to sing "Kahit Maputi na ang Buhok Ko". Later the rest of the ensemble joined him in the singing. 

The concert ended with a shower of golden confetti. Everyone in the audience I am sure left the theater well-nourished with a sense of fond heartwarming nostalgia, definitely with one of Rey Valera's timeless sentimental songs playing in their mind.

Glittering Finale!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Review of Sandbox Collective's NO FILTER: A Gen X'er Meets Gen Y

August 2, 2015

I am not a millennial. I am already probably at the age of their parents. I did not really know that this term existed until lately. The media had long been labelling generations with hip terms like Baby Boomers, Gen X, now Millennials (also called Gen Y). The word "millennial" refers to someone less than 34 years old with a supposedly complicated psyche that was difficult to understand. This original Filipino play aims to try to make us understand this misunderstood group.

The Sandbox Collective is a new theater group that prides itself with developing "new, groundbreaking and cutting edge theatrical work". This theater group debuted last year with "Dani Girl" about a girl battling cancer, which was met with critical acclaim. Then they organized a three-day festival of experimental theater and other visual arts called "Imaginarium." Unfortunately, I was not able to watch either one. Fortunately this time, I was able to catch this new project of theirs.

"No Filter" is, as its subtitle clearly tells us "an original play by millennials for millennials about millennials." It is stated who their target audience was when they conceptualized this show -- it is "for millennials". I guess it is for them to take a look at themselves to discover how their problems and issues are also shared by other millennials like them. I am watching this play because of the good word of mouth about it, as well as to know more about them since my own kids will be among them soon enough. I may not get all the details right since I am not part of their target audience. I may have a different opinion as an outsider to their group.

The cast tonight included 3 ladies: Jasmine Curtis Smith, Sarah Facuri and Lauren Young; and two guys: Khalil Kaimo and Micah Munoz. (On other nights, Cai Cortez, Saab Magalona- Bacarro and Mikael Daez have their turn.) These five were talking around a table about how Millennials have made it to the cover of Time magazine. They were discussing how the world misunderstood their generation. Hence they should be talking about themselves so people will understand them better.

The monologues of Act 1 were so witty and well-written, mostly in hip English with the occasional dash of Filipino -- really a lot of fun. I understood the pop references and the issues tackled. I liked and enjoyed all of the pieces, which were generally light-hearted and humorous. The monologues in Act 2 were more dark and serious consecutively. The topics all seemed to melt into each other about religion, about connecting and disconnecting, about writing to you future self, about moving out, about coming of age.  While the writing was still sharp, I found the mood too relentlessly down and somber so late in the night for comfort.  

Jasmine Curtis Smith easily stood out from the start because of her celebrity star status. But it won't be long until she will really stand out because she was really so good in her assigned monologues. In Act 1, she impressed as a new Graphic Design graduate applying for a job who was tormented by anxieties. She handled her splitting personality deftly. In Act 2, she shone as the girl who hated "Catcher in the Rye" and as the girl who went to New York to fake her own death. 

I did not know who Sarah Facuri was coming into this, but during the play I would be a fan. In Act 1, she talked about how her life would "suck" when she was happy. Then she would be a woman discussing "intimacy" with her partner. In Act 2, she was the most memorable "millennial in the neighborhood" as the hilarious Fag Hag. Later  she again had audiences giggling as she talked about meeting people on an app called Tinder. This app was something I had no idea about, but I was in stitches. 

Micah Munoz surprised me. I could not believe it when I was told he was the same actor who played Ser Chief's driver Joma in the long-time TV soap opera "Be Careful with My Heart". Micah delivered his monologues in impeccable English with impressive sensitivity. In Act 1, he got to deliver that beautiful piece about Icarus and not being afraid to fly high for our dreams. Later he would stand out in the "Instagram pic" group piece as the closeted gay guy. In Act 2, he discussed religion and confessed how he was only going through the motions for the sake of his mother.

Khalil Kaimo (and his distinctive hairstyle) was most memorable for his comic commercials as he promoted his favorite new apps. The best one in Act 1 was "Nasaan si Crush?" is an Waze-like app that would show you the nearest route to your crush. The best one in Act 2 was Junkstagram, an app that would let you see the photos that your friends have deleted. The others though were not too interesting nor as funny. Kaimo's first monologue about not losing your first real and idealistic you was also very good.

Lauren Young's best monologue was her first one in Act 1. She talked about downloading mp3s from a dial up internet and we all definitely identified with what she was saying. In Act 2, she would talk about social media, social causes and social responsibility. I think Lauren would then have a very serious monologue about suicide towards the end, but I was already wallowing in too much millennial angst by that time to recall all the details clearly.

The whole show went on almost for more than two and a half hours with a 10 minute interval. The script contained generous serving of profanities which are, sadly (for me at least), considered to be "cool". I felt they should have reserved some of these pieces for a Part Two. Considering the lateness of the hour, Act 2 already felt too long with all the deep and depressing monologues going on one after the other continuously. The supposedly "fun" improv games ("F**k, Marry, Kill" in Act 1 and "Paint Me a Picture" in Act 2) was only occasionally funny. That piece delivered entirely in emojis flashed on the screen totally lost me. Ok, I have to admit that I am already an old fuddy duddy about these things. That is although I may already have some millennial habits, especially their mobile phone and social media obsession. :-D

In any case, generally I thought this was a refreshing project that deserves all the positive notices and sold out shows it had during its limited run. I just wish I knew who the exact writers of my favorite pieces were. The names of the writers could have been flashed on the screen together with the titles. Many of these monologues were really written so eloquently with such frankness, humor and raw emotion. I want to read the scripts! Kudos to all these millennial Filipino writers! I look forward to reading more of your work and watching them come alive on stage or screen. 

Kudos to director Toff de Venecia for conceptualizing this idea, commissioning all these creative young writers and gathering promising young actors into one worthy show like this. A more streamlined version of this show could seriously aspire to be like another "The Vagina Monologues" and be toured around the world and translated into different languages and adapted into different cultural contexts. 

"No Filter" has only one show left in its run, and that is today at 3pm, still at the RCBC Theater. For ticket inquiries, call 0917-8996680.