Friday, September 30, 2016

Review of Munkeymusic's CHANGING PARTNERS: Gender-Go-Round

September 30, 2016




This is the first time I saw "Changing Partners" was last July 8,2016 when it was featured as a staged reading during the Virgin Lab Fest. The book, music and lyrics are written by Vincent de Jesus of PETA. The director is Rem Zamora currently of Red Turnip Theater. That staged reading already felt like the full show, only betrayed by the actors performing with mic stands and scripts in hand, and the stage directions were narrated off-stage. My review of that scintillating staged reading is posted HERE

Barely two months after that auspicious sneak preview, "Changing Partners" is now a full show of its own,as the maiden production of Vincent de Jesus' very own Munkeymusic in cooperation with the PETA Theater Center. Rem Zamora is still the director here. Only one of the four original actors in the staged reading remain, so interpretations of the roles are expected to vary from the reading. Instead of the bare stage, there will now be a set and actual props with lights (by Ian Torqueza) and sound design to further flesh out the situations dramatized onstage. 

"Changing Partners" tells us about the love relationship of Alex and Cris, two individuals 15 years apart in age who decide to live together. It tells us about how their love story began and how it eventually evolved six years later. The twist of this ingenious script is that the roles of Alex and Cris can interchangeably be played by male and female actors such that the dynamics of the relationship also change significantly. Then again, it also shows that the outcome of such relationships may not really be that different after all, whatever the genders of the people involved.

Agot Isidro and Jojit Lorenzo portrayed the older and more domineering Alex. Anna Luna and Sandino Martin (the only actor left from the staged reading cast) portrayed the younger and more callow Cris. This was a very cohesive cast with excellent rapport with each other. All of them sang very well, both tonally and emotionally. Here, perfection in tune only played second fiddle to the rawness of the words and the genuineness of the feelings, thus the word "torch" in the subtitle. Isidro was intense. Lorenzo was passionate. Luna was enigmatic. Martin was vulnerable. The explosive climactic confrontation scene with all four actors on the stage at the same time switching roles so fluidly was a triumph in stage direction. Having the composer de Jesus himself up there playing the piano was precious.

If you are watching this show (and you really should), come early so you can pick the best seats in your section. A big factor against enjoying this show fully is to having to sit in a chair where parts of the stage were obscured by the people sitting in front of you. This show is being staged in the Studios on the third floor of the PETA Center, not the main theater. The monobloc chairs are not well-arranged to assure that audiences in the non-elevated area will enjoy an unobstructed view. Where I was sitting, I could hardly see the actors when they are seated on the couch. I was so thankful when they were standing or sitting around the dining table instead, where I can see them clearly.

Above everything though, the biggest reason for the enduring quality of this show is the remarkable script and lyrics with their biting humor and even more biting realism. The idea of making the couple a May-December affair expands the audience appeal from Gen X to Millennials, as will the tackling of both heterosexual and homosexual issues. 

Vincent de Jesus revealed that unlike his other musicals when he needed to do solid background research, the emotions of "Changing Partners" are known to him very well because he had personally lived through these feelings. Only a genius could have developed an entire musical play out of a seemingly mundane circumstance of a lesbian stage manager filling in for the absent male lead during a rehearsal. After PETA classics like "Juan Tamad", "Batang Rizal" (MY REVIEW), Himala" (MY REVIEW) and "Care Divas" (MY REVIEW), the talented Mr. de Jesus strikes gold once again!


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"Changing Partners" will have its limited run at the PETA Theater Center Studios (located on the third floor) on September 30, October 1, 2, 21, 22 & 23, 2016 (7PM) with additional 3pm matinees on October 22 and 23. Ticket prices are 800 (Regular) and 1000 (VIP). Tickets can be bought via Ticketworld or you may also call (725) 6244 or (0927) 3917379 for further inquiries and reservations.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Review of Artist Playground's LAGABLAB: Fiery and Fearsome

September 24, 2016



The Japanese occupation during World War II was a most traumatic part of our country's history. Several movies and plays had been set during this era because of the intense human drama our countrymen went through in that dark and tumultuous time. Continuing their tradition of staging challenging one-act theater pieces, the creative minds behind Artists Playground have decided to mine one such local play tackling sensitive and heavy wartime issues. 

First staged about 10 years ago, "LAGABLAB" is a theatrical adaptation in Filipino written by the multifaceted theater artist Don Hollanda from a 1943 short story by British author W. Somerset Maugham. Entitled "The Unconquered," the plot of that story was set in World War II when the Germans occupied France. Hollanda had so ingeniously taken the gist of the story and created a script so Filipino in heart and spirit.

Ceasico and Solis

Chayong is a pretty young schoolteacher from rural Bulacan. She is the pride of her illiterate farmer parents Andong and Pilang and younger brother Carding. She is all set to marry her beloved Unyo. Her world shattered into pieces when a Japanese soldier Hirohito entered their home and wreaked unspeakable horror on their family. After that day, repentant Hirohito tried to make amends by giving gifts to the family. However, Chayong vowed to make Hirohito suffer the same pain and torture that she and her family experienced under his brutality. 

At one hour, this is already the longest play ever staged by Artists Playground. Artistic director Roeder Camanag says if they ran a longer play it might make the audience feel claustrophobic. It is amazing how their set designer can convert the very small and narrow space of their Little Room Upstairs into so many different permutations of stage and audience space. This time the main set was the living and dining area of Chayong's house. You can peek into the bedroom through the bamboo slats making up the wall. 

Ruzz and San Pedro

Ira Ruzz constantly improves with every play I see her in. As Chayong, she effectively embodied the strong Filipina, fearlessly confronting enemy threat. Her intense face is especially expressive even without words being said. (Four other actresses -- Mariella Munji Laurel, Jhaeka Madrinio, Jacelle Escanan and Farlin Flores -- all alternate as Chayong. I thought this is a very interesting casting decision, promising varied interpretations of this central role.) 

Manu San Pedro was consistent as Hirohito with his monotone deadpan delivery of Japanese-accented Filipino. His gentle-looking facial features were so right for his insidious character. Every time we see him on that stage reeked with tension. (Anjo Resurrecion alternates as Hirohito.) 

Ceasico and Bacolod

The crowd favorites were Sheryll Villamor Ceasico and Gilbert Bacolod who played Chayong's parents. They provided much of the dark humor as Pilang and Andong sought Hirohito's favor, despite the nasty rumors of collaboration that swirled around them in their neighborhood. Caesico, in particular, was so natural and delightful in her practical character. We like her despite her unlikable behavior. How her face lit up at the mention of the word "tractor" was precious. (Lodie Atis and Greg Abelardo de Leon alternate in these roles).

Coco Mark Mamuad was very soft-spoken, sounding very shy as Chayong's beau Unyo. At first it was difficult to hear what he was saying. However, the volume of his voice turned out to be quite haunting in his role as a victim of cruel circumstance, especially in his second scene, his main highlight. (Christian James Tiongson alternates as Unyo.) 

Mamuad and Ruzz

Sheneill Solis played Carding as the typical lazy and happy-go-lucky teenager forced to grow up faster because of war. The stark contrast of his scenes before and after Hirohito entered the scene clearly showed the effect of Japanese invasion on the youth. (Aaron Dioquino and John Racho alternate in this role.)

Given the limitations of space, director Paul Jake Paule was still able to stage the most difficult scenes to most disturbing effect. That scene when we first see Hirohito enter the house was so tense, we can really feel the fear the characters were feeling. The terror of the first attack was realistic and palpable. The scene of Unyo's second conversation with Chayong was staged with ethereal sensitivity. We will feel their pain. That critical final scene was effectively delivered with solid suspense and shock.

Cast Photo


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"Lagablab" runs from September 23 to October 30, 2016, with 7 pm shows on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays and 3 pm matinee shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Venue is at the Little Room Upstairs, Rm. 1701 Landsdale Tower, Mother Ignacia Avenue, Quezon City. For ticket inquiries, contact Kim at 0926-9323179. If you liked this play, you can also choose to be an Angel and sponsor tickets for groups of less fortunate students to "bring the illuminating experience of theatre" to them.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Review of Cornerstone's AKO SI JOSEPHINE: Emancipation from Electronica

September 10, 2016



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.


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"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: