Sunday, April 17, 2022

Ticket2Me: Review of TP's DOC RESURECCION, GAGAMUTIN NG BAYAN: Noxious Nuisance

April 18, 2022



Because of his intelligence and perseverance, Jess Resureccion (Marco Viana) has overcome extreme poverty to become a doctor. He now wants to run as mayor in their poor fishing village, in a sincere desire to bring real change and progress to the place where he grew up as a child. However, Dr. Jess's boorish, barely educated cousin, Boy Pogi Resureccion (Jonathan Tadioan), was running against him, obviously as a nuisance candidate in order to confuse voters because of their similar surnames.

The play followed the events of one fateful day when Dr. Jess went out of the way of his campaign trail to visit the seaside hovel where Boy Pogi lived with his parents the drunkard Papang (Nanding Josef) and patis-maker Mamang (Sherry Lara), and his wife Elsa (Llorvie Nuevo), a former prostitute Boy and Jess knew (in the biblical sense) since their teens. Dr. Jess wanted to convince Boy to willingly withdraw his candidacy, so he, Jess, would have a better chance to win against the current incompetent mayor. 

The one-act play "Doc Resureccion, Gagamutin ang Bayan" by Layeta Bucoy first hit the stage in Virgin Labfest 2009. The next year, it was one of those selected in the Revisited category of the same theater festival. In 2012, the play was re-staged once again by Tanghalang Pilipino as part of their “Eyeball” production, which featured four of the best short plays from previous Virgin Labfests. Unfortunately, I had never seen any of these previous productions of this famous play, until now. 

This year, 10 years later, during a most heated presidential election period, Tanghalang Pilipino has decided to revive this play yet another time, in its advocacy for voters education. It hopes to push its dark, hard-hitting story about underhanded political machinations during elections which will shock Gen Z first-time voters, as well as jaded veteran voters alike. This new iteration of the play was filmed as it was performed live on the stage of the CCP Main Theater directed by Dennis Marasigan, and is being presented online via Ticket2Me.

The opening conversations between Jess and Boy may seem like playful banter about the stark contrast between their two lives. However, you can already hear the underlying bitterness and contempt beneath all of Boy's brutally profane anecdotes about his father's shaking hand or his wife's fishy privates. While Viana played his idealistic clueless straight man wearing his sincerity out on his sleeve, Tadioan skillfully delivered his lines with a jolly face and demeanor, and yet still have them drip with an unmistakable sense of danger. 

The significance of this play in the current election season cannot be denied, and its precautionary message about the election process is sobering. Having it premiere yesterday morning because of the parallelism between the name Resureccion and Easter Sunday was already a nice touch. However, the sheer coincidence of having the premiere of a play about a toxic nuisance candidate to coincide with one illogical nuisance of a press conference, could not have been timed more perfectly. 


*****


Artistic Crew: Layeta Bucoy (Playwright), Dennis Marasigan (Stage Direction and Lighting Design), Pong Ignacio (Cinematography), TJ Ramos (Musical and Sound Design), Ohm David (Set Design), Daniel Gregorio (Costume Design), Antonette Go (Assistant Director).

The filmed play will be streamed on the Ticket2Me platform from April 17 hanggang April 30, 2022. Buy your tickets on this Ticket2Me link: https://ticket2me.net/e/34853


Wednesday, April 13, 2022

KTX: Review of Areté and TA's ²BAYANI: Bullet Becomes Bonifacio

 April 13, 2022


The controversial story of Andres Bonifacio versus Emilio Aguinaldo had been told and retold in various films. There had been movies that took Bonifacio's side, like "Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio’ (2010), ‘Supremo’ (2012) and “Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo“ (2014). There was also one, “El Presidente” (2012), that took Aguinaldo's side of the story

There had also been a number of theater productions which tackled Bonifacio's life story. Several had actually been musicals that I had personally seen within the past decade, including "Teatro Porvenir" by Dulaang UP, "San Andres B" by Tanghalang Pilipino, "Bonifacio: Isang Sarswela" and its reinterpretation "Supremo Redux" by the Philippine Stagers. 

Before all of these was "²Bayani" with music and lyrics of Zosimo Quibilan, Jr. and Khavn de la Cruz, which was first staged in 1996 by Tanghalang Ateneo. This year, Areté in partnership with Tanghalang Ateneo took on this historical musical again, mounted as an online theatrical production through ktx.ph. As it was 26 years ago, the director is Ricardo G. Abad.

After a month of he filmed live stage performance took place in November 2021 at the stage of Arete's Hyundai Hall, with the cast and crew gathered in a 10-day lock-in arrangement as per quarantine protocols. This was the first theatrical performance on that stage after 18 months of closure following the outbreak of the pandemic.

The subtitle of "²Bayani" is "Isang Rock Operang Alay Kay Andres Bonifacio," but it did not exactly show Bonifacio as a faultless hero. However, one cannot help but feel a strong vibe of Andrew Lloyd Webber's epic "Jesus Christ Superstar" in its rock operatic musical score, the wailing rock vocals it demanded from its singer-actors, and the lyrics of the songs extolling Bonifacio as Messiah (something which he himself dismissed). 

The whole musical, told in 2 acts, ran for about 2-1/2 hours. It was bookended by stormy scenes of an elderly Emilio Aguinaldo (Nanding Josef) writing a testimonial to reverse a previous ruling convicting Bonifacio of sedition for which he was imprisoned and put to death. The rest of the play told Bonifacio's whole story -- from the founding of the Katipunan, through the contentious Tejeros Convention to his treacherous execution in Mt. Buntis. 

The formidable lead role of Andres Bonifacio was played by 36-year old indie folk rock singer Bullet Dumas, in his theater debut. His signature "raw" vocals connected with the conflicting passions boiling within Bonifacio in those tumultuous times of his life. No neophyte nerves were showing at all as Dumas belted out his technically-difficult, emotionally-punishing songs with the confidence and verve of a stage veteran. 

Playing his wife Oryang was Alyana Cabral, whose crystal clear vocals and calm demeanor were comforting amidst the all the hot-headed masculine protestations. Angelo Galang (as the loyal Katipunero Santiago Alvarez) and Norvin delos Santos (as the informant Pedro Giron in full Judas mode) both got to show off soaring rock vocals. Ali Figueroa played Santiago's father Mariano as a duplicitous man, against how he was described in history.

Matt Gador (as the young Emilio Aguinaldo) and MC dela Cruz (as the contemptuous Daniel Tirona) were practically painted as one-dimensional villains. Quite controversially, it was even suggested here that it was a lecherous Aguinaldo himself who committed sexual assault on Oryang. The way they were portrayed was eerily suggestive of current day "villains" as they spread fake news, sowed discontent and undermined and usurped authority. 

There was a symbolic female figure called Inangbayan as was commonly done in historical dramas like this. Here she was powerful performed by Larissa Buendia, who sang her heart out to express the suffering of the country. The color of Tata Tuviera's costumes delineate who among the characters were Magdiwang (striped white) and Magdalo (dark blue). The lighting effects by D Cortezano lent dramatic depth to Adriane Mark E. Ungriano's sets. 

Having English subtitles makes it easier to follow the flow of the story and the depth of the lyrics. The cinematography with its close-ups certainly helped focus audience attention on smaller details in the intimate scenes. However, this filmic treatment makes us miss the immersive experience of actually watching a complex and epic stage production like this unfold with all the simultaneous things happening all over the big stage.   

*****

"²Bayani: Isang Rock Operang Alay Kay Andres Bonifacio" is streaming from April 9 to 23 via KTX.ph. For tickets visit go.ateneo.edu/2BayaniTicketsFor student discounts fill out the form at go.ateneo.edu/2BayaniStudent


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

REP: Review of THE GREAT CHRISTMAS COOKIE BAKE-OFF!: Delectable and Delightful

November 16, 2021



This year, the Repertory Philippines (REP) Theatre for Young Audiences (RTYA) comes back after a year-long hiatus secondary to the Covid pandemic with a holiday musical "The Great Christmas Cookie Bake-Off!". To make this occasion even more special, it is also the first Filipino production to be made available on the Broadway On Demand streaming platform. This is the first Filipino theatrical musical production that had been specially filmed to be streamed on n international online streaming site. 

Eight kids have been chosen to join the Great Christmas Cookie Bake-Off to be televised on the Kitchen Network for a chance to win P50,000 cash and a cookie cookbook deal. They were: Disney addict Amy (Justine Narciso), over-achieving perfectionist Ana (Jillian Ita-as), rich bratty Gabe (Jep Go), insecure video gamer Javi (Tim Pavino), nerdy science whiz Josh (Stephen Hotchkiss), confident culinary student Julian (Luigi Quesada), homey Granny's girl Patty (Becca Coates) and pretty in purple Samantha (Rachel Coates). 

The over-the-top celebrity panel judges include: notoriously mean desert chef Michael Holmes (Arnel Carrion), the fabulous Kitchen Runway hostess Isabel Guevara (Carla Guevara Laforteza), and flamboyant Mohawked pop star Del Ray (Jamie Wilson). The show's bespectacled master of ceremonies is Larry (Hans Eckstein). Some family members of the contestants would also show up to give their support: Gabe's father (also played by Carrion), Ana's mother and Patty's grandmother (both also played by Laforteza). 

The mechanics of the bake-off involved the kids coming up with original cookie creations based on the special secret ingredient to be revealed only right before the baking time of 40 minutes begins.  There would be three rounds, with only three cookie chefs left in the final round to vie for the big prize. There were breaks after each round when the audience get hints who will most probably be making it to the final three. Some awkward tentative transitions were felt during these breaks in this video version. 

This musical with music, book and lyrics by Broadway-based American composer, lyricist and musical supervisor Rick Hip-Flores, who also worked on acclaimed shows like 2017's Tony favorite "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812." The music was generally cheerful and Christmassy, just right for its juvenile target audience. A classic Christmas carol "We Three Kings" used as the music for one song by the three judges. For this local adaptation, the names of characters and places were changed to give a more Filipino flavor.

Like most cooking programs on TV, we were treated with mouth-watering close-ups of the various cookies the kids came up with, all with descriptive names which whet our sweet tooth even more. How we wish Rep could share the actual recipes of these scrumptious cookies, especially the winning cookies, with their audience. I am sure many kids will want to take up baking after this show, and more importantly, they will also learn the valuable lessons of love for family, gaining confidence, learning from mistakes and playing it fair. 

Veteran RTYA Creative Director Joy Virata directed the play for the stage, with "Master Chef"-inspired sets by Ed Lacson and colorful costumes by Bonsai Cielo to complete her vision. The lighting was designed by John Batalla. After a month of Zoom rehearsals, the final video was shot by movie director Treb Monteras and his Silver Media crew on the final day of a 4-day bubble period at Rep's home stage at OnStage Theater in Greenbelt 1. I wish there had been subtitles since we have gotten used to this convenience on most streaming sites. 

Ticket prices are P700 (Regular) and P1,000 (Family) available directed from Broadway on Demand (LINK), or from local outlets Ticketworld (LINK) and Ticket2Me (LINK). Each ticket gives 24-hour access (for Regular) or 48-hour access (for Family) to the musical, which can be accessed via computer or mobile device via the Broadway On Demand app on App Store and Google Play. Broadway On Demand is also available on AppleTV and Roku. 

For updates, log on to www.repertoryphilippines.ph,like and follow Repertory Philippines on Facebook and Instagram.Educators and school representatives who are interested in the show can email sales@repphil.org.


Sunday, October 24, 2021

Review of LAPULAPU, ANG DATU NG MACTAN: Heroism in Harmony

October 24, 2021



After being closed down 25 years ago, the Metropolitan Theater was restored, renovated and reopened this year. Its first major stage production is "Lapulapu, Ang Datu ng Mactan" with book and lyrics written by Nicolas Pichay, Jr, with music and arrangements by Krina Cayabyab, and directed by Dexter SantosThis special show was produced by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines for the Quincentennial Celebration of the Philippines and the Year of the Filipino Pre-colonial Ancestors. It was streamed for free on FB Live today October 24, 2021 at 6 pm.

Even if they tackled the same events in Philippine history and employed the fusion of similar musical genres, it is important to note that this is NOT the same show as the “LapuLapu: The Neo-Classic-Ethno-Rock Opera” with music by Jose “Toto” Gentica V and libretto by Victor Henry Tejero staged at the CCP in 1997 directed by the late Behn Cervantes with sets designed by National Artist Salvador Bernal, which was recently streamed for free on YouTube last Independence Day, 2021.

After the National Anthem and Invocation by His Excellency Most Reverend Jose S. Palma, D.D., Archbishop of Cebu, there were messages delivered by NCCA Chairman Arsenio J. Lizaso, NHCP Chairman Dr. Rene R. Escalante, Mayor Junard Q. Chan of Lapulapu City, Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea and the President himself Rodrigo Roa Duterte (in his denim jacket). There was a breath of glamour when NCCA Arts Ambassador Ms. Catriona Gray strode out in her elegant white one-shoulder terno to present the show proper. 

The musical begins with the Babaylan (Natasha Cabrera) chanting the story of two local leaders, Humabon (Red Nuestro) and Lapulapu (Arman Ferrer). Their villages were already prosperous and productive even before the ships of weary white foreigners led by Ferdinand Magellan (Andre Tiangco) arrived at their shores. Among his crew were his navigator Juan Sebastian Elcano (Matthew Barbers), chronicler Antonio Pigafetta (Al Gatmaitan) and a Malay slave Enrique (Paw Castillo) who served as their interpreter. 

The set was simple, just a single elevated ramp coming from the right side of the stage going horizontally towards the left, then curving forward to end at center stage. Behind it were three giant LED video screens upon which were projecting the backdrops designed by GA Fallarme. The dramatic lighting was designed by Dennis Marasigan. The elaborate costumes for the characters (both natives and Spaniards) were supplied by Gino Gonzales, with Norman Penaflorida completing the whole look with his hair, makeup and tattoo designs.

While we know the story of Lapulapu's continued defiant resistance to welcome the foreigners and be converted into their religion, like Humabon was, this show also had a couple of scene I never learned of in school. Magellan was shown trying to convince Humabon to intercede by offering him the position of overall sultan of all the local villages. When Humabon did approach Lapulapu to convince him to accept the foreigners, this resulted in a confrontation where both men were aiming their bows and arrows at each other. 

The final face-off between Lapulapu and Magellan was not a direct one-on-one sword duel. The way the historic moment was staged was with both personalities away from each other. While Lapulapu on the ramp wielding his sword with heroic fervor, Magellan was suddenly seen to begin writhing to death on cue downstage among the villagers. Some may be expecting a more definitive hacking or beheading scene, but the graphic violence or even the exact identity of the killer was not really the point. It was a collective effort by Filipinos. 

After Lapulapu sang his unexpected valedictory kundiman "Bituing Marikit," Elcano and Enrique related how they completed the first circumnavigation of the globe. Three babaylans (Cabrera, Cara Barredo and Marynor Madamesila) prophesied about the country's future, as photos of heroes from Bonifacio and Mabini to current Covid-19 frontliners flashed on the screens. As the finale, the scene shifted to the present times, cast members led by Ferrer (as pedicab driver) and Cabrera (as nurse) to sing an anthem of heroism by regular citizens. 

Ms. Gray came out again to announce the grand inauguration of the MET on Dec.10, 2021. Then we see the cast again in their historical costumes to reprise the final song about "Bayaning Pilipino sa Makabagong Panahon." The final message was delivered by Prof. Michael Charleston "Xiao" Chua shot in three different picturesque areas of the restored MET. He discussed the significance of the Quincentennial as the celebration of the Flipinos' humanity, but also our victory against foreign invaders. 

I had some difficulty getting into the show at first because I had difficulty understanding the lyrics being sung by the Babaylan in her opening scene, not even recognizing if she was chanting in Filipino. It was also not too easy to comprehend all the words being sung or spoken at certain parts of the show because of the sound quality via FB Live, so I had to use context to get the point of the scene. It would have helped if this stream also had subtitles. 

That point aside, the singing vocals of cast, particularly the powerful tenor voices of Ferrer, Gatmaitan and Ivan Nery (as the Pope Alexander XI) were strong and stellar. Furthermore, the Herculean effort for being able to stage this major musical production that fused opera and musical theater with ethnic music and kundiman within only two weeks of locked-in general rehearsals deserves utmost commendation to the cast and crew.



Monday, October 18, 2021

KTX: Review of I WILL: THE MUSICAL: The Spark to Serve

 October 18, 2021



"I Will: The Musical" is a new inspirational musical theater production with 24 original songs based on the life and times of doctor of the masses and aspiring politician Dr. Willie Ong. It was written, composed and directed by Antonino Rommel Ramilo. Ramilo began his theater career in 2012 with his first musical about the second Filipino saint, San Pedro Calungsod, which had earned its share of awards. 

The show was filmed as live on July 23, 2021 at the Music Museum without an audience, just a few days before a strict ECQ was imposed on Metro Manila. Staging a musical during the pandemic had been very challenging because of the required locked-in cast and crew with swab testing pre and post-shoot. They only had two months online rehearsals and just one week of face to face rehearsals.

Act 1 covered the period of Willie's (Gerald Santos) troubled youth, disturbed by voices in his head, feeling empty and aimless. We learn that he did not get along with his parents (Bo Cerrudo and Ima Castro) who considered it weird that he would not choose to go into business like them, even threatening to disown him. He was also an outcast student in school, bullied by cruel classmates. Because of a supportive Uncle Ed (Robert Sena), he was able to pull himself together to go into med school. 

Act 2 covered the period of his career after graduation when Dr. Willie and his new bride Dr. Liza (Paulina Yeung) decided to commit themselves to becoming a doctor for the masses. We see how his married life with his wife Dr. Liza was challenged by Dr. Willie's extreme devotion to his calling, even as she gave birth to their first child. This act also revisited the day when Dr. Willie's father died from his fight with liver cancer and how this affected Dr. Willie into becoming a better version of himself.

In Act 1, the best songs for me were: 1) "Chaos" about the confusion inside young Willie's head as he faced rejection at home and in school. Gerald Santos sang this in harmony with the faces of four more Geralds on the video wall behind him. 2) "Find Your Purpose," his Uncle Ed's song to convince Willie back on track in life. This was the only full solo number for Robert Sena. 3) "I Want to Go Home" was a haunting song by a patient who died under intern Willie's care. The impressive soloist here is Lance Soliman, one of the young men in the ensemble. 

In Act 2, the best songs for me were: 1) "Finally," Will and Liza's love duet when they express their love and commitment to each other. This was the best showcase for Santos and Yeung's vocals together. 2) "Our Father's Love," his father's final message to his son comparing his love to God's love. This was Bo Cerrudo's primary showcase of his range. 3) The title song "I Will," Dr. Willie promises to do his best in everything he does in life in this anthemic song that served as an appropriate and memorable finale number. 

There were some songs which had repetitive messages, like "What Are You Up To?" and "We Can't Stand You" were songs which both depicted the bullying in school. The lyrics of some songs were not entirely specific to Dr. Willie's experience. "Closer to Our Dreams" could apply to any college graduation. "Welcome to Our World" could apply to any med student. "You Fill Me Up" can apply to any profession of love by a suitor. "Am I Competing?" could apply to any wife feeling neglected by a husband immersed in his work. 

The songs featured some entertaining but occasionally distracting rhymes, like how "aptitude" was rhymed with "ineptitude," "beatitude" and "gratitude." The love songs tended to bear ultra-saccharine platitudes. "Your Eyes" was about Liza's thrill at Willie's "gaze which made me feel beautiful," and "how his eyes tell me a million things, sprinkling my life with love." There were sentiments which did not quite ring true or sincere. I was not convinced the realizations in the song "Nobody Like You" could have come from a son estranged from his father all that time. 

The singing prowess of the lead cast was unquestionable. Gerald Santos's tenor vocals soared in all his songs, be it solo, duet or group. Paulina Yeung may be a new name for me, but this young lady had already performed on Broadway as Tuptim in the recent "King and I" revival, and after listening to her crystal clear soprano, I am not surprised why. Bo Cerrudo, Ima Castro and Robert Sena all displayed the distinctive vocal qualities and stage presence that made them institutions in the local musical theater scene.

The girls in the talented ensemble included Roxy Aldiosa, Audrey Mortilla, Ivy Padilla and Alyssa Evangelista, while the boys included Vince Conrad, Jude Matthew Servilla, Lance Soliman and Khalil Tambio. They shifted characters in every scene, as the voices that bothered Dr. Willie's mind, as the classmates who bullied him in high school and abandoned him after med school, and as the poor people whom Dr. Willie served in the community. They also sang the pandemic-themed song "We Heal as One" as the first song in Act 2. 

Drs. Willie and Liza Ong were quite brave to share their personal stories, warts and all. Kudos to the efforts of director Rommel Ramilo, his cast and crew to get this original musical up and running. Some aspects of the staging and the songs may not be perfect yet. There may be benefit in streamlining some parts of the show in order to make it run more smoothly in a more engaging manner . However, this show does deliver its idealistic message across that anyone can recover from his past, pick themselves up and be the best he can be. 



Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Review of Blue Rep's "f(r)iction": A Mind-boggling Musical

 May 26, 2021





The last show I watched from Ateneo Blue Repertory was their triumphant staging of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's "Next to Normal" which was the finale of their 28th season. This was right before the whole country was locked down because the pandemic, so the rest of its run was cancelled. The Covid-19 quarantine was a devastating event that closed down the live theater industry for the rest of the year, up to the present. Theater artists had to innovate to get their latest productions online for their viewers to enjoy. 

The first show of Blue Rep's 29th season was "Party Worth Crashing," an original musical with book by Marty R. Nevada, Ricci Recto, and Robert Gueco Tan (who was also the director), accompanied by songs by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. It was reportedly about "youth, coming of age, and learning lessons." This was shown on Ticket2Me for three shows within the last week of January 2021. Unfortunately, I did not get to see that show. 

Now for the final show of this season, Blue Rep is presenting their version of "Friction," an original musical with book by Bym Buhain & Miyo Sta. Maria, music and lyrics by Ejay Yatco; which was initially staged six years ago at the Black Box Theater, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Design and Arts. That show was directed by Toff de Venecia, and starred Red Concepcion, Gab Pangilinan and Myke Salmon. 

Now with the title stylized as "f(r)iction," the show remains to be about a young writer Karlo (Davy Nicasio) who was desperately trying to finish his book of short stories and fairy tales. However, he had been struck by a bad case of writer's block so much that he was now already three extensions beyond his deadline. His fiancee Audrey (Julia Santiago) was a dancer, until she became pregnant with Karlo's baby which forced her to stop. 

One day, Karlo met another young writer Ben (JV Fulgencio) while drinking in a bar. Karlo clicked with Ben and with their conversations came a wellspring of inspiration for his book. The busier Karlo got with his book, the less time he had for Audrey. At around the same time, Audrey also met Ben, who said he had a history with her that he wanted back. It did not take long for Karlo to realize the bizarre love triangle they were in.

There was a fourth actor Shaun Ocrisma, who portrayed three very different characters.  
The first two were comic relief. First, he played the bitchy sarcastic gay choreographer who handled Audrey's callback audition. Second he played a waiter in a cafe where Ben met Audrey. His third character was more serious -- a therapist who tried to make sense of the crazy web that entangled the three young people. 

The musical ran for about an hour and a half. The first half was a more or less straightforward story of a young adult couple passionate about their careers who fall in love. A pregnancy and a third party came around to throw a wrench into their plans. The second half then evolved into a mind-bending mystery the protagonists could not figure out, and as the audience we are thrown into a vertiginous spinner until the real situation eventually clears up.

The musical was directed for an online presentation by Andrei Nikolai Pamintuan, who was able to execute the psychological drama in compelling fashion despite the apparent limitations of the platform. I was trying to imagine how this story could have been staged. He also did the production design, one key prop being an old  portable Olympia typewriter. Water color paintings set the locations in scene transitions, as well as brought Karlo's fairy tales to life.

The songs went from the joyful "I Love You to Bits," the romantic "Bittersweet Sky" to some painful songs of angst and grief. All three lead actors have strong singing voices. However, it was this aspect that an online viewing felt lacking. Editing of videos cannot approximate actual stage blocking and interactions. The thrilling exhilaration of hearing the songs being performed live gives them a special dimension which cell phone videos cannot convey. This is why we miss live theater. 


*****

Ateneo Blue Repertory's 29th Season Finale: f(r)iction will run from May 26 tp June 1, 2021 on the Ticket2Me online platform. Tickets are available at https://tinyurl.com/friction-tickets at these prices: Base Price of Php 250, With Souvenir Program: Php 300 and With Souvenir Program and Online Package: Php 400. 
 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Book Review: Celia Diaz Laurel's MY LIVES BEHIND THE PROSCENIUM

May 9, 2021



In 2014, Ms. Celia Diaz-Laurel published an autobiographical coffee-table book about her career as a painter, entitled "The Colors of My Life". That book chronicled her growth as a visual artist from her childhood to her years in the College of Fine Arts in UP under her professors National Artists Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino. At that time, she revealed that she planned to have three books of memoirs -- as a painter, as a theater artist, and as a whole person. This year, the second book has finally seen print, with the very intriguing title "My Lives Behind the Proscenium".

I knew the fair and elegant Ms. Celia Diaz-Laurel, the wife of former Vice President Salvador Laurel, as a theater actress, but this was only by reputation. I cited her name a number of times in my reviews of classic plays she acted in which have been revived. I had never seen her perform onstage in a play since she had long since retired from the stage by the time I caught the theater bug. Fortunately, I did get to see her sing live and in person once, when she received the Natatanging Gawad lifetime achievement award in 2016 (VIDEO). 

The text of this new book had a motherly lilt to it. You felt like she was right there beside you personally relating these stories about how she became an avid disciple of the theater. She was very thorough, beginning all the way back to her first grade in the Assumption Convent. She watched her first stage performance that year, and was beckoned to follow the call of the stage ever since. Her details about this elementary school episode was very impressive, with a complete names of teachers, schoolmates, and even the specific roles they played.

CDL with husband Salvador Laurel

She went to share her continuing passion with stage shows during the war years, and her introduction to religious theater during the liberation period. Her best stories were from her UP days when she seriously delved into theater work. She related the circumstance that led to her first of many projects with famed playwright and director Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero, whom she fondly referred to "Freddie." She then segued to her theater career outside the university walls. All these stories were remarkably complete with names and roles and even controversy.

There was a fascinating chapter about her experiences in as a masteral student at the Yale School of Drama, while her husband was doing his masters at the Yale School of Law. This part was written with apparent exhilaration as she told about the various theater techniques and exercises she learned from her American mentors, and the popular acceptance she enjoyed among her classmates. These stories were integrated with the family concerns that ran side by side with her education, like house hunting and pregnancy. 

CDL with co-actor Miguel Faustmann

The final chapter was about her years with Repertory Philippines, from "Plaza Suite" (1968) to "Cemetery Club" (1992). This was probably the part of her career many of her fans remember her for. In a cute anecdote. she revealed how she was introduced to director Zeneida Amador in an awkward little incident, one which eventually led to a long-term professional partnership and personal friendship. She acknowledged all the people she met and worked with during these years in Rep, both on and behind the stage. 

Ms. Laurel was also very much a set and costume designer as much as she was an actress. While she described the challenge of designing for the stage of the Insular Life Theater, I wished she could have told more stories about the most challenging plays she had to design for and her trips to Divisoria to deal with budget and material constraints for her sets and costumes. I actually saw her latest project as costume designer -- "Guadalupe the Musical" (2018) (MY REVIEW). Even at age 90, her stylish flair in design was still very much there. 

CDL with son Cocoy Laurel

The voice of her writing was engaging and conversational, a light and breezy read. Yet, it was very informative and educational in its detail, and charming in her humorous side comments. Filipino theater fans would definitely recognize several of the famous names she dropped along the way and feel a sense of heartwarming nostalgia with her reminiscences about them. While you can probably finish the whole book in one sitting, each chapter would exhort you to slow down the pace so you can savor her vividly-told experiences a little bit longer. 

"My Lives Behind the Proscenium" was edited by two of Ms. Laurel's children, Suzie Laurel-Delgado and Cocoy Laurel. It will be formally launched via an FB Live ceremony on May 29, 2021, her 93rd birthday, at 4 pm, additional details still to be announced. However, you can already pre-order the book care of Jenn Tejada on her mobile number 0966-7698969, from Mondays to Fridays only from 1 -5 pm.