Saturday, August 25, 2018

Review of PhilStagers' SUPREMO REDUX: Facts in Fantasy

August 25, 2018

Back in 2013, the PhilStagers staged "Bonifacio: Isang Sarswela" about the life and death of Andres Bonifacio. This year, they revisited the same basic material and repackaged it into a more modern package targeted mainly for the millennial audience and younger. Surveys had shown that many young people were not aware of the actual circumstances by which Bonifacio died. Atty. Vince Tanada, prime mover of the PhilStagers, decided that the story of Bonifacio deserved to be told and retold and that the lessons of history need to be heeded now, when the same culture of violence exists as well.

Bon's father was a soldier who died fighting in Marawi. The little boy was bitter that his father left him alone, and did not think of his death as anything heroic. Instead Bon was obsessed with his favorite superhero Super K, whose video game he played constantly on his tablet. By some miraculous glitch of fate, Bon got sucked into the videogame world where he met Super K face to face. 

Aguinaldo (Bautista), Bonifacio (Tanada) and Jacinto (Sadsad)
in their superhero mode

Super K revealed that he was Andres Bonifacio (with the power of air), and introduced Bon to his three best friends: Emilio Jacinto (with the power of water), Emilio Aguinaldo (with the power of fire) and Macario Sakay (with the power of earth). Bon also met the women who supported them: Melchora Aquino, Hilaria Aguinaldo and Bonifacio's wife Gregoria "Oryang" de Jesus. Together they formed the super group -- the Katipunan -- who will fight the evil forces of the Spanish conquerors. 

From there, Bon witnessed the election of Bonifacio as Supremo of the Katipunan, the Cry of Balintawak, how the bedraggled Bonifacio's group kept losing their battles while the financially well-supported Aguinaldo's group kept on winning, the scandalous Tejeros Convention of 1897 where Aguinaldo was voted President of the new Republic while Bonifacio was unceremoniously kicked out of position, Bonifacio's arrest in Indang, trial in Naic and brutal murder by hacking in Maragondon.

Bonifacio (Tanada) and Aguinaldo (Bautista)
in a critical confrontation

The innovation of this new play was the portrayal of our historical heroes as superheroes that the youth nowadays are crazy about, with those fantasy color-coded costumes (designed by Emy Tanada) with their respective head gear, weaponry based on the powers they possessed. The costumes of the Aguinaldo group were more elaborate and lavish, with red as its basic theme, to clearly contrast them over humble tank top and shorts, and later bloody rags, of the Bonifacio group. 

Tanada used modern street lingo in his script, boldly incorporating techie jargon obviously non-existent in the 1896 scenes. Pipo Cifra reworked his songs from "Bonifacio Isang Sarswela" into modern musical forms like rap, fliptop and hiphop (with updated lyrics by Tanada) to tell the story, with Gerald Magallanes choreographing the dances accordingly. The original sarswela form of music returned during the highly dramatic events in the latter half. The grand finale was a glorious representation of the Philippine flag by the actors and dancers in their red, white and blue costumes.

Oryang (Olmedo) and Andres (Tanada) share sweet nothings.

Writer-director Vince Tanada himself played Andres Bonifacio during the show we watched. His booming tenor was as potent and passionate as ever. His group included Kenneth Sadsad (as Jacinto), Chin Ortega (as Sakay) and Johnrey Rivas (as Procopio Bonifacio), who acted nobly as the good guys. Adelle Ibarrientos was a tall and regal Tandang Sora. Vean Olmedo, as Oryang, was quite good in the acting department. However, when she was singing, it was as if she was not hearing the accompanying music properly and was sadly off in timing and tune during the show we watched. Knowing Ms. Olmedo from previous times I had seen her perform, this issue was just a temporary setback from which she can recover in her future shows.

Miong (Bautista) and Hilaria (Bagtas) sing of love and passion.

Jomar Bautista was clearly relishing his role as Emilio Aguinaldo, with all the fancy costumes he got to wear, as superhero (with flashing red lights and that cool helmet) and as the historical figure (with those rich dress coats).  Cherry Bagtas had a riveting stage presence, not only because of her pretty face and ornate costumes, but that beautiful clear soprano voice of hers that sounded great -- even with the imperfect (often distorted) sound system of SM North Cinema 9, which drowned out weaker voices. 

The actors playing Aguinaldo's henchmen were fully committed to playing their antagonistic characters, led by OJ Bacor (as a flamboyant Mariano Noriel with an inexplicable Chinese accent), Gerald Magallanes (as Daniel Tirona, who famously protested that Bonifacio was not fit to be Director of the Interior), Chris Lim (as Baldomero Aguinaldo, Emilio's cousin) and Alex Baylon (as Jose Ignacio Paua, ironically Bonifacio's childhood friend).

A Red, White and Blue tribute to the Philippine Flag

The patriotic musical was done in true Stagers' spirit and appeal to the younger audiences. The lesson was clearly stated by Bon (Dean Rafols) at the end, who realized that there are indeed real-life heroes, like Bonifacio and his own father, who sacrifice their lives for our country. Whether the young people in the audience will indeed give up their video games on their gadgets and their obsession with the Marvel and DC comic heroes, that still remains to be seen. However, the story of Bonifacio's controversial death in the hands of fellow Filipinos and its disturbing parallel to current events are clearly delivered.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

TNT BOYS: Their 16 "Your Face Sounds Familiar Kids 2" Performances

August 19, 2018

The TNT Boys is a vocal group composed of three boys who were runners-up in the "Tawag ng Tanghalan Kids" Season 2 in 2017 on the ABS-CBN TV noontime program "Showtime". The three members are: Kiefer Sanchez (2nd Place), Mackie Empuerto (3rd Place) and Francis Concepcion (5th Place). They may not have won the competition that day, but together as a group they have now gained more fans (and worldwide fame) than champ Jhon Clyd Talili.  

They first gained widespread exposure on the late night comedy show "Gandang Gabi Vice" with their performance of Beyonce's song "Listen" (VIDEO). They have since then gone on to sing that same song in Little Big Shots UK (VIDEO) and US (VIDEO). Their version of Jessie J's "Flashlight" have also become viral, with a lot of international reaction videos. 

They became more popular with their adorable, funny and impressively accurate impersonations of popular international and local groups in the TV show "Your Face Sounds Familiar Kids" Season 2, which started airing last May 5, 2018. There had been concern expressed about their frequent portrayal of female singers on the show which also involved complete makeovers, dressing up in female clothes and shoes. Being at the sensitive adolescent stage, let's hope they can be guided accordingly to avoid gender confusion. 

On the Finals night on August 19, 2018, the TNT Boys were declared the Grand Champion with a total combined judges and public score of 100%!

These are the 16 performances of the TNT Boys on "Your Voice Sounds Familiar Kids 2":

Week 1     Bee Gees "Too Much Heaven"                                            
Order       Ogie   Sharon  Gary            Total               Rank
   1              6           6         5                 17                  3rd

Week 2 Apo Hiking Society "Mahirap Magmahal ng Syota ng Iba"
 Order       Ogie  Sharon  Gary            Total               Rank 
   2               7          4          8                19               2nd–3rd

Week 3     Salbakuta "S2pid Luv"
  Order      Ogie  Sharon  Nyoy/Jed     Total               Rank
   2               7          6              4            17                   4th

Week 4     Destiny's Child "Survivor"
Order      Ogie  Sharon  Nyoy/Jed       Total               Rank
2                 8          8             6              22                   1st


Week 5     Aegis "Sinta"
Order      Ogie  Sharon  Nyoy/Jed       Total               Rank
   1             7          4              4               5                4th–5th

Week 6     The Supremes "You Can't Hurry Love"
Order      Ogie  Sharon  Nyoy/Jed       Total               Rank
   2             8           6             7              21                  2nd

Week 7     Hagibis "Nanggigigil"
Order      Ogie  Sharon  Nyoy/Jed       Total               Rank
   2             4           4             5              13               4th–6th

Week 8  Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men "One Sweet Day"
Order      Ogie  Sharon  Nyoy/Jed       Total               Rank
   2             8          8              8              24                   1st

Week 9     Spice Girls "Spice Up Your Life"
Order      Ogie  Sharon  Nyoy/Jed       Total               Rank
   1             4          7              7              18               2nd–3rd

Week 10     VST & Co.      "Swing It Baby"
Order      Ogie  Sharon  Nyoy/Jed       Total               Rank
   3             4          4            7                15               4th–5th

Week 11     Do Re Mi "I Can"
Order      Ogie  Sharon    Nyoy            Total               Rank
   4             5          4            5                 14               3rd–6th

Week 12     The Three Tenors "’O sole mio"
Order      Ogie   Sharon    Nyoy            Total               Rank  
   2              4          5            5               14                   5th  

Week 13  Mýa, P!nk, Christina Aguilera "Lady Marmalade"
Order      Ogie   Sharon   Gary            Total               Rank  
     2            7         7     6               20             2nd

Week 14       Wonder Girls "Nobody"
Order      Ogie   Sharon   Gary            Total               Rank      
    2             7        7     4               18             2nd

Week 15   ABBA "Mamma Mia" (with Sam Shoaf)
Order      Ogie   Sharon   Gary            Total               Rank    
    2             8        7     8               23             1st

FINALS Jessie J, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj "Bang Bang"
Order      Judges Vote     Public Vote       Total               Rank
   2                 50%                 50%          100%               1st

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Review of Full House/RWM's ANG HULING EL BIMBO: Failing as Friends

August 11, 2018

There are three jukebox musicals concurrently running in Metro Manila this month. I had already seen two: "Rak of Aegis" Season 6 (featuring the songs of Aegis) and "Eto Na! Musikal nAPO" (featuring the songs of the Apo Hiking Society. These two shows played things light and breezy, even if the characters were experiencing difficulties. 

This third one opened last July 20 and had been playing to full house audiences for the past three weeks. I was only able to watch it today. Try as I did to avoid reading reviews before watching, I already got the idea that this was not going to be a happy musical. I expected darker tones from a musical like "Himala," but not a musical featuring songs of the local alternative rock icons of the 1990s, the Eraserheads. 

The very first thing we see on center stage was a dead body covered with newspapers. Then we see three men get summoned to a police station at the behest of city councilor Arturo Banlaoi (Jamie Wilson). These three were our main characters: overworked office clerk Emman (OJ Mariano), closet homosexual Anthony (Jon Santos) and playboy TV director Hector (Gian Magdangal) -- old college buddies who had since became estranged for the past twenty years after graduation.

We then see flashbacks of the three as young guys in UP Diliman.  They meet and get close to Joy (Tanya Manalang), who worked in her Tiya Dely's (Sheila Francisco) Toyang's Canteen where they hung out.. Young Emman (Boo Gabunada) she considered her elder brother. Young Anthony (Topper Fabregas) she considered her best friend. Young Hector (Bibo Reyes) she considered her boyfriend. The four friends went to Antipolo one night to enjoy the view -- a fateful road trip changed their friendship and their lives forever.

Boy, those initial reviews were not kidding. The tone of this musical was dark with all four letters in bold caps. Of course, the college flashbacks began with pleasant memories of the three boys watching the Oblation Run and the Lantern Parade, and Sundays at ROTC. However, Act 1 ended on a very scary, chilling note -- with the music turned way up (as indicated by a radio volume band being flashed in red light on the backdrop) to muffle the commotion being committed. I was shell-shocked during the intermission.

Act 2 dealt with the miserable relationships the three men had with the women in their lives. Mylene (Yanah Laurel) felt Emman was too obsessed with his work. Eleonor (Wenah Nagales) was frustrated with Anthony's disinterest in his marital obligations. Ima (Maronne Cruz) was impatient with Hector's reluctance to commit. Adult Joy (Menchu Lauchengco- Yulo) did whatever she can to survive. All these depressing stories came to a head in a morgue scene. So yes, this was really not a happy musical -- it was downright morbid.

Out of the six main songs in Act 1, I only knew three. "Tindahan ni Aling Nena" was an upbeat comic romp of the three young boys buying goods at their neighborhood stores all owned by a Nena. "Pare Ko" was transposed to a march rhythm which accompanied their ROTC drills with rifles.  My personal favorite E-head song "Alapaap" was sung with the four friends driving a beat up Mitsubishi Lancer -- glorious. 

Out of the six main songs in Act 2, I actually just knew two. "With a Smile" was given a downbeat mood sung during their graduation rites. But of course, the best was saved for last. I thought this final heartbreaking scene where the title song "Ang Huling El Bimbo" was performed was worth the price of admission on its own merit. It was absolutely the best-sung, best conceived and executed number of the whole show. A true showstopper indeed.

The show had very heavy themes, and my emotions are seriously taxed while watching the show. This show may not be for the very young, nor the very old -- they would not be able to relate.  Myke Salomon drew from his award-winning experience in "Rak of Aegis" to concoct this darker, thicker mixture of music. I thought I knew my Eraserheads songs, but I realized I did not know enough. Many songs I knew like "Ligaya," "Magasin," "Sembreak" and others were only heard in snippets. "Huwag Mo Nang Itanong" was used in an odd unexpected context. 

The singing talent by the cast was of course was faultless, as always, with Gian Magdangal, OJ Mariano and Sheila Francisco standing out acting-wise. It was great to finally hear Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo sing in Filipino. There were some actors who felt miscast in a physical sense, because of age or height, like Jon Santos being the older Topper Fabregas, who was much taller than him. The sound of the orchestra and the microphones was not too pleasant-sounding during the show I watched, having a rather shrill tinny sound quality. 

Red Atadero alternates in the role of young Hector. Martina MJ Paz plays Joy's daughter Liwanag. Vic Robinson emerged from the ensemble with his solo spot as Joy's boyfriend Andre. The rest of hardworking ensemble were Raymund Concepcion, Red Nuestro, Chino Veguillas, Stephen Vinas, Joshua Cabiladas, MC de la Cruz, Jim Andrew Ferrer, Jasper Jimenez, Gerhard Khrysstopher, Natasha Cabrera, Jillian Ita-as, Hazel Maranan, Kiara Dario, Jom Logdat, Alys Serdenia and Kakki Teodoro

Director Dexter M. Santos really took a very big risk in telling such gloomy stories in such a big stage and venue. This is not a show to enjoy, but a show to feel -- and it is not a good feeling. You may or may not like that feeling. (All the sold-out shows would suggest that a lot of people are liking it.) However, as with all other RWM shows before, the production value of the show was solid. The sets designed by Gino Gonzalez were built big to fill the huge stage of Newport. The mood was enhanced by the lighting design by Monino Duque and the 90s couture by Marlon Rivera. 

And to just to mention it again, by the time the truly magnificent "Ang Huling El Bimbo" number came along at the end, everything else that bothered you before it was forgiven. 


"Ang Huling El Bimbo" opened last July 20, 2018 and will run up to September 1, 2018 at the Newport Performing Arts Center in Resort World Manila, with 8 pm shows every Friday, Saturday and Sundays, and 3 pm matinees on most Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost P3,500 for SVIP, P3000 for VIP, P2,500 for Gold, P1,800 for Silver and P1,000 for Bronze.  A check of Ticketworld showed that all remaining shows only have limited seats left. 


UPDATE: APRIL 13, 2019

"Ang Huling El Bimbo" had a return engagement this year from March 1 to April 14, 2019. When I saw it again today, the unfolding of the story in the beginning was a lot clearer than in the previous time I saw it. I am not really sure if it was because I already knew the story from before, but it sure seemed like new lines were added to clarify matters at the very onset. The senior cast I saw was the same one I saw last year, with Gian Magdangal, OJ Mariano, Jon Santos and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo. (There was an alternate cast for this new run, with David Ezra, Myke Salomon, Rafa Siguion Reyna and Carla Guevara- Laforteza. Too bad I was able to catch their show this time, maybe the next run if ever.)

Bibo Reyes, Gab Pangilinan, Philip Palmos and Boo Gabunada
take a pic with Ely Buendia himself
(Photo from the show's FB page)

Bibo Reyes and Boo Gabunada still played young Hector and Emman, but there were two key replacements in the junior cast. Not to discredit Topper Fabregas and Tanya Manalang from last year, but Philip Palmos and Gab Pangilinan worked so much better in the roles of young Anthony and young Joy. Palmos looks like he can actually grow up to be Jon Santos, in both looks and demeanor. Pangilinan not only looked like a young Menchu Lauchengco, but she was able to project a more delicate vulnerability as she hits those very high notes. Pangilinan's sweet naivete as Young Joy won me over in Act 1 and her fate haunted me throughout the rest of the show and even afterwards. It was that strong of a performance  (The alternate cast featured original cast members Reb Atadero and Tanya Manalang, with newbies Nicco Manalo and Lance Reblando.)

The original cast recording CD was shockingly expensive at P700, but I decided to buy it anyway to closely hear (and re-hear) the fresh original musical rearrangements and mash-ups of the E-heads songs done by musical director Myke Salomon for this show. I played it in the car and sang along as much I could, all the way home.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Review of Globe Live/9 Works' ETO NA! MUSIKAL nAPO: Birth of a Band

August 3, 2018

It was 1975 at a university campus, where a group of close musician friends get together for the first day of school. They were very excited about a news article that a local record company was launching a nationwide singing and songwriting contest. However, when lyricist Rick, composer Sonny and playboy Butch have problems with their girlfriends and pre-med student Ray with his strict father, the other members of the band Jaime (the Fil-Am with crooked Tagalog), Donnie (the methodical one) and Bobby (the shortest one) step up to create and finalize their song for competition. 

The biggest attraction of this show is its music. The music of the Apo Hiking Society (Danny Javier, Jim Paredes and Boboy Garrovillo) was the soundtrack of Filipinos growing up in the 1970s to the 1990s. A couple of tribute albums were released in the first decade of the new millennium. Many of their songs became big hits on the radio and up to now, in karaoke machines. Except for three songs in Act 2, I knew all the other 20 big hit songs used in the context of the story in this musical. I have to admit that it was very hard to keep from singing along to these beloved songs of my youth. 

The Whole Gang 
(L-R: Villanueva, Bautista, Flores, Go, Abella, Javier and Blanche)

There were three love stories that make up the main bulk of the story. Rick's passion in writing song lyrics was already making his girlfriend Anna feel ignored, via the painful songs "Tuyo ng Damdamin" and "Nakapagtataka." Sonny was feeling insecure when his girlfriend Jane announced that her family was moving to the US, via songs "Show Me a Smile" and "Paano." Butch believed he had just met the "one" in pretty classmate Michelle, but she is in a relationship with campus basketball jock Barney. via songs "Mahirap Magmahal ng Syota ng Iba" and "Panalangin." All three pairs sing "Ewan" to close the first act, not knowing how their love stories would go.

Mark Bautista and Rita Daniela

Through the character of Ray, the story delved into two other types of drama kids in the 1970s went through. First was about the conflicts between young musicians and their parents about the practicality of a career in music, with the song "Batang Bata Ka Pa" conveying the sentiments on both sides. Even if several references to Marital Law (the curfew, the Metrocom, the community service, etc) were mentioned, the violent consequences of Martial Law would be highlighted in a most unexpectedly emotional rendition of the ballad "Pag-ibig." 

Alfritz Blanche and Marika Sasaki

Despite his distracting wig, pop star Mark Bautista was a natural playing the erstwhile leader of their gang, Rick. His solo rendition of "Di Na Natuto" was a highlight of Act 1. Big boy Alfritz Blanche had been in the ensemble in previous plays I had seen him in, but here he actually gets a major career break to play one of the romantic leads, Sonny, and pretty much nailed it in his own teddy-bear-like way. The biggest revelation of the cast was stage newcomer Jobim Javier (son of Apo Danny Javier himself) as Butch. The young Javier owned the stage with his innate swagger, comic timing, as well as his solid singing voice. 

Jobim Javier

Jon Phillip Go played the conflicted student Ray. His background is more of singer than as actor, but he got to figure in some pretty heavy scenes. He has a crystal clear tenor that stood out. Jef Flores, Jon Abella and Vyen Villanueva play the other three members of the band, mostly in the background in Act I, but will gain more stage time in Act II. All three of them got to show off their singing and dancing prowess as well.

Vyen Villanueva, Jon Abella and Jef Flores

Sab Jose (Michelle), Marika Sasaki (Jane), and especially Rita Daniela (Anna) were all given a song each for their singing voices to shine. Raul Montesa and Neomi Gonzales played Ray's parents (as well as teachers and other older characters). Montesa only had one solo song number but it packed a heavy punch. Gonzales played a sickly coughing mother character but with an ethereal voice (much like she also did in "Rak of Aegis").

Neomi Gonzales and Jon Phillip Go

The other members of the ensemble were Peachy Atilano- Guevara, Gian Gloria, Shalee Vicencio, Anton Posadas, Jourdan Bartolome and Derrick Gozos, who played the other students in the school, as well as the singing emcees of the TV show "Campus Cafeteria" (referencing "Student Canteen," perhaps?).

Set designer Joey Mendoza and costume designer Eric Pineda were careful with period details. In true 70s fashion, the boys mostly had long-hair, and wore bell-bottom jeans and colorful Nik-nik shirts with wide collars, buttoned only half way up. The script had a lot of local references about the 70s, from the Love Bus to Budji Wara. They joked about the travel time from Greenhills to Guadalupe or mall built during the "Thrilla in Manila." 

The Ensemble
(Atilano-Guevara, Batolome, Gozos, Gloria, Posadas, Vicencio)

Except for one very serious scene in Act 2 bathed in red light. the general mood of the show is youthful, light and breezy, set by songs like "Blue Jeans" and "Salawikain." It tends to be sentimental about friendship with songs about friendship, with songs like "Awit ng Barkada" and "Saan Na Nga Ba?"  The humor was generally wholesome, but there were also some naughty double entendre wisecracks or amusing raunchy antics, accompanied by songs like "Kabilugan ng Buwan" and "Yakap sa Dilim." 

Original Apos Jim Paredes and Boboy Garrovillo in the house last night!
(photo credit: Harry H.)

The show was directed by Robbie Guevara, who also wrote the book, with Jonjon Martin as dramaturg. (Act 2 may need some streamlining of the script to make the storytelling tighter.) The musical arrangements and orchestrations were by musical director Daniel Bartolome with Orly dela Cruz. (The finale medley had some awkward segues which may need some adjustments.) The story about friendship may have multi-generational appeal, but it will definitely connect more with people who grew up with the music of the Apo Hiking Society for whom this show is one major nostalgia trip. 


"Eto Na! Musikal nAPO" runs from August 3 - 26, 2018 at the MAYBANK PERFORMING ARTS THEATER in 26th St. corner 9th Ave. in Bonifacio Global City. Show times are 8 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are available on Ticketworld, prices range from ₱3,500, ₱3,000, ₱2,200 and ₱1,500.