Saturday, April 26, 2014

Review of Atlantis' GHOST THE MUSICAL: Loving it Ditto

April 27, 2014

"Ghost", starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, is one of the biggest hit movies of the year 1990. Many people have seen it, many times over for a lot of them. The story of Sam's ghost trying all means to reconnect with his beloved Molly is well-known and well-loved.   It was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture that year. Ms. Goldberg won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as the wacky psychic Oda Mae Brown. For its 15th Anniversary, Atlantis Productions brings us the first staging of musical version of "Ghost", the first time this show is performed in the Asia Pacific region.

Sam is played by pop balladeer Christian Bautista. He did not really impress in his previous stage outings. He was a dull Tony in 'West Side Story."  He did much better in the vocal aspect in "Rama Hari."  Here, Bautista fulfills the physical requirement of the role, and is practically on stage the whole time.  He does well enough in the acting department, though he may be too exaggerated at times. The songs, which have a rock edge, do not fit his pop singing style completely. Thus, despite being the central title character, his female co-stars still outshine him.

Molly is played by the luminous Ms. Cris Villonco.  This versatile young actress can really do no wrong.  She can fit into any of her diverse stage roles like a glove, be it in English or in Filipino, straight play or drama, period or modern.  This role is no different.  Despite being practically morose and serious the whole play, she can still light up the stage with her presence.  She can make those generic-sounding sappy theatrical ballads sound so special. She is not the titular ghost, but she is ethereal one.  

Oda Mae Brown is played by the powerhouse Ima Castro.  This must be the very first time I saw Ms. Castro completely right for a role.  When she was Aida or Sarafina (in "Nine"), her voice was beautiful, but her physical look did not make her convincing as the character. But as Oda Mae, she was on point the whole time -- the comedy parts, the drama parts, the singing and dancing parts -- perfect.  She has a electric number in Act 2 where she channels the artist whose poster she has on the wall of her Seance room. Ms. Castro was the one who elicited the loudest and most spontaneous applause from the audience the whole night.  

Hans Eckstein moves up a notch in his career in a much bigger role in this show (after smaller roles in "Piaf" and "August Osage County") and we finally get to hear him sing.  He has good stage presence and his portrayal of Carl is effective.  His singing is also good, though sometimes the ensemble can overpower his voice.  (Actually the ensemble tended to be too loud in a lot of song numbers.  Only Ima Castro can out-sing them.)

The book of this musical stage version of the movie was also written by the same scriptwriter as the film, Bruce Joel Rubin.  It is a very faithful adaptation, and therefore, the basic love story still works in its musical version.  The final scene can still draw those tears out of you.  Another favorite scene of mine is the first meeting of Molly and Oda Mae, where Molly is convinced by the word "Ditto". Beautifully executed scene.

The music by Dave Stewart (with Glen Ballard) though is not too distinct or memorable or remotely Eurythmic.  Certainly, "Unchained Melody" remains to be the main theme, and is heard several times.  Of the original songs, I was only enchanted by Molly's plaintive ballad "With You", especially the way it was interpreted by Ms. Villonco with all the fragility of her depressed character.  

Of course since the source film had a supernatural theme, the stage play is limited by its inability to do those memorable cinematic special effects.  The scenes when the souls of bad people were taken or that scene when Oda Mae becomes Sam while dancing with Molly looked awkward on stage.  The iconic coin-floating scene from the movie is not here. However, director Bobby Garcia did well enough given the limits of budget and technology. The scene where Sam "penetrates" through a closed door looks good, but it happens so deep upstage that it cannot be seen well from the balcony. The special effects of moving objects is reminiscent of the telekinesis scenes in Atlantis' recent "Carrie the Musical".  The lighting effects help immensely with the total effect of the stage ghost magic in both loud and quiet scenes.

The sets felt spare for the big stage.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  Sam and Molly's Brooklyn apartment, with its three identifying set pieces, the red couch, the guitar table and the red refrigerator, would have to be the best set.  Too bad the pottery wheel was not realistic enough to make that other iconic love scene work perfectly, though Ms. Villonco's delicate acting and the Righteous Bros. on the "radio" saves it.  The scene where Sam and Carl were shown going up a New York skyscraper was cool.  But there are some really empty and dull sets, like the emergency room, the bank offices or the subway.

Congratulations to Director Bobby Garcia and the whole Atlantis cast and crew!  "Ghost" runs at the RCBC Theater on weekends up to May 11, 2014.  Catch it and relive the magic of this beloved film.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review of Ateneo Fine Arts' GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: Freudian Spills

April 22, 2014

"Games People Play" had a show tonight at the Black Box Theater of the Old Communications Building inside the campus of the Ateneo de Manila University.  The Black Box Theater is a small intimate theater venue, much like Huseng Batute at the CCP or the smaller room in Whitespace, but even smaller (its capacity is only 80 people).  Unlike the other two venues, for this play, the seats do not go all around the actors.  They are in a typical theater arrangement, with the stage in front of the audience.

The stage is just a wide empty space, with cardboard boxes cut and formed to be shaped as a small church, a small castle and a forest.  That is the set for the whole one hour and twenty minute play. There would also be homemade lighting fixtures also using cardboard as the shades.  Director and production designer Ed Lacson, Jr. explained that this was because of this play's origins as his masteral project, hence no budget. The makeshift lighting was a challenge given by his professor. He stayed with the same props and lighting up to now. But aside from that, he really enjoyed playing with cardboard boxes, hence his material of choice.

The script was written by Glenn Sevilla Mas as his final project for his MFA in Playwriting in Washington, DC. This would eventually win 2nd Prize for Full-length Play in the 2007 Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature, one of nine times that Mas placed in this category in this prestigious literary competition. His original play was in straight English with some phrases of Kinaray-a, since he hails from Antique province.  For this staging of the play though, actor Abner Delina suggested they use Ilonggo phrases instead. The distinct lilt of the Ilonggo accent was proudly heard here.

There were only three actors in the whole play.  There were three main characters: childhood friends Luna (Thea Yrastorza), Diego (Kalil Almonte) and Julio (Abner Delina). With these names, I assumed Glenn Sevilla Mas' favorite movie must have been "Y Tu Mama Tambien," where one of the lead actors was Diego Luna, and Julio is the character of Gael Garcia Bernal. The three actors would portray the kids as they grow from age six at the beginning to age 28 by the end.  These same three actors would don some accessories, change their voices and play their parents as well. They worked very well together.

The first half of the play was fun, full of childhood innocence and mischief as we see three kids from ages 6-10, playing hide and seek, telling ghost stories and joining games at the local festival.  The second act though, as the kids reach the age of eleven, the whole play transforms into a totally different one. The naughty and playful sexual undertones in the first half were starkly, graphically and painfully realized in the second half. At the end, there was an epilogue about an awkward reunion of the three friends at age 28. Despite everything they went through together as children, they seem to have nothing to say to each other.

While the first half was really funny and entertaining, the second half caught me totally by surprise.  So this is what posters meant by "for mature audiences only."  The shift in tone was very drastic and even shocking, especially when it was repeatedly emphasized that these kids were only 11 years old at that time those squirmy events were happening.  I'm not sure, but I imagined this part of the play was set in a rural community more than 15 years ago, when salacious material were not as easily accessible as now. Call me sheltered or naive, but I did not find those "games" realistic for children. I felt the actors did not also really act too child-like at all during this point in the play.

If shock value was what the playwright intended, he got it.  Mas seemed to be on a Freudian high when he wrote this play, with sex figuring very prominently in the entire second half.  And to think that this play was originally written as his final project in Playwriting in a CATHOLIC University -- haha!  It can be uncomfortable to sit through.  Not everyone can identify with such childhood experiences. You simply could not watch this with your parents.  But nevertheless, the material is really bold, different and thought-provoking.  It is definitely worth your time to watch it.

"Games People Play" runs at the Fine Arts Blackbox Theater, Ateneo de Manila University. There are only five shows left in this limited run: April 23, 24, 25 & 26 (7:30 PM) and April 26 (2:30 PM).  Tickets only at P150 each.  For inquiries, please contact John Yap at 0917-722-5399.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Recap and Videos of LIONEL RICHIE Live in Manila: All the Hits, All Night Long!

April 5, 2014

For someone who grew up in the 1980s, the name of Lionel Richie was dominating in the realm of pop and R&B music.  He was constantly in the Top 10 of the Billboard 100 throughout the 1980s. In fact by 1985, he has the distinction of writing at least one Number One song a year for 9 years, which is unmatched by any artist in the Rock Era at that time.

For many of his fans, it is about time Lionel Richie came here to perform.  But actually, this is already Mr. Richie's second time to perform at the Araneta Coliseum.  The Commodores, the 70s funk/soul band which Mr. Richie fronted, had performed at the Araneta back in 1978. But of course, this was before his own string of solo hits in the 1980s.  This is a definitely concert long overdue. It was not really a full house like it was with Tears for Fears, but the audience turnout was respectable.  Throughout the night, we saw celebrities flashed on the big screens, notably Korina Sanchez, Melanie Marquez, and Comm. Kim Henares.

The concert started about 8:30 pm already.  There had been no front act.  When the lights dimmed, the fans went wild as the driving rhythmic music began to play, and the stage lights began to play around. This was not really how I imagined a Lionel Richie concert to begin. But before I doubted myself, there he was entering the stage amidst the cheers of his fans. We first heard his voice sing "Hello, is it me you're looking for?" which drew louder applause, but then he segued to singing an unfamiliar (to me) fast number entitled "Just for You".

After that entrance, he began to sing the hits.  He looks pretty good with his distinct visage, as we always knew him. His golden voice is still very much there. First up was his midtempo #8 from 1984,  "Penny Lover".  He followed that up with a slow number from his Commodores days, a #4 song in 1977, "Easy." This was an extended version, ending with a reggae beat.  Black and white images of girls wearing tutus appeared in the backdrop, signalling that his #7 ballad in 1986 "Ballerina Girl" was to be sung.  Up next was a #4 song from 1982, "You Are".

These songs paved the way for his next song, which got the audience truly excited.  This was Richie's first Number One solo hit in 1982, "Truly" (VIDEO).  Of course, with age (he is now 64 years old), the higher range is already somewhat limited, but he had adjusted accordingly with differences in phrasing and delivery. The saxophone was handily there to disguise other limitations. This set ended with another upbeat tune, a #7 hit from 1983, "Running with the Night".  When Mr. Richie wants the audience to get up and dance, they get up and dance!

For the next three songs, Richie told the audience various stories of relationships, and how we turn to his songs in each situation.  His spiels were hilarious, but the songs were all glorious.  This began with the second #1 hit for the Commodores, "Still" (1979) (VIDEO).  Following this was another Commodores ballad, a #4 song from 1982, "Oh No".  Finally, we hear another solo #1 song "Stuck on You" (1984) (VIDEO).

Next he sang a big Commodores funk hit "Brick House" (#5, 1977), mixed with "Fire" in a medley. Then he talked about a song inspired by his father's toast to his mother, the first #1 hit for the Commodores, "Three Times a Lady"  (VIDEO). He jokes his dad was still waiting for his cut of the royalties.  He then went for a continuous mix of several Commodores hits from "Sail On" (#4, 1979) to "Sweet Love" (#5, 1976) to "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" (#8, 1981).

Mr. Richie then tells the story of how he invited Diana Ross to come to Manila to sing their #1 duet from 1981, "Endless Love". Of course, Ms. Ross says no.  So Richie asks the audience to help him perform the song by singing Diana Ross' lines.  Of course, we were only too glad to oblige.  I don't think we even needed the lyrics flashed on the screen as we sang with Richie. Unfortunately, this nice little sing-a-along only lasted for one verse and chorus, not the whole song.

Up next, the backdrop turned black and had some dramatic smoke patterns on it.  Richie goes on to sing his last #1 hit from 1985 "Say You, Say Me" (VIDEO).  This segued to the most high-energy number of the whole show, his #2 hit from 1986, "Dancing on the Ceiling"  (VIDEO). Richie's seemingly boundless stamina during this song was amazing!  

He then tells about a song that it seemed from his touring the whole world loves.  He sat down at the piano and began to play and sing "Hello" (#1, 1984) (VIDEO).  After that ballad, he suddenly changed gears again and performed another upbeat hit, the title of his concert tour, "All Night Long" (#1, 1983).  He bids the audience good by after this spirited number.

The house lights never go back on, and the band members were tarrying on the stage fooling around. The audience senses that this concert is not yet over, and yells for more.  Mr. Richie comes back onstage after a few minutes, this time wearing a white coat. He shared that this next song is the most meaningful song he has written.  It was "We Are the World" (VIDEO). There was just one song in his encore, after this, it was truly over.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Recap and Videos of VOICE NIGHT OUT: World Voice Day Concert at SLMC-BGC

April 4, 2014

World Voice Day is a yearly celebration since 1999 aimed to remind the people of the world about the value of their voices.   It is celebrated on April 16 throughout the world by way of concerts, fora, free clinics for voice and voice education by various means.  

St. Luke's Medical Center is one of the first local institutions to celebrate World Voice Day in the Philippines about ten years ago, and annually since then.  As with previous years, both SLMC Quezon City and Bonifacio Global City, there were lay fora, free endoscopy of the throat and concerts to celebrate this day. It was held earlier this year because April 16 falls during Holy week.  Activities in Quezon City were held last April 2, and the BGC events were held earlier today.

This year though, the concert in Bonifacio Global City though was not as "mini-" as it used to be.  The powers-that-be decided to push the World Voice Day celebration up several levels by staging a major concert with professional recording artists.  Tagged "VOICE NIGHT OUT", this big concert was held in the huge lobby of the hospital on a real stage with a complete professional sound system, the works!


The emcee of the event  was proud SLMC graduate, now consultant in the Dept. of Radiology, Dr. Nathaniel (or Nace) Cruz.  His claim to fame was winning the "America Meets World" Best Comedy Video contest just last month.  He kept the whole affair bubbly with his unique brand of comedy.  He would lobby that we should not only be supporting the voice of singing, but also the voice of comedy.

The concert started promptly at 6 pm. The singer who opened the show was Noelle Cassandra.  Of course, her signature instrument, the harp, was there to accompany her in her two song numbers, one of which was "Colors of the Wind" from "Pocahontas" (VIDEO). She enthralled the audience with her soothing voice, masterful harp-playing and even her cute funny spiels. 


She was followed by a couple of homegrown St. Luke's talents.  First up was Anton Marcial, who won third place in the St. Luke's Got Talent last October 2013.  After him was the ever-popular cardiologist/singer Dr. Rodney Jimenez, whose rendition of "Hanggang sa Dulo ng Walang Hanggan" (VIDEO) could give the pros a run for their money.  After him, a couple of singing patients were also given a chance to sing onstage.

Then it was back to the real singing professionals.  Prof. Kitchie Molina, who is also the resident singing therapist in the Voice Center of SLMC-BGC, gave us a hilarious spoof of a Cole Porter song entitled "The Physician" (VIDEO).  After which, she became serious and  gave a show-stopping performance of Barbra Streisand's final song from the film "Yentl", the soaring "A Piece of Sky." (VIDEO)

The classical tone was continued by the next performer, pop tenor Den Ramos.  He impressively sang two David Foster songs, an Italian number originally sung by Josh Groban, and Andrea Bocceli's anthem from the Turin Winter Olympics "Because We Believe"(VIDEO).

NEY (and Nurse Julie from Clinical Advancement)

The momentum of the concert then shifted from classical to rock. Ex-6 Cycle Mind member Ney took the stage with two of his songs, "Kailan" (VIDEO) and his recent PhilPop runner-up winning song "Kung Di Man."  An even more popular band followed -- Moonstar 88 -- with their charismatic vocalist Maychelle Baay. They rendered a new song "Migraine" and their classic hit "Torete" (VIDEO) to the delight of the crowd.

The next singer to take the stage was "Soul Siren" Nina with her sparkly skirt and precarious-looking high heels.  Disappointingly, she only sang one song, her version of Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me."


After Nina, it was the turn of GMA-7 talent show champion Aicelle Santos, who recently starred in stage productions "Katy!" and, more recently, "Rak of Aegis." Her strong voice was solid in her renditions of the Eagles' rock ballad "I Can't Tell You Why" (VIDEO) and Adele's soulful "Rolling in the Deep."

Next up was talent show-runner up and now theater talent and soap opera actor, Gian Magdangal.  He turned down the heat again, rendering two slow song numbers.  One was an old jazz standard.  The other is a current telenovela theme song written by Ogie Alcasid.

Dr. Nace announced that previously announced guests like Martin Nievera, Gary Valenciano and Sarah Geronimo send their apologies that they could not make it, and asked him to cover for them.  After he tried to sing a couple of lines from their hits, a video was shown showing the three stars greeting SLMC a Happy World Voice Day!


The final singer to take the stage and close the show was theater artist Cris Villonco.  She was at her brassy best with a animated version of big band classic "Orange Colored Sky".  Her final song was from her other favorite genre, Broadway, "I Dreamed of Dream" (VIDEO) from "Les Miserables."  Needless to say, her rendition was flawless.

The whole concert did go a little over the schedule, ending almost three hours later at 9 pm. However the most important aim was successfully achieved. The key message of World Voice Day was delivered effectively to the audience that night. I am sure everyone would remember that there is a World Voice Day, and know what it stands for.  

A big thank you goes to all the generous sponsors and guest artists for their support in this important endeavor. Congratulations to the hardworking organizers this successful staging of this special concert!