Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My 10 Favorite Whitney Houston Songs

February 11, 2012

Shocking news this morning was the passing of one of the musical icons of my youth, Whitney Houston.  Her incredible career both in recording and the movies from the second half of the 1980s to the 1990s was a force to reckon with.  Her marriage to bad boy Bobby Brown was surprising and was bad news from the start.  She got herself involved with drugs, which we know is a death knell for any career.  Her efforts in the 2000s could not seem to resurrect her previous glory.   

The release of the song "Million Dollar Bill" in 2009 showed promise of a comeback to her old form.  She was slated to star in a new movie "Sparkle" with Jordin Sparks this year (her first since "The Preacher's Wife" back in 1996), which was reportedly to have been a big comeback for her (LINK).  But alas, she will not see that happen anymore.  As of now, the details of her death are not yet known,  I just hope it is not related to drugs or a suicide.

Here are 10 best Whitney Houston songs for me:

1.  You Give Good Love (1985)

2.  How Will I Know (1985)

3.  If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful (1986)

 4.  I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) (1987)

5.  Didn't We Almost Have It All (1987)

6.  Love Will Save the Day (1988)

7.  Run to You (1993)

8.  Why Does it Hurt So Bad? (1996)

9.  I Believe in You and Me (1996)

10.  I Didn't Know My Own Strength (2009)



PETA's "Haring Lear": Strong All-Male Cast in Magical Tagalog!

February 12, 2012

Even at my age now, I have to admit that I do not really know the story of Shakespeare's "King Lear." I know the bare bones that it was about a king with three daughters, but that was about it.  No idea about how the plot goes.  When I heard that PETA will be staging this classic tragedy with an all-male cast and in Tagalog (by no less than National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera), I knew I should not let this rare opportunity pass.

It was a busy day at work that Saturday, so I reached PETA Theater about 15 minutes late, without lunch (!).  When I settled into my seat in the balcony, it was already at the point when old King Lear had already divided his kingdom into two for his two elder daughters Goneril and Regan, and was already beginning to feel the folly of his mistake.  

As I was trying hard to get into the story, the stage and set design struck me.  The set pieces and the costumes were all in monochromatic grayscale from black to white and the shades in between.  It was all as stark as the tragic story it will convey. The only red I see were in the facial makeup of the characters whom I identified as evil. ALL the characters were shaved BALD, except for the King. (Astig talaga!) There were so many things going on in this complex story so I have to divide my review by characters.


One of the most memorable scenes was Lear's breakdown in the rain after he was cast away into the wilderness by his evil daughters.  I had never seen anything like it on a theater stage before.  How the rain effect was achieved was ingenious and powerful.  You really feel the characters' helplessness against the elements.  Teroy Guzman (NOT the comedian Teroy de Guzman) was at his best in these long challenging scenes and soliloquies in deep Tagalog, even as I worry about his health, being actually soaking wet for maybe the last 30 minutes of Act 1!  All in all, Guzman's flawless dramatic performance as King Lear will surely be remembered come awards time later in the year.


Nor Domingo played the eldest daughter Goneril.  Gary Lim played the second daughter Regan.  Abner Delina played the youngest Cordelia (the only character dressed in white). Domingo and Lim were both excellent, playing their evil characters with sinisterness and glee.  At first it was difficult to get used to bald guys playing women characters, but the director makes them wear lighted floral collars and do certain mannerisms (Goneril with her mirror, Regan with her lipstick) which remind us they are women. Delina with the goody-goody role of Cordelia was less memorable. They did not really have to resort to floridly effeminate actuations, although Delina looked gay in his portrayal, as Domingo and Lim were scarily strong.  

As for their husbands, Jeff Hernandez was pretty convincingly evil as Regan's husband, Duke ng Cornualles.  He had that strong John Regala-esque contravida vibe.  In contrast though, Renante Bustamante lacked charisma and stage presence as the Goneril's husband, Duke ng Albanya.  He unfortunately consistently got all swallowed up by the other actors in the same scene with him, all the way to the ending.  Because I was late, I did not get to see Cordelia's husband, Hari ng Francia.

Special mention goes to George de Jesus who stole his scenes playing Oswaldo, Goneril's trusted servant.  He got to deliver a lot of original Shakespearean lines in English which endeared him to the audience despite his despicable character. He got a lot of applause during the final curtain call.


A parallel family story was happening in the household of the Earl of Gloucester.  His bastard son Edmundo is jealous of the legitimate son Edgardo, and plots endlessly to gain the family power with his devious schemes.  As the father, Jack Yabut plays the good and gullible Earl of Gloucester impressively.  The scene where Cornwall and Regan gouge out the Earl's eyes (!) was really very well-staged.  Amazing theater right there!  

Two strapping young actors play his sons. Jay Gonzaga had powerful stage-presence as the evil Edmundo. The part where Goneril and Regan were both lusting after him was darkly funny.  Myke Salomon as Edgardo has improved so much since I first saw him in "Care Divas" and "Aida."  I was really impressed with their delivery of kilometric Tagalog lines.


In general, the play as staged by director Nonon Padilla and written by Bienvenido Lumbera was strong and faithful to the original Shakespeare as far as I can tell.  I do have some reservations with some weird scenes.  The closing scene of the first act was a hilarious burlesque -like number with a guy in a cape and a studded swim trunks.  Was that really in Lumbera's script, or Shakespeare's for that matter?  Who is he supposed to be?  The closing scene of the second act is similarly awkward and distracted from the seriously heavy drama that just happened on stage.  What was the sense of singing the nursery rhyme "London Bridge" at that point?  The song they sing after that (I will just let you find that out yourself) is similarly from out of the thin air.  The audience did not know how to react. I felt it robbed the ending of its power, instead of adding to it (but that is just me).


Again, congratulations to PETA for bravely staging this unique play.  Yes, it is Shakespeare. Yes, it is in Filipino.  Yes, it is an all male cast.  Yet it all works!  Do try to catch it and be prepared for a singular stage experience.

"Haring Lear" runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until March 4, 2012 at the PETA Theater Center.  For tickets, contact 7256244 or 09175765400.

"Mamma Mia" in Manila!

January 29, 2012
I bought tickets for this show as early as September last year when they were first out on sale. This is so that we could get the best seats in our price range, as well as to get a 10% discount being offered at that time.  I bought those tickets so early I even forgot what date and what seats I bought until the show began to show last Tuesday.

The traffic going to the CCP was horrendous tonight as there was an ongoing procession for the Sto. Nino along Roxas Blvd., leading to that main road being blocked.  We, along with everyone else, had to take various alternative routes.  Luckily we were able to cross Roxas Blvd. and find a parking space in good enough time to eat a quick dinner before the show.  We got settled into our seats just in time.  There would be a lot of late-comers during the course of the first act.
The show began at a little after 8pm.  The whole show will be about 2 and a half hours, with a 20 minutes intermission.  The set consisted mainly of two movable white slabs of Greek Santorini style walls which can be rotated to represent Donna's taverna or her room or the courtyard.  The story was already familiar since we have already watched and enjoyed the movie version (starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Siefried and Pierce Brosnan).  Sophie is getting married and she invited three men in her mom Donna's past, anyone of whom could be her real dad.  When Donna sees them, fireworks erupt and threaten Sophie's wedding.  Of course, we all know how this happy little musical based on ABBA songs will end -- happily ever after.  
After watching the whole show, it was not bad at all.  However, I have a feeling that something was lacking.  I had been reflecting on possible reasons.  One definitely is knowing the story and how the songs were going to be intertwined into the story line beforehand because we watched the movie first.  There were some other songs sung which were not in the film (like "Thank You for the Music" or"Knowing Me, Knowing You") still had the surprise factor.  But the songs which were already in the movie, I could not help comparing their execution to that of the movie.  I can even imagine Meryl Streep et al on the stage instead of the actual actors.  I do not know too if the CCP is too big of a venue for a rather simple musical like this.  There were no really elaborate production numbers or huge set pieces to speak of.  The actors may have been swallowed up by the very big stage.
Of the cast, I would say that only the lady playing Donna (Sara Poyzer) and the chubby lady playing her naughty friend Rosie (Jennie Dale) had any charisma or connection with the audience.  This was quite evident from the loud applause they received during the curtain call.  The rest of the cast seemed to have difficulty getting through, including the girl who plays Sophie (Charlotte Wakefield) who even looked older and heftier than her sexy mother!  In the second act, Sara Poyzer had a trifecta of consecutive great song performances starting with the wistful "Our Last Summer" (my personal favorite song) sung with Bill Austin (Charles Daish), then the poignant"Slipping through My Fingers" as she fixed and dressed Sophie up, and finally the defiant and show-stopping "The Winner Takes it All" in her confrontation with Sam Carmichael (Richard Standing). 
The cast sang extra ABBA songs at the end featuring "Mamma Mia," "Dancing Queen" and "Waterloo".  These were the most well-received, well-applauded song numbers, more than the singing during the play itself.  So what does this tell us? Was everyone just waiting for an ABBA Tribute Concert?
About the controversial issue about Equity clearances, I do not know why local theater producers were not or could not get the rights for this musical.  That is too bad because I'm pretty sure our local theater productions and artists can handle this material as good or even better than this generic Australian cast, especially since the sets are not particularly of a grand scale (like "Phantom," "Ms. Saigon" or "Cats").

Originally slated to wind up its Manila run on February 14, 2012, it was just announced that "Mamma Mia" will have a limited extension up to February 19, 2012.  Even more exciting theater news is the coming of "Phantom of the Opera" to the CCP in August this year!  Posters of this much-awaited event were already in the Lobby of the main theater last night.

Silveradyo: DZMM 25th Anniversary Concert

December 17, 2011

One Tuesday afternoon while stuck in traffic in the car, I decided to send in a text to DZMM to try to win tickets to watch their 25th Anniversary Concert on December 17, 2011 at the Araneta Coliseum.  I knew my parents would surely enjoy to watch their favorite DZMM announcers live in concert, especially Ted Failon.  Quite unexpectedly, my name was called -- the last to be announced by Jobert Sucaldito that hour.  I got the tickets from the Public Service Center 2 days later.  I was rather disappointed to note we only got General Admission tickets, but thankful just the same, since these tickets were not for sale.

It was drizzling in Cubao when my parents and I arrived a little before 5pm.  I was surprised to see that the Araneta Coliseum was not teeming with people as I was expecting. There was not even a very long line up there in Gen Ad.  We filled up raffle coupons before we headed for the doors, however we were not yet admitted because they were still having their sound checks.  So we stood there in line for about another hour before we were finally allowed to enter at past 6pm.  We chatted with other DZMM fans there while waiting, some coming as far as Naic, Cavite and Sta. Rosa, Laguna.  After picking a nice spot in Gen Ad, we were told that we were all going to be sent down to occupy Upper Box B instead!  We were so fortunate to have gotten chairs smack in the center, right on the first row. 

By 7pm, Traffic Angels Bea and Raki came out to start the ball rolling with some easy trivia questions with give-aways to lucky people in the orchestra section.  Only about 730 did the concert proper begin. The orchestra and side orchestra areas were not full.  Our Upper Box B area was also not full.  The Gen Ad area was not used.  Only the Lower Box and the Upper Box A areas can be called full.

1.  A 70s disco dance number featuring Ariel Ureta, Jun Banaag, Cory Quirino, and Winnie Cordero among others.  Ms. Winnie was a trooper even as she slipped and fell on the floor on their final pose. 
2.  A medley of modern Tagalog Christmas songs, featuring Guji Lorenzana, Christian Bautista and Jed Madela with a number of female talents led by Bernadette Sembrano, Kaye Dacer, Nina Corpuz and Jazmine Romero.  (VIDEO)
3.  A very energetic modern dance number led by Gabs Valenciano along with Gretchen Fullido, the Traffic Angels and the very popular DJ Chacha.  (VIDEO) A number of male reporters also joined in.
4.  A great medley of telenovela themes by the one and only Gary Valenciano. (VIDEO)
5.  Another solo spot number of Angeline Quinto singing some Tagalog songs, like "Mahiwaga" among others. (VIDEO)
6.  A comedy and song number featuring Melai Cantiveros, Kiray, Ambet Nabus, Onse, Ahwel Paz and Gus Abelgas!

7.  Another medley of modern English Christmas songs featuring DJ Richard Enriquez, Carl Balita, Vic de Leon Lima and Alex Santos with a couple of female singers. (VIDEO)
8.  An uncharacteristically listless and dry song number by a great-looking Karylle. (VIDEO)
9.  A song and rap number featuring Randy Santiago with Dos Por Dos anchors, Anthony Taberna and Gerry Baja. (VIDEO)
10.  A standards medley featuring boss Peter Musngi with Ms. Rachel Alejandro. (VIDEO)
11.  The announcement of Mr. Musngi about the coming confirmed return of Ms. Korina Sanchez to radio.  Of course, Korina came out to be interviewed, but not sing or dance.
12.  A medley of power ballads by Jovit Baldovino and Mr. Ted Failon. (VIDEO) Jovit disappointed with his terrible pronunciation, invented lyrics and an off-key ad lib because of inability to reach a high note.  Mr.Ted of course is cool and collected in his brown leather jacket.
13.  Finale with the three female belters singing the DZMM theme song, with Angeline Quinto drastically and un-artistically dropping one full octave when she reached the chorus, two times!  The rest of the radio talents joined in at the end, marking the end of the concert.

There were a couple of breaks where raffle draws were held to give away several prizes in cash and kind (scholarships, business packages, and appliances).  We did not win any. :-(  The entire concert ended by 930pm, just about 2 hours in total duration.  Disappointed that some major radio names were not there like Kabayan Noli de Castro, Karen Davila, Julius Babao, Pinky Webb, Alvin Elchico and Lynda Jumilla were not there.  Expected guest Ms. Ai Ai delas Alas also did not show up.  Overall though, we all had a pretty good family bonding time together while watching this concert, while seeing in person the voices we hear on the radio everyday.

The Little Mermaid (Atlantis Productions)

November 20, 2011

When I heard that pop stars Rachelle Ann Go and Erik Santos were going to play Ariel and Prince Eric in this musical theater version of Disney's "The Little Mermaid," honestly I thought it was a bad idea. After Christian Bautista's not too auspicious stage debut in "West Side Story", I thought this was not really a good idea too. I forget now exactly why I decided to buy tickets on impulse for the whole family for this back in August, maybe it was just because I thought this would be a musical that my kids would know and appreciate.

The events unfold exactly like they did in the movie. The five main songs in the original movie, namely "Part of Your World," "Under the Sea," "Poor Unfortunate Souls," "Les Poissons" and "Kiss the Girl" are all here. The songs of the crab Sebastian were especially accompanied by very colorful and elaborate props and costumes. The best one for me is "Kiss the Girl" both visually (complete with puppet marsh birds) and vocally (with the intricate vocal arrangement). However, I felt the "Les Poissons" number did not really come off too well as "humor" felt forced and execution was flat.

There were also variations in the story telling at the end on how Ursula was finally defeated. I guess there had to be adjustments made for the feasibility of stage production. Of course, there also had to be additional songs to tell other parts of the story. However, the only new song that made any significant impression on me was Ursula's first solo, "I Want the Good Times Back," because of its catchy cabaret-type tune and the pizzazz of the singer. The songs of the annoying seagulls and of sprightly little Flounder did not really stick with me, being too Playhouse Disney in character.

Rachelle Ann Go was very successful in this, her debut theater venture. She had the same pretty look (though not the red hair) and perky vibrant demeanor as her feisty cartoon counterpart. More importantly, she had a wonderfully rich theater voice! I look forward to seeing her in other theater projects. Erik Santos also had a strong voice but he had some minor pronunciation and accent problems in some parts, things that could get smoother as their run continues. He lacks stage presence though and does not really stand out when there are several men onstage. I do not know if that is a problem with the actor himself or just his nondescript ponytail hairstyle and bland costumes. His solo number "Her Voice" was a low point in the show because of the unusually bare stage which Erik could not command.

The supporting characters though are amazing! Jinky Llamanzares as Ursula is an exceptional standout because of her very strong vibrant voice, sassy stage presence, as well as her impeccable English. The other standout is OJ Mariano as Sebastian. Ok, his red costume was very corny and hardly looked like a crab, but his vocals were flawless in his two main songs, especially "Kiss the Girl". He has really gone a very long way from "The Singing Bee." Calvin Millado also had great vocals as King Triton, but he was also hampered by an ill-fitting unattractive costume that emphasized his heft. His make-up made him look like John Sweet Lapuz from afar. Haha! The guys who played the eels Flotsam (Felix Rivera) and Jetsam (Jaime Barcelon) also had their moment with their featured song "Sweet Child."

After the play, I have to be honest and say my kids did not really enjoy it too much, not even my daughter who is 11. My boys (age 10 and 8) don't even remember the animated movie on which this musical was based on anymore. I guess they are all too jaded already for this "baby" stuff, what with all the "cooler" high-action cartoons that come out each year. However, the other children in the audience, especially the little girls, seem to all love it. As far as we adults are concerned, we were more focused on the singing and the sets more than anything else. As for me, this may well already be the last musical for aimed for young children we would watch. We have to be more discriminating already with the plays we will watch with the children, lest we be accused to be too kiddie and uncool. I would advise for future adult viewers not to expect too much and just sit back to enjoy this very juvenile ride with their younger kids. 


"The Little Mermaid" will continue to play at the Meralco Theater on weekends up to December 11, 2011. This special musical production of "The Little Mermaid," the first one granted outside Broadway, is directed by Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga for Atlantis Productions.

"Noli Me Tangere, the Opera" (Dulaang UP)

November 20, 2011

I admit I am intimidated by the prospect of listening to hours of an unfamiliar foreign language in song trying to understand an unfamiliar story.  I have seen the latter half of 'La Boheme" during rehearsals in the CCP before.  I was admiring only the strong vocals of the singers, but I had no idea what was going on really.  This year comes a rare opportunity to witness a full opera in a most familiar language, Tagalog, for a most familiar story, Jose Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere."  I grabbed the chance to watch it with my daughter this morning at the Wilfrido Ma Guerrero Theater in UP Diliman.

The stage looked quite small also for a play of this magnitude and scope.  There were several big and tall pieces of bamboo that lined the back and sides of the stage.  There were also pieces of bamboo that were hanging from the ceiling.  Aside from representing the forest in some scenes, they were also serving as backdrop for some projected images which serve to make the stage more colorful and interesting.  There were also big movable set pieces on center stage serving as risers and walkways for the actors.  The indigenous-looking material used for the costumes were also very innovative.  Congratulations to production designer Gino Gonzales.

The play ran for 2 and a half hours.  We watched the 10am show this morning.  The first half (actually a merger of Acts 1 and 2) ended after about an hour.  This act covered from the events from the arrival of Ibarra up to the part when Ibarra attacks Padre Damaso with a knife.  There was an intermission of about 15 minutes.  Then the last act ended at around 1215pm.  This act covered the events following the excommunication of Ibarra to the deaths of Sisa and Elias.  Most of the dialogues were sung, with only very occasional spoken lines. The composer is National Artist for Music Felipe Padilla de Leon.  The librettist is National Artist for Sculpture Guillermo Tolentino(who is more famous for being the sculptor of the Rizal and Bonifacio Monuments and of course, the UP Oblation).  I am not going to pretend here that I understood each and every word.  There were a lot of lines for which I really did not get all the words being sung.  

The leads in this particular staging we caught were all very strong singers.  The central couple of Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara were played by Ivan Niccolo Nery and Myramae Meneses, both from the St. Scholastica School of Music.  As opera singers, they were faultless in their arias, as far as vocal quality is concerned. Although for me, I must admit they did not exactly look right for the parts they played.  Nery was a bit on the hefty side, so his action scenes (especially with the crocodile and with Damaso) looked awkward.  NAMCYA winner Meneses looked and acted more maturely than how we would usually picture Maria Clara.  

If we would use the audience applaud during the curtain call as a barometer, the loudest applause was for theater actress Jean Judith Javier (as the tragic Sisa) and her "sons" Gerald Kristof Diola (as Basilio) and cute little Jhiz Deocareza (as Crispin).  The spontaneous applause after the very dramatic vocal solo of Diola upon the death of Sisa was incredible!  Padre Damaso was played by sought-after choral conductor Jonathan Velasco, who returns to the role he sung 24 years ago when this same opera was first staged in the CCP.  He has not sung solo for an opera for 11 years.  His imposing stage presence and deep baritone was perfect for the villainous role. The white face makeup they used to distinguish Spaniard from Filipino characters made him even more scary. Frederick Hipol, formerly of the UP Concert Chorus, played a very intense Elias.

My daughter and I also watched "Noli Me Tangere the Musical" (MY REVIEW) earlier this year, last September.  We both could not help but to compare the two productions since we have watched them so close to each other.  Of course, the musical theater version (complete with pop star Mark Bautista as Ibarra) is more accessible than this opera version, but each theater experience had its own charms and moments for me.  Even if the story was divided into the two acts in exactly the same way, each play emphasized different aspects of the events to fit their genre.  I believe this is a good introduction to the generally intimidating art of opera for the public since the language and the story are very familiar to them.  Do catch "Noli Me Tangere the Opera" during its current run up to December 4, 2011, with shows from Wednesdays to Sundays.  Kudos to overall director Alexander Cortez, musical director Camille Lopez-Molina, and the rest of the Dulaang UP!  Best of all it only costs P250 a ticket!

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT:  Thank you to Ms. Glenda Velasco Liao for the invitation, the poster, the help in reserving tickets and the information about the singers in the cast.

"The Human League, Howard Jones & Belinda Carlisle Live in Manila" (10-10-11): Review and Video!

October 10, 2011

When I heard about this concert several months back, I felt sure I wanted to catch it mainly because it featured my favorite artist in the 1980s:  Howard Jones.  That "Best of Howard Jones" cassette tape was on constant repeat on my car cassette player back then.  Of course, my favorite Howard Jones song, and 80s song for that matter, was definitely "No One is to Blame."  I would watch this concert just to hear Mr. Jones sing that song live.

Concert day October 10, 2011 is a Monday.  I met my cousin Jerry in the Gateway Mall and proceeded to the Araneta just before 7:30.  Unlike previous concerts we attended before, there was absolutely no line outside the venue.  The Upper Box B area was practically still empty and we were able to get great seats right across center stage.  Talk was only 25% of the tickets were sold.  By the time, Belinda Carlisle's name was announced, the cavernous Araneta was still pretty much vacant.

Belinda Carlisle did not bring a band with her, so she was just using a minus-one.  Talk about karaoke night.  No doubt, Ms. Carlisle still looked very good.  Her first song was not too familiar, however, her voice did not sound too good.  She was off key for many lines in that song.  Her next song was a hit song, "I Get Weak"  (VIDEO). She gave this relatively simple song with a repetitive melody a terribly out-of-tune rendition.  Belinda even danced and sang like a drunk!  Fortunately for her fans, her next song "Circle in the Sand" (VIDEO) was so much better.  I hoped she would finally hit her stride.  

Her next two songs were by her previous band The Go-Go's:  "My Lips are Sealed" and "We Got the Beat" (VIDEO). There she was alone on that big dark empty stage singing these zesty songs that ideally needed a energetic production and lighting effects, not alas, there was none.  She again sounded a bit off on her last Top 40 hit, "Leave a Light On."  Predictably her Number 1 hit "Heaven is a Place on Earth" was also her last song.  It was a very disappointing first act, to say the least.

Next up was my most awaited artist Howard Jones!  His set made active use of the widescreen behind him with some pretty colorful and psychadelic graphics.  He had a couple of electronic musicians to back him up. The sound quality was awesome.  He was playing new or unfamiliar material, all electronica.  This took a while and the audience tried to be excited, but was obviously getting bored.  It was only on his sixth song that he played and sang something familiar.  To me, it was beloved and my main reason for watching this concert tonight:  "No One is to Blame"  (VIDEO). The rendition was flawless and beautiful.  

Howard Jones sang with a very strong voice, effortless on the high notes, as if this was 25 years back.  After that song, this night was already worth it for me.  After that, it was an all-hit parade, just what the audience came here for.  "Everlasting Love," "Life in One Day", "Like to Get to Know You Well," "Things Can Only Get Better" (VIDEO), "What is Love?" (VIDEO) and finally his very first hit song, "A New Song."  A lot of people were up and dancing.  The energy of the place finally up! 

The Human League certainly took a long time before they took the stage.  There was probably a loooong 30 minute wait before the restless audience saw them.  It was exciting to see and hear the trio of Philip Oakey, Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley sing, and they all still looked (although Philip is now totally bald) and sounded great.  They also had a great sounding synth back-up band, as well as awesome graphics on the screen and lighting design.  Again, they sang new or unfamiliar material first.  It was only by the fifth song "The Lebanon" when the audience stirred to life.  Unfortunately, they did not pick up momentum and played a couple more unfamiliar songs.  Then they sang their Number 1 hit "Human" (VIDEO) which had a surprisingly lukewarm reaction, except for Joanne's sultry narration in the bridge.  

Then they had a couple more unfamiliar songs.  This felt frustrating!  We bought tickets to a nostalgia concert to hear the HITS!!!  Then, Oakey announced they wanted the audience to sing along, then the hits came:  "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" and finally, their first Number 1 song, and the first Number 1 song using a synthesizer:  "Don't You Want Me" (VIDEO). Everyone was definitely singing along to that one!  They left the stage for a while, but the audience wanted more.  This was already past 11pm.  They came out, but alas, another unfamiliar song.  For their final song, it was another much-awaited Philip Oakey song, a song he recorded with Giorgio Moroder back in 1984, "Together in Electric Dreams" (VIDEO) !  This was a fitting and upbeat close for this night.

American Idol Season 10 Live in Manila! (Sept. 20, 2011): Blog and Videos!

September 20, 2011

This much-awaited concert started quite late, almost 9pm.  Ryan Seacrest appeared on the big screen to kick the concert off.  The audience was wild with excitement and restlessness from the long wait.  For the opening number, all the girls came out in sparkling dresses singing Lady Gaga's "Born This Way."  Very energetic way to start things off.

The beautiful Pia Toscano took center stage first.  It was so good to hear her singing newer songs instead of old 80s ballads like she did in the show.  Her set started with Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind".  She then segued to Rihanna's "California King Bed", which turned out to be a duet with Stefano Langone (who may have received the loudest screams last night). (VIDEO)

Paul McDonald then came out amidst the green lighting effects to singing Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" (VIDEO) in his own inimitable quirky way, just like he did on TV. His voice had this tendency to trail off, but he really moves around the stage a lot.

Thia Megia followed singing the upbeat Selena Gomez song  "Who Says."  (VIDEO) Aside from this solo number, we also see Thia sing back up in several other numbers.

Pia, Thia, Naima and Haley then got together for a fast number called  "Tightrope".  The lighting design for this number were moving yellow stripes and arrows that added more visual energy on the stage than what we see from the girls.

Stefano Langone then came out of the spotlight on the keyboard amidst very loud screams. The screams escalated as he began singing the Bruno Mars hit  "Grenade."  He then took off his white blazer and began dancing with the girls as he sang  Usher's "DJ's Got Us Falling in Love Again."  The screaming went up a notch when the Italian raised his black t-shirt to reveal his torso.  He showed off some of his bad boy dance moves. Towards the end, he actually took off his shirt!  My ears did not really recover at once from the high-pitched screaming that final stunt of his elicited! (VIDEO)

The boys (except Scotty) all came out on stage in what looked like house clothes (haha!) to sing "Animal" by the Neon Trees.  They were fooling around more than seriously singing in this number.

Jennifer Lopez appeared onscreen to greet the audience.  After her short spiel, Naima Adedapo came out in a colorful gypsy outfit to the strains of "Lambada".  Of course, this meant she was going to perform "On the Floor" by JLo.  And perform she did!  Her wild exotic dancing came out full force, complete with one-handed cartwheel and split! (VIDEO)

Pia came out again in a simple royal blue outfit singing her first single  "This Time."  Good song, but Pia seems to really have a problem connecting with the audience during her performance. Her music video was shown simultaneously as she sang this uptempo ballad.

Then the spotlight fell on Casey Abrams with a double bass.  He began singing  "Smooth" (by Santana ftrg. Rob Thomas).  From a slow start, this escalated into his signature syncopathic jazzy singing style.  Rumored GF Haley Reinhart came out to join him in a jazzy rendition of "Moanin'" like they did during the season.  Finally, Casey took on Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe" (VIDEO) with such a wild fervor.  He is really the original artist in this group.

Whole gang then came out in red coats to sing Cee Lo's "Forget You."  Aside from this bright costume, the number and vocals were just alright.  After this group number, there was a 15 minute intermission.

After the break, the screen displayed the name of the runner-up, Lauren Alaina.  The whole mood of the show became Country all of a sudden as Lauren tore into her hits from the show like Katrina Elam's "Flat on the Floor," her coronation song and first single "Like My Mother Does," and the more pop-sounding song "If I Die Young" (by The Band Perry) (VIDEO).  Not too easy for the audience to get into these songs though.

Judge Steven Tyler delivered his short spiel onscreen.  Of course, it had censored bits.  Then the guitar player started to play the opening riff of Guns N Roses anthem "Sweet Child of Mine." James Durbin is next!  With his flair for dramatic entrances, James came from among the audience.  There was even an expletive there in his greeting (haha!)  (VIDEO)  His next song was "Victorious" by Judas Priest.  That last stanza was sung in full-on heavy metal rock screaming that only James can do!

Big guy Jacob Lusk then lumbered out on stage for the RNB part of the concert.  He sang a couple of songs, the best of which was "You're All I Need to Get By".  His voice quality was much better than what we heard on TV, but the loss of control is really there.  He was not as annoying as he was on the show.

Haley Reinhart was up next.  She wore another slinky, shiny and short outfit as she belted out a bluesy "House of the Rising Sun".  Her second song was "Bennie and the Jets".  Her voice was very strong, although hearing her live, it had a high-pitched quality which is not quite apparent on TV and her recordings.  Too bad she did not sing Adele tonight.

The center screen then began to show video montage of all the AI winning moments all the way from Kelly Clarkson to last year's Lee Dewyze.  Finally we see this season's final two on the screen.  We knew Idol champ Scotty McCreery's  turn at the mike.  We did not see him yet the whole night, as he did not join any of the other numbers.

Scotty's solo set started with his audition song "Your Man" by Josh Turner (or better known as "Baby lock em doors and turn your lights down low" song).  Boy, those girls in the audience go wild as he hits those LOW notes!  He then came out with his guitar and sang Thompson Square's "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?"  His next song is his coronation song and first hit single, "I Love You This Big."  The audience loved it when he sang a more familiar song "When You Say Nothing at All" as a sweet duet with Lauren. (VIDEO) His final song was Montgomery Gentry's "Gone" (VIDEO) which he performed with all the girls as backup.  

Randy Jackson delivered his "In it to win it" spiel on the big screen.  The ending number that followed was a bit of a mess:  James and Lauren took on "Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake.  Then Paul, Haley and Casey sang a great version of "Faithfully" by Journey. Stefano, Naima, Thia and Jacob then had a run with Aerosmith's "Walk This Way". Everybody came out and rocked out on Journey's "Anyway You Want It."  The whole concert was cooky, young and unpolished, but ultimately, it was a fun and entertaining night of music for all!  All the musical genres from pop, to rock, to metal, to RnB, to country were sampled.  Arguably, this Season 10 was truly the best batch of contenders that AI had.  Good concert!

Tanghalang Pilipino's "Noli Me Tangere": Music Brings the Book to Life!

September 11, 2011

 I had really wanted to watch this musical version of Jose Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere" since I heard that it would be re-staged this year at the CCP Little Theater as part of the 150th Birth Year of our National Hero. It was my misfortune that all the shows during its 4-week run last August were sold out very fast so I was not able to get tickets.  You cannot imagine my elation when it was announced on the last day of the original run that two more shows would be added!  I made sure we would be able to catch the 3:30 pm show today, Sept. 11, 2011.  

The stage was a simple with a grand staircase occupying it.  The action would be happening on different levels of these steps even deep behind them and even off-stage.  The blocking and stage direction by Audie Gemora was very effective in evoking the drama of the story.  The deep and mellifluous Tagalog libretto was written by no less than National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, while the music was by Ryan Cayabyab.  Since the show today would be the very last for this run, all three gentlemen were in the audience.

The last time I ever read "Noli Me Tangere" in toto was back when I was in Junior High School in Filipino class.  As the scenes unfolded, it was nice to know that I still remember all of the iconic characters.  It was fascinating to see such memorable scenes like the crocodile incursion into the picnic, the laying of the cornerstone of Ibarra's school, Elias and Ibarra on the river barge, the bitter goodbye of the lovers, etc. come to life all on those steps.  Wonderfully imaginative maximizing of the limited space to contain all of this action.

Today, the central role of Crisostomo Ibarra was played by Mark Bautista.  He was quite a revelation in this lead role.  I only knew him as a pop singer, a product of a TV singing contest that also brought us Sarah Geronimo.  But today, he stood proud with his strong theatrical singing voice.  And for someone in his stage debut, his acting was amazing in the difficult and highly emotionally-charged scenes with Padre Damaso, Elias and most especially, Maria Clara.  Mark should definitely do more musical theater.  His alternate in this role is Gian Magdangal, also a pop singer from a TV singing contest who had dabbled in musical theater before.  Gian appeared onstage today as Ibarra's rival suitor, Linares.  I think this was the "big surprise" previously announced for these extra shows.

Cris Villonco was a flawless Maria Clara.  Her beautiful soprano voice was effortlessly soaring in all her vocally difficult songs.  Her sensitive acting was as resplendent as her singing.  Her face was so expressive with those sad eyes!  I am sure there was hardly a dry eye in the house during that painful scene as she tearfully parted with Ibarra in the end.  The spontaneous long and loud applause after that scene was electric!  Mark Bautista was also riveting in that same excellently executed scene.

The rest of the characters were also very effective in essaying their roles, both acting and singing-wise.  Kuya Bodjie Pascua was the unexpected choice of actor for the famously reviled Padre Damaso. Even more despicable and sleazy was Al Gatmaitan in his slimy portrayal of the sinister Padre Salvi.  I never really pictured Kapitan Tiago to be fat, but Red Nuestro nails this darkly comic character especially in his featured song number.  The last time I saw Jerald Napoles on stage was a transvestite wearing a tight green gown in PETA's "Care Divas."  In a total turnaround, Jerald plays the tough macho boatman Elias with convincing bravado.

The side characters of Sisa (Angeli Bayani), as well as Don Tiburcio (Tad Tadioan) and Dona Victorina (Ring Antonio), were not really that essential in moving the story forward.  Their songs may have felt like they just needlessly prolonged the running time for those who do not know the book.  But I guess they are by themselves also iconic characters very much identified with the original novel, it would be an injustice if they did not have their own featured song numbers.  I am sure the audience would look for them if they were not there.  I must admit though that the very slow Sisa number was a rather dragging moment during the first act.  The song number of the comic Espadana couple was rather reminiscent of the Thenadiers in "Les Miserables."  The rubber balding headpiece worn by Don Tiburcio was very distracting but funny.

Overall, I enjoyed recollecting my memories about the book as I was watching this musical, and explaining the events to my daughter who had yet no ideas about the story at all.  (The Padre Damaso-Maria Clara connection was a bit sticky to explain to her though.) This musical is really a must-watch for all lovers of Philippine musical theater.  This musical is a must-watch for students of Rizal's novels as seeing the action coming alive makes the story more vital and exciting.  Congratulations to crew of Tanghalang Pilipino for their wonderful production and their box-office success.  Congratulations to the Director and the Cast for being so talented in bringing this challenging piece of musical theater to vibrant life!

Atlantis Productions' "IN THE HEIGHTS": Broadway Raps!

September 3, 2011

I had no expectations whatsoever when I bought tickets to "In The Heights."  I only had this show's reputation in the Tony Awards and of course, Atlantis Productions' reputation for staging only the best of Broadway.  The Tony-winning score and lyrics were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Miranda also played the lead in the original Broadway version.  It also won Tonys for Best Choreography and Orchestration.

The announcements  before the play began about turning off the cellphones and no photography were all in Spanish.  The store signs onstage all had Spanish names on them and this suggested that we are in for a Latin-flavored show.

The first song "In The Heights" really set the mood with its effusively happy beats and melodies.  This song is unusual for a Broadway show because it was rapped out by the characters led by owner of the local convenience store unusually named Usnavi.  (We will learn later how he got this name, and it is hilarious!)  "Heights" in the title refers to Washington Heights, a Latino community in Manhattan, with immigrants from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.  The dancing is modern street hip-hop with cool snappy moves.  Our familiarity with the Spanish expressions they use help us get into the groove of things easily.

As the story unfolds, we could see that this be applied to any third world immigrant community yearning for the elusive American Dream in the Big Apple.  A family with an intelligent child for whom they sacrifice everything just to send off to college.  Poor people outwardly having a fun time despite living desperately day by day in their dead end jobs.  The story could be about Filipinos in New York.  We can all definitely relate.

The central family in the story are the Rosarios, with dad Kevin (a very hefty Calvin Millado) and mom Camila (a luminous Jackie Lou Blanco), who own a car service.  Jackie Lou really shone as actress and singer in her featured song "Enough."  That is certainly no "You Don't Own Me."  Her Camila is strong and passionate. 

Their precious daughter Nina has just come home from Stanford with a secret.  She is played by ingenue K-La Rivera in her theater debut. She has a stage presence and singing voice like that of a young Menchu Lauchengco crossed with Monique Wilson.   I would say hers is probably one of the best debut stage performances I have seen. Atlantis staple leading man Felix Rivera is Benny, an employee of the Rosarios who loves Nina. Already tried and true with his belting, Felix revealed a new side by rapping his rap lines very fluidly. 

Usnavi is played by Nyoy Volante.  Nyoy's rapping was flawless as the lyrics were fast and furious with an Eminem vibe to it.  His acting was very touching and emotional.  It was as if Usnavi was written with him in mind. After his successes in "Hairspray" and "Legally Blonde," Nyoy should really do more musical theater. 

His adopted Abuela (grandmother) Claudia is played by Ms. Jay Glorioso.  I have seen her in plays before, but this is the first time I have heard her sing and how!  Her showcase songs "Paciencia y Fe" and "Hundreds of Stories" were glorious. Usnavi's smart-ass cousin Sonny is played by Bibo Reyes. This is the first time I have seen him, yet he had confidence needed for his role.  He always stole his scenes and got a lot of spontaneous applause.  

Usnavi's love interest is sassy and sexy Vanessa, played by Ima Castro.  I must say that this role fits Ima more than her previous role of "Aida".  She was comfortable and believable here.  Of course her strong "Ms. Saigon"-proven vocals are ever-reliable.  A new face for me was the actress who played the jaded Daniela, who owned the beauty salon where Vanessa worked.  She is Tex Ordonez (whom at first I thought was Pokwang, with apologies to Ms. Ordonez). Wow, this lady can sing!  Her featured song "Carnaval del Barrio" was amazing in vocal arrangements and choreography.

The songs in this musical are very catchy.  I think I will have to look for a soundtrack CD to listen to them all over.  As I said earlier, the simple stories and characters are easy to relate to.  You will definitely also enjoy the energetic modern dancing.  Congratulations to the director Bobby Garcia for this fantastic local staging of "In The Heights"! Kudos to the cast and Atlantis crew for another winner production!  


"In The Heights" has a short three-week run ending on September 18, 2011 at the Carlos P Romulo Auditorium in Makati.  Do catch it!  

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book Series by Rick Riordan

August 29, 2011

Thanks to my daughter's friend who is calls herself a Percy Jackson "fanatic," I have the books of Rick Riordan's  Percy Jackson and the Olympian book series to read during this long 4-day weekend (actually only 3-day for me because I had to work on Saturday).

Book 1:  The Lightning Thief

This book introduces us to Percy Jackson, who is a problematic middle school student in New York City who had dyslexia, ADHD and trouble staying in school.   In one school activity in a museum, Percy was attacked by their substitute Math teacher and it was then that Percy found out that he was in fact a demigod, the son of the sea-god Poseidon.  At that moment, trouble was brewing in Mt. Olympus because Zeus lost his Lightning Bolt, as Perseus was being accused to be the thief!  Together with his satyr protector, Grover and the demigod daughter of Athena, Annabeth, Percy goes on a quest to prove his innocence and to restore the celestial order that threatens to destroy Western civilization as we know it.

There were several aspects that the movie changes in the name of cinematic license.  The movie does away with the Oracle scene, the other demigods Thalia and Clarisse, Annabeth's magic NY Yankees cap and the entire Ares subplot of the book.  Book and movie also vary in the way Percy obtains the three pearls required to get out of the Underworld.   Their thrilling adventure in the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MI was replaced in the film by the Parthenon in Nashville, TN.  Foremost though, Percy and Annabeth were only 12 years old in the book.  In the movie, they looked like they were 16 already, and they were clearly attracted to each other already.  I guess they want to get a romantic angle going as the kids grow older with succeeding films.  Maybe they want to veer away from being too Harry Potter for comfort so they started with an older film Percy and Annabeth.

When you are reading the book, you can feel the Harry Potter influence.  An awkward hero who did not know who he was.  He has two close friends who go to a training school, in this case a girl and a satyr.  Camp Half-Blood reminds you of Hogwarts, as Annabeth and Grover reminds you of Hermione and Ron.  Whereas JK Rowling has freer rein of her imagination as to how her wizard world would be, Riordan integrates known stories in Greek mythology into his own story line.  

It was fun recalling myths about the Olympian gods, the Furies, Medusa, Chiron, Charon transposed into the New World (of America) in the modern times as you followed the trio's adventure cross-country from New York to the Underworld (in where else but LA) and back to Mt. Olympus on the 600th Floor of the Empire State Building.  Good clean fun for the young and the young at heart to read!  Those funny little one-liners pepper the book from Percy's adolescent point of view are hilarious.  And you will want to read the next books and follow their adventures after a much bigger plot is revealed in the last chapter.

Book Two:  The Sea of Monsters

In the second book, Percy and Annabeth go on another quest to seek the legendary Golden Fleece to heal the enchanted pine tree that guards Camp Half-Blood.  The tree had been poisoned and this resulted in Chiron's expulsion and was causing the entire camp to deteriorate in front of their eyes.  As they seek for Grover, they also search for Grover who had been captured by a Cyclops.  Their team was completed by Percy's giant but timid new friend Tyson, who had a mythical secret of his own.  

In this adventure, we meet the Tantalus, Grey Sisters who shared one eye, the Laistrygonian giants, Stymphalian birds, and the Hydra (which we had prematurely met in the first movie already). We also even meet the two snakes that wind around Hermes's caudaceus, named George and Martha.  We are taken on a sea voyage that takes us to meet the graceful Hippocampi, the sinister duo of Scylla and Charibdes, the wily sorceress Circe, the mystical Sirens, and even Blackbeard the pirate.  

Also in this book, we learn more about the bigger plan to take over Mt. Olympus that was hinted about in the first book.  Honestly though, the plot device that the main evil mastermind needed to be pieced back together sounded uncomfortably like Voldemort needing regain his physical form.  However, the book was comfortably paced and a quick read.  There was still those humorous bits here and there.  The ending is an excellent cliffhanger that would make to want to grab that third book as soon as possible.  You could not help but imagine the movie version in your head while reading it.  There are some significant characters in this book who were not even mentioned in the first movie.  I guess we need to wait and see how that will be handled by the script writers.

Book Three:  The Titan's Curse

The Titan in the title of the book is Atlas whom our hero will be meeting in this installment.  We all know what his curse was.  So what has that got to do with Percy?  From the beginning of this book, Annabeth is abducted by the bad guys.  Percy teams up with a newly-resurrected powerful half-blood on this quest.  They also go with a couple of perpetually young Huntresses, who have sworn off men and dedicated their lives to the goddess Artemis.   

The demigods and Grover actually meet the twin gods of the Moon and Sun, Artemis and Apollo.  We are also introduced to a pair of new very young half-blood characters, Bianca and Nico, whose fate in this book is critical to the advancement of the bigger main story, which is now formally called the Grand Stirring.  We are also going to meet other goddesses like Aphrodite and Athena as Percy had meetings with them.  Some mythological animals they encounter include the Nemean Lion, the Erymanthian Boar, Ladon (the dragon of the Hesperides) and the cute and gentle Ophiotaurus (who appears to have a more major role in the celestial conflict than initially expected).

The road trip this time starts from Washington DC as the friends try to elude ghostly skeletal warriors in the Smithsonian museums.  Then, they  find themselves in isolated Cloudcraft, New Mexico where they found the junkyard of the gods.  An exciting fight happens within the confines of Hoover Dam.  Here Percy meets Rachel Elizabeth Dare, a mortal girl who can apparently see supernatural beings.  Percy's search for Annabeth finally ends in San Francisco where a another mountain was occupied by the bad guys to mirror Mt. Olympus.  

Book Four:  The Battle of the Labyrinth

Anyone would know that there is only one famous Labyrinth in Greek mythology and that is the one occupied by the Minotaur.  Of course, in Riordan's magnified version, this Labyrinth occupies the entire underground of the Continental United States!  

Percy and his friends enter the Labyrinth in search for Daedalus.  We know Daedalus as the father of Icarus, the guy who flew too close to the sun so his wings melted and he plummeted to his death.  Daedalus in the book is a master architect who had been cursed with eternity trapped in the labyrinth because of his various "crimes."  Both sides in the brewing war of the Titans vs. Olympians search for Daedalus to gain vital information and technology for their respective battle arsenal.

We discover that Rachel Elizabeth Dare is more than just a random girl that Percy met in Hoover Dam in the last book.  Rachel and Percy cross paths again in the very first chapter. Despite her mortality, she possesses a power that would prove instrumental in the race to find Daedalus.  On a more personal note, she also gains the position of the third corner of a teen love triangle.  

Book Five:  The Last Olympian

All roads lead to New York City as the prophesied battle between the Olympians and the Titans come to a head.  The whole of Manhattan island becomes a battlefield as Percy and his demigod friends clash with the monsters allied with the Titans.  Key events occur first in the Underworld  involving the River Styx and Achilles, which prepare Percy for his monumental battle.  

We learn who the Last Olympian is, and this would not be too obvious.  We would finally see how the big Oracle prophesy would finally come to pass.  We would of course read about how the teen love triangle is going to be resolved.  If you notice, I could only write so much about these last two books without completely giving away the whole story.

This book series is quite a quick satisfactory read.  I look forward to the movies that would probably follow. Now that I have read the whole series, I feel that the first movie was not really done well at all.  There are several characters in the book who would be playing important roles throughout the series up to the final battle who were not even mentioned in the first movie.  Not to mention, the film makers also made Percy and Annabeth already older than their book counterparts.  Anyway, l guess let us just see how they deal with the rest of the four books, should they still decide to make sequels.