Saturday, June 15, 2019

Review of Atlantis' BEAUTIFUL: A Composer's Chronicles

June 15, 2019

I know Carole King as the artist behind the phenomenal album "Tapestry" released in 1971. It was #1 on the Billboard Album chart for 15 weeks and stayed within the chart for the next 6 years. It won the Grammy Album of the Year in 1972, while its tracks "It's Too Late" won Record of the Year, "You've Got a Friend" won "Song of the Year." The double-sided hit single "It's Too Late/ I Feel the Earth Move" was #1 on the Hot 100 chart for 5 weeks.

This 2013 musical "Beautiful" followed Carole King's songwriting career 12 years before "Tapestry" when she was a precocious 16-year old auditioning her song in New York City. She met and fell in love at first sight with her lyricist Gerry Goffin in college and married right away within the same year. 

Nick Varricchio and Kayla Rivera as Gerry Goffin and Carole King
(photo from the Atlantis FB page)

The whole play was a literal jukebox musical -- just singing one song after the other like a variety show, with no effort in the writing of the book (by Douglas McGrath) to integrate the lyrics of the songs into the story or the dialogues. It was just a simple chronological chronicle of Carole King's career and the songs she wrote, at first with Gerry Goffin and later on her own. 

Carole and Gerry would sing a raw bit of the song first, then later we will hear the same song sung by the "recording artists" who made these songs popular hits, like the Drifters, the Shirelles and Little Eva. In between these song numbers, we would hear banter in the 1650 Broadway office about the song's performance in the charts and see episodes from Carole and Gerry's troubled marriage at their home or at a Vermont ski resort as the main dramatic conflict of the story. 

Also featured in the story were the career and romance of their contemporary songwriting rivals and supportive real-life friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Their own set of hits  competed with those of Carole and Gerry's on the charts, like "On Broadway" by the Drifters and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" by the Righteous Brothers.

Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante and George Schulze as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann
(photo from the Atlantis FB page)

Kayla Rivera played Carole King as a mousy, old-fashioned young woman who wore simple, even dowdy, clothes and hairstyles for most of the show. In Act 1, she often got overshadowed by the noisier, more colorful characters around her. It was only when she sings with that beautifully fluid voice of hers that she captures our full attention. This was especially true when she bloomed with confidence with her powerful Tapestry solos in Act 2, particularly "It's Too Late" and "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman." However, she was not yet convincing when she shadow-plays the piano, which was an integral instrument of Carole King's songwriting and performing career. 

Nick Varricchio (last seen on the local stage in the 2015 "Saturday Night Fever" Asian Tour) played the thankless role of Gerry Goffin, who despite co-writing some of Carole's best songs, also stole her best years away from her with his irresponsibility. Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante and George Schulze often steal their scenes as Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann as they have more snazzy costumes, more bombastic singing voices and funnier lines. Jaime Wilson (as songwriter manager Don Kirshner) and Carla Guevara-Laforteza (as Carole's mom Genie) lent effective support even if they did not get to do much singing.

Tim Pavino, Markus Mann, Arman Ferrer, and Jep Go sang, strutted and glided as the members of the Drifters. Among the four, for me it was Go who stood out with his solid solos in songs like "Up on the Roof" and "On Broadway." As the Righteous Brothers, Rhenwyn Gabalonzo wowed the audience with his rich deep baritone for Bill Medley's part in "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," with Ferrer providing the tenor harmony of Bobby Hatfield in similarly impressive fashion. This catchy duet had the best audience response of the night, ironic because it was NOT a Carole King composition. Dean Rosen (as Nick of the Bitter End nightclub) and Nelsito Gomez (as Neil Sedaka) played the other male ensemble roles.

Rhenwyn Gabalonzo and Arman Ferrer as the Righteous Brothers
(photo from the Atlantis FB page)

Gab Pangilinan was the elegant lead singer of the Shirelles who sang the first Goffin & King-penned #1 single "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" Teetin Villanueva was Carole's babysitter who was given the break to record the original version of "The Loco-Motion" as Little Eva, with its perky pink song and dance number. Jill Pena played the fictional temptress Janelle Woods who sang "One Fine Day" for Goffin & King, only to cause their domestic distress. Maronne Cruz (as Carole's BFF Betty), Gabby Pineda and Alex Reyes played the other female ensemble roles. 

Director Bobby Garcia again led a world-class team of artists and technicians to mount a Broadway-quality production to the stage of the Meralco Theater. Set designer Faust Peneyra used large panels of orange-hued geometric patterns (like those seen in silk ties from the 70s) to frame the stage, which worked well with the lights designed by Broadway's Aaron Porter (back after "Waitress" last year)

We were subtly led us through the evolution of popular culture from the late 50s to the early 70s, with the costume design of Raven Ong, the hair and makeup design by Leslie Espinosa and the joyful choreography of Cecile Martinez. Broadway sound designer Josh Millican (also back from "Waitress") worked hand-in-hand with musical director Farley Asuncion to create the perfect soundtrack to accompany the action on stage. The songs of Carole King were simply so infectious and familiar, you will sing along!

The innovative 45 vinyl record-inspired souvenir programme of Beautiful


"BEAUTIFUL:The Carole King Musical" runs from June 14 to July 7, 2019, with shows at 8 pm from Fridays to Sundays, with 2 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. The venue is the Meralco Theater in Pasig City. Tickets can be scored through Ticketworld, with prices range from P5,000 (orchestra center), P4,000 (orchestra sides and loge center), P2,500 (loge sides) and P1,500 (balcony center and sides). 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Review of Artist Playground's LARO: Interlocking Intimacies

June 1, 2019

"La Ronde" by Arthur Schnitzler was controversial from the get-go because of its sexually-charged subject matter. It took twenty years before a public performance was actually staged after it was privately published in 1900, and it still provoked scandalized public uproar. The play followed encounters of ten people -- the Whore, the Soldier, the Parlor Maid, the Young Gentleman, the Young Wife, the Husband, the Little Miss, the Poet, the Actress and the Count -- as one character was linked to another one in sequential scenes. 

Fifteen years ago, Floy Quintos adapted "La Ronde" into Filipino and transposed the setting into the gay underbelly of Manila. The characters have been changed accordingly as well -- Call Boy, Policeman, Drag Queen, User, Lover, the Ideal, Student, Writer, Model and Philanthropist. This Pride Month June 2019, Artists Playground had chosen to restage "Laro," under the direction of John Mark Yap, who also updated Quintos's script with some current references and details. 

Call Boy was accosted by the Policeman in the park after a raid. The Policemen flirted with the Drag Queen outside the bar. The Drag Queen went to the mall to shop with her User boyfriend. The User boyfriend met up with a Lover from an online chatroom. The Lover was feeling stifled by his Ideal partner. The Ideal met up with his boytoy Student at the basketball court. Student confessed his story to his Writer cousin. Writer interviewed the popular underwear Model. Model was toyed with by his Philanthropist sugar daddy. Philanthropist hired a Call Boy for short-time fling.

The topics of each conversation really ran the gamut of emotions experienced in such relationships -- from sleazy to serious, from silly to scary, from saucy to scandalous. Each scene will affect you differently. some having stronger impact than others. The scene where the Drag Queen was being abused by her User boyfriend was the most painful. That sordid scene of the Ideal and Student's basketball teammates felt the dirtiest. The smoke from characters vaping and the use of red lighting to highlight steamy scenes further gave the play a seedy atmosphere which may make viewers uninitiated in this GBTQ world very uncomfortable. 

Dela Cruz, Palmos, Paule and Miguel

AndrĂ© Miguel was a smiling playful Call Boy. Paul Jake Paule was a naughty corrupt Policeman (Pulis). Phi Palmos was a long-suffering martyr Drag Queen. Gio Gahol was a cold shameless User (Mangagamit). MC Dela Cruz was a reluctant curious Lover (Kalaguyo). Victor Sy was a perverse Alpha Male Ideal.  Ross Pesigan was a vulnerable naive Student (Estudyante). Vincent Pajara was a wry, pragmatic Writer (Manunulat). Jonathan Ivan Rivera was a muscle-bound dimwit Model (Modelo). Vincent De Jesus was a jaded, world-weary rich Philanthropist (Pilantropo). These actors all boldly bared their bodies and souls as they portrayed these wolves and lambs in this menagerie. 

Mike Liwag alternates as Manggagamit. Al Gatmaitan alternates as The Ideal. Jon Abella alternates as Manunulat. Jay Gonzaga alternates as Modelo. Players of Artist Playground, namely Aaron Dioquino, Dan Sheneill Solis, Robert Macaraeg, and Christian Silang, are the props men throughout the play, but also appear onstage as Students' teammates.  

The artistic team behind director John Mark Yap (in his directorial debut for a full-length play) include Io Balanon (set design), Nicolo Perez (costume design), Miggy Panganiban (lighting design), Arvy Dimaculangan (sound design) and JM Cabling (movement design).  

Sy, Pesigan, De Jesus, Rivera and Pajara


"LARO" runs for two weekends, June 1-2, and 8-9, 2019, with 3 pm and 7 pm shows. Venue is at Arts Above, West Venue Building (BIR), West Avenue, QC. Purchase tickets at only P600 each, either via or at the gate. Play lasts for approximately 2-1/2 hours, an hour plus per act with a 10-minute break.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Recap, Videos and Winners List GAWAD BUHAY AWARDS for 2018: "Himala," "APO" and "Dolls House 2" Lead Awardees!

May 29, 2019

The ceremony started almost 30 minutes past the supposed 8 pm schedule. Everyone was in high spirits. Emcees Carlo Orosa and Kakai Bautista opened the show with a new Gawad Buhay song "Buhay na Buhay ang Buhay," (music by EJ Yatco and lyrics by Freddie Santos) with Sweet Plantado, Ariel Reonal, Audie Gemora and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo singing along with them onstage. 

The theme of last night's ceremony was "Generations," so the presenters were two or more theater practitioners who began their craft a generation apart. Each one would share and compare notes about their own experiences. 

Carlo Orosa and Kakai Bautista emcee the event

Design Awards were given out first. Jamie Wilson and Goldie Soon presented the Sound award. Dennis Marasigan and Joseph Mattheu presented the Lighting award. Rep costume mistress Tess Andalaza and the flamboyant Tiara Misu (?) presented the Costume award. Mio Infante and Faust Peneyra presented the Set Design award. 

Outstanding Sound Design
Rards Corpus, “Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!” (9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live)
Rards Corpus, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” (Full House Theater Company)
Jethro Joaquin, “Silent Sky” (Repertory Philippines)
TJ Ramos, “‘night, Mother” (Philippine Educational Theater Association)

Outstanding Lighting Design
John Batalla, “Balag at Angud” (Tanghalang Pilipino)
John Batalla, “Silent Sky” (Repertory Philippines)
Monino Duque, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” (Full House Theater Company)
Miggy Panganiban, “Lungs” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)
Barbie Tan-Tiongco, “Himala: Isang Musikal” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)

Outstanding Costume Design
Joey Mendoza, “A Doll’s House, part 2” (Red Turnip Theater)
Joey Mendoza, “Silent Sky” (Repertory Philippines)
Raven Ong, “Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale” (Repertory Philippines)
Carlo Pagunaling, “Himala: Isang Musikal” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)
Eric Pineda, “Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!” (9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live)

Carlo Pagunaling

Outstanding Set Design
Jodee Aguillon, “Lungs” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)
Gino Gonzales, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” (Full House Theater Company)
Ed Lacson Jr., “Himala: Isang Musikal” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)
Joey Mendoza, “Silent Sky” (Repertory Philippines)
Ben Padero, “‘night, Mother” (Philippine Educational Theater Association)

Ed Lacson wins the first of his two awards tonight

Nanding Josef presented a song number from their nominated musical "Balag at Angud" featuring Paw Castillo and Bayang Barrios. 

Carlitos Siguion-Reyna and Bibeth Orteza

Husband and wife team Carlitos Siguion-Reyna and Bibeth Orteza presented the next awards for writing. 

Outstanding Translation or Adaptation
Ian Lomongo, “‘night, Mother” (Philippine Educational Theater Association)
Rody Vera, “Manila Notes” (Tanghalang Pilipino)

Outstanding Original Book
Robbie Guevara, “Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!” (9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live)

Robbie Guevara

Toff de Venecia and Vince de Jesus presented the song number of "Himala the Musical" featuring heart-rending vocal performances by Kakki Teodoro, Neomi Gonzalez, Bituin Escalante and lead actress Aicelle Santos. 

After a dance excerpt from the ballet "Giselle," Lisa Macuja and National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes presented the first Natatanging Gawad Award to ballet dancer and teacher Felicitas "Tita" Radaic. The award was received by her daughter.

Lisa Macuja and Alice Reyes

Dina Aquino and Stephen Vinas presented the award for Choreography. Sweet Plantado and EJ Yatco presented the award for Musical Direction. Roobak Valle and Missy Maramara presented the award for Stage Direction for a Play. Jaime del Mundo and Nelsito Gomez presented the award for Stage Direction for a Musical. 

Outstanding Choreography for a Play or Musical
PJ Rebullida, “Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!” (9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live)
Dexter Santos, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” (Full House Theater Company)

Dexter Santos

Outstanding Musical Direction
Daniel Bartolome, “Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!” (9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live)
Vincent de Jesus, “Himala: Isang Musikal” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)
Myke Salomon, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” (Full House Theater Company)

Outstanding Stage Direction for a Play

Oriza Hirata, “Manila Notes” (Tanghalang Pilipino)
Melvin Lee, “‘night, Mother” (Philippine Educational Theater Association)
Andrei Pamintuan, “Lungs” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)
Cris Villonco, “A Doll’s House, part 2” (Red Turnip Theater)
Joy Virata, “Silent Sky” (Repertory Philippines)

Cris Villonco wins for her directorial debut

Outstanding Stage Direction for a Musical
Robbie Guevara, “Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!” (9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live)
Ed Lacson Jr., “Himala: Isang Musikal” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)

Robbie Guevara and Boboy Garrovillo present the fun song and dance number of "Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!" featuring Neomi Gonzalez, Alfritz Blanche and Jobim Javier.

Ricky Davao and Jef Flores

Roselyn Perez and Justine Nicolas presented the award for Female Featured Performer in a Play. Jojo Atienza and Timmy Pavino presented the award for Best Ensemble for a Play. Adriana Agcaoili and Antonette Ong presented the award for Female Lead Performer in a Play. Ricky Davao and Jef Flores presented the award for Male Lead Performer in a Play.

Male Featured Performance in a Play
No nominations.

Female Featured Performance in a Play
Caisa Borromeo, “Silent Sky” (Repertory Philippines)
Sheila Francisco, “A Doll’s House, part 2” (Red Turnip Theater)
Sheila Francisco, “Silent Sky” (Repertory Philippines)
Issa Litton, “A Comedy of Tenors” (Repertory Philippines)
Elle Velasco, “Manila Notes” (Tanghalang Pilipino)

Shiela Francisco gave the night's most emotional speech

Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Play
“A Doll’s House, part 2” (Red Turnip Theater)
“Manila Notes” (Tanghalang Pilipino)
“Silent Sky” (Repertory Philippines)

Dennis Marasigan for the ensemble of Manila Notes

Female Lead Performance in a Play
Cathy Azanza-Dy, “Silent Sky” (Repertory Philippines)
Meann Espinosa, “Manila Notes” (Tanghalang Pilipino)
Sab Jose, “Lungs” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)
Sherry Lara, “‘night, Mother” (Philippine Educational Theater Association)
Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, “A Doll’s House, part 2” (Red Turnip Theater)

Ms. Sherry Lara

Male Lead Performance in a Play
Jake Cuenca, “Lungs” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)
Lorenz Martinez, “A Comedy of Tenors” (Repertory Philippines)
Gabs Santos, “Lungs” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)
Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, “A Doll’s House, part 2” (Red Turnip Theater)

Nanding Josef and CB Garrucho presented the second Natatanging Gawad Award of the night to Lutgardo "Gardy" Labad, an exponent of regional theater. Melvin Lee led a group of singers singing a medley of songs Mr. Labad composed. 

Mr. Gardy Labad

There was sexy modern dance performance by six ballet dancers accompanied by a soprano from the Philippine Opera Company. 

Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante presented the award for Female Featured Performer in a Musical with her feisty little daughter. Ariel Reonal and Reb Atadero presented the award for Male Featured Performer in a Musical. Liesl Batucan and JV Ibesate presented the award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical. 

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo presented the award for Female Lead Performer in a Musical with Caisa Borromeo, Yana Laurel and Cris Villonco. Rival leading men of the past Audie Gemora and Michael Williams and rival leading men of the present David Ezra and Arman Ferrer presented the award for Male Lead Performer in a Musical. 

Female Featured Performance in a Musical
Bituin Escalante, “Himala: Isang Musikal” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)
Sheila Francisco, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” (Full House Theater Company)
Neomi Gonzales, “Himala: Isang Musikal” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)
Carla Guevara Laforteza, “Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale” (Repertory Philippines)
Kakki Teodoro, “Himala: Isang Musikal” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)

Bituin Escalante

Male Featured Performance in a Musical
Jon Abella, “Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!” (9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live)
Steven Hotchkiss, “Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale” (Repertory Philippines)
Sandino Martin, “Himala: Isang Musikal” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)

Jon Abella

Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Musical
“Ang Huling El Bimbo” (Full House Theater Company)
“Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!” (9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live)
“Himala: Isang Musikal” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)

“Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale” (Repertory Philippines)

The winning ensemble of Himala

Female Lead Performance in a Musical
Tanya Manalang, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” (Full House Theater Company)
Aicelle Santos, “Himala: Isang Musikal” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)

Aicelle Santos

Male Lead Performance in a Musical
Reb Atadero, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” (Full House Theater Company)
Alfritz Blanche, “Eto Na, Musikal nAPO” (9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live)
Boo Gabunada, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” (Full House Theater Company)
Jobim Javier, “Eto Na, Musikal nAPO” (9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live)
Gian Magdangal, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” (Full House Theater Company)

Jobim Javier wins for his stage debut

The cast of "Ang Huling El Bimbo" presented a rousing medley of songs from the musical.

Gerald Santos, Joanna Ampil and Aicelle Santos

Joanna Ampil, Aicelle Santos and Gerald Santos presented the last set of awards. 

Outstanding Play – Original or Translation / Adaptation
“‘night, Mother” (Philippine Educational Theater Association)
“Manila Notes” (Tanghalang Pilipino)

Outstanding Production of Existing Material for a Play
“A Doll’s House, part 2” (Red Turnip Theater)
“Lungs” (The Sandbox Collective)
“Silent Sky” (Repertory Philippines)

Outstanding Production of Existing Material for a Musical
“Himala: Isang Musikal” (The Sandbox Collective / 9 Works Theatrical)

Outstanding Musical – Original or Translation / Adaptation
“Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!” (9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live)
“Ang Huling El Bimbo” (Full House Theater Company)

The final number of the night was a group song number by children and teens representing the next generation of theater artists. After running smoothly the whole show, a technical malfunction marred this final number. This delay caused the ceremonies to end past midnight already. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Review of Odeon Production's PAYONG THE MUSICAL: Pluvial Playlist

May 24, 2019

This musical was originally supposed to run from from March 27-29, 2019 within the University of Santo Tomas campus. However, the run was cancelled at the last minute. It was only this month that it finally pushed through at a different venue -- at the Girl Scouts of the Philippines Auditorium, located along Padre Faura, near Taft Avenue. It was my first time to watch a show there.

Ella was a salesgirl at the Sunshine Mall, where they aimed to serve customers with a sunny smile. She expecting her boyfriend of two years Alexander to propose marriage to her over dinner. However, her fervent wish never happened. To make things worse, her umbrella got stolen so she had to walk home in the pouring rain. Fortunately, Ervin passed by and stopped to offer Ella to share his umbrella with her all the way to her house. Such was the simple love story told by this OPM jukebox musical entitled "Payong." 

Immanuel Uykhilam (Alex) and Alexandra Mendoza (Ella)

The play started on a high note with the vivacious "Time In" by Yeng Constantino.  As expected, we hear songs which have rain and umbrellas in the lyrics, like "Sukob Na" by Aiza Seguerra, "Umaaraw, Umuulan" by Rivermaya, "Ulan" by Cueshe, and "Ambon" by Barbie Almabis. As this is a rom-com, there were love songs of course, like "Ikaw Pala" by Sugarfree and "Kilometro" by Sarah Geronimo. 

The student cast is very young and admittedly still rough around the edges, but the three lead actors delved sincerely into their roles. Alexandra Mendoza was perky and enthusiastic all the way through from beginning to end as Ella. Nico Orduna was an earnest romantic as Ervin, with a fluid tenor voice that fit best with the songs he was singing. Mendoza and Orduna had chemistry between them and their singing voices sounded good together in their duets. Immanuel Uykhilam was the insensitive rascal Alexander. It was rather confusing though when he also played a cellphone holdupper in another scene.

Nico Orduno (Nico) and Alexandra Mendoza (Ella)

The rest of the supporting cast were erratic and inconsistent with their acting and singing during this actual performance, as if this was still a rehearsal. There were a few memorable turns among them: Alexandra Vazquez as Ella's outspoken BFF Duchess singing Miss Ganda's "Payong," Filipino version of Rihanna's "Umbrella," Irish Marcos as the trampy other-woman Veronica singing Sarah G's "Ikot Ikot," and Shaina Dulay as the inexplicably dense English-speaking maid Innocencia, who got to sing Aegis' "Basang Basa ang Ulan."

The production values were simple and basic, understandable being a show by amateur students. There were sound issues that plagued this production like feedbacks and malfunctioning mics. The most unfortunate in this regard were the four actors who played the "parents" of Ella and Ervin, whose mics never worked properly at all, even after the 15-minute intermission. You can never hear clearly what they were saying or singing all throughout the show. There was supposed to be an interesting twist about the parents but that never got off because of these sound issues. 

The young student cast of "Payong"

Directed by Audric Abas with a book by Marlon Villoso and musical direction by Edward Paolo Talavera (who was conducting live musicians for the show), this story was told using Original Pilipino Music pop hit songs, all duly licensed by the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (FILSCAP). Save from a few upbeat songs, most of the chosen songs, being about rain and heartbreak, were on the slow burn side. While these were good songs individually, the predominant downbeat of these melancholy songs one after the other affected the mood and energy of the whole play, especially with the faulty sound system. 


"PAYONG" has the following show schedules: May 21: 7PM, May 23: 3PM, 7PM, May 25: 11AM, 3PM at 7PM and May 26: 8PM. Tickets are sold at the gate at P300 for the orchestra seats, with discounts for students. The venue is at the Girl Scouts of the Philippines Auditorium on Padre Faura St. near Taft Avenue in Ermita, Manila. For tickets, contact Kristen (09672416033) or Jason (09202408459) or message the Odeon Productions' Facebook Page.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Review of UP Dulaang Lab's ALEMBONG: Interclass Intercourse

May 19, 2019

It was the feast day of Sta. Clara in the town of Obando, and the whole town was out dancing.  Miss Julie went to the kitchen on her father's mansion to invite her father's driver Jun to go out and dance with her (with the unwilling consent of Jun's fiancee, the kitchen maid Crissing). Their conversations over beer after the dance led the two to get to know each other better, until some talk of naughty seduction ensued. One thing led to another, and before the night ended, what should not have happened happened.

The original "Miss Julie" was written in the Swedish language by playwright August Strindberg in 1888.  Since then, there had been translations in English as well as other languages. In 1967, Repertory Philippines' very first production was a Tagalog version adapted by Rolando Tinio. They famously performed it in front of only seven people in the audience. (Rep eventually only played English plays after that Filipino debut.)

The Filipino script used for this UP Dulaang Laboratoryo production was written by Eljay Castro Deldoc. It was not just a direct verbatim translation. He changed the title into "Alembong," a Filipino word that meant "flirt" or "coquette." He transposed the whole setting of the play from aristocratic Sweden to rural Obando, Bulacan. The Midsummer's Eve festival (feast of John the Baptist, June 24) in the original play was changed to the feast of Our Lady of Salambao (held every May 19 -- the exact date I watched this show). While Jean was a valet who knew French in the original, Jun was a driver who knew Spanish in this new local version. 

Jun kisses Miss Julie's shoe
Photo credit: Kuya So (from the FB page of Eljay Castro Deldoc)

The play was a sexually-charged social-commentary piece about clashing between the sexes and clashing between the social classes. With all the changes Deldoc made in the local adaptation, the time setting of the story could not readily be transported to the present digital age when sexual mores had changed more drastically, as pre-marital sex and conceiving out of wedlock are hardly considered scandalous anymore nowadays. However, an affair between a master and a servant could still raise quite a few eyebrows. 

Unlike the two other previous thesis productions I watched in the past month, this production of Miss Julie was thesis project of only one candidate, and that is Joshua Ade Valenzona for acting performance. His Jun was always dominant and in control from the start to end. He never really felt like he was ever beneath Miss Julie. Valenzona's sardonic attack on the role was quite different from the humble, apologetic way Colin Farrell portrayed the role in the first act of the 2014 Liv Ulmann movie version. Valenzona looked effortlessly charming most of the play, despite some flubbed lines and actions.

I had seen Chase Salazar two times before. First in 2014 in "Ang Nawalang Kapatid" (MY REVIEW) and then again in 2017 in "Sakuntala" (MY REVIEW), so this is the first time I had seen her not wearing tribal costumes. But in any case, she was really a very confident performer in the title role of Miss Julie, with her disturbed, damaged psyche in Act 1 and all those erratic idiosyncratic defenses breaking down in Act 2. Ajee Garcia as Crissing was usually seen just fussing around in her kitchen or off stage sleeping. But come Act 2, she was able to nail her showcase moment when she confronted Miss Julie and Jun and gave them a piece of her mind. Crissing's attitude of steadfast respect is one of those attributes rarely seen in employees these days. 

Ajee Salazar, Joshua Ade Valenzona and Chase Salazar
take their triumphant bow

This production was directed by Mara Marasigan. Ricardo Magno was the co-director and was also responsible for the sensual ritualistic choreography of Miss Julie and the girls wearing chemises (Nicole Andrea Villanueva, Marjeorie Peleno, Janna Gerald Cortes, Margarita Lugue, Jasmine Velasco). Hershee Tantiado designed costumes evoking the fashion of pre-war Philippines. Jun's costume had unusual green patches seen on his shirt and undershirt. I do not know what these meant exactly, but they were interesting details. 

Ohm David's innovative set design of the kitchen had those multiple individually-standing tall wooden newel posts (usually seen in bannisters of stairs in old stone houses) serving as the walls giving the stage a wider dimension of space. This illusion of space (and the mysterious dancing ensemble) was enhanced by the lighting design by Jethro Dibaten. The sound design was care of Jack Alvero

Saturday, May 18, 2019


May 18, 2019

This final week is the only week I was able to catch of the Philippine Stagers Foundation yearly Theater Festival. This festival had been held every summer since 2009 as the culminating activity of their month-long free theater workshop. Like previous years, the Stagers are expected to take daring risks and push boundaries in their experimental plays.

The first play this afternoon was JP Lopez's "I Didith Show" (PSF Theater Festival first prize 2014) as performed by the all-student cast. The second play performed was Chin Ortega's  "Ang Babaeng Naka-itum" (PSF Theater Festival first prize 2018) still featuring star turns by Cindy Liper and Arian Golondrina. I appreciated the story of "Babae" so much better this second time around.

There were three plays in competition played this day. All three plays were directed by Atty. Vincent Tanada himself, as always. In their tradition to be become all-around theater artists, Stagers also took charge of backstage matters even if they were also performing on stage -- namely, stage manager Johnrey Rivas and production manager OJ Bacor. The lights were handled by John Paul Santos, while the sounds were mixed by Ean Flores. The set designs were by Atty. Vince Tanada and Johnrey Rivas. 


The first play in competition staged this day was Chin Ortega's NUNAL. This play told about a make-believe situation when Superstar Ms. Nora Aunor had passed away because of a self-inflicted accident. During her public wake, loyal Nora fanatics Flor (an OFW from Singapore) and Elsa (short for Eliseo, Flor's trans eldest brother) meet after being estranged for several years. Aside from their tense reunion, they were also vying for a chance to win a gold necklace bearing an important relic from the superstar -- her mole. 

Elsa (Gabrentina), Ian (Rafols) and Flor (Nacional)

This was certainly a hilarious play especially for the fans of Nora Aunor, as this is a play about their religious-level veneration of their screen idol. Attentive viewers can surely identify all the references to La Aunor's extensive filmography, as her film titles, character names, hit songs and memorable lines were mentioned within the deliciously witty lines of dialogue. Significant people in Nora's family and career were also woven in, with arch-rival Vilma Santos getting very special citations. 

Magallanes in one of his wacky characters in this play

Actors Glory Ann Nacional (as Flor, as in "Flor Contemplacion") and Art Gabrentina (as Elsa, as in the visionary in "Himala") went to town with their over-the-top interpretations of Nora's signature line delivery, complete with stifled crying and emotional eyes acting. Gerald Magallanes also went all out with his multiple characters, from a TV reporter to a vivacious lawyer, but mainly an over-eager housegirl named Nelia (from her character in "Atsay"). Child actor Dean Rafols completes the cast as the Flor's son Ian (of course from the name of Kristoffer Ian de Leon, Nora's real life son.)


The second play in competition was OJ Bacor's AKI-ARI. The story was about the intertwined sexual relationships among three neighbors, namely Aki (an unselfish transgender), Haruki (with a prostate fetish) and Zenki (a brazen exhibitionist), as narrated by Aki's male member. The plot may have been a simple love triangle among three men, but the way the story was told went way beyond the ordinary. 

Aki (Bacor), Daquioag (Haruki) and Zenki (Galut)

This play was given a Japanese Noh drama treatment, elevating the stage artistry of the sensitive, potentially scandalous, subject matter.  The narrative was mainly fueled by the philosophical musings of Aki's member detailing how his master went along with his sexual affairs. The proverbial envelope for stage decency was pushed to the ultimate limits here, as it already straddled the borderline between high art and pornography, but never exceeding. 

The Phallic Narrator (Martinez)

Being bold in subject and treatment, the audience was enraptured into silence during the play. The three actors who played Aki (OJ Bacor), Haruki (Gian Daquioag) and Zenki (Peter Galut) were all very courageous to literally bare their vulnerabilities, trusting only translucent white curtains and skillful lighting design to protect their modesty. In the middle of the stage the whole time was this figure in brown wearing an oversized helmet on his head (Brent Martinez). This phallic character could have been silly or comic, yet the writing and direction saved it from being so.


The third play in competition was Patrick Libao's GEMETZEL. I had to look up what this title meant, and it turned out to be a German word for " butchery, massacre, bloodbath, carnage, slaughter." In his introduction, Libao called his piece shock theater, and warned that it was going to be ugly and gory. The people seated in the front row were even given a long piece of black cloth to protect their clothing from fluids that may gush out at them during the course of the play. 

The Butcher (Ortega) and Agatha (Esperida)

It was after World War II in a remote village in Germany. The former inn called Otel Muller was now better known as an abattoir. It was being managed by an elderly Jewish butcher and his ward, a girl named Agatha, who served as his maidservant. One day, Otek, a young gentleman from Berlin, came in to check into the inn. Meanwhile, Agatha saw him as a chance to escape her wretched existence. 

Otek (Rivas) and the Butcher (Ortega)

The pacing of this play started out very slow as it described the melancholy and hunger that enveloped that time period, with the bitter butcher (Chin Ortega) and his miserable maid (Marina Esperida) on the brink of insanity because of their intense suffering under the Nazi Third Reich. However, the action picked up when the dashing guest (Johnrey Rivas) arrived at their doorstep. The breathtaking climax was a grisly, gut-wrenching, action-packed Grand Guignol affair which had the whole audience screaming with excitement.