Sunday, September 22, 2019

Review of DUP's THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA: Overarching Oppression

September 20, 2019

"The House of Bernarda Alba" was play written in 1936. It was the last play by acclaimed Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. Just two months after it was written, Lorca himself would be a victim during the oppressive Spanish Civil War, as his body disappeared without a trace. 

Dulaang UP has chosen this play about oppression as its opening show for its 44th season themed "Daluhong" (or "Assault"). The English translation I watched yesterday was done by Daisy Lopez. There is also a Filipino translation done by former DUP artistic director Alexander C. Cortez, who is also the director of this production.

The second husband of 60 year-old Bernarda Alba had just passed away. Ever the demanding matriarch, Bernarda ordered her five daughters aged 39 to 20 to confine themselves to their house for the next eight years, and do nothing else but tend to their sewing. Because of this oppressive atmosphere, the seeds of rebellion were sown among the sisters. However, when sibling rivalry arose because of a man, the pressures reach an explosive boiling point right inside their house.

The eldest daughter was Angustia, Bernarda's daughter from her first husband. Because she had an inheritance from her departed father, Angustia had money on her own. However, all the daughters from the second husband were receiving practically nothing from their recently departed father. This made Angustia feel superior over her half-sisters, hence the conflict that existed among them. 

Tensions among the sisters rose further when Angustia got engaged to be married to a very eligible bachelor, Pepe El Romano. Unfortunately, this dashing young man also fanned obsessive desire among the two youngest sisters, Martirio and Adela. The beginnings of this dangerous rivalry had long been noticed by the observant head servant Poncia, who did not hesitate to express her concerns to Bernarda, but to no avail. 

Frances Makil-Ignacio seems born to play tough domineering women like Bernarda. In practically all the plays I saw her in, she wore the pants and had the last say. Sarina Sasaki really projected mousy and bespectacled Martirio's unbridled jealousy. Maxine Ignacio was rabidly crazy in love as Adela. Stella Canete-Mendoza was riveting as the frankly intrusive majordoma Poncia, a wicked presence and performance that drew attention to her.

For the other members of the cast, they were Liway Gabo (who could have been more self-centered as Angustias), Iris Montesclaros (as sleep-deprived Magdalena), Mikaella Coruña (as lesbian-ish Amelia), Lei Ann Quinquillera (as Servant), Bea Racoma (as the family friend Prudencia) and the ever-flamboyant Rica Nepomuceno (as the demented grandmother Maria Josefa). Marga Luge, Marjeorie Peleño, Ana Lumain, Jeremy Cabansag, and Ani Africa complete the ensemble. 

For the Filipino shows, Bernarda Alba was played by Gigi Escalante. The rest of the cast are: Sheryl Ceasico (Poncia), Ronnie Martinez (Maria Josefa), Opaline Santos (Angustias), Gel Basa (Magdelena), Camille Abaya (as Amelia) and Jacqui Amper (Servant). Sarina Sasaki, Maxine Ignacio and Bea Racoma play Martirio, Adela and Prudencia respectively in both versions. Hearing how the English lines were written, I feel the impact would sound stronger in the Filipino version. I hope I can still get to see that. 

Main characters in white at the curtain call: L-R
Lei Ann Quinquillera, Stella Canete-Mendoza, Frances Makil-Ignacio,
Rica Nepomuceno, Maxine Ignacio, Sarina Sasaki, Liway Gabo. 

Under the unifying vision of Alexander C. Cortez, Gino Gonzales created an open space center stage, with the dusty religious iconography occupying a second tier on the drab back walls overlooking the action, adding to the confined claustrophobic feel of the stage. D. Cortezano's lighting design mainly created drama by light beams shining through wooden jalousies right under the ceiling all around the house. The music of Katz Jakosalem Trangco was mostly quiet and unobstrusive, but just adequate to build and keep the mood. The sound design of Jethro Joaquin was essential here to establish the townspeople, the horses and all the other things which were happening off stage. 

This play was populated only by women characters, some strong over-the-top types at that. Names of male characters mentioned but we never see them on stage. This was a play about women of different ages, but written by a man. I wonder how women would view this type of play where a male playwright assumes he knew what thoughts and emotions lay inside a woman's mind when it comes to their relationships with their mothers, daughters, sisters or the men they loved. Poncia's sarcastic line about bitter unmarried women was particularly memorable in a caustic way. Nevertheless, for all its heady, stifling estrogenic melodrama, the cautionary message against the tragic consequences of oppressive authority in general is delivered clearly.


"The House of Bernarda Alba" runs from September 6 - 29, 2019 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, Palma Hall, UP Diliman. The remaining English shows play on Sept. 27 - 7pm, Sept. 28 - 7pm and Sept. 29 - 3pm. The remaining Filipino version "Ang Tahanan ni Bernarda Alba" shows play on Sept. 28 - 3pm and Sept. 29 - 7pm. You can buy tickets securely through Ticket2Me. Show has three acts, and runs for 2 hours, with a 10 minute intermission between Acts 2 and 3. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019


September 21, 2019

The first star-studded "S>O>A>P> Opera ng Buhay Ko" fund-raising event happened last August 26, 2015.  Subtitled "The Concert: Voices of Healing," it was held at the then brand new Marriott Grand Ballroom. Accompanied by  the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Gerard Salonga, the performers that night were Ryan Cayabyab, Jed Madela, Vice Ganda, Mark Bautista, Cris Villonco, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Bituin Escalante, Pinky Marquez, Franco Laurel, The Tux, Caisa Borromeo, Baihana and Ms. Lea Salonga. The overall chair of that project was Dr. Melfred Hernandez

This year, Dr. Hernandez again took on the challenge for the second edition of S>O>A>P> as its Overall Chair to raise funds for the 11-storey Medical Science Building to replace the damaged old BSLR rooms where many batches of UP Med students began their journey attending lectures of Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Pathology, Pharmacology and other basic science subjects.  This second concert was held today September 21, 2019, at the Philippine International Convention Center Reception Hall.

Emcee and performer Franco Laurel

The ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra returned to provide the live musical accompaniment for the concert, this time under the baton of Maestro Jonathan Velasco. The master of ceremonies was Franco Laurel who gave the introductory spiel about this event celebrating the music and songs of National Artist for Music and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Ryan Cayabyab. He then introduced the first performer of the night -- "The Wonderful Choir" composed of members of the Ateneo Chamber Singers and the Mass Appeal Choir. They sang their choral version of "Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka." 

Tim Pavino

That song was just the first of a series of Ryan Cayabyab songs originally sung by Basil Valdez. The first solo performer was "Miong" himself Tim Pavino, who sang his take on "Iduyan Mo."  He then introduced the next singer, who was Kapuso star Yasmien Kurdi who sang "Tunay na Ligaya" as a duet with Franco Laurel. Laurel remained on stage to render his version of "Paraisong Parisukat." 

Cris Villonco

The next singer was multi-awarded theater actress Cris Villonco, who sang a theatrical version of "Limang Dipang Tao," a song which first came out in Cayabyab's ground-breaking solo a capella album "One." Villonco surprised everyone by introducing Heneral Luna himself John Arcilla as the next performer. He sang "Hindi Simple ang Buhay," (VIDEO) a song sung by Robert Arevalo in the film version of "Larawan." 

Arman Ferrer

Up and coming theater leading man Arman Ferrer took the stage next and regaled the audience with his operatic tenor in the religious song "Gloria"  from Mr. C's  "Misa" (2000). He followed this up with a solid show-stopping performance of "Sometime, Somewhere," (VIDEO) bringing to heights the original by Basil Valdez never went. Even when he was still sustaining his final note, some members of the audience were already up on their feet giving him a standing ovation. 

Ima Castro came out to sing "Hello Joe Goodbye," the theme from the Tetchie Agbayani film "Desire" (Eddie Romero, 1982) originally sung by  Deborah Mayfield. 

Rachel Alejandro

The next set of songs were from musicals written by Cayabyab. First up was "Katy!" Franco Laurel and Tim Pavino sang "Ang Entablado ay Mundo." Cris Go (daughter of a UPCM alumnus) sang "Pahiram ng Kanta." The vivacious Pinky Marquez sang the enegetic "Aba, ba, ba, Boogie." Marquez then called Rachel Alejandro out on stage to sing the popular dramatic duet "Minsan ang Minahal Mo ay Ako" (VIDEO) together with her. Alejandro stayed on to sing "Halik ng Kahapon," (VIDEO) which she originated in the musical "Alikabok."

There was a short video interlude that told the history of the UP College of Medicine and the Philippine General Hospital in rare nostalgic photographs. 


The concert continued with the jazzy female vocal trio Baihana (composed of Krina Cayabyab, Melinda Torre and Ana Achacoso-Graham) who gave an innovative spin to the song "Mamang Kutsero" (again a Ryan Cayabyab original from "One"). Pinoy R&B Soul diva Jaya came out to sing "Kahit Ika'y Panaginip Lang" (again originally by Basil Valdez). The Ryan Cayabyab Singers again revved up the energy by singing "Hibang sa Awit" in perfect harmony as they're well-known for.

Ryan Cayabyab Singers

The effortless vocal gymnastics of Jed Madela was next in songs like "How Can I" (VIDEO) (originally by Martin Nievera) and "Iniibig Kita" (recorded by James Coronel in 1994, and used as the wedding march at the Alcasid-Velasquez nuptials in 2010). Madela ended his set with the Christmas song "Munting Sanggol," backed by voices of the Wonderful Choir. 

Jed Madela

SOAP overall chair (and also chair of the Chancellor's Committee on Culture and the Arts) Dr. Melfred Hernandez took the stage to introduce a video which gave us a more intimate picture of tonight's honoree Mr. Ryan Cayabyab. The video showed Cayabyab's humility as a musician and generosity as a mentor were very impressive indeed. He also believed that the next wave of Filipino music will come from Visayas and Mindanao. 

SOAP Chair Dr. Melfred Hernandez

This was followed by a short video featuring UPCM Dean Dr. Charlotte Chiong, who talked about the thrusts of the UP College of Medicine -- infrastructure, science and discovery, partnership, innovation and leadership, resourcefulness and empowerment (forming the acronym INSPIRE).

The most-awaited guest singer was saved for last -- Ms. Lea Salonga began her set singing "Nais Ko" (VIDEO), originally by, you guessed it, Basil Valdez. Her next song was a Kuh Ledesma original from the musical "Rama Hari" entitled "Magbalik Ka Na Mahal" (VIDEO). She then called Mr. C up on stage to play the keyboard for her in her next song -- the Smokey Mountain love song "Kailan"  (VIDEO). Her final song was "We Win As One," (VIDEO) the stirring anthem Ryan Cayabyab wrote for the upcoming Southeast Asian Games." Lea Salonga's voice is undoubtedly a national treasure

Lea Salonga

Finally, everyone in the show gathered back together on stage to sing the finale number -- "Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika" -- the song that first put Ryan Cayabyab on the road to his now legendary musical career and life. The song always perfectly summed up the beauty of original Filipino music that Mr. C always espoused throughout his life. They sang two more songs after that -- a patriotic song "O Bayan Ko" (VIDEO) and a Christmas song "Kumukutikutitap" before calling it a musical night to remember. 

Congratulations to Dr. Melfred Hernandez, his team, all the organizers and the performers for a successful benefit show! Looking forward to seeing the new Medical Sciences Building at my alma mater soonest.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Review of Upstart's COMPANY: Sondheim's Social Sensibilities

September 15, 2019

There are three Stephen Sondheim musicals in the local theater scene now. There is his 1994 musical "Passion" presented by the Philippine Opera Company, and coming up in October is his 1979 dark masterpiece "Sweeney Todd" to be presented by Atlantis. In contrast to those two period pieces, this show "Company" staged by Upstart is Sondheim's 1970 musical about the social mores of New Yorkers contemporary to that time. 

Bobby is celebrating his 35th birthday. His friends, all couples either married or living in, throw a party for him. From that framing device, the show would go into vignettes of Bobby visiting each of these couples (Harry and Sarah, Peter and Susan, David and Jenny, Paul and Amy and Joanne and Larry) and getting insights from them about marriage. We will also meet the three ladies with whom Bobby had romantic affairs.

OJ Mariano held his ground as the central character of the show Bobby, a man in his mid-thirties who still grappled with commitment issues as all his friends were all already married or engaged. His male friends all envied his freedom, as he looked for that perfect girl who had the best qualities of his female friends, Mariano was able to project that smooth bachelor vibe and spirit. Bobby's final anthem "Being Alive" is one of my favorite songs of all time, and the main reason why I went to watch this show. Seeing it sung by Mariano in its proper context made the hefty ticket price worth it.

Finale Ultimo
(photo credit: Phil Fernando)

Joel Trinidad and Sweet Plantado-Tiongson played Harry and Sarah, who could not discipline themselves from their addictions. Ariel Reonal and Nicki Trivino played Peter and Susan, who seemed to have it all but with surprising plans. Chino Veguillas and Bianca Lopez played David and Jenny, seemingly mismatched but fit perfectly. James Uy and Cathy Azanza-Uy played Paul and Amy, long engaged but still with wedding jitters. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Michael Williams played Joanne and Larry, all jaded with their wealth and age. Of Bobby's three girlfriends, Maronne Cruz played the kittenish April, Jill Pena played the reserved Kathy and Caisa Borromeo played the bohemian Marta. 

There were three particularly memorable performances from this all-star ensemble. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo got to sing that acerbic and judgmental song "Ladies Who Lunch" and infused it with explosive drunken angst. Cathy Azanza-Dy was cheerful and bubbly even as she plowed through the tongue-twisting monster of a song "(Not) Getting Married Today" which also featured the soaring soprano of Bianca Lopez (of the Phil. Madrigal Singers). Maronne Cruz also stood out as the dim-witted stewardess April as her slinky and sexy voice and moves to seduce Bobby surely made temperatures rise in that auditorium. 

The cast at the curtain call
(photo credit: Phil Fernando)

Director Topper Fabregas decided to strip everything down to basics, so the audience can just focus on the actors and the material. The presentation area of the Maybank Performing Arts Theater was rearranged so that there is a central elevated stage (designed by Joey Mendoza) and the audience are seated all around it. This meant there were actors who may have their backs to you in certain scenes, not always easy to follow. There were no furniture on the stage except benches which the actors pushed around to fit the scene. Musical director Rony Fortich led the musicians to play the score live, which is always a good thing, especially for a Sondheim musical.

Based on my personal experience here, I think where you are seated will affect how well you hear the words. The Tony award-winning witty dialogue (by George Furth) and song lyrics (by Sondheim) are the prime meat of this show, so it felt bad that I could not grasp all of them properly from where I was seated in seat 1 of row D in the balcony. (I just walked in to buy a ticket just before the show began and I guess that was the best they could give me in that section at that time.) I can see the show pretty well which was fine, but unfortunately I cannot hear everything that well the whole time. 


"COMPANY" runs only for two weekends, from September 13 to 22, 2019 at the Maybank Performance Arts Center in Bonifacio Global City. Show times are 8 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are sold at ₱3,500, ₱3,100, ₱2,500, ₱1,800 and ₱1,500. The show runs almost three hours long with a 15 minute intermission.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Review of POC's PASSION: Obsequious Obsession

September 15, 2019

I had seen Stephen Sondheim's "Passion" back in 1996 with Menchu Lauchengco in the lead role as Fosca, Michael Williams as Giorgio and Gia Macuja as Clara. I remembered that I liked it and the beautiful but rather somber songs, but I cannot entirely recall all the details of the story anymore. This year, for their 20th anniversary, the Philippine Opera Company decided to stage "Passion" again. This is actually the first full production of the POC that I had seen.

"Passion" tells the story of a love triangle set in the late 1800s with handsome gallant soldier Capt. Giorgio Bachetti caught between his lustful beautiful paramour Clara, and his obsessively infatuated homely hostess Fosca. Sondheim created a situation which began to be apparently so clear cut. However, he gave it a twisty development of events which will keep the audience entranced as the unconventional love affairs unfold onstage.

Sondheim told the story with challenging songs rich in melody and romance. The first song "Happiness" was sung by a barely-dressed Giorgio and Clara while making love in bed, quite a bold manner to start a show with. In "Loving You," Fosca declares to Giorgio that her love for him was so strong that she was willing to die for him, a kind of love that the young man cannot yet grasp. It is easy to understand why this was the best-known and best-loved song from this show.

Giorgio and Fosca
(photo from FB page of Karla Gutierrez)

It was as if I was watching the show for the first time. I did not realize there was so much dark humor, not only among the comic soldiers, but in the lines of Fosca herself, which I found very surprising. I remembered Fosca to be desperate, but not as insidiously manipulative as Shiela Valderrama-Martinez portrayed her last night. Her heavenly singing voice was beautifully radiant, shining though the severely deglamorizing make-up and drab gowns she had on. On her 25th anniversary in show business, Valderrama-Martinez is the theater star of the season, and this Fosca of hers is a high point in her career.

Vien King makes his leading man debut as Giorgio. At first, King seemed too young to be the heroic Capt. Giorgio. Because of his youthful countenance, Giorgio's dalliances with Clara and Fosca looked like May-December affairs, which gave these liaisons another layer of danger and recklessness. This relative youth of King's Giorgio actually worked in the show's favor, since it gave context to the decisions Giorgio made, which may be puzzling if made by a more mature man. His singing was solid throughout, showcased in songs like "Is This What You Call Love?" That scene when Giorgio had his confused epiphany was a major acting moment for King that drew spontaneous applause from the audience. 

With her Caucasian features and colorful costumes, Jasmine Fitzgerald was a standout beauteous vision onstage as Clara. Her clear soprano vocals completed the total package. Lorenz Martinez played a key role as Fosca's compassionate physician, Dr. Tambourri. Raul Montesa was solid presence in his role as Fosca's cousin and guardian Col. Ricci. Noel Rayos stole his scenes as the funny Lt. Toraso, along with the Timothy Racho as the cook Sgt. Lombardi. Jonel Mojica, Jos Jalbuena, Lorenzo Mendoza, Vyen Villanueva, Joshua Rex Cheng, Lorraine Lisen and Jasmin Salvo complete the ensemble. 

The cast of Passion at their curtain call
(L-R: Lorenz Martines, Raul Montesa, Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, 
Vien King, Jasmine Fitzgerald, Noel Rayos)

The vision of director Robbie Guevara gave his show a lush feel brimming with complex emotions. Sets were designed by Jason Paul Tecson, enhanced by the lighting of Shakira Villa Symes. The 18th century Italy costumes were designed by Zenaida T. Gutierrez, with Myrene Santos completing the picture with her hair and make-up. The sound design was by Jojit Tayong. Guevara's resident musical director at 9Works Daniel Bartolome also leads the live orchestra in this production. Congratulations to POC Artistic Director Ms. Karla Gutierrez for the successfully steering POC into their 20th anniversary. 


"PASSION" runs from September 14-29, 2019 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at the RCBC Plaza in Makati. Show times are 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket prices range from ₱3,500, ₱2,500, ₱2,000, ₱1,500 and ₱900. Show lasts for 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission.