Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review of VIRGIN LABFEST XII - SET B: Unsettling Uncertainties

June 30, 2016

This is the third year in a row that I am catching some of the fresh one-act plays chosen for this year's 12th edition of the Virgin Labfest at the CCP. This year, 197 scripts were submitted and the top 12 were chosen to be staged. Because of my work schedule, I could only watch two sets for now. I hope time clears up for me to be able to watch more. VLF XII opened yesterday. Today, on the day of the Presidential Inauguration, I was able to catch the premiere showing of Set B.


Written by: Herlyn Alegre
Directed by: Ricardo Magno

There was a civil war of sorts which displaced a significant number of residents from a place called Puting Bato to seek refuge in a tent city across the sea. A well-to-do oil executive Eben loses his whole family when their boat capsized while crossing the border. When he reaches the tent city, he encounters a former teacher Fatima, her son Sami and another young man Dan, who had all been there for over a year now. Eben learns that they were actually trying to move out of this dire camp to try their luck to live somewhere else.

During the post-show interaction, playwright Herlyn Alegre revealed that she was inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis when writing this play. The story was very interesting and vital, but as it was staged this afternoon, it felt long and oddly monotonous, hardly lifting off. I did not feel the action rising, nor a satisfying climax. The slow pace and long silences did not help. The reliable Doray Dayao was gritty as ever portraying the jaded Fatima. Sky Abundo (Dan) and Rence Aviles (Sami) play the young men as desperate yet idealistic. As Eben, Chrome Cosio projected the confusion of a new refugee well, but I was expecting more emotion from his character because he did just lose everything he had. 


Written by: Dominique La Victoria
Directed by: Dudz Terana

A young girl has a conversation with her younger brother Ruru who, at that time, had been punished by their drunk abusive father by incarcerating him inside a large empty water drum. The script could feel repetitive as kids talk would usually be, talking about school, their chickens, their parents. In addition, majority of the script was in lilting Cebuano language. However, the deep emotional message was not completely lost despite me not fully understanding all the words. 

We never see Ron Alos, the actor playing Ruru, until he came out for the final bows. We knew him only by his plaintive voice from inside the drum. On the other hand, Raven Relavo had to act by herself onstage in a virtual one-woman show. By the end of the play, Relavo was in real tears, even during the curtain call. We in the audience felt our hearts melting as the siblings realize the hopelessness of their condition. This was a one-act play of poignant simplicity. That final scene before lights out was truly haunting.


Written by: Kanakan-Balintagos
Directed by: Law Fajardo

This one-act play is set in 1992, the year when Imelda Marcos came from from her exile. It is a spirited conversation between an activist-artist college boy from UP and his mother, who was staunchly loyal fan of the Marcoses. The setting was a chicly-decorated living room where the son caused a big mess with his stuff. The mother practically spent the whole time cleaning and straightening up the place while talking with her slacker of a son. 

The fact that none other than Ms. Irma Adlawan was playing the mother is already enough reason for you to watch this play. She of course lives up to her reputation, in a complex role that required her to be so lively and passionate. I have also seen several plays with Abner Delina Jr. before in PETA and here in VLF and he is also consistently on point with his performances. He certainly holds his own against the formidable talents of Ms. Adlawan. In the Q&A after the plays, playwright Kanakan-Balintagos confessed that this, like his recent full-length play "Mga Buhay na Apoy," was also a script he wrote twenty years ago. His professor did not like it then. Amazing how the passage of time had made this material entertainingly nostalgic and fun to watch, especially for us who actually lived through that moment in history.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Review of 9Works' AMERICAN IDIOT: The Gravitas of Green Day

June 25, 2016

Green Day is one of the most popular American punk bands that gained prominence in the 1990s. In 2010, a sung-thru stage musical with a musical score which included a line up of Green Day songs debuted on Broadway, with a book written by lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong collaborating with director Michael Mayer. Earlier this year, 9Works announced that they will be a local staging of this show and this news was truly exciting. Knowing how high-energy and electrifying Green Day music is, this is definitely a must-watch show.

Basti Artadi and Jason Fernandez

The venue was a huge stage set in an outdoor amphitheater in the heart of Bonifacio High Street in Taguig. There were big screens on both sides of the stage, just like there would be in any rock concert. Just looking at the set already gave you an inkling that this would be an extraordinary show. 

There were three young men who were close friends whose paths eventually diverge. Will got his girlfriend pregnant and reluctantly decided to stay in town to stay with her. Tunny got convinced by TV ads to join the US Army. Johnny gets seduced by the drug lifestyle, even developing a powerful alter-ego St. Jimmy to justify his abuse. When his girlfriend Whatsername decides to leave him, Johnny had to make his own life-changing decisions.

Yanah Laurel, with Fernandez and Artadi

The central character of Johnny was played by former Rivermaya vocalist Jason Fernandez. Will was played by Chicosci frontman Miggy Chavez. This is the stage debut of both of these rock stars. Their singing prowess was incontestable, and both also did well in the acting department. Fernandez's character went to hell and back and he impressively convinced us of this. Chavez tended to be a little tentative at first but loosened up eventually. Tunny is played by theater actor Nel Gomez, and his confident ease around the stage is unmistakable, both in acting and singing.

Johnny's mysterious guru persona St. Jimmy was played by none other than the iconic leader of the 90s band Wolfgang, the legendary Basti Artadi, who had been out of the entertainment scene for sometime. The right-sided facial paralysis he suffers now may occasionally draw unnecessary attention. However, Artadi's powerful vocal reach and his enigmatic charisma was still very much there to keep us riveted when he is on stage. 

Miggy Chavez

The ladies in the cast certainly had their spot numbers to shine. Yanah Laurel (as Whatsername) got to highlight her unexpectedly powerful rock pipes in the anthemic number "21 Guns". Ms. Saigon alumna Ela Lisondra certainly proved she was an "Extraordinary Girl" as she showed off her pole- and belly-dancing grace on top of singing that song. Alex Godinez was sweet and sentimental as Will's girl Heather, and her crystal-clear vocals in her various songs reflect her character well.

Of course, the big Top 40 hit songs, namely "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "Wake Me Up When September Ends" and "21 Guns" were easily the most popular numbers. The whole company sings a rousing rendition of "Good Riddance (Time of My Life)" as a triumphant encore.. The other songs also make strong impressions despite their relative unfamiliarity. The poignant "Give Me Novocaine" and the forceful "Know Your Enemy" in particular were my personal favorites.

Nel Gomez

Director Robbie Guevara succeeds to engage the audience with his effective use of the complex multi-level stage area (again with set design by Mio Infante), Videos (by GA Fallarme) projected the influential television images that affected the lives of the youth. Daniel Bartolome conducts the live orchestra, as Onyl Torres serves as musical director for vocals. One of the important aspects of this production was the frenetic yet sexy Choreography, and this was care of PJ Rebullida. Lights and sound quality was excellent despite being in an outdoor venue. The costumes (a mix of leather, t-shirts and khaki) and makeup (trademark black eyeliner) brought us all into their punk world. 

The modern culture with the deadly troika of "sex, drugs and rock n' roll" was not comfortable to watch onstage, with all the decadent nihilism it espouses among disillusioned and disoriented young people. However as performed by the live musicians and sung by the talented cast, the headbanging music of Green Day was undeniably invigorating and glorious. The lyrics developed a new depth of meaning when heard in the context of the story unfolding on stage. 9 Works have a strong contender for Musical Production of the Year!

The Company sings "Good Riddance"


Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT will run from June 24 to July 10, 2016. There will be shows on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8 pm. Venue is at the new Globe Iconic Store, Bonifacio High Street Amphitheater, BGC, Taguig. For TICKETS call 586-7105 or Ticketworld at 891-9999!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Recap and Videos: CULTURE CLUB Live in Manila: Partying with a Power Outage

June 19, 2016

Earlier this year, popular 80s band Culture Club featuring their flamboyant cross-dressing lead vocalist Boy George audaciously announced a two-night concert in Manila at the Araneta Coliseum on June 17 and 18, 2016. However, by the first week of June, it was announced that the first day had been scrapped and that there will only be one concert on June 18. I had to swap my 06/17 tickets for 06/18 tickets.

When we entered the Coliseum at around 8 pm, there were still very many empty seats all over in all sections. This was a Saturday night, so this situation was very unusual. The Gen Ad section had been closed and the lucky GA ticket holders were upgraded to Upper Box, which nevertheless still never filled up despite this. It would never be a full house even as the concert started by about 9 pm.

Roy Hay (guitar and keyboards), Mikey Craig (bass guitar) and Jon Moss (drums and percussion) entered the stage first, before star vocalist Boy George made his grand entrance. The concert started very strongly, with four consecutive big hits: "Church of the Poison Mind" (#2 UK, #10 US, 1983) (VIDEO), "It's a Miracle" (#4 UK, #13 US, 1984), "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" (#9 US, 1982) and "Move Away" (#7 UK, #12 US, 1986) (VIDEO). It was promising to be a great concert of 80s nostalgia, as the music videos of each hit were being shown on the big screen as Boy George was singing the songs. 

Then suddenly, the images on the big screen vanished. The technicians announced that there had been a power outage on the stage! While the microphones and overhead lights seemed to be working, all the amplifiers of the instruments are dead. Upon this announcement, Boy George at first joked if he was going to do a stand-up comedy routine. However, probably realizing that the power problem was serious, he left the stage for a "costume change." 

The drummers tried to engage the audience with a couple of drum numbers, however they also could not sustain the long wait. The audience grew restless and, in true Filipino fashion, spent the time singing or joking around. This wait would last for an interminable 30-40 minutes before the power was finally restored and the concert could resume. Boy George apologized profusely and thanked everyone for waiting patiently.

The first number sung after the outage was Boy George's solo hit "Everything I Own" (#1 UK, 1987), a reggae-flavored cover of an old ballad hit by Bread. Then Boy George paired up with one of his diva-esque back-up singers to perform the soulful "Black Money", followed by another soulful solo song entitled "Victims" (#3 UK, 1983). These two songs prove that Boy George's pipes light-as-air vocals can also be powerful and dramatic.

The next four songs was another hit blitz. For "Time (Clock of the Heart)" (#3 UK, #2 US, 1982), Boy George enjoined lovers put their arms around each other. This was followed by the upbeat crowd favorite "Miss Me Blind" (#5 US, 1984) with its Japanese-themed video playing behind him. The next song Boy George introduced as the song that started it all for them: "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" (#1 UK, #2 US, 1982) (VIDEO). Immediately following was their first and only Number 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (also #1 in UK) -- "Karma Chameleon" (VIDEO). This song finally got the whole crowd up on their feet.

After that hitting that high though, Boy George elected to play it serious again, with a cover of his personal inspiration David Bowie, an impressive version of "Starman." This was followed by a song that Boy George said he was being pressured to sing. He revealed that they have practically never sung this next song in a concert, only maybe three times in the past 30 years. This was the big hit "The War Song" (#2 UK, #17 US, 1984) sung in a new deconstructed version, which also delighted the audience. 

The next song they performed was another cover, "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" by T. Rex, and also by the Power Station. Boy George suddenly announced his goodbyes towards the final notes of this song and left the stage. The rest of Culture Club and the band wound up their music and bade their goodbyes as well. The audience seemed unsatisfied still, and no one left their seats right away, yelling for more. However, an encore did not come anymore.

The concert covered ALL the biggest hits of Culture Club, so the show should be OK. Maybe it was the order in which the songs were performed that made it seem that the show did not reach a higher climax. I was personally disappointed that Boy George did not get to sing his version of "The Crying Game", which was a favorite of mine. The 30-minute power outage really sapped the momentum of the show considerably. I think Boy George was disappointed with the show overall. He did not dance too much. He only had one costume change. I think maybe it was because of the unexpectedly sparse audience turnout. I really cannot fathom why this concert did not sell as well as it could have.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Review of Artist Playground's HAPPINESS IS A PEARL: Lost in Love

June 4, 2016

Artist Playground opens its second season with an original play written by prolific playwright Rody Vera six years ago, entitled "Happiness is a Pearl." This is the first time this play had ever been staged for the public. The young theater company pushes the envelope with daring material that is for mature audiences only.

In the center of "Happiness is a Pearl" is a love triangle. Kenji is a Japanese gigolo who knew how to pleasure the ladies with his "equipment" uniquely enhanced by a pearl. Mari, a Japanese woman married to a rich businessman, could not resist Kenji's company for the ecstasy that he gives her. However, Kenji's heart had fallen for Maria, a Japayuki in a seedy Filipino bar in Chiba. As a confrontation among the three lovers was inevitable, each one realizes what they had to lose to gain the happiness of love.

The interior of the Little Room Upstairs where this play was staged was rearranged to fit a bigger diagonally-set stage with three substages. The audience sat on three sides of this stage, offering a different view of the action onstage. The ceiling was adorned with pink florets looking like cherry blossoms to symbolize the Japanese setting of the play. Some movable frames were set on the posterior stage, but I did not exactly get what these frames were supposed to represent.

Of the three main actors on the stage, the one that easily commanded attention by his mere physical presence was the newcomer (with the shortest CV) who played Kenji-- 22-year old indie film actor Tomas Miranda. He is a handsome well-built young man, with penetrating eyes which actually made him look Japanese. He acted with confidence, belying the fact this is was his very first theater production, Japanese accent and various stages of undress notwithstanding. (Jerome Rosalin alternates as Kenji.)

The two ladies who shared the stage with Miranda also had their respective moments to shine. Cath Go played the Japanese matron Mari as an obsessed lonely lady who was willing to buy her way to her happiness. This was the only character supposedly based on a real person. Ira Ruzz (who previously made a good impression as Flerida in Gantimpala's "Florante at Laura") played the entertainer Maria with typical homespun charm, very Filipina in attitude in situations of adversity. (Ruth Alferez alternates as Mari. Shiela Espina alternates as Maria.)

The extreme limitations of the stage space makes this play a challenge in blocking for director Paul Jake Paule, so that the audience around will get to see everything that was happening on stage. However, an even more difficult challenge was for choreographer Lezlie Dailisan. The choreography of the tangos danced by the three main actors was emotionally communicative, one of the best and most memorable aspects of this show. Despite the fact that Miranda, Go and Ruzz had no previous dance training, they were able to execute all the daring lifts and flips with grace and aplomb, very impressive all.


"Happiness is a Pearl" is staged at The Little Room Upstairs, Rm. 1701 of the Landsdale Tower along Mo. Ignacia (cor. Timog Ave.) in Quezon City. The play shall run from June 9 to July 3, 2016 with 7 pm shows from Wednesday – Friday; 3 pm and 7 pm shows  every Saturday and Sunday. For tickets and inquiries, visit Artist Playground's FB Page  or contact 0926 932 3179. Strictly for ADULTS only.