Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review of SABEL: LOVE AND PASSION: Deeply Dramatic Destiny

April 30, 2015

The proceedings started around 8:15 pm, when Mr. Rico Hizon was called onstage for his welcome address. The programme called him Production Adviser. He recounted that tonight's show had its seed planted way back in 2003 when they saw a painting of National Artist for Visual Arts Benedicto Cabrera in a coffee-table book. The creative process between him, musical director Louie Ocampo and writer of book and lyrics cum stage director Freddie Santos would take the next 12 years before finally seeing the light of the stage tonight at the Theater at Solaire. Tonight was its World Premiere Gala.

The story started from Sabel's birth to her parents Miguel and Consolacion. We will be taken through the World War II, the gay '50s cabaret scene, up to a couple of decades later. We will follow Sabel from her idyllic childhood, through her darker days as a comfort woman, amazon fighter, nightclub star dancer, then destitute mother. Finally she becomes the crazy dancing street lady who in turn inspired a young painter's masterpiece. Her eventfully dramatic life rivets the audience to its many twists and turns.

Ms. Iza Calzado

The narrator was in the person of the statuesque and glamourous Ms. Iza Calzado, who donned an elegant black gown adorned with flowing peach cape. Her narration of the story would be in the form of rhyming lines delivered with a musical lilt, yet so pregnant with emotion. We would later realize that she is actually the title character of Sabel, telling the story of her life. In the ending sequences, Ms. Calzado would embody the character of mature Sabel in an exquisite, deeply moving, career-defining performance.

The story is presented onstage in the form of dances by talented dancers from the Philippine Ballet Theater. Selected soloists danced the main roles of Sabel (an outstanding Bianca Trocino), her father Miguel (Lemuel Capa), paramour Luis (Ian Ocampo) and the painter Miguelin (an athletic Matthew Davo). While they were dancing, powerful songs were being sung from the side by the rich and exciting voices of theater star par excellence Audie Gemora, belter Aicelle Santos of "Rak of Aegis" fame, veteran balladeer Bo Cerrudo, comebacking former child star Antoinette Taus and recent The Voice favorite Timmy Pavino

Antoinette Taus and Timmy Pavino

Audie Gemora

Aicelle Santos and Bo Cerrudo

Of all the songs, the one that caught my attention first was the poignant "Look at Her" first sung by Audie Gemora after Isabel was born. The centerpiece nature of this beautiful song would be confirmed when it was reprised two more times in two more important moments of her life by Cerrudo and Pavino. This will be the song this show will be most remembered for. This is a Filipino theater song classic in the making, possibly in the tradition of "Minsan Ay Minahal Mo Ako" from "Katy!" or "Magbalik Ka Na, Mahal" from "Rama Hari".

The stage was spare in set pieces, with only several geometric panels above and in the back serving to be the screen upon which photographs and various lighting and graphic designs would be projected. This was a very efficient set by Light and Space Corporation, designed by Joselito Tecson. Those beautiful scenes when the painter was painting his artworks were executed using an amazing special visual effect I have never seen before on Philippine stage. The lighting design of Shax Siasoco was mesmerizing. 

BenCab himself (in beret) joins the cast to take a bow.

Freddy Santos and Louie Ocampo joins the final bow.

As an integral part of the celebration of BenCab's 50 creative years, "Sabel: Love and Passion" will have its regular run on June 26 and 27 at the Music Museum. Do not miss it!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Review of Repertory Phils RUN FOR YOUR WIFE: Frolicking Farce

April 25, 2015

The second offering of Repertory Philippines this year is an all-out farce. This was written by Ray Cooney and first staged back in 1983. However, despite the obvious detail that they do not yet have the technical advances of our current time in this, the play did not feel dated at all. As brought to life by the ever-reliable actors of Repertory Philippines, this absurd British tale of bigamy was one hilarious riot!

John Smith is a taxi driver. He lives with his prim and conservative wife Mary in their flat in Wimbledon. However, John is not as ordinary as he would seem. It turns out he was keeping a second wife in Streatham district, the younger and sexier Barbara. However, one night when John was injured in a mugging incident, his neat little wife-juggling schedule was totally messed up. From there, a most complicated comedy of errors ensues that threatens to blow John's little secret wide open.

Jaime Wilson is very charming and so deadpan funny as the caddish cab driver John. This versatile actor is really perfect for the madcap comedies I have seen him in before. It was so good to finally see him as the lead star in one of his very own. His big expressive eyes convey so much of the panic his character was boiling in as he tries to weasel himself out of his sticky predicament by fabricating lie upon lie. His best scene was that one right before the intermission break where he was desperately trying to prevent people from seeing his picture in the newspaper. 

I have never seen Goldie Soon in a play before. She was pretty much the straight woman in the first act, but she really hit her stride in the second act as her dear little uptight Mary Smith goes wild. I had seen Mikkie Bradshaw before in the titular role as telepathic teenager Carrie, and I know she can deliver the goods. However, at first, she struck me as miscast as the libidinous Barbara. As the play went on though, she eventually eased into her role.

The ever-dapper actor Jeremy Domingo was totally deglamorized as John and Mary’s bum of an upstairs neighbor, Stanley Gardner. He was almost unrecognizable with his disheveled upswept hairstyle, his disgusting stained undershirt and bulging beer belly. Domingo gave an outstanding, positively shameless supporting performance that kept the audience in stitches as his character got more and more enmeshed in John's web of lies.

Contributing major laughs in the mix are the two policemen from the two districts where John lived. They are the suspicious Detective Sergeant Troughton (played by James Stacey) and the fatherly Detective Sergeant Porterhouse (played by Paul Holme). Stacey is the straight man in the whole farce and it was so funny how he was so enraged about the whole maddening situation. Seeing the venerable Mr. Holme in that frilly apron is already worth the price of admission. 

Completing the cast is Steven Conde as the John and Barbara's gay upstairs neighbor Bobby Franklin. He could be a little too loud and too flamboyant for comfort. 

Repertory Philippines loves this smartly-written play so much, this is already the third time they are staging it. Director Miguel Faustmann in fact had played John Smith in the previous two incarnations in 1986 and 2001. The stage direction is really ingenious as there was only one set to represent the two houses with the characters just using specific doors and props on either side. The couch in the middle is shared by both "addresses". It was so enjoyable to see that merry mix-up unfolding in front of us in very unexpected ways. The way the witty British humor was delivered by all the actors was so on point and perfectly timed.

Although the story of two wives has been on tv soap operas ad nauseam lately, the topic of this play is still considered for mature audiences only. But it shows us this double set-up in a most ridiculous light. The audience at the matinee this afternoon were all really engaged in the silly story and were laughing out loud. I noted the center orchestra section was filled mostly with senior citizens and they were not shy in their guffaws. I swear the elderly couple beside me was snickering non-stop at the naughty, irreverent, politically incorrect humor as I was. A good laugh is guaranteed!

This was such a fun show to watch despite all the sensitive, potentially offensive buttons it pushed in such a light-hearted delightful way. There was a dry British film version of this play released in 2012, but don't bother with that at all. This live version is SO MUCH better!

"Run For Your Wife" only runs for one more weekend next week up to May 3, 2015 at the Onstage Theater in Greenbelt 1. Ticket prices are very reasonable, ranging only from P400 to P600. For more details regarding RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, call Repertory Philippines at 843-3570. You can also book tickets through TicketWorld at 891-9999 or visit their website at 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Recap of Our WORLD VOICE DAY 2015 Musical Theater Project: Adrenalized Exhilaration!

April 19, 2015

April 16 is World Voice Day (WVD). Every year, the Dept. of ENT-HNS with the Voice and Swallowing Center in my institution join colleagues the world over to celebrate this advocacy. WVD reminds us about the importance of our voices in our daily lives. We should strive to acquire and maintain good voice habits in order to preserve this vital vehicle of self-expression, communication and occupation.

For this year, our Department had a big project in mind for WVD -- to stage a musical theater play. However, it was already March when I heard anything concrete plans about it. I was told that the play would be"Mamma Mia" and that I had been cast to be Harry, one of the three possible dads of the young lead character Sophie. I had been singing in public before so that part did not really worry me. However, the dancing and the acting parts really scared me. I know myself -- I do not know how to dance, and I sure do not know how to act.

The project seriously got underway by the last week of March. My family and I were away on a trip to a place where I had no access to social media nor my email so I had no idea what was going on. When I came home, it was already Holy Week. I had a call that we will have our poster photo shoot on April 1. That was the first time I met up with the rest of the cast members and we had our first line readings and song practice.

Honestly I was not so sure this play could push through as planned on April 17, barely two weeks to go. Because the cast and crew are composed of consultants and residents of our Department, it was really hard to gather us all together to practice. It was also summer vacation, so several people already had prior weekend getaways planned ahead of time. We only had certain afternoons after 5 pm to practice on weekdays. Our first dance practice with the choreographer Ferdie was only on April 8 in the cramped space of our department office. Luckily April 9 is a national holiday, so we were able to practice longer in a bigger space at our stage director's grandma's house nearby. 

It was only on the afternoon of April 14 that we finally saw the actual venue at the SV More Building. It was just an empty room, and the stage was not yet set up. We practiced on a "stage" marked on the floor with tape. Still we had to practice with an incomplete cast and crew everyday even that very week of the show already.  That final week my throat was having issues of irritation and impending hoarseness, which was another worry on top of my lines and steps. In the second run-through on April 15, my voice gave out so someone was actually singing for me as I only mouthed my lines. That was scary.

April 16, the day before the show, was the first time we saw the 2-ft high stage there, with our makeshift backstage/dressing room on one side. It was also only then that we got to work with our headset microphones. We finally had our first run-through with props and costumes that Thursday night, and that was the first time the scenes really came alive for me. The voice was not perfect, but it held on. The performance that night felt like the actual one already, even if we were still incomplete.

(Photo from Narciso Diaz)

April 17 is D-Day! It was about lunchtime that we met at the venue supposedly to have a couple more run-throughs. However, the erratic sound quality of the microphones as well as the lackluster lighting effects were delaying our practice even later. I am sure our musical director Dr. Arlene Bongosia and our stage director Dr. Jaclyn Leigh Vidal were at their wits end at this point. 

We just spent the time practicing our individual scenes and dance steps to make good use of the time just waiting for the technical aspects to be tweaked to perfection. Some were already having their make-up put on them. The props manager Dr. Chezca Padua and Dr. Michaelsam Econ were making sure everything was complete and in good working condition. We only had two run-throughs that afternoon, only with props but no costume changes anymore. 

(Photo from Argyll Bongosia)

By 6:30 pm, guests were already being let into the venue. It was a full house. It was actually hard for me to look for tickets for some guests who decided to watch just that morning. The cast gathered in the lounge to eat and get ready.  By a little past 8 pm, we made our way to "backstage". The Invocation was sung by Dr. Crissy Pefianco and her multi-talented brothers Thomas and Marco, both valuable members of our Company. Our Chairman was called to the front to deliver his Welcome Remarks. Then, the overture began to play. It was actually showtime!

Scene 1 ("I Have a Dream"/ "Honey Honey") featured a winning ingenue performance by Agatha Leigh Bongosia as Sophie, ably supported by Dr. Christina Sio-Tuano and Dr. Hycel More (as Ali and Lisa respectively). Scene 2 ("Money, Money, Money") was the first of several tough solo numbers for Dr. Mari Berioso-Enecilla as Donna. These two scenes seemed to just float by so fast for me as I was waiting for my turn backstage. 

(Photo from Argyll Bongosia)

My first appearance on stage was in Scene 3. Sophie meets her three possible dads for the first time. I will lead in the singing of "Thank You for the Music," later to be joined by Sophie and the two other dads Bill (Dr. Noel Colmenar) and Sam (Dr. Nato Pascual). Later in the scene, Donna will see us for the first time and she sang "Mamma Mia". I felt our scene went along quite well and was quite relieved. These three actors onstage with me were such natural actors, I felt like such an awkward neophyte beside them. Scene 4 ("Chiquitita"/"Dancing Queen") featured Donna being comforted by her friends Tanya (Dr. Crissy Pefianco) and Rosie (Dr. Dona Devilleres-Mendoza). There was a 10-minute interval after this scene. Halfway done!

Scene 5 is a major one. It began with Donna and pals singing "Super Trouper". We dads enter the stage mid-song. This is followed by Bill and Sophie singing "The Name of the Game" (my personal favorite among the ABBA songs). What a great scene that was! The major dance number for the whole cast "Voulez Vous" comes next, with its vital confrontation scenes, first between Sam and Sophie, and later my character Harry and Sophie, interrupting the song. Timing was very critical in the delivery of our lines in this segment. It's funny, but I believe the whole cast already knew my lines by heart, after hearing me fumble through it during all the practice sessions. I thought this complex climactic scene came off with only minor hitches.

(Photo from Argyll Bongosia)

Scene 6 only had one song -- "Lay All Your Love On Me" featuring a charismatic duet between Sophie and her bearded beau Sky (the future Dr. Matthew Reyes). These two youngest members of our main cast registered very strongly onstage, gaining so much positive reaction from audiences. Some guests even thought they were professional actors. Scene 7 opens with me going onstage strumming a guitar. I led in the singing of "Our Last Summer" (the song that made me choose this role), later to be joined by Sam and Bill, then Sophie. I had to pretend to "play" the guitar during the song, not too realistically I think. Wish I had more time to practice to strum more convincingly. 

Our light number was followed by a serious and vocally-challenging 1-2 punch for Donna -- "The Winner Takes It All" and her duet with Sam "S.O.S." I have to say, the intense acting of Dra. Enecilla and Dr. Pascual in this scene was top-notch!  "Winner" was only incorporated into our show two days ago after being initially dropped. Glad it was re-included because that song is considered the centerpiece of the original musical. This immediately went on to the romantically-thrilling Wedding Scene that concluded the play. The cameo appearance of our chief resident Dr. Neil Apale as the Priest was a big hit! There was short ballroom-type dance bit to the tune of "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do" for the Dads and the Dynamos which luckily went off without no major problem, I think.

(Photo from Narciso Diaz)

Before this, I only had to add a vest, then later a coat over my first shirt to vary my outfit. After the wedding and during the "Mamma Mia" finale dance by the younger cast, I had to change into my bright violet "retro"-style shirt which I was supposed to wear unbuttoned enough to expose chest skin. This was a gutsy style outfit  that I just had to grin and bear as we went onstage in the middle of the "Dancing Queen" finale number and join the rest of the cast onstage. We just gave our all already at this point as the adrenaline was already at full dose at this point. We had our curtain call, and sang an encore rendition of "Thank You for the Music". And with that our cherished World Voice Day project had ended. 

The loud applause and numerous congratulatory messages received after the show were very gratifying indeed. So, that was how it felt just after a successful first stint for a musical theater production -- big relief and adrenalized exhilaration! Everything seemed to flow so seamlessly in that actual performance, unlike in our rehearsals where we would still flub our lines and lyrics or have missing or falling props. Even the lights and the microphones seemed to all work perfectly, at least from our point of view onstage and backstage. 

(Photo from Argyll Bongosia)

Reality set right back as I had cinic work to get back to the next day, and it was a busy one that Saturday. I also had my Society newsletter editor-in-chief duties to get back to since the printing deadline was Sunday morning. At the end of this experience, I still do recognize my limitations as a performer though. I know that my (daddy-)dancing and acting skills were admittedly atrocious, as was my stage presence. But I am happy to just get this opportunity to perform in a musical play for the first time with friends and colleagues who would not mind too much. Happy World Voice Day to all!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Recap and Videos of BEST OF BEST in the PHILIPPINES: K-POP x 4 at the Philippine Arena!

April 13, 2015

I went to watch this concert only as a companion to my daughter who likes Korean telenovelas and pop songs. I, on the other hand, do not know anything about K-Pop except those two big hits by Psy and the Wonder Girls (both of which I am sure you also know very well). Of the four acts, I only know Super Junior because of the fervid publicity of their past concerts in Manila. But honestly I could not name any one of the members nor recognize any of their songs. This concert is my first actual introduction to Super Junior as well as KPop itself as a musical genre.

Adding another point of interest to this concert is that it will be held at the new Philippine Arena (of the Iglesia ni Cristo) in Bocaue, Bulacan. Because I was apprehensive about the traffic situation, I decided for us to try taking the shuttle buses the organizers have provided to get to and from the venue. The shuttle bus was only P50 for a round trip, and came from various points like Trinoma in QC, Makati and Alabang. In Trinoma, the shuttle left from the bus terminal outside the supermarket area at 3:30 pm. We reached Philippine Arena by 4 pm. The bus parking area was quite a distance away, so people had to line up to ride another shuttle bus provided by the INC to get to the arena proper. They need to organize this service as some people would still cut in the queue.

There was a fiesta atmosphere outside the venue as there were already so many people there. We first took time taking pictures with the grand Arena. Organizers have set up a stage where local KPop cover acts performed. The fans were already very excitedly screaming their hearts out. They knew all the lyrics. They were also taking pictures with the emcees, who were also dressed in KPop style. My daughter was giving me various information and trivia on the side as we were watching the sideshow as I was completely clueless. We ate an early dinner at the area provided, then we realized we should already be lining up to enter. 

The queues were already very long, almost up the complex entrance. There were two main lines, one for those who bought from Ticketworld and another for those who bought from SM Tickets. It was an arduous wait, much longer than our queue for the OneD concert. As the sky turned dark on us while lining up, we saw the multicolored Philippine Arena lights turned on. It was a relief when we finally saw the audience gates after maybe an hour or more in line. Again, they should improve this system of letting people in as it got a bit confusing near the gates. You really need to protect your position in line as some people can take advantage of the merging lines and cut in. The line took time because they were quite strict in checking those people with bags. Those without bags got in much less time.

Once we got inside, we can really feel the excitement of the fans as they were running up the stairs. I am not sure if there are escalators or elevators to the higher floors as we went along with those in the stairwell. When we reached the doors of our designated level, there was suddenly a big shout heard, and we saw fans were rushing out of the auditorium and started running down the stairs! Apparently, organizers have allowed fans to transfer to the next lower level. So Gen Ad people were running down to Upper Box, and Upper Box people were running down to Lower Box. We just went with the flow of the fans and settled into our new, and better seats. We can see why the venue did not get filled up even with the huge turnout of fans. The audience area was so enormous indeed with seats in the INC colors -- red, white and green. It may not have been a full house last night, but the energy level of the audience was really pulsating.


When the house lights turned dimmed down and the introductory video played on the big screens, multicolored lightsticks up the darkness as fans were screaming like crazy. 

The first act to take the stage was the five-girl group called RED VELVET who opened the show with their new hit song, "Ice Cream Cake". They were dancing in front of a massive video wall that exploded into different colors and cool designs. This would be the presentation style for the subsequent performers as well.  After a couple of songs, they spoke with their fans -- well, at least they tried to with their limited English. Fortunately, someone provided the English translation from offstage (probably by emcee Sam Oh). The RV girls were very cute in their swag hiphop tops, short denim shorts and blond hair. They only sang four songs, including the sweet ballad "Candy" (VIDEO), and their finale "Happiness" (VIDEO) which made their fans very happy indeed.

Next up was BTOB, short for their full name "Born to Beat". This is a seven-man boy group also with a big following all over the world. Their set opened with a bang as they emerged rising up from beneath the stage, and they went on to sing their hit song "Thriller" (VIDEO). The boys were all dressed in black hiphop-style oversized shirts. Their next numbers would also be in signature energetic style, with fans screaming wildly for their personal favorite members as their porcelain faces were flashed on the screen as they were performing. Again, the spiels were a bit repetitive and awkward because of the limited English, but the fans certainly did not mind. The boys sang seven songs, including "Second Confession" (VIDEO) and their finale "Wow" (VIDEO). 

The next act was superstar girl group GIRLS' GENERATION. For their grand entrance, they seemed to pop out of a brightly-lit screen. They were dressed in delightful matching pink tutu-like mini-dresses that moved so well with their dancing. Their opening song number was the very eclectic "Mr. Taxi" (VIDEO), then followed by "Genie" (VIDEO). Their video backdrops were more elaborate and colorful, very feminine in slower songs. The eight girls had more distinct faces, each with a unique beauty about them. Too bad they did not get to change costumes at all, which would have been so nice. Their English spiels were limited like the others, but they were all so pretty to look at, so it was cute. Each of them also had their own group of fans screaming for them as their faces were given a close-up on the big screens. Of their seven songs, I liked their old hit "Gee" (VIDEO) and their finale number "Mr. Mr." (VIDEO).

The biggest and most famous act in the lineup was also the finale act -- SUPER JUNIOR. Out of the 13 members, there were only eight guys on the stage as their silhouettes first showed up on the stage in their spectacular opening number "Shirt" (VIDEO), immediately followed by "This is Love" (VIDEO). My daughter said some of them had to fulfil their mandatory military service for their country. The boys (men really, since these were the same guys ten years ago when they first exploded on the pop scene) were in smart black and white tailored suits with different patterns. Each of them had their own hordes of adoring fans who were really going wild with their blue lightsticks. Their slick high-energy style and showmanship were so evident in every number. It was clear why they have lasted this long in this business. Kyunhyun was given a solo spot for his soulful ballad "At Gwanghwamun"SJ saved their best songs for last -- "Mr. Simple" (VIDEO) and "Mamacita" (VIDEO). The concert ended suddenly though after the latter song, just when the crowd was getting more excited. I think they sang only seven songs -- a very short set for what was supposed to be the top act. People thought there would be more, but realized it was really the end when the house lights came back on. 


As everyone was filing out of the Arena, our concern was how to get back to the parking area of the buses. There was already a very long line at the Sports Arena where the shuttles were supposed to pick passengers up. My daughter and I decided to just join the horde already making their way back to the buses on foot. Luckily, we encountered shuttles along the way whose drivers stopped to pick up walking patrons. We got on and reached the parking area in no time. We got on on the first bus bound for Trinoma which left in a few minutes after the bus was filled up. I think this post-concert aspect can still be improved for future concerts.

I had fun bonding time with my daughter in this concert.  I can see why they connect with various audiences the world over despite the language barrier. These K-Pop songs were all so relentlessly fun to groove to with very catchy and infectious beats. Watching the whole K-Pop phenomenon unfold in front of me (complete with the rabid and loyal fan love all around) made this one a memorable concert experience in its own right even if I did not know ANY of the songs performed at all.