Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review of PhilStagers' FILIPINAS 1941: A Japanese Occupation Musical

October 26, 2014

The Philippine Stagers Foundation continues its yearly tradition of creating an original Filipino musical play about a person or time in Philippine History. They have had previous plays about heroes like Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Ninoy and Cory Aquino. They had had productions about St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St. Pedro Calungsod as well. This new play this year has its setting in the Japanese Occupation, a painful and bloody time in relatively recent history that is rarely tackled in a musical.

"Filipinas 1941" is about two brothers, Felipe and Nestor, who were diametric opposites in their personality. Felipe is simple-minded school dropout with lowly ambitions. Nestor has a brilliant mind, graduating valedictorian of their class with big dreams. The two brothers got separated when Japan occupied the Philippines during World War 2. 

Felipe's path led him to be a poor farmer, getting separated from his sweetheart Sophia (who just entered the nunnery when they parted) and becoming a member of the guerilla movement. On the other hand, Nestor married his girl Emilia and became a rich businessman in the shoe business, even supplying the footwear of the Japanese army. Will these two brothers ever get back together again as the war raged on?

Vince Tanada and Adelle Ibarrientos

Atty. Vince Tanada, who also wrote and directed this show as well as all other Stagers shows, played the elder brother Felipe in his usual flamboyant style. It is a style which others may call overly theatrical, but evidently his legions of fans love him for it. His tenor singing voice is stronger here ever than how I remember it before. He reaches some pretty crazy high notes (as written by renowned Musical Director Pipo Cifra) solidly. This is very impressive vocal conditioning considering they stage this demanding show four times a day!

As writer, Tanada came up with an inventive narrative that was able to mix its love story with known personalities and elements about the Japanese occupation. The basic story of star-crossed lovers will turn out to be more cleverly plotted than you would think at first. For me, the best directed scene was for the beautiful 4-voice ballad "Wala Ka Man". Here the four leads sing about missing each others' love, and Tanada's inspired stage interpretation was surprisingly heartfelt and poignant. For our history lesson, we get to meet and understand the personality behind famous historical names like Manuel L. Quezon, Jose P. Laurel, Gen. Masaharu Homma and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. We see and hear more about comfort women, Mickey Mouse money, the Death March, and the Huks.

Patrick Libao and Cindy Liper

Patrick Libao and Cindy Liper joins Tanada as Stagers tried and true power triumvirate, also playing lead in their last two musicals that I have seen. Since I saw him first in "Joe", Libao (as Nestor) is constantly improving in confidence, acting-wise and singing-wise. Liper (as Emilia) is simply awesome as an actress and singer, I have to say she is the best total performer on the stage there last night. Adelle Ibarrientos was also in the last two musicals, but in a smaller roles. This time she becomes part of the lead quartet of this play and deservedly so, as Sophia.

Among the secondary roles, Chris Lim stood out delightfully playing Gen. MacArthur with a tongue-in-cheek drawl. JP Lopez was moving as the misunderstood puppet president Jose P. Laurel, whose intentions we barely knew anything about till now. Young Gabby Bautista had a lot of stage presence as Pancho, the boy left in the care of Felipe when his grandfather Tata Edong (Chin Ortega) disappears. Poul Garcia played the sadistic Japanese officer Tsuji Masanobu with evil glee.

Tanada and Libao as Felipe and Nestor

When you've see a Stagers play before, you get used to its energetic and youth-oriented style. Every song is a big production number with cast members all over the stage, singing and dancing in unison. All the sung dialog has an accompanying choreography with some crazy arm gestures done by all. There is a portion when they would crack some shallow jokes for quick comic relief. The finale would be a major flag-waving nationalistic statement. This style is a signature that is unique for a Stagers' play and should not be taken against them. It would not be a Stagers play without these trademarks.

Overall, "Filipinas 1941" may not be as complex as "Joe" or "Bonifacio" before it. However, it was nevertheless able to fulfill its aims to entertain and to educate its young audiences. For some, the choreography of the song numbers may come across as crude and the attempts at comedy may come across as corny. But hey, the young audience lapped it all up and were enjoying the show heartily. As a writer-director, Vince Tanada truly knows the pulse of his target demographic. He eschews high-brow sophistication in favor of a more down-to-earth popular style, in order to effectively get his patriotic message across, and to get more youth more interested in the theater.

"Filipinas 1941" is being shown in SM North EDSA Cinema 9 and other venues all over Metro Manila and key cities all over the country since July 2014, and will run up to March 2015. These shows can fill up the whole theater, mostly with students from an entire school. For schedule of performances. check out the Phil. Stagers website, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Recap of ST. LUKE'S AT 111: THE CONCERT: From a Performer's View

October 17, 2014

This year, St. Luke's Medical Center is celebrating its 111th year of existence in delivering world-class healthcare to the Filipino people. Like previous years, this is a whirlwind week-long celebration. 

October 13 was Big Night at the Crossroads along Mother Ignacia. This was a night when various departments of the hospital come up with their best production numbers in quest for the big prize. October 14 was Doctor's Night at the EDSA Shang Hotel. This was a night of fellowship for the medical staff, marked by ballroom dancing, a raffle with big prizes and a retro performance by the 70s OPM band, the Boyfriends. Tonight is the annual Bingo night for the SLMC Family, with a car as the first prize.

Last night October 16, there was a big concert held at the auditorium of the St. Luke's College of Medicine also to commemorate the anniversary. This was also on simultaneous live broadcast to BGC for them to watch and join the festivities.


Last month, I received the invitation letter to be one of the performers in this concert, as a soloist and as a member of TOSD (our Lettermen-inspired singing group led by Dr. Jose Oreta). Therefore, this post will mostly be a behind-the-scenes recap of how this concert came about, than about the concert itself. We would be receiving regular reminders from the hsopital staff in charge of the show, Sir Mon Portes and Ms. Yvette Lansangan.

Direk Ahwel instructing Suzette Liwag during the last rehearsal.

The first organizational meeting was held last October 2 only. We met our director, Ahwel Paz, whom I knew of as a radio personality on DZMM. We found out then that this was no ordinary concert they were planning. It was not a simple "one song after the other" type of concerts we had before. They had a concept of making it a variety show with the songs split across five genres -- retro, OPM, jazz, pop-rock-R&B and Broadway -- all in medley formats. Needless to say, we doctors were all apprehensive about this complex plan, which we have never experienced before.

Our first rehearsal was on October 11 only, just five days before D-Day. Of course, we are dealing with doctors, nurses and staff who are working in the hospital. It was difficult to expect complete attendance, even if the rehearsal schedules were split up for each genre medley. Even on the second rehearsal on the afternoon of October 13 or even the technical rehearsals on the day itself October 16, attendance was never complete. We never really saw everyone who will be performing yet. So it will all just come to complete fruition come performance proper only. 

It was very interesting to see how productions of live shows like this go on behind the scenes -- the microphones, the sound quality, the blocking, the props, the lights, the videos and the waiting time in between so that the director gets what he likes perfectly done. Direk Ahwel led us all in a fervent prayer after the final tech rehearsal, and his final advice was to just have fun.


It was about 6;30 pm, our voice-over announcer Jesse Andal (Nursing Manager in QC) announced the beginning of the show.  The night began with a short pre-show with Dr. Miriam Calaguas (Radiation Oncology) playing "La Vie En Rose" on piano, accompanied by an accordionist. Her guest rad-onco from Spain, Dr. Felipe Calvo, sang a Spanish love song while playing what else but a Spanish guitar.

Marc Mabasa and company at the rehearsals.

The official Opening Number was kicked off by some professional singers from singing competitions here and abroad. They sang current hits like "Titanium," "Wiggle" and "Rude" (VIDEO) among others. This group was led by Mark Mabasa, one of the contestants from X-Factor. Mabasa was quite the livewire performer with great vocal range and had a Daniel Padilla look about him for his female fans. His companions were karaoke champions, and they were also very good belters, which of course remains to be the standard of good singing in contests here. They all had their turn to wow us with their belting prowess (with a twist of comedy) in their rendition of Beyonce's "Listen."

By this time, all of us included in the first segment called "50s-90s" were already herded backstage. After the emcees -- Dr. Henry Esguerra (GS) and Ms. Yayo Aguila -- gave their opening spiels, we were onstage sitting in our designated spots. First up was Drs. Lee and Arlene Bongosia (Cardio and ENT-HNS) with their talented children singing "Chattanooga Choo Choo." Our TOSD -- Dr. Oreta (GS), Dr. Bongosia, Dr. Louie Llido (GS), Dr. Bobby Ramos (Rad Onco), Dr. Epoy Maranan (Neuro) and myself -- took over to sing "Goin' Out of My Head/Can't Take My Eyes Off You" Lettermen medley. After this, I stepped forward to render Matt Monro's "From Russia with Love" solo. Those were my first two songs done right there.

Thank you Dr. Epoy Maranan for this picture of  our half of TOSD in action.

From there, the medley segued to Dr. Joben Abraham (Urology) and his saxophone as he played the Wham tune "Careless Whisper". This was followed by Dr. Esguerra on a velvety version of Eric Benet's "The Last Time". Ms. Irene Isleta (Manager of HR in QC) delivered her take on "Used to Be" and "Gone Too Soon." The set concluded with Dr. Abraham playing "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You" later joined in at the chorus by all of the singers onstage. 

Next was the OPM segment, and TOSD was part of this one as well, we got back up onstage to our new designated spot. Dr. Oreta had to make a quick change to his Barong Tagalog to sing his flirtatious "Titingin-tingin" medley with his lovely wife Dr. Ching Ilao-Oreta. TOSD then sang our version of the kundiman "Ikaw" with our spanking new choreography which was only whipped up last Monday. That was my third song done.

Earl already earned our admiration for his singing during the rehearsals.

Mr. Allan Rallos (Manager of Pathology in QC) earned a lot of female fans last night with his stirring renditions of Martin Nievera's "Ikaw" and Wency Cornejo's "Hanggang." We heard more female fans screaming as Dr. Fran Efendy (a Neurology resident from Indonesia) sang a smooth-as-silk version of Side A's "Forevermore." Chill Miranda (Ambulatory Care nurse in QC) lived up to her name by singing a cool version of "Power of Two". (I know that song is by the Indigo Girls so I am not sure why it was in this OPM segment.) As the finale, Earl Manalo, better known as "KBL" in the last The Voice Kids contest, regaled all of us with his belting prowess with Regine Velasquez's "Dadalhin." 

The next segment is the Latin-Jazz segment, the only segment where I am not included in the line-up. So this was the only time I got to sneak into the audience to watch the performances and take videos. First up was Dr. Salvador Brodit (Pain Management) and his wife singing "Say Something." This was originally planned as an acapella number with the whole family, but this final version is just a passionate duet by husband and wife that ended with a kiss.  Dr. Efendy again delighted his female fans with his version of Michael Buble's "Everything" (VIDEO), even inviting them to sing along with him. I never knew Vicky Pangilinan of the legendary Music and Magic was a dentist in St. Luke's! She was so good as she glided through her rendition of "Someone to Watch Over Me." Finally, Dr. Abraham took to his sax again for "Besame Mucho" with Dr. Ching Oreta in fiery red, dancing a steamy tango with our choreographer.

Next up is the Pop-Rock-R&B segment, which had an elaborate concept we never really saw completely in rehearsal. It started with an acapella version of Pink's "Just Give Me a Reason" by the OB-Gyne Chorale. Then, the OB-Gyne Dance Group started the party upbeat mood with Bruno Mars' "Treasure". Chill again took the stage in a slinky black body suit to sing Beyonce's "XO". Then Richard Guzman (Patient Experience Officer in QC) and his guitarist sang a duet of Extreme's "More than Words" and successfully engaged the audience to sing-along. 

Then from the audience area, Vianca Uy (nurse from SLMC-BGC) sang Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You", followed by Jordan Ballesteros (nurse in Annex II-4th) singing John Legend's "Ordinary People".  I walked onstage to sing Robbie Williams' "Angels." That was my fourth song and last solo spot. Then Dr. Brodit and his whole family sang Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are" led by his two young sons. Jordan followed this with another John Legend song "All of Me" enjoining the audience to shine their cellphones in the air, which they did. 

Dr. Kester Lim (Orthopedics) brought the house down with his rapid-fire rapping of Mackelmore's "Can't Hold Us," featuring Jordan and Vianca on the sung parts. The high spirits were kept up by the OB Chorale on the ubiquitous "Happy" by Pharell Williams. Everybody was dancing as this song was being sung, ending this segment with so much bouncing excitement. Believe it or not, I was also there on stage though all that high-NRG jumping and dancing! 

Dr. Narciso's violin playing was as mesmerizing during the rehearsals as it was in the show.

The last segment is Classical and Broadway. Dr. Francisco Narciso (Pathology) enchanted us all with his violin solo playing the complex piece "Czardas." TOSD again took the stage to sing "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" in harmony. My last song done, finale left. Up to now I do not really know how I did this night, but I am already very relieved at this point.

Dr. Maita Feliciano (ENT-NS) rendered her favorite ballad "Someone Like You" (from "Jekyll and Hyde"). St. Luke's Got Talent winner Suzette Liwag amazed everyone with her strong soprano pipes singing "I'd Give My Life to You" (from "Ms. Saigon") and "Light In A Million Mornings". Joshua Marquina, who won two silver and three bronze medals at the WCOPA last year, then came out to sing "Bring Him Home" (from "Les Miserables") to end the set. 

The emcees came out to call SLMC President and CEO Dr. Edgardo Cortez and Senior Vice President and Head of Medical Practice Group and Medical Director of SLMC - QC Dr. Jose Moran to deliver their short messages. 

Then it was time for the finale number -- "One Day More" from the musical "Les Miserables". With our guest Marquina as Jean Valjean, all of us performers went back on stage to sing this rousing song. I had some solo lines in there as Javert (a wish come true for me, hehe). As we sang the last line of the song, confetti showered the stage and all of us from all sides.

The curtain call was set to the tune of Pharell's "Happy" as everyone too their final bows. With that, we all congratulated each other for the general success of the show as all the tension in the past week suddenly got lifted off our shoulders. We were all very tired but so very happy we had been part of the celebration of a big and important anniversary occasion in a special way. 


Selfie with Drs. Maranan, Brodit, Efendy, Sir Allan and Jordan. 
Too bad there weren't more pics of all the participants together.

Pic with Direk Ahwel

Pic with Josh and Earl

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Review of Dulaang UP's ANG HULING LAGDA NI APOLINARIO MABINI: Picking the Brain of the Revolution

October 11, 2014

Apolinario Mabini is a  revolutionary hero whom most of us unfortunately only know by his name and by his monikers "The Sublime Paralytic" or the "Brains of the Revolution." We cannot really say anything more about him or his heroism beyond these nominal details. This latest musical play by Dulaang UP tackles the final days of Mabini and gives us a deep insight into the patriotism of this man and his forgotten legacy which remains relevant even up to the present time.

In April 1901 Mabini was exiled by the Americans in Guam with his brother Prudencio and other revolutionaries led by General Artemio Ricarte. They are disappointed and angry when President Emilio Aguinaldo agreed to sign the pledge of allegiance to the United States government. In 1903, Mabini (with Prudencio) and Ricarte were brought back to Manila by ship. However, before they can disembark, they too had to sign the pledge in front of no less than Gov. General William Howard Taft himself. Ricarte is firm on his resolve not to sign, but will Mabini give in to his homesickness?

The cast in this one-act (no intermission), 1-1/2 hour play were all very accomplished actors and talented singers. Not only were there very difficult dramatic moments to essay, the songs also had very challenging high notes to hit. 

Now on 27th year as a performer, Roeder Camanag first made a name in the local entertainment scene as a pop singer. He has also been in various plays and musicals by Tanghalang Pilipino and PETA. The last time I saw him in action was in Lav Diaz latest 5-1/2 epic film, "Mula Sa Kung Ano ang Noon." I believe this is the first time I have seen him playing lead in a theater play. His face had to tell the story very well since this hero is confined to a wheelchair. 

He opens the show with a solo number, "Hindi Ito ang Bayan Ko". Then through the play he would regale us with solid duets with Aguinaldo (Kung Naroon Ka Lang"), Ricarte (Ito ba ang Bayan Ko?"), and the nurse Salud ("Sapat Na Ito"). These songs were suffused with deep pent-up emotions of this weakened and weary man, and Camanag's communicates that so eloquently.

Aside from these poignant sung moments, Camanag was also outstanding in his scenes without songs. His confrontation scene with Leo Rialp (so aptly cast as Taft) was an electrifying and memorably well-written and well-staged big moment of the play. That very last scene of Camanag on stage when Mabini takes his final leave with the audience was truly haunting in its silence.

Poppert Bernadas had the reputation for monster pipes, but I have not seen him in action yet. For his previous musicals like "Lorenzo" and "Rak of Aegis", I had always caught his alternate, not him. Fortunately, not this time. He certainly lives up to his reputation, as Ricarte had the most punishing notes to sing. His was also a hot-headed, angry man and that adds to his vocal stress. However, his vocal instrument was in tiptop shape. Al Gatmaitan alternates in this role.

Jean Judith Javier was a rousing success as Sisa in both the Dulaang UP and the Resorts World productions of "Noli Me Tangere: The Opera." As Salud, the fictitious Filipino nurse who gets to speak with Mabini as he wrestled with the biggest decision he had to make in his life, Javier impresses us again with her beautiful full-bodied soprano here. Banaue Miclat alternates in this role, with Chase Salazar as understudy.

I have seen two other collaborations of playwright Floy Quintos and director Dexter M. Santos before, and these were "Collection" and "Ang Nawalang Kapatid". Both of these were brash and audacious productions. In contrast, "Mabini" is relatively quieter and more contemplative. In a remarkable debut as a composer of a musical play, Krina Cayabyab gave life to Quintos' lyrics eight songs sung in different styles -- traditional musical theater, modern rock opera and classical opera -- transcending boundaries. 

The Manila String Machine provides the live musical accompaniment, with Farley Asuncion on piano. The lighting design of John Batalla was so instrumental especially in those final scenes. The way the lights and shadows framed Camanag's face made us believe we are looking at the real Mabini as we see him in vintage photos. Ohm David's innovative set design had props and platforms coming up through the floor, and interacted very well with the videos designed by Winter David. That important, visually-dramatic scene highlighting Mabini's Decalogue was a successful display of technical cooperation and complementation.

Congratulations once again to the cast and crew of Dulaang UP for another successful and meaningful project. UP is truly the best venue for this nationalistic theatrical masterpiece. 

Hurry and get your tickets,as these are selling out fast. These are the remaining performances left: October 12 / 10 am, October 15 / 7 pm, October 16 / 7 pm, October 18 / 3 pm. There are additional shows opened on October 22 / 7 pm and October 23 / 7 pm. For tickets, please contact Dulaang UP Office at 926-1349 or Samanta Clarin (09277406124). 

There is an another show on October 19 / 3 pm, with tickets care of Vincent Pajara (09363033879), and yet another show on Oct 24 / 8pm, with tickets care of Poppert Bernadas (09178466352) / Nazer Degayo Salcedo (09277328754) / Arion Sanchez (09359668769). Ticket price only at 500php/350php,

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Review of Atlantis' SHREK THE MUSICAL: Ogre-Rrrrific Show!

October 5, 2014

At first I was not so sure that I wanted to watch the musical version of the Dreamworks hit animated film "Shrek". I thought for sure the magic of the film cannot be adequately translated onto the live stage. The initial posters that came out did not seem to be too interesting as well. However when the show opened a couple of weekends ago and glowing reviews came out on how good it was, I was convinced of its quality and bought tickets for the whole family to watch.

Before the show started it was announced that Shrek will not be played by Rycharde Everley, who was the actor cited in all the publicity. I have seen Everley play in "Spelling Bee" before and had no doubt he can pull off being Shrek.  However this replacement Franz Imperial was an unknown actor to me. When I asked one of the staff, it turned out that Everley had been taken ill, so Imperial was promoted from the Ensemble to play the lead role Shrek for this weekend's performances.

The musical, with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, tells the basic story of the first Shrek film. The swamp home of the grumpy green ogre Shrek was overrun by fairy tale characters who were exiled there by Lord Farquaad of Duloc. Shrek with his new friend Donkey accepts the challenge set by Farquaad to save the Princess Fiona from her imprisonment in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. However, Fiona has a dark secret of her own that needs true love's first kiss to solve. Who will set her free from her nightly curse? Will it be Farquaad? Or can it be Shrek?

Despite initial apprehensions, it turns out that there was no need to worry because Franz Imperial was actually very good as Shrek!  His singing voice was full and very solid. He had Shrek's Scottish accent down. He had excellent buddy chemistry with the Donkey and romantic chemistry with Fiona, such that he did not feel like a short-notice replacement at all. He actually looked better and more lovable in the Shrek get-up than Everley did in the publicity photos. Imperial was able to project the inner goodness of the gruff ogre from under all of that green rubbery make-up. This pinch-hitter hit a home run!

As Princess Fiona, Shiela Valderrama performed like I had never seen her perform before. Her songs were the most vocally challenging of all. Her first song "I Know It's Today," which she sang with two other younger actresses (Arriana Everley and Katie Bradshaw) playing Fionas in younger ages, had very vocally punishing notes. Valderrama nails them amazingly.  She had two other great numbers in Act 2, "Morning Person" and "I Think I Got You Beat" (with its glorious belching and farting), both of which showed off her comic flair on top of her flawless strong vocals. She knew this role was for her and she brought it home.

Three Atlantis stalwarts star in major supporting roles. Nyoy Volante was practically unrecognizable as Donkey. He has got the Eddie Murphy-style smart-aleck personality and speed talking like it was second nature.  Jett Pangan is a riot as bad power-hungry midget, Lord Farquaad. The way he was able to make the fake short legs he wore in front of him seem alive as he performed kneeling the whole time was very impressive in its difficult physicality. Carla Guevara-Laforteza stars as lady personification of the Dragon. The giant Dragon puppet was the single most extravagantly beautiful prop I had seen in local theater. Laforteza gives it the sassy but lonely character it required. They are all really very versatile actors and their singing skills never missed their marks, as always.

The music of the show is generally upbeat and catchy. However, things get a little bogged down towards the end of the second act with a series of serious ballads. Fortunately, the cast would additionally sing their own version of The Monkees' hit "I'm a Believer" to liven things up at the very end.  Imperial and Valderrama were both in perfect voice in this number as they led the whole cast in their bouncy finale number. The stage set up with the green-lit giant "S" and confetti shower made for a memorable lasting impression as audiences go home with smiles on their faces.

Congratulations again to Director Bobby Garcia and the rest of the Atlantis cast and crew for another big success in translating another challenging stage production to life. 

"Shrek" will run for just one more weekend this week, up to October 12, 2014. If you loved the film, then you will also enjoy seeing these beloved characters come to life. The whole family will enjoy this show. Do not miss it!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Recap of GOLD: Ageless Lisa Macuja at 50

October 5, 2014

Lisa Macuja, the eternal prima ballerina of Ballet Manila (and the whole country), is celebrating two important life milestones with this classical ballet concert called "Gold." She turned 50 years old last October 3, and it is her 30th year in the profession of the most difficult dance form. I do not really watch ballet, or dance in general, for that matter. However, when an invitation to attend this one-night only special, I knew this rare event should not be missed. She did call this show the last time she would headline a full classical concert. 

Unfortunately, we got caught in intense traffic jams within the City of Manila last night, and reached the Aliw Theater almost one hour into the show already. When we got into our seats, we saw the Philippine Madrigal Singers performing "D' Coconut Nut" in a most delightfully fun style, with the soloist doing funky dance moves. This was followed by their version of the ubiquitous hit by Pharell Williams, "Happy." I never thought the Madz performed current pop music and they got the audience clapping along! The last song in their set is a diva-driven "Queen of the Night" by Whitney Houston, headlined by three sopranos in their lineup. During the intermission that followed, I found out from the souvenir program that we had only caught three out of eight songs the Madz sang that night.

The programme also told me that we had missed the entire opening suite starring the celebrant Ms. Lisa Macuja. It was her performance as Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet", with music by Peter Tchaikovsky and choreography by Sergey Vilukov. Ms. Macuja had chosen this ballet to be included because of this was the version from the first year of Ballet Manila, 20 years ago. She calls Juliet a favorite role of hers, so too bad we did not get to see her dance that part.

When the curtains went up after the break and the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra (under the baton of Gerard Salonga) began to play, twelve pairs of young men and women in white came out to dance a waltz to music incorporating some familiar tunes from the "Sleeping Beauty" Disney film. This was the opening number of Divertissement from "The Sleeping Beauty," with music also by Tchaikovsky and choreography by Marius Petipa. This was re-staged tonight by Natalia Raldugina (guest Ballet Mistress for Ballet Manila from Russia) and Osias Barroso, Jr. (Ballet Manila's Co-Artistic Director and Ballet Master).

Of course, 50-year old Ms. Lisa Macuja danced the role of Princess Aurora during her 16th birthday party. Anyhow, her delicate facial features, winning smile and sprightly dancing totally belied that age discrepancy. As she danced with four male partners, playing princes who wanted to win her favor, she nailed those difficult on pointe spinning moves over and over. The audience would erupt in applause spontaneously. 

We see a hooded monster called the Caraboose give the Princess a bouquet of flowers which unfortunately had a hidden needle which pricked her. A Lilac Fairy (Dawna Mangahas) puts the entire court to sleep and covered the palace with thorns.

Guest dancer Mikhail Martynyuk, Principal Dancer of the Kremlim Ballet Theater, came out to loud applause from the audience, dancing the role of Prince Desire. His athletic dance moves with spinning jumps and serial high leaps really make him stand out from the other male dancers onstage. The pas de deux of Macuja and Martynyuk after the Prince kissed and woke Aurora up was simply exhilarating to watch.

A wedding banquet ensues.  At this part, a parade of fairy tale characters took to the stage and danced their spot numbers, like Little Red Riding Hood (Nicole Barroso) and Wolf (John De Dios), a couple of Cats (Missy Elizalde and Jamil Montibon), a couple of Bluebirds (Mylene Aggabao-Salgado and Elpidio Magat) and more fairies.

During the curtain call, Ms. Macuja came out on stage in a glittery golden long gown. She was visibly overwhelmed with emotion at the warm response of the audience. She did not get to speak, but the smile and tears on her face said it all. The orchestra played the Birthday Song and everybody sang along to greet the celebrant. Fountains of fireworks downstage provided a festive end to the event.

No matter how many other much younger dancers there are on the stage, it is impossible to cast any shadow on the brilliance of Ms. Lisa Macuja as a performer. Even a lay person like me with very little knowledge about ballet cannot deny the graceful combination of artistry and athleticism that she possesses, plus that X-factor that makes her stand out among the crowd. Even at 50, she is ageless in action! Even though she had been announcing her retirement since last year with her Swan Song series of shows, I do not see her career ending anytime soon.