Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Trumpets' THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS: First-Rate, World-Class Local Production!

September 25, 2013

My daughter and I were fortunate enough to have been able to watch the final Technical Dress Rehearsal of the comeback production of Trumpets entitled "The Bluebird of Happiness."  I will not be able watch during the regular run because of prior travel plans, so it was indeed lucky that the stars aligned for me to be able to see and write about this musical before I leave.  I am very happy because this play is one of the most beautiful original Filipino theater presentations I have ever seen, both musically and technically.

Set on Christmas eve in a village somewhere while neighbors are fussing around with their gifts, little Mytyl and her younger brother Tyltyl were feeling miserable inside their poor little hut.  They have no tree, and no gifts, their dad's still out working and their mother is about to give birth to a younger sibling they are not looking forward to.

Later that night, an ugly fairy named Berylune tells them that the first step to finding happiness is to find a certain Bluebird of Happiness.  She also turns their pet dog Tylo and pet cat Tylette into human forms to serve as their guides.  Finally, she gives them Light to serve as their illumination during their overnight quest.

Their quest brings them to the Land of Memory (where they meet their dear departed Grandparents), the Land of Night (where they meet the charismatic Night), the Land of the Trees (where they learn some lessons about the environment), the Land of Luxury (where they discover how to set priorities), the Land of the Future (where they meet their future little brother) and the Graveyard (where they face their ultimate fears).  Will the ever-combative siblings ever get along with each other?  Will they ever catch the Bluebird of Happiness before daybreak and live happily ever after?

As the lead characters, Chimmi Kohchet-Chua (playing bossy Mytyl) and Anton Posadas (playing the mischievous Tyltyl) had perfect chemistry with each other as siblings who cannot stand each other.  Kohchet-Chua was positively incandescent in her stage debut, especially in her remarkable solo rendition of the title song in Act 2.  Despite a lapel microphone glitch for a number of scenes in Act 1, Posadas, a stage veteran already at his tender age, was unfazed, singing and delivering his lines with confidence like a true professional. Their awesome talents in singing and acting are proof that there IS a bright future to Philippine musical theater. Their alternates in these central roles are the team of Alessa Zialcita and Guido Gatmaytan.

The characters the kids interact with were all played by seasoned professionals.  Jennifer Villegas-dela Cruz has such a clear singing voice as Berylune.  A luminous Carla Guevarra-Laforteza illuminates the stage with her beauty and lilting soprano as Light.  Robie Zialcita plays the loyal dog Tylo very delightfully.  He really shone in "Tylo's Spot", a song and dance number which he performed with the cute "unborn" children.  The slinky cat Tylette was played with feline wiles by Lynn Sherman. Her highlight was her sinister "Tango of Treachery" duet with Night. 

Who best to play Grandma Tyl but the ever-reliable Ms. Joy Virata?  Grandpa Tyl was played by a sprightly Steve Cadd. Night was a dark yet flamboyant character played with aplomb by Joel Trinidad, who was oozing with evil glee.  Raymond Concepcion gets to play three characters, the Oak Tree (with the deep Optimus Prime-like voice), Father Time and the kids' Father.  His reverberating deep baritone voice is strong and masterful. Mayen Bustamante-Cadd lovingly plays their Mother.

The whole production had a vibe that you were not watching a Filipino play.  It had a distinctly foreign flavor, very much like a Disney production.  While the story was based on a Belgian play by Maurice Maeterlinck, this production is proudly all-Filipino.  The music was composed by Rony Fortich, now on his seventh year as Musical Director of Hongkong Disneyland.  The sweeping musical arrangements were care of Mon Faustino. The book and libretto by Director Jaime del Mundo was so witty and insightful, such a joy.  

The stage design was a magical work of art in itself.  No expense had been spared for the elaborate set pieces and colorful costumes by Mio Infante. As with the music, you can see influences of Walt Disney films, like "Beauty and the Beast", "Hercules" and "Princess and the Frog".  The opening of Act 2 alone in the lavish Land of Luxury with a huge real chandelier as its backdrop is a prime example of the opulence of the sets.  The intense scene with the giant trees in the Enchanted Forest was very imaginatively staged. The amazing lighting effects by John Batalla impressively create illusions of three-dimensionality and drama. 

Sweet Plantado's expert voice coaching was very much evident in the vocal interpretation of the songs, especially by the kids.  She will also be playing Light in some shows.  The other members of the crew were: GA Fallarme for the Video Projection Designs, Myrene Santos for Hair & Make-up Design, and Nancy Crowe for Choreography.

"Bluebird" is a fine example of Filipino talent and ingenuity that is world class and first rate. You will forget that you are in Meralco Theater when you watch this play, because of the magical atmosphere the play creates.  Since Trumpets is the Asia’s first professional gospel theater group, aside from enjoying the show, you and your kids will also pick up valuable life lessons about being happy and content.  

Congratulations to Director Jaime del Mundo and the rest of the cast and crew of Trumpets, led by its president, Mr. Audie Gemora for this highly entertaining and deeply meaningful production!  This promises to be a future Christmas season staple for years to come. 


"The Bluebird of Happiness" runs weekends from September 27 – October 20, 2013 at the Meralco Theater with shows at 8 pm on Fridays, 3 pm and 8 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket inquiries can be coursed through 901-4364, 891-9999 or 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dulaang UP's THE DUCHESS OF MALFI: Madness and Murder

September 22, 2013

I was not entirely sure what to expect from "The Duchess of Malfi".  This was a play written by John Webster and first performed in 1614, billed as a "supreme tragedy of blood."  It has had several stagings through the years, with stars like Peggy Ashcroft, Judy Dench, and Helen Mirren all having a turn with the title role.  With a tagline as intriguing as "A poetry of evil, violence and death wish," how can I resist?

The story is about the Duchess of Malfi, a young widow who falls in love with and secretly marries a commoner named Antonio, against the extreme objections of her two brothers, her twin Ferdinand and the Cardinal.  The brothers hire an ex-convict named Borsola to spy on her, make her mad and eventually to execute her.  Will their evil plot proceed as planned?

I have to admit the story of the play was not too easy to get into in the first scenes because of the language used.  I did not really know what was going on exactly until the scene where Borsola gives the Duchess the plums.  The English used was rather archaic in phrasing and the actors were over-enunciating their lines.  That said, I am really impressed though with the perfect memorization of those wordy lines by the whole cast!  Despite the kilometric dialogues, I could not recall anyone with a significant buckle.

The best performance in the whole show is by Richard Cunanan, hands down.  His character might have been the anti-hero, but ironically, it was the one we can relate to the most.  This is because Borsola appeared to be the only sane character in the midst of this madhouse. Cunanan is cool.  He is witty.  He did not attempt a strange accent.  His subtlety sets him apart. I could not imagine how his alternates Neil Ryan Sese or George de Jesus III can do this role any better.

Also standing out was Martha Comia as the lustful Julia. She is pretty and delightful in this role that got better with every scene she was in.  Comia's acting was very natural and refreshing, despite being a very daring role.  Alternates for this role are Issa Litton and Christelle Manuel.

Adriana Agcaoili had a physical disconnect with how I imagined the Duchess of Malfi would look like, despite her beautiful costumes.  She was able to transcend that uneven first half with a stronger, more stirring performance in the second half.  Banaue Miclat and Liza Dino also alternate in this central role.

Menggie Cobarrubias was strangely stiff as the Cardinal.  I was expecting more from him since he is the only actor I know in the cast.  But that maybe because of the way the character was written, or maybe the red robes did not fit him too well.  Brian Tibayan alternates in this role.

Jacques Borlaza really goes over-the-top with his acting here.  You really cannot understand his character and why Borlaza was overacting that way, until the character totally goes bonkers later in the show.  The abrupt way his character developed negatively affected my appreciation for his acting, and that is not his fault.  Amazing that he appears to have no alternate for the Filipino version.

Carlo Tarobal did not strike me as the correct choice for the role of Antonio.  He had no chemistry with Agcaoili.  It was not clear why she likes him and would fight for her love of him despite family resistance.  Curious how his alternate Dax Alejandro will tackle this role.

Arvin Trinidad tended to overact as Antonio's friend Delio.  At times, the way he delivers his dialogue is not too clear. His character ended the whole play with a short monologue and I think he did not pull it off too well.  He was even upstaged by the little boy he shared that final scene with. Delio alternates are Brian Arda and Mark Dalacat.

Despite all these little comments about acting, overall, the play was quite compelling, especially the second half. Since it deals with madness and death, there are many disturbing and unsettling images on that stage which will shock the audience.  The costumes and production design look very good.  For me though, it was the really the nuanced performance of Richard Cunanan as Borsola that bound this whole show together and carried it to its ultimate success.

"The Duchess of Malfi" is the second offering of Dulaang UP's 38th Theater Season. It is being staged both in the original English, as well as in Tagalog as translated by Allan Palileo (who also translated past Dulaang UP hits "Mary Stuart" and "The Seagull".  Congratulations to the cast and crew of Dulaang UP and revered Director Tony Mabesa for yet another success!


"The Duchess of Malfi" opened last September 11, and runs at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater at the Palma Hall, for one more week.  English version will be staged on September 24, 25, 26 and 27, all at 7 pm.  Filipino version will be staged on September 28 and 29, shows at 10 am and 3 pm.  Tickets at P350.  For information, the Dulaang UP Office numbers are 9261349 and 4337840.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

RIHANNA Diamonds World Tour Manila 2013: Concert Recap and Videos

September 20, 2013

The concert time on the ticket was 8 pm, but it was only at around 8:30 that a pair of DJ's calling themselves GTA started to mix some house music.  That was OK, mostly driving beats with occasional mixes of popular songs like "Better Off Alone", "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Otherside."  But when it was going on and on for more than 40 minutes, it got too repetitive and boring already.  They ended around 9:15 pm.

There was still no Rihanna for another hour after that.  Even by that time, there were still a lot of expensive seats in the Patron and Lower Box still unoccupied.  The Upper Box and General Admission though were pretty much full.  The house lights of the MOA Arena were finally dimmed at around 10:15 pm.  Honestly my daughter and I were pretty tired and sleepy already by that time. But when the crowd went wild with Rihanna's entrance and greeting, so did we get our energy back.

Her first few songs were only moderate hits like "Phresh Out the Runway",  "Birthday Cake" (a controversial 2012 collaboration with Chris Brown, after their violent breakup),  "Talk That Talk" (a 2012 collaboration with Jay-Z), "Pour It Up" (a recent Top 20 hit) and  "Numb" (her 2011 collaboration with Eminem).  The songs sounded familiar but we weren't really feeling the excitement.   When she sang "You da One", the energy of the crowd picked up.  This was followed by "Man Down" and the lively hit "Rude Boy." "What's My Name?", her duet with Drake, followed to the delight of the crowd.  

The next bunch of songs were again not too familiar to me, "Jump," "Rockstar 101" and  the ballad "What Now".  Luckily her giant old hit "Umbrella" (VIDEO) was there for us to sing along to.  The interpretation of "Umbrella" though felt lazy with hardly no choreography.  That rendition was rather disappointing. 

When she came out to sing a medley of the mid-tempo songs "Take a Bow / Cold Case Love", followed by "Hate That I Love You", the crowd again got excited.  When the strains of the next song "We Found Love" the crowd went absolutely wild.  That number alone made up for the lackluster first hour of the concert for me.  From that time on, Rihanna never looked back. She launched into a series of big hits,  "S&M" (VIDEO), "Only Girl (In the World)" , "Don't Stop the Music" and a very rousing "Where Have You Been" to end the main set.

The audience clamored for more.  For her encores, she sang two big ballads, both recent big hits: the melodic "Stay" and then as the final song of the whole show, the song from where the tour got its name,  "Diamonds." The whole show ended at about 11:30 pm or so, just about an hour and a half all in all.  

Her dancing was just a lot of slinky moves with crotch grabs and other suggestive moves. She did not elaborate costume changes. She started in an all-white outfit, unbuttoned blouse top, inner tank top, culottes and sneakers. Then she would just vary this same ensemble around, until she just ended in a white tanga during her encore. 

She did not sing her first hit song "Pon de Replay", her first Number 1 song "SOS", nor some of her memorable hits like "Unfaithful", Disturbia", "Rehab", "California King Bed" or even her latest single "Right Now."  This lady really has a lot of hit singles in her career, it is not possible to perform them all in a concert.  

It was also obvious when you look at the big screens that Rihanna was not really singing the whole time, as the singing continues even when she is not holding the microphone to her mouth. She must have been singing over a recording or a back-up singer that sounds exactly like her. For me the show was quite lukewarm for the first hour, until that fantastic final half hour that saved the whole concert from being one big expensive disappointment.  


Postscript:  I learned an important lesson about SM Tickets with this Rihanna concert.  I bought these tickets on the very first day they were released by in April in order to get excellent seats, and we did.  I made the mistake though of having the tickets printed out by SM Tickets back in late April when I had my Aerosmith tickets printed out for their May 2 concert.  It turned out to be a mistake because the ink they used to print the tickets was already fading when I checked them out four months later. 

SM Tickets would say they cannot do anything anymore. So today, luckily the bar code could still be read by the scanner at the gate, though it needed to be scanned more than once.  The faded print also made determining our seats difficult, but in brighter light, the usher was able to read the seat numbers.  Lesson is you can buy tickets online early, but only have the actual ticket printed out as the concert date approaches.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

TONY BENNETT Live in Manila: Concert Recap and Videos

September 17, 2013

Tony Bennett is already 87 years old, but he is still very actively recording and touring.  In September of 2011, Bennett released Duets II on his 85th birthday, where he sang duets with a diverse list of artists, ranging from Aretha Franklin to Lady Gaga. This album debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard 200, making Bennett the oldest living artist to top that chart.  It was interestingly his first and only Number 1 album.  His duet with the late Amy Winehouse entitled "Body and Soul" made Bennett the oldest living artist on the Billboard Hot 100, with the longest career span on that chart.

Tonight, I brought my parents and my aunt with me to watch Mr. Bennett live in concert, who finally came to sing in Manila live for the first time in his long career. Even if we know his smooth cool voice may not be the same anymore, we did not want to miss this rare, and maybe the only, time for us to see and hear one of the best singers in the world sing live.

And apparently so did a lot of other Filipino fans, mostly senior citizens.  Being a Tuesday evening, the Plenary Hall of the PICC filled up slowly.  But surely, by showtime of 8:30 pm, when the house lights dimmed, the big hall was almost totally filled up.  

On stage was a grand piano, an electric guitar, a double bass and drums.  His band occupied their respective places as a voice-over announced the name of the front act, Ms. Antonia Bennett, the daughter of Tony Bennett.  She sang about six songs, including her version of "Embraceable You" which was most warmly applauded.  She had a unique character to her voice, not too brassy, not too light.

When Ms. Bennett bid farewell, we hear the voice of Frank Sinatra introduce "the greatest singer in the world", and in comes Mr. Tony Bennett himself, dapper in a white coat.  When he started to sing his first song "Watch What Happens", the audience, feeling the excitement of hearing a legendary voice live, burst into loud applause.  He would follow up that song with "They All Laughed" and "Maybe This Time."  The voice was predictably rough already with age, but it was still so strong as he did not avoid belting out seemingly unreachable money notes.

With the next songs, "I Got Rhythm," "Because of Love" (his first Number 1 pop song in 1951) and "Sing You Sinners", he also introduced the talented members of his band.  They were: pianist Lee Musiker, drummer Harold James, bassist Marshall Wood and guitarist Gray Sargent.  Then Antonia came out again to sing a pleasant little duet with her dad, entitled "Old Friend" (VIDEO). Maybe in recognition for his age, every little "daddy-dance" move he did was met with generous applause.

It was amazing how Sir Tony had so much vocal and physical stamina to sing song after song, with nary a sip of water in between.  He sang "Steppin' Out With My Baby", then "But Beautiful."  The next song was a stripped down version of "The Way You Look Tonight."  He also sang his very first recording, the brooding song, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."  

Together with less familiar (for me) standards like "Just in Time", "The Good Life" and "Once Upon a Time," were familiar ones, like "Shadow of Your Smile" and the song that ended the main set, "One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)".  After toasting the audience, he bid goodbye and left the stage.

Of course, the audience did not let him go just like that and definitely clamored for more.  We knew there was more since the band did not leave the stage.  Mr. Bennett came back onstage in a short while and sang "For Once in My Life" (VIDEO), then "That Old Black Magic." He segued to the song he is most known for "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."  After singing a fourth encore song, "Who Cares?", he tried to leave the stage again.  

And again, the audience did not let him go just yet.  He came back on to sing a beautiful version of "Smile."  Finally, he showed off his vocal power by singing "Fly Me to the Moon" without a microphone!  The audience took the cue and sang the rest of the song with him with perfect knowledge of the lyrics!  That is definitely why foreign artists love to come perform here. We know how to sing our favorite songs by heart.

With that, a historic concert with one of the most respected musical stars has ended.  The audience went home carrying with them the memory of not only Tony Bennett's iconic voice but also his warm heart and smile. This is pure nostalgia.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Green Wings' "LORENZO": Grand Production about Sinners and Saints

August 6, 2013

The story of "Lorenzo" is told as a musical within a musical.  Ex-theater actor Laurence Ruiz, an OFW convict condemned to die for murdering his lecherous employer, is writing a play about the saint whom he identifies with the most, San Lorenzo Ruiz.  He recounts in his musical play how his sad life parallels that of San Lorenzo, his journey, his suffering, and his marytrdom.

The first major production by the new Green Wings Entertainment Network headed by actor Christopher de Leon, "Lorenzo" boasts of music by Ryan Cayabyab, with book & lyrics by Juan Ekis & Paul Dumol in the collaboration of Joem Antonio.  Cayabyab's music in this show is very much reminiscent of "Jesus Christ Superstar" with its edgy rock opera feel where the voices of the cast soar and wail to heavenly heights.  Veteran director Nonon Padilla skillfully integrates the past and present stories of the two Lorenzos into one seamless meaningful whole, both socio-political and religious aspects.

The most memorable aspect of this play is its unique and spectacular production design courtesy of Gino Gonzales.  Multiple Japanese references, from Kabuki to Giant Robots, are used to drive the story forward. This play had a story which is very challenging to stage. Gonzales was able to convincingly show us a sampan caught in a squall in the high seas, the graceful passing of four seasons, as well as how the martyrs were tortured and executed (in an ingenious manner which I will not spoil for you here). His fertile imagination can also be seen in the many ways Balikbayan boxes were used in this play.  

The rest of the crew should be proud of how the technical aspect of the play turned out.  They are Dingdong Fiel (Musical Director) and the live band, Jonjon Villareal (Technical Director/Lighting Design), and Christine Crame (Choreographer).

LORENZ MARTINEZ stars as San Lorenzo Ruiz.  There is no argument that he is one fantastic singer and such a wide range.  No wonder he is one of those who survived the Ms. Saigon auditions last year, it is clear why.  And his acting in those passion scenes at the end when he was contemplating his fate was positively intense.  Truth to tell though, Martinez never really completely became Lorenzo for me because of a marked physical disconnect with how we usually imagine San Lorenzo to look like.  Martinez's long hair, hefty build and even his blue shirt did not help identify him as San Lorenzo.

OJ MARIANO plays the "dead man walking" playwright Laurence Ruiz.  He looked quite thin and gaunt than how we usually see him.  I guess that was a triumph of his black-white striped prison costume and sallow make-up.  He is such a consistent performer in any show I see him in, and this one is no exception.  While his singing is flawless, he did flub a number of spoken lines, but nevertheless he kept quite in character.

The first song in the show was sung by Rosario Ruiz, wife of Lorenzo.  SHIELA VALDERRAMA sang this song of longing so beautifully.  Actually she sung ALL her songs beautifully with her crystal clear high notes.  She really stood out because she was only one of two female characters, and she had more than one song and thankfully so.

The four Dominican friar missionaries whose sampan to Okinawa Lorenzo joined were really very inspirational characters.  They actually dreamed of being martyrs for their faith and this was their noble dream come true.  They had many good songs which they sang in perfect harmony in four voices, one time even in impressive a capella in Act 2 of Laurence's play which focuses on the friars' guesses why Lorenzo joined them.  

I first saw JULIENE MENDOZA in PETA's "Bona" and he caught my attention despite his short quiet role.  It was no fluke that this guy can act so well, and in fact he can even sing very well as Fray Antonio Gonzales, the leader of the mission.  He can effortlessly connect with the audience up to his very final scene out of his monk robes.  It was awesome to witness him own the stage again.

Two former TV celebrities make comebacks via this play.  That's Entertainment talent BRYLLE MONDEJAR as Fray Guillaume Courtet and Philippine Idol contestant MIGUEL MENDOZA as Fray Miguel Aozaraza.  Mondejar surprised me with his deep baritone voice.  Mendoza stood out because of height and youth, and I have to say that his voice has since improved from his days on TV.  But the big discovery here is RHENWYN GABALONZO as Fray Vicente Shiwozuka.  His solo while singing in the "cold" winter shivering and coughing was so strong!

I was puzzled why the Japanese interrogators had European names in the cast list.  Red-haired and masked Rodrigues was played and sung by talented NOEL RAYOS while on a wheelchair.  I had never heard him wildly scream rock songs before, and boy, can he!  And his final exit, what an impact. When he appeared out of costume at the curtain call, and it turns out he was actually in a leg cast for real. Amazing professionalism.   The other interrogator Carvalho was played by BREZHNEV LARLAR.

Giving Juliene Mendoza tough competition in the Featured Actor category come awards season is TERENCE GUILLERMO in the challenging role of Lazaro,a Japanese Christian who also happened to be leper.  His tenor voice is booming and strong, standing out of group songs and duets.  The character of Lazaro becomes the point of view of Laurence in the concluding act of his musical, and that was when Guillermo shone in his role.

I was wondering why opera diva Ms. CAMILLE LOPEZ-MOLINA was just playing the Reporter to whom Laurence dictated his play.  Turns out, of course, that she will have one amazing solo operatic aria of a psalm at the end of Act 2.  Now that was a showstopper!

And in all the plays and musicals I have seen, I must note that this had one of the most memorable and unexpectedly fun curtain calls I have seen.  

Kudos to Green Wings, director Nonon Padilla, his entire cast and crew of staging this huge, audacious, original Filipino rock musical.  I understand that this play will be toured around different provinces and universities, culminating in a run at the Cultural Center of the Philippines next year.  Producer Christopher de Leon is not closing the door on taking on an acting role in the future of the run, and that is something to look forward to.  

This maiden run of "Lorenzo" is now playing at the fresh, spacious and comfortable SDA Theater of the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde along Vito Cruz in Malate. Performances are scheduled on September 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, and 14 with shows at 1:00 PM and 6:00 PM. The start time of 6 pm was quite unusual but understandable because of the three hour long running time with 10 minute intermission.  

There are three Price Zones when you buy your tickets at Ticketworld: Orchestra Center (Reserved Seating) at P1,274.98, Orchestra Side and Loge (Free Seating) P1,062.48 and Balcony (Free Seating) P531.24.  Buying onsite will save you the online service fees.