Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review of Repertory Phils THE SECRET GARDEN: Melancholic but Moving

November 29, 2015

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

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

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

 (Photo Credit: Dr. Phil Fernando)

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

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

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


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

Saturday, November 21, 2015

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

November 22, 2015

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

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


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

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

Sam Smith on the Screen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stage Lights were Spectacular!

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

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Recap and Videos of INFINITE EFFECT MANILA 2015: Synchonized Sensation

November 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2015

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

November 5, 2015

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

Reb Atadero (Shasta) and Joel Trinidad (Bree)

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

Shasta Riding Bree in the Moonlight

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

Jeremy Domingo (Aslan)

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

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

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

Mako Alonso (Rabadash) and Steve Cadd (Tisroc)

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

Cara Barredo (Aravis)

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

Shasta's Vision in the Desert

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


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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

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

November 5. 2015

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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