Saturday, December 22, 2018

My Yearend Roundup: THE BEST OF PHILIPPINE THEATER 2018

December 22, 2018

For the year 2018, I had seen and written about 43 theater productions: 13 musicals, 12 full-length plays, and 20 one-act plays. I missed all of the productions staged in Ateneo because of schedule conflicts and the bad traffic in that area. This was a pity because I had missed several of the year's best reviewed plays and musicals, like "Desaparecidos," "Dekada '70" and the revival of "Mula sa Buwan" because it was difficult for me to go to Ateneo. Restagings of productions I had seen and cited before were also not included anymore, like "Rak of Aegis" and "Ang Pag-uusig."

I will list here what I feel were the best among those theater shows I have seen and written about for 2018. (My 2017 list was posted HEREMy 2016 list was posted HEREMy 2015 list was posted HERE.)

I.  ORIGINAL FILIPINO MUSICALS:


Best: BALAG AT ANGUD
(My Full Review)

Music by:  Dodjie Fernandez and Upeng Galang Fernandez 
Written by: Layeta Bucoy
Directed by: Audie Gemora

"Balag" was a bamboo formation adorned with activist sentiments set in front of the Oblation in UP Diliman in 1970 to protest against Martial Law. "Angud: A Forest Once" was an interconnected display of thousands of tree trunk remnants set on CCP grounds in 2007 to protest deforestation of mountains. Playwright Layeta Bucoy took these two pieces of outdoor installation art as her inspiration and came up with a biographical play about their creator -- artist Luis Yee, Jr. (or Junyee), and his quest for artistry against all odds. 





Other Notable Productions:

Himala the Musical (My Review)
Binondo: A Tsinoy Musical (My Review)
Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!  (My Review)
Guadalupe the Musical (My Review)
Ang Huling El Bimbo (My Review)
Supremo Redux (My Review)

Notable Performances:

Rody Vera, Astarte Abraham and Bayang Barrios (Balag at Angud), Aicelle Santos, Bituin Escalante, Noemi Gonzales, Kakki Teodoro and Jenny Villegas de Jesus (Himala), Carla Guevara-Laforteza, Sheila Valderrama-Martinez, David Ezra, Noel Rayos, Ima Castro and Ashlee Factor (Binondo), Jobim Javier, Raul Montesa and Neomi Gonzales (APO), Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, Lorenz Martinez and Cocoy Laurel (Guadalupe), Gian Magdangal, OJ Mariano and Sheila Francisco (El Bimbo), Vincent Tanada, Jomar Bautista and Cherry Bagtas (Supremo Redux)

Memorable Tech Aspects:

The inverted pyramid ceiling fixture of "Balag at Angud." The immersive stage setup of "Himala." The airport scene of "Binondo." The colorful Mexican costumes of "Guadalupe." Toyang's diner in "El Bimbo." 


II. NON-FILIPINO MUSICALS:


Best: SIDE SHOW
(My Full Review)

Book and Lyrics by: Bill Russell
Music by: Henry Krieger
Director: Steven Conde

Daisy and Violet Hilton were a pair of twins conjoined at the hip. They were the star attractions of Sir's sideshow of freaks, which also included the Bearded Lady, the Dog Boy, the 3-Legged Man, Cannibal King among others. One day, talent scout Terry Connor and his musician friend Buddy Foster chanced upon their sideshow, and heard the twins sing. Realizing that he had hit upon a goldmine, Terry wanted to take the twins out of the sideshow and bring them to vaudeville. 







Other Notable Productions:

Waitress (My Review)
Rapunzel! Rapunzel! (My Review)
All Out of Love, the Musical (My Review)

*** Foreign Touring Production: The Lion King (My Review)

Notable Performances:

Gab Pangilinan, Kayla Rivera, Markki Stroem and Arman Ferrer (Side Show), Joanna Ampil, Bituin Escalante and Maronne Cruz (Waitress), Carla Guevara-Laforteza, Arnel Carrion and Alyssa Rosa (Rapunzel); MiG Ayesa, Rachel Alejandro, Tanya Manalang and Raymond Concepcion (All Out of Love), Felicity Kyle Napuli (The Lion King)

Memorable Tech Aspects:

The Roaring 20s costumes of "Side Show." Joe's Pie Diner set of "Waitress." The whimsical set and Socrates' cute Dragon costume in "Rapunzel." The "Circle of Life" scene of "The Lion King." 

III. FILIPINO PLAYS:

A. One-Act:


Best: PULA
(My Full Review)

Written by: Danielle Hill
Directed by: Kyxz Feliciano and Justin Santiago

"Pula" is a play about Martial Law abuses, but this one goes for the jugular in portraying the horrible torture experienced by Lilli Hilao and Boyet Mijares. To say it is gory or explicit is an understatement. This is not a play you "enjoy." Rather, it is absorbing and disturbing, gut-wrenching and painful to watch. The staging, with the dramatic red lights and pulsating music, was very effective. However, the centerpiece of this intense play was the raw, bold and fearless multi-character performance of Sweet Hearty Puyong. One of the most heart-wrenching and realistically harrowing acting I had ever seen on a stage. 





Other Notable Productions:

Babae Nga Naka-Itum (My Review)
Amoy Pulbos ang mga Alabok sa Ilalim ng Riles ng Tren (My Review)
Ang Mga Propesyunal (My Review
Labor Room (My Review)

Notable Performances:

Sweet Hearty Puyong (Pula), Cindy Liper (Babae Nga Naka-Itum), Gerald Magallanes and Pearl Belen (Lukrezia), Kenneth Sadsad and Vean Olmedo (Tula ni Vito at Lira), OJ Bacor and Ado Villanueva (I Didith Show / PSF Theater Fest), Adelle Ibarrientos-Lim and Rachel Mae Penaflor (I Didith Show / RAIN2), Sheryll Ceasico and Skyzx Labastilla (Labor Room), Arnold Reyes and Acey Aguilar (Tulad ng Dati), Bembol Roco and Sherry Lara (Ensayo), Bong Cabrera and Marjorie Lorico (Amoy Pulbos), Dolly de Leon (River Lethe), Ricci Chan and Guelan Luarca (Edgar Allan Hemingway)

Memorable Tech Aspects:

The hovel under the railroad of "Amoy Pulbos." The eerie doll costume of "Lukrezia." The haunted paintings on the wall of "The Gallery." 

B. Full-Length: Original Filipino Material or Filipino Adaptation:



Best: THE KUNDIMAN PARTY
(My Full Review)

Written by: Floy Quintos
Directed by: Dexter M. Santos

Maestra Adela Dolores, a famous operatic diva from more than 30 years ago, has long retired from performing, and was now spending her time teaching her craft to students in her home. She kept a close circle of friends around her, namely the nurturing Helen, the liberated Mitch and the over-protective Mayen. The four ladies regularly met in Maestra's house where they listened to music and discussed politics. One day, her student Antoinette's boyfriend Bobby, a political activist, had the idea of using Maestra's kundiman to revitalize nationalism in the youth via social media.





Other Notable Productions:

Ang Dalagita'y 'Sang Bagay na Di-Buo (My Review)
Manila Notes (My Review)
'Night Mother (My Review)

Notable Performances:

Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, Stella Canete-Mendoza, Missy Maramara, Frances Makil-Ignacio, Kalil Almonte and Teroy Guzman (Kundiman Party), Missy Maramara and Skyzx Labastilla (Dalagita), Meann Espinosa, Mayen Estanero and Elle Velasco (Manila Notes), Sherry Lara and Eugene Domingo ('Night Mother), Nico Varona and Hariette Damole (Anim na Tauhang Naghahanap ng May-Akda), Aldo Vencilao and Manok Nellas (Nang Dalawin ng Pag-ibig si Juan Tamad)

Memorable Tech Aspects:

Maestra's living room and staircase in "Kundiman Party." The museum lounge in "Manila Notes." The living room and working kitchen in "'Night, Mother." The strikingly dramatic anahaw-inspired centerpiece of "Nang Dalawin ng Pag-ibig si Juan Tamad." 

IV. NON-FILIPINO PLAYS:


Best: SILENT SKY
(My Full Review)

Written by: Lauren Gunderson
Directed by: Joy Virata

While working in the Harvard Observatory, Henrietta Leavitt began to notice a pattern in the pulsations of Cepheid stars, and eventually concluded that there is a relationship between the brightness of the star and the length of time they take to blink, when she then correlated to the distance of this star. While Leavitt's discovery was published in journals, she was not allowed to do her own independent studies. However, eventually, her vital discoveries were eventually acknowledged as the basis of more well-known work by later astronomers like Edwin Hubble.





Other Notable Productions:

Lungs (My Review)
A Doll's House Part II (My Review)
M. Butterfly (My Review)

Notable Performances:


Cathy Azanza-Dy, Sheila Francisco, Naths Everett and Caisa Borromeo (Silent Sky), Jake Cuenca and Sab Jose (Lungs), Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Sheila Francisco (A Doll's House Part II), RS Francisco (M. Butterfly), Frances Makil-Ignacio, Ces Quesada, Missy Maramara and Hariette Damole (The Dressing Room), Lorenz Martinez, Jeremy Domingo and Issa Litton (A Comedy of Tenors), Joy Virata and Jay Glorioso (Arsenic and Old Lace)


Memorable Tech Aspects:

Henrietta's work station in "Silent Sky." The illuminated cube of "Lungs." The ornate and glittering chinoisie in "M. Butterfly." The living room in "Arsenic and Old Lace."


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Recap of the MISS UNIVERSE PAGEANT 2018 LIVE IN BANGKOK: Catriona Claims the Crown!

December 17, 2018




We left my brother's house in the outskirts of Bangkok by about 5 am. There was an advisory the day before that the gates of the Impact Arena open at 5 am and would be closed by 6:10 am. We arrived at the arena before 6 am, still very dark, and a huge crowd of people were already there. The people were (mostly) dressed to the nines in formal attire -- with more fancy folks tiaras and sashes (conspicuously Thailand and Philippines).  

Upon alighting from the car, we immediately recognized Miss Universe 2016 Iris Mittenaere in her reddish gown with a deep plunging neckline! Walking in, we saw Bb. Pilipinas Universe 2011 Shamcey Supsup, still looking mighty fine in her grey gown. There were a couple of past Ms. Thailands were also being interviewed by the media when we were making our way to the ticket gates to gain access into the auditorium itself. All this preliminary people-watching was a lot of fun. 



Upon entering the auditorium and finding our seats, we excitedly saw the the X-shaped runway on the main floor, and we took a number photos of it. We were quick to note that we were seating among a big group of Vietnamese fans of, of course, Ms. Vietnam. This was the only other contestant that caught my attention prior to these finals, because of her cool short hairstyle, which she carried with elegance. They would prove to be very actively vocal cheerleaders for their candidate which added to our enjoyment during the show.

While waiting for the show to begin, there was an American preliminary host dressed in a silver suit, a Steve Harvey-lookalike, so some audience members thought he was the real thing. He and his Thai counterpart were trying hard to rouse the audience who seemed to be sluggish because of the early hour. To whet the audience attention even more, they were also giving out Apple products in ticket raffles (but, sigh, our numbers did not get called). 

**********

There was a countdown just before airtime, and the audience was asked to cheer loudly as the house lights were dimmed about five seconds before the count hit one. There were traditional drummers in red on the stage and the spotlights focused on them as they banged on their native drums. Pop star Ne-yo began to sing his opening number from within a group of Thai dancers dressed in gold in the middle of the X. All 94 candidates walked on and off one arm of the X stage in their casual wear. 

After the song, Steve Harvey, now sporting a gray beard instead of his thick black mustache, came out in his sparkly suit to deliver his opening spiel. He then introduced the panel of pageant analysts plus-sized supermodel Ashley Graham, runway coach Lu Sierra and fashion guru Carson Kressley, whose statements we do not hear in the arena. Since we never heard their commentary at all during the show, I was surprised to read all the backlash against Sierra and Kressley after the show. 

Harvey then proceeded to introduced the all-female board of judges. The list this year included two former Ms. Universe winners: Porntip Bui Simon (nee Nakhirunkanok) who won in 1988 as Ms. Thailand, and Michelle McLean, Miss Namibia who won her title in Bangkok in 1992. There were two judges from the Philippines, which was incredible -- world-renowned fashion designer Monique Lhuiller and a lady introduced as an architect and aviation executive Richelle Louise Singson-Michael.


Ms. Philippines and the Top 20

After the break, the top 20 candidates were called by geographic grouping: First called from Africa-Asia group (31 girls) were South Africa, Philippines, Nepal, Vietnam (in pants!) and Thailand. These first five actually stayed onstage throughout the announcements and the breaks! The Europe group (31 girls) consisted of Poland, Belgium, Great Britain, Hungary and Ireland. The audience reaction to this group was lukewarm compared to the first one. The Americas group (32 girls) had Curacao, Costa Rica (a TV host with sassy advice to Steve!), Canada, Puerto Rico and Jamaica. In the Wildcard group were: USA (I sensed a cold reception), Venezuela, Indonesia, Brazil and Australia

In what seemed to be a new segment of the show, these top 20 girls were given 15 seconds each to individually introduce themselves with their personal messages. Some messages were more memorable and had more impact than others. These were from: Philippines ("It is lack of child support and not poverty that killed dreams."); Vietnam ("From nothing, here I am. I can do it. You can do it!"): Venezuela ("Venezuelans are warriors of love."): and Brazil ("Conserving the Amazon is preserving the life on Earth."). 

This segment was followed by a special feature on Angela Ponce, Ms. Spain, the first transgender candidate in Ms. Universe. A video about her controversial journey was shown which ended with her most powerful statement, "I do not need to win Ms. Universe. I only need to be here." Then, Ms. Ponce came out on stage amidst loud applause. The first thing she did was to remove her Ms. Spain sash as if to say that she represented all transgenders with the same dream, representing diversity in the world. Meanwhile, the controversy about trans-women in pageants for women rages on. 


The Top 10


Top 10 candidates were then announced. All the first five girls from the first cut were still very much in the race: South Africa, Vietnam. Philippines, Nepal and Thailand. Perennial Ms. Universe favorites went in: Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Canada (the only Caucasian left so she certainly stood out in looks). Costa Rica and Curacao were unexpected surprises in the Top 10. These were the girls who the underwent the Swimsuit and Evening Gown competitions that followed. 

Ms. Laos, on their first time to join the pageant, was named Best National Costume. She wore a golden Buddhist figurine costume with two similarly styled puppets in front and behind her. Last year's Ms. Universe Demi Leigh Nel-Peters's advocacy on #Unbreakable because of her horrifying hostage experience. She came out in a white pants suit, which is certainly out of the ordinary. 


The Top 5

The Final Five were announced: Puerto Rico, Vietnam, Philippines, South Africa, and Venezuela. The Philippines was a clear standout in the group with her fiery red gown among the silvery gowns of the others. The questions were provided by fellow contestants. Puerto Rico answered a question about freedom of the press. Vietnam's question was about the #MeToo movement. Philippines question was about legalizing marijuana (I did not like the question because it does not lead to a memorable answer.) South Africa was given a question about refugees, which I thought she nailed quite well. Venezuela's question was relatively easy for veteran beauty queens, about the relevance of beauty pageants. 

The pace picked up when the Top 3 was announced: Philippines, South Africa and Venezuela. It was very disappointing for me that Vietnam did not make it into the Top 3 because she was the most unique candidate, but those are the breaks of the game. All three were given only one question, and it was: "What is the most important lesson you've learned in your life and how would you apply it to your time as Miss Universe?" Philippines wowed the crowd when she spoke about finding silver linings in adversity. South Africa talked about people wanting to be loved and to belong so we should treat each other that way -- felt too short. Venezuela's answer was about working hard to achieve one's dreams -- felt too generic. 


The Top 3

For the final look, Ne-yo serenaded the Top 3 with his 2008 hit song "Miss Independence." The audience was asked to turn on their phone flashlights once Ne-yo starts singing. With the moving backdrop of floating paper lanterns, the collective effect of all the lights within the dark arena was very dramatic and glamorous. From our seats, we can see Philippines gamely dancing to Ne-yo's song off-camera while South Africa and Venezuela were taking their respective walks. 

After Demi Leigh Nel-Peters took her final walk, the final verdict was announced. Second runner-up was Miss Venezuela Shtefany Gutierrez. The first runner-up was Miss South Africa Tamaryn Green. Miss Universe 2018 is Catriona Grey of the Philippines!!! She was the fourth Filipina to win the prestigious title.  As Pia Wurtzbach thwarted a Colombia back-to-back win in 2015, Catriona prevented a South Africa back-to-back this time around. You can see my video of this crowning moment is posted HERE


The Crowning Moment


It was ecstatic pandemonium among the Filipino fans in the audience with that announcement and there were a lot of us there. The Filipino celebrations continued outside the auditorium as Pinoys (many proudly wearing the Barong Tagalog or Filipiniana outfits, some wearing sashes with the country's name or Catriona's distinct ear-cuff behind one ear) gathered together to rejoice together. For one moment of united patriotism, we joined in the group singing of the National Anthem to celebrate Catriona Grey's victory. You can see my video of this Filipino celebration posted HERE


**********

For me, it had been a crazy impulsive decision to go visit my brother in Bangkok to watch the Miss Universe pageant together. However, it turned out to be a most fortuitous one that paid off big time in terms of memorableness because of Miss Philippines' victory. 


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Review of PhilStagers' RAIN 2: JUVY LEE'S ROMANCE, THE GALLERY, I DIDITH SHOW

December 15, 2018




The show title "RAIN" was actually an acronym which meant "Reinventing Anthology of Individual Narrative." This 3-in-1 show was conceived to offer PSF fans a variety of straight one-act plays, much different from the historical or social musicals that they are known for. The first RAIN last year featured TULA NI VITO AT LIRA by Rachel Gianan, BAGYO BUROL BEKI by Sonny O Valencia and ALIMUONG by JP Lopez. Three new plays have been chosen to be presented this year.

*****


Juvy Lee (Alex Baylon) does her radio show.

The first play was JUVY LEE'S ROMANCE, written and directed by Vince Tanada. Juvy Lee was a very popular radio deejay who hosted a top-rating love advice program. She was offered to transfer her show to television. Problem was she was not attractive and overweight, so she was rejected by the TV execs. Not even her manager Kenji Park could not do anything to help her, as her bitchy but pretty rival Cara MIl got the TV stint instead. Juvy's godmother, who just so happened to be a dermatologist and plastic surgeon, heard of Juvy's plight and came to her rescue. 


Kenji (Kenneth Sadsad) and Penny (Bea Martin)

This play uses a lot of K-pop songs and dances to appeal to the young millennial crowd. I noted that these college students were very fond of romantic scenes, squealing with thrill everytime Kenji (a dashing Kenneth Sadsad) and Juvy Lee (Alex Baylon, in drag) or her alter ego Penny Woo (a flustered Bea Martin) have a close clinch together. Everybody was doing their campiest best to connect to their audience all in good fun, but delivering an important message about how inner beauty trumps outer beauty. 

*****

The second play was THE GALLERY, written by JP Lopez and directed by Vince Tanada. I had seen this play performed for the first time during the PSF Theater Festival just last summer in a much smaller venue. The truly Rated SPG stuff was tamed down a bit when it transitioned to the bigger SM cinema stage. This was an absurd, over-the-top story about a young drug addict gigolo Roy (Johnrey Rivas) who answered an ad by a bizarre intersex artist Dion (OJ Bacor) for a model. 


Roy (Johnrey Rivas) and Dion (OJ Bacar)
get to know each other

The titular gallery was home to weird paintings that their artist claimed were alive so they should never be touched. Later on, what was real and what was hallucination about these paintings were blurred as the intake of illegal drugs entered the picture. As I described it the first time I watched it, "this wild play went in all directions, with diverse elements of various genre -- comedy, sexy, horror and even politics -- all rolled into one flamboyant and schizophrenic show. Its sense of the macabre simply went off the charts!" These words still express exactly what I thought about this play on second watching.

*****
Lilibeth (Gerald Magallanes) talks to 
Didith (Adelle Ibarrientos-Lim)

The third play was I DIDITH SHOW, also written by JP Lopez and again directed by Vince TanadaI first saw this play just last summer as well, but it had a history of winning the grand PSF prize back in 2014. Didith Lorenzo was a superstar singer who has had been hosting a long-running TV variety show, on air for the past 20 years. In this latest episode of her show, her special guest was a pretty and popular new singer named Love Moreno. The two singers vie to get the upper hand over the other during the whole show. While Love had her boyfriend and her manager in her corner, it seemed like Didith only had her loyal gay PA Lilibeth in hers.


Didith (Adele Ibarrientos-Lim) and Love (Rachelle Mae Penaflor)
fighting for the camera



The play is very entertaining, frenetic and hilarious, roasting showbiz stereotypes, with some unexpectedly touching bittersweet moments. Adele Ibarreintos-Lim felt very right as aging bitter Didith, one of the best performances I had seen her play. Rachelle Mae Penaflor, still channeling Ariana Grande's spunk as she reprised her role as Love, much better than when I saw her perform last summer. Their duelling duet of "Tell Him" was like vocal fireworks, bravo! Gerald Magallanes extends his versatility further by playing the distraught gay fan Lilibeth. Vean Olmedo was also playing against her usual type by playing a loud lesbian who was Didith's ex-manager, now Love's.





Friday, December 7, 2018

Review of TP's MANILA NOTES: Experiment on Eavesdropping

December 8, 2018




It was the year 2034. There was a major war raging in Europe. The artwork of Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer were being exhibited in a museum in Manila.  The play is set in the waiting area in the lobby of that museum. We listen in on the random conversations of various guests and staff gathered in the waiting area talking about their lives -- nothing special really, just regular lives.

The central characters would be the five siblings of the Tenorio family.Evelyn, the second sibling, a spinster taking care of their parents in the province, is in Manila, so they planned a get-together in the museum that afternoon. There was Alberto, their eldest brother, and his wife Jeannie: Ramoncito, the middle son, and his shy wife Tessie; Myra, the funny younger sister; and Roberto, their youngest. 

Meanwhile, various other people were going in and out of the waiting area, Joy Goquingco was a young woman who was donating the paintings bequeathed to her by her father, was with her boyfriend Manuel Araos, who was planning to join the peacekeepers in Europe. We also meet the two curators of the museum, the stylish Emily Gorospe (who was entertaining Atty. Ross Miranda) and the gregarious Jerome Henares (the expert on Dutch art). 

There were two college students doing research, Sonia Toralba and Aliyah Go. There were couples on dates: Bart de la Torre and his fiancee Nicole Magpayo; pilot Eric Bernardo and his girlfriend Helen Davide; and Joaquin Soler with his girlfriend Pamela Quizon. There would be some unexpected connections between some of these people which we discover when they see each other while resting on the benches.  

This play was a literal slice of lives of these various characters that one afternoon, caught inside a metaphorical "camera obscura" (hence the Vermeer reference). There was no particular plot to follow at all. It was like listening in to one major flight of consciousness session with unrelated topics ranging from mundane personal problems to  issues of a bigger scale and interest, like art and war. 

You will feel like you were just sitting on those benches yourself and was just practically eavesdropping, like it or not, on the conversations of these strangers around you. There may be two or more conversations going on at a time, just like it would in real life. We catch snippets of what they were saying about themselves and other people you do not know anything about, yet we can somehow complete their story on our own, and probably make our judgments about them (deserved or not). 

As in our daily dealings within  crowds of people, there are characters who are naturally magnetic, while some just blend into the background. There are characters whose stories interest you, while there are those whose stories you don't really care about. Many times it was not even their words that catch your attention, but even just mere fleeting facial expressions, be it of joy, of longing, of annoyance, or of disgust. 

The cast worked as a fluid ensemble, very zen. No one really grandstands, except maybe occasionally Gie Onida, whose character Jerome had a tendency to be flamboyant. Meann Espinosa (as Evelyn) and Mayen Estanero (as Tessie) drew us in with their kindness and sincerity. Kathlyn Castillo (as Myra) stood out because of her corny jokes. Elle Velasco (as Emily) and Manuel Tinio (as Eric) have winsome personalities that attract attention effortlessly. Randy Villarama (as Joaquin) had an air of sinister about him that set off all sorts of red flags. Micah Muna (as Sonia) scared me as she flirted with danger.

Completing the cast were: Dennis Marasigan (as Alberto), Wenah Nagales (as Jeannie), Jonathan Tadioan (as Ramoncito), Joshua Tayco (as Roberto), Antonette Go (as Joy), Manjean Faldas (as Manuel), Marco Viana (as Ross), Neomi Gonzales (as Pamela), Ian Segarra (as Bart), J-mee Katanyag (as Nicole), Lhorvie Nuevo (as Helen) and Manok Nellas (as Aliyah). Their characters may have been less flashy, but the actors all made them real people, unique with their personal quirks. 


The 20-strong cast take their curtain call

"Manila Notes" is the Filipino adaptation of "Tokyo Notes" (1994) by playwright - director Oriza Hirata, who also served as director for this TP production. The Filipino translation used for this staging was written by Rody Vera. The museum lobby waiting room set was designed by a Japanese, Itaru Sugiyama. It was enhanced by the lighting design of Barbara Tan-Tiongco. Costume designer James Reyes and sound engineer TJ Ramos round out list of the main technical crew. 

There had already been adaptations in various cities, like "Seoul Notes," "Taipei Notes" and "Bangkok Notes," and there are plans to stage a "Tokyo Notes International Version" with an international cast and a more varied variety of juicy (or maybe not) conversations we can overhear on purpose. Set for the 2019 Theater Olympics in Japan, this is promises to be a most fascinating theater event to look forward to.  



*****

"Manila Notes" runs from November 30 to December 16, 2018 at the Little Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Showtimes: Fridays, 8pm, Saturdays, 3pm and 8pm and Sundays, 3pm. Tickets sold at P1000 and P800. Show runs for 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. 


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Review of Atlantis' WAITRESS: Struggle for Self-Worth

November 11. 2018




"Waitress" had been one of the more recent musical sensations on Broadway since it opened in 2016.  With music and lyrics by pop artist Sara Bareilles and a book by Jessie Nelson (based on the 2007 film of the same title written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelley, starring Kerri Russell), it was an audience favorite and garnered a number of Tony nominations (no wins). Sara Bareilles recorded 12 of her songs from the show and released them as "What's Inside: Songs from Waitress," which debuted at #10 on the Billboard 200. 

It was very exciting when Atlantis announced in January 2018 that it would be staging "Waitress" this year. Manila will actually get to see this show before the West End, where it will still debut in 2019. Last month, the Philippine cast, led by West End musical theater star Joanna Ampil, was announced and further hyped up the local anticipation for this international premiere of this show.

Jenna Hunterson worked as a waitress and the chief pie baker of the Joe's Pie Diner. located somewhere in the American South. As imaginative as she was with the pies she created, Jenna was unhappy with the state of her marriage with her bum husband Earl and wanted out, but as bad timing would have it, she got pregnant, much to her dismay. 

The owner of the diner Joe encouraged Jenna to join a pie-baking contest and use the $20,000 prize money to make a new start, a suggestion seconded by her friends at the diner Becky and Dawn. Meanwhile, Jenna got to know her new gynecologist Dr. Jim Pomatter, who made the whole situation more complicated. 

Joanna Ampil's eloquently expressive singing voice was so beautiful to hear live. She can make even the most monotonous-sounding song so vibrant with her subtle vocal nuances. Her best song number was undoubtedly "She Used to be Mine" in Act 2. This desperate song, in which Jenna sang about losing her sense of self given her life's unfortunate circumstances, is the highlight of the show, and its best known song. Hearing Ampil sing this profound song live is already worth the price of admission.

Everyone else in the cast had been given their own featured song number to shine. Bituin Escalante was so sassy as the outspoken Becky. Her song "I Didn't Mean It" was one of the first songs of Act 2, sung following a startling plot surprise, and her growly rendition stopped the show right there. Maronne Cruz played the bespectacled, sweet and virginal Dawn. She sung about her apprehensions about meeting a man in the neurotically amusing song "When He Sees Me."

George Schultz played Jenna's gruff, ne'er-do-well husband Earl. He expressed his insecurity about their coming baby, pleading with Jenna not to love the baby more than him, in the song "You Will Still Be Mine." Bibo Reyes played the young, handsome Dr. Pomatter, who could not resist Jenna's goodies despite the restrictions. The gentle duet   "You Matter to Me" was his best song, showcasing his falsetto range. 

Nino Alejandro played Dawn's chubby nerdy suitor Ogie and he dominated his scenes with his outrageous antics, and with sprightly songs like "Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me." Steven Conde as the curmudgeonly Joe also got to sing one song "Take It from an Old Man" in which he advised Jenna about life matters. Dean Rosen as the long-haired sarcastic diner manager Cal was the only one in the main cast without a solo song number.

The rest of the ensemble include Luigi Quesada, Gerhard Krysstopher, Luis Marcelo, Emeline Celis Guinid, Teetin Villanueva, Sarah Facuri, and Jillian Ita-as.

Director Bobby Garcia efficiently led his crew, both local (musical director Farley Asuncion, choreographer Cecile Martinez,  costume designer Raven Ong, hair and make-up artist Johann dela Fuente) and imported (set designer David Gallo, lighting designer Aaron Porter and sound designer Josh Millican) to bring us into a convincing slice of southern American life. 

Tony Award-winning scenic designer David Gallo's main set piece is of course Joe's Pie Diner with its rustic old-fashioned neon-lit outdoor sign and diner interior with the cushioned seats. The center section of the diner was a rotating section that shifted the scene from the counter to the kitchen. Various set pieces would be brought in and out to bring the scene to Jenna's house, Dr. Pomatter's clinic or the bus stop. 

Honestly, as a matter of personal beliefs, the aspect about extra-marital affairs did not completely sit well to me, even when sugar-coated. The situations could be uncomfortable to watch at times (maybe on purpose) and even verged on raunchy, albeit in a comedic way. Despite the seemingly wholesome impression it can give on first impression, this sensitive subject matter of this show is not exactly for young kids.

However, it was the winsome collective performance of the delightful lead triumvirate of waitresses (Ampil, Escalante and Cruz) that won me over. Their chemistry as friends was felt more sincere than their chemistry with their respective lovers. Furthermore, hearing Jenna's fanciful descriptions of the unique combinations of ingredients for each of her pies were so mouth-watering. (Too bad they were not selling pie samples in the lobby.) So come on in for a taste, the diner is open!


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"Waitress" runs from November 9 to December 2, 2018 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium 
4th Floor, RCBC Plaza, Ayala Ave., cor. Gil Puyat Ave. Makati City. Showtimes are 8pm from Fridays to Sundays, with 3pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices are from P4,000, P3,000 and P2,000. 


Friday, October 26, 2018

Recap and Videos of MARIAH CAREY Live in Manila 2018: Maturation of Mimi

October 27, 2018



Mariah Carey was one of the biggest pop divas of the 1990s. Her first five singles all reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first and so far the only star who had achieved that impressive feat. She went on to have 13 more #1 songs after those first five. Her singing style had greatly influenced a whole generation who had grown up hearing how she sang.

In 2003 as part of her Charmbracelet tour, Mariah Carey had a concert for the first time in Manila. This was held on an outdoor stage in an empty lot somewhere in the then bare and grassy Bonifacio Global City. She was still in her vocal prime back then, as this was held even before she did "We Belong Together" in 2005. 

After 13 years, Mariah is back to wow her Pinoy fans again, this time at the Araneta Coliseum. I confess that I am not so familiar anymore with any song of hers in the past 10 years after "Touch My Body" reached #1 in 2008, as she had not had any significant Hot 100 chart hits lately. However, I still decided to watch this concert because I was curious to hear how her patented 8-octave voice had stood the test of time. 

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Mariah fans came full force on October 26 at the Araneta Coliseum. The concert surprisingly began early, by about 8:30 pm. After the house lights were dimmed, images of purple butterflies started fluttering on the big screen, as strains of "Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise)" filled the air. When Mariah came out center stage wearing a glittering silver knee-length dress with deeply plunging neckline and long fringes, she greeted Manila and began to sing her 1997 #1 hit "Honey." (VIDEO). 



As early as this song, it was clear that the smooth as silk voice she was known for was not all there anymore. Her voice did not have the same light airy quality it was known for. She had choppier phrasing of the verses, and would cut off as the note went higher. During the chorus, she tended to sing harmony, while letting the backup singers sing melody.  

Throughout the upbeat song, she was just standing in one place while singing, while her four male backup dancers pranced around her. During the outro of the song, that was when Mariah let fly some of her famous whistles. Though these were just short notes for this song, the crowd went wild with appreciation, reassured somehow that she could still do them.

For her next song, she sang "Shake It Off" (#2, 2005). These newer songs were written and arranged to fit her more mature voice quality and she sang this song more relaxed and hit a full octave change for the final verse, for which the crowd cheered. She went old school for the next song, "Make It Happen" (#5, 1992) and again her choppy phrasing and lower notes were more evident, especially during those parts of the song where she was expected to be soaring high.


Shake It Off

While Mariah stepped out of the stage, the backup singers took to centerstage to render their version of "Dreamlover". Then we heard a familiar rap by Ol' Dirty Bastard to usher in Mariah, now wearing a body-hugging bright yellow long gown with a high slit on the right leg, singing "Fantasy" (#1, 1995) (VIDEO). Her vocals in this song actually sounded like the old Mariah we know. She sang in her higher register, her falsettos sounded solid. She can still do them acrobatics, but she was pacing her voice accordingly.

Her next songs were all crowd-favorites and every body was singing along to "Always Be My Baby" (#1, 1996) (VIDEO), "Vision of Love" (her first #1, 1990) (VIDEO) and "Emotions" (#1, 1991) (VIDEO). I appreciated that she still performed these vocally-challenging songs, even if she had to shift and play with lower notes and was ad-libbing liberally throughout. Yes, she was still able to do the run of whistles in the end of "Emotions," for which the crowd roared with gleeful approval.

Mariah stepped out again, while the male backup singer introduced himself and the rest of the singers and crew, by their names and their zodiac signs. I was surprised that he was actually Trez Lorenz, famously Mariah's duet partner in her live version of Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" (#1, 1992), and that he had remained loyal to sing behind Mariah all these years. 


One Sweet Day

Mariah stepped out wearing a white feathery long gown to sing "#Beautiful" (#15, 2013). Then she was joined on center stage by Trez Lorenz and other male singer to sing "One Sweet Day" (#1, 1996, with Boyz II Men) (VIDEO). Her next songs were "Can't Let Go" (#2, 1991) and her latest single "With You" from her upcoming album "Caution." The stage lights turned red for the next song, "My All" (#1, 1998) (VIDEO). Honestly, I was nervous for her while she was singing this difficult torch song, but she was able to coast through with her vocal improvising skills.

After another musical interlude with the dancers, Mariah came out in a shimmery long-sleeved golden gown to sing a series of upbeat songs: "I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time" (#58, 2008), followed by a medley of "Love Hangover" (Mariah's remake of a Diana Ross #1) and "Heartbreaker" (#1, 1999). Then she called in a Filipino fan from the audience named Mark, a proudly Pinoy Lamb, and serenaded him with, of all songs, "Touch My Body" (#1, 2008) (VIDEO). She ended the concert proper with her biggest hit on the Hot 100, "We Belong Together" (#1, 2005) (VIDEO).



Amidst raucous calls for an encore from the audience, Mariah returned onstage to sing one final song, "Hero" (#1, 1993) before she bid her fans farewell for now. No "Love Takes Time," "Through the Rain," "Can't Take That Away," or "Never Too Far", but of course, she can only sing so many songs in an hour and a half. The iconic voice that enchanted us in the 1990s may not be all there anymore, but the emotional impact and nostalgic appeal of her songs remained solidly intact up to now.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Review of Rep's RAPUNZEL! RAPUNZEL!: Hairy But Happy

October 24, 2018




Rapunzel is one of the more popular fairy tales published by the Brothers Grimm in the early 19th century. The story about a long-haired girl trapped in a tower had origins from earlier centuries from various cultures. More recently she had been brought back into the consciousness of the younger generation by animated feature "Tangled" (2010), where Disney put its own spin to the fairy tale.

For their annual offering for kids this year, Repertory Philippines chose to produce a 2013 musical theater interpretation of the Rapunzel's story for children with book, music and lyrics by constant writing partners Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. This show is being directed by no less than the founder and artistic director of the Repertory Theater for Younger Audiences herself, Ms. Joy Virata.


Oliver Roxas-Green's Matisse-inspired set

Rapunzel is a princess who had been locked away by her aunt Lady Zaza in a high tower located at the edge of a deep, dark, dismal forest since she was a child. A gallant knight Sir Roderick and his best friend, the flashy hair-stylist Edgar, embark on a quest to find and rescue Rapunzel before she turned 18 the next day. Will they succeed to restore her on the throne? Or will the evil Lady Zaza will achieve her ulterior motive to become queen?

In the show that I caught, Rapunzel was played by a teenager Alyssa Rosa, in her professional theater debut. Despite being only 18, her performance was sweet and confident in both areas of acting and singing. I believe further vocal training can make her higher range more solid. More stage experience can hone her comedy improvisation skills, prerequisites for actors who perform for children. (Cara Barredo, Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante, Justine Narciso and Ani Pearl Aquino alternate as Rapunzel.)


Everett, Borromeo, Rosa and Isidoro meet the kids after the show

Lady Zaza was played by the always fabulous Carla Guevara-Laforteza. The character had the big head of hair, a bombastic personality reminiscent of pop diva Lady Gaga as well as a beautiful magical jewel she wore as a pendant. Laforteza was a natural comedian and the kids loved her hilariously ruthless portrayal of the antagonist. In fact, she was the one who received the loudest cheers and applause from the kids during the curtain call. (Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante and Christine Flores alternate as Lady Zaza.)

Sir Roderick was played by Andres Borromeo, also in his first project with Rep. He gave the character an awkward dorkiness that the kids enjoyed. (Hans Eckstein and Jef Flores alternate as Roderick.) Edgar was played by Kenny Isidoro, only in his second Rep show after "Hair." He had the requisite flamboyance expected of someone who wore an elaborately coiffed red wig. (Steven Hotchkiss and Chino Veguillas alternate as Edgar.)

To keep watch over Rapunzel, Lady Zaza enchanted a dragon named Socrates by dousing his fire and cropping his wings. Arnel Carrion gave Socrates a friendly delightful demeanor, making him a most engaging narrator. (Jamie Wilson and Raymund Concepcion alternate as Socrates.) Lady Zaza gained her magical powers from a precious item she stole from a Gypsy Woman. This gypsy was played with quirky lovable-ness by Nathalie Everett. (Bituin Escalante and Cara Barredo alternate as the Gypsy Woman.)

Socrates leads the other forest creatures to greet the kids after the show

The highlight of the set (inspired by Henri Matisse) by Oliver Roxas-Green is Rapunzel's tower which had to be constructed in a way that actors could climb up it using her very thick and very very long blonde tresses. The sense of danger and mystery of the deep dark dismal forest was created by the lights by John Batalla. The fancy fantastic rainbow-colored costumes were designed by Raven Ong. His most remarkable piece was the very cute dragon costume worn by Socrates. The ballet spot numbers, purposely integrated into the story by Ms. Virata, was choreographed by PJ Rebullida.

The 25 years experience of Joy Virata in directing plays for children make her a beloved and respected local authority on the subject. Her actors did not only stay on stage, but had to go into the aisles among the kids in the audience to make them more excited and engaged in the story. There were several points when actors broke the fourth wall to ask help from the children about the predicaments their characters faced, which of course the kids were more than willing to do so. It was so much fun to see the children having fun.

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"Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale" runs at the Onstage Greenbelt One, Makati from September 15, 2018 to January 27, 2019, an incredible five month run. Check out show schedules on Ticketworld via this LINK. Tickets sold at P800 (Orchestra Center), P600 (Orchestra Sides) and P500 (Balcony).