PETA's "Rak of Aegis" proved that a jukebox musical featuring the discography of a musical artist or group can have a phenomenal run that lasted two and a half years. Earlier this year, PETA came up with "3 Stars and a Sun" which used the songbook of Francis Magalona to tell its story. The PETA Theater was once also the venue for the excellent "Sa Wakas" inspired by the music of Ebe Dancel and Sugarfree.
Now, the PETA Theater welcomes Cornerstone Entertainment Inc., a local talent management, special events production and music publishing company, embarking on their first theater production (in cooperation with ABS-CBN Events) entitled "Ako si Josephine." This show features the music of one of their prize talents, the Pop Rock Princess Ms. Yeng Constantino. They got same creative team behind "Rak of Aegis" collaborated to create this new musical hoping to recapture the same box-office magic: playwright Liza Magtoto, director Maribel Legarda and musical director Myke Salomon.
The setting was a future time in the country of Allegra where the only type of music allowed is HYP (short for "Happy, Youthful and Purposeful." This was a monotonous rhythmic music meant to accompany and energize people at work. All other types of music were outlawed, and the despotic transgender supervisor Monotomia and her three loyal minions made sure this law was strictly enforced.
Responsible for creating this "music" were composer Chinito and his co-songwriter Josephine. Josephine, who had a huge crush on her stoic boss, longed to write her own kind of music, the fun and romantic music which her parents wrote before they were sent to exile in Isla Sintunados. When she found out later that Chinito shared the same sentiments, they collaborated to write a song which could free Allegra from its oppressive musical landscape.
The whole dystopian setting, set design and costumes, and the story an underground group fighting for freedom, really reminded me of "3 Stars and a Sun." The only difference was that the treatment of "Josephine" was definitely lighter with its bubblegum songs, brighter colors and funnier situations. The show lasted almost three hours with a 10 minute break. Act 1 setup the complicated story quite nicely, but Act 2 had troubling story development (especially between Josephine and Chinito) which could use some more polishing as the run goes on.
The names of the various supporting characters were inspired by musical terms, like Schizoprano, Tenorchur or Piyoko Ono, which I thought were very witty. The colorful background graphics made the stage appear like panels of a comic book or graphic novel come alive. Sometimes the images were not too clear because of the hollow-block like background they were projected on. The most memorable set pieces here were the walkalator on center stage as well as the body of an old jeepney, both effectively used.
Ateneo Blue Repertory actress Maronne Cruz gets to play her biggest professional role so far as Josephine. Her singing voice was surprisingly powerful. Her comic timing was usually on point with her flexibly goofy, expressive face as well as her charming, toothy and gummy smile. Her alternate in the title role is another relatively unknown actress named Via Antonio. It was really quite a risk on the part of the production to cast these new names in the lead role of a new show, but this gave these two talented ladies the big chance to show audiences everything they've got to prove.
Theater veteran Joaquin Valdez played Josephine's love interest, Chinito. His character's name is clearly chosen in be able to include Ms. Constantino's hit song of the same name. There was no doubt about Valdez's singing talent, something evident in past shows I had seen him in, like "Into the Woods" and "The Last Five Years." This is the first time I had seen him in a Filipino language play. Valdez had to flex his acting muscles more in Act 2 because Chinito had to talk and act weird. The script in this part though was puzzling in its inconsistency.
The main antagonist role Monotomia was played by Ricci Chan. The last time I saw Chan in a major play was in "Care Divas" also in a cross-dressing role, and also by PETA. He can really transform into these flamboyant transgender characters as if they were his second nature, playing his evil character with glee. His singing voice is also solid, as was his comic interaction with the orchestra audience. His alternate in this role is the inimitable Jon Santos, whom I had also seen wearing drag in the show "Priscilla Queen of the Desert." The two say they will be essaying two different kinds of Monotomia, and that makes it certainly very tempting to check out both performances.
Among the ensemble, my favorite performers were Raul Montesa and Joanne Co, who played Josephine's parents (Andante and Pitchy-Pitchy) in cute flashback sequences. They were wearing very flashy and colorful 70s-like fashion. These two senior actors really stole every scene they were in with their strong stage presence and amazing vocals when they sing. I wish there were more scenes with them. I did not expect that they would also be responsible for the operatic singing of Chinito's parents (Kundiman and Harana) who were shown to us by video. Being from the older generation, these were my favorite scenes in the whole show.
Vic Robinson stood out as the tone-deaf messenger Flattitude. His comic highlight was when he was transmitting messages between Josephine and Chinito via the walkalator. Teetin Villanueva (as Helena), Lemuel Silvestre (as Stacatto) and Ruth Alferez (as Piyoko-ono) played the rest of the Syncopados, Josephine's secret group. That scene when they were composing music using ancient cellphones was delightful. Jay Gonzaga (as Bola-Bass), Roi Calilong (as Tenorchur) and Domileo Espejo (as Schizoprano) hilariously played the Konduktor, the three henchmen of Monotomia. Their fierce and ardent grinding and vogueing were shamelessly funny. The rest of the multi-tasking ensemble include Joshua Cabiladas (as Fortissimo), Nicole Manlulo, Yumi Lacsamana, Chir Catalan, and Norbs Portales.
I knew Ms. Yeng Constantino since she won Pinoy Dream Academy 10 years ago in 2006. Unfortunately though, I only know a few of her songs (unlike the more classic Aegis or FrancisM oeuvres). I only know the big hits like "Hawak Kamay," "Chinito," and "Ikaw" out of the 28 (!) songs by Constantino used in the show. "Jeepney Love Song" and "Pag-ibig" I did not know before, but they were turned into very entertaining song and dance numbers by Josephine's parents that I liked a lot. However, the other mellow love songs just seemed to indistinctly blend into one another for me, even in their varied versions. The youthful story and kooky characters may have mass appeal, but millennial fans who are more familiar with Constantino's music would probably enjoy the show more.
"Ako si Josephine" runs from September 8 to October 9, 2016 at the PETA Theater in Quezon City. Tickets prices at P1,981.80 (VIP), P1,651.50 (Orchestra Center and Balcony Center), P1,321.20 (Orchestra Side) and P1,101.00 (Balcony Side). You may buy from Ticketworld or via the following ticket-sellers: