Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Yearend Roundup: The BEST of PHILIPPINE THEATER 2016

December 21, 2016

For the year 2016, I had seen and written about 32 theater productions: 11 musicals, 10 full-length plays, and 14 one-act plays. That may seem to be a lot of shows I had seen. However, I have to confess that I missed a lot of productions especially those in Makati and in Ateneo because of schedule conflicts and especially the terrible traffic in those areas.

I will list here what I feel were the best among those theater shows I have seen and written about for 2016. (My 2015 list was posted HERE.)


(My Full Review)

Music and Lyrics by: Vincent de Jesus
Directed by: Rem Zamora

This tells us about the love relationship of Alex and Cris, two individuals 15 years apart in age who decide to live together. It tells us about how their love story began and how it eventually evolved six years later. The twist of this ingenious script is that the roles of Alex and Cris can interchangeably be played by male and female actors such that the dynamics of the relationship also change significantly. Then again, it also shows that the outcome of such relationships may not really be that different after all, whatever the genders of the people involved.

The explosive climactic confrontation scene with all four actors on the stage at the same time switching roles so fluidly was a triumph in stage direction. Having the composer de Jesus himself up there playing the piano was precious. Above everything though, the biggest reason for the enduring quality of this show is the remarkable script and lyrics with their biting humor and even more biting realism. The idea of making the couple a May-December affair expands the audience appeal from Gen X to Millennials, as will the tackling of both heterosexual and homosexual issues. 

Other Notable Productions:

Katips (My Review)
Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko (My Review)
Ako si Josephine (My Review)

Notable Performances: 

Agot Isidro and Sandino Martin (Changing Partners - Regular Run); Patricia Ismael and Ricky Ibe (Changing Partners - Staged Reading); Vincent Tanada, Adelle Ibarrientos-Lim and Maya Encila (Katips); Sandino Martin, Jef Flores, Noel Comia Jr. Nonoy Froilan and Edna Vida (Awitin Mo) Ricci Chan, Raul Montesa, Joanne Co and Vic Robinson (Josephine); Gold Villar, Raffy Tejada and Che Ramos Cosio (3 Stars and a Sun)


(My Full Review)

Book by: Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Music and Lyrics by: Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe
Director: Bobby Garcia

Spring was narrated by Tommy de Vito, as it detailed the unsavory origins of the group, with criminal records and shady connections with the Mob. Summer was narrated by Bob Gaudio, as their entry into pop stardom was described. Fall was narrated by Nick Massi, recounting the band's fall from grace brought about by Tommy's reckless dealings with loan sharks and the IRS, something that eventually led to the group's disbandment. The last section Winter was narrated by Frankie Valli, telling about his strained personal relationships, as well as his emergence as a successful solo artist. 

Nyoy Volante was amazing as he delivered his lines and sang his songs in the very distinctly squeaky speaking voice and soaring falsetto singing voice of Frankie Valli. Markki Stroem stood out with his strong stage presence, full of confidence and bravado as he realistically delivered those gangster lines of his, as well as perfect comic timing in those sly humorous zingers he had. Nino Alejandro's rich voice was distinctly heard as he sang the baritone parts of the harmonies, in audible contrast with Volante's falsetto. His sense of comedy was also faultless in his delivery of his funny lines in that realistic Jersey accent. 

Other Notable Productions:

Annie (My Review)
A Christmas Carol (My Review)
Fun Home (My Review)
American Idiot (My Review)

*** Foreign Touring Production: Les Miserables (My Review)

Notable Performances: 

Nyoy Volante, Markki Stroem and Nino Alejandro (Jersey), Kristal Brimner, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and James Paolelli (Annie), Miguel Faustmann, Ariel Reonal, Franz Imperial and Dewayde Dizon (A Christmas Carol), Andee Achacoso, Mikki Bradshaw, Cris Villonco and Lea Salonga (Fun Home); Nel Gomez, Jason Fernandez, Yanah Laurel and Ela Lisondra (American Idiot), Jef Flores (Tick Tick Boom); Christine Flores and Joy Virata (Steppin' Out), Karel Marquez and Bituin Escalante (50 Shades)


A. One-Act: 

(My Full Review)

Written by: Carlo Vergara
Directed by: Hazel Gutierrez

Gorio and Lilia had been married for a long time. Their son Jerome is already 15 years old. However lately, Gorio had been spending weeks on end out of town, such that Lilia had to practically raise Jerome on her own. One day, mysterious events forced Gorio to confess his real nature and what he had been doing all along. Even Jerome knew about it. What Gorio tells Lilia was so preposterous, she simply could not believe a word he was saying.

Count on Carlo Vergara to submit the wackiest comedy in this year's VLF batch. The writer of "Zsazsa Zaturnnah" also gave us "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" before. He revisits the same genre with this one, again with his trademark skills in madcap comedy. Director Gutierrez decided to use shadow play techniques to portray the supernatural aspects of the story, which added another dimension to her storytelling. 

Other Notable Productions: 

Lagablab (My Review)
Indigo Child (My Review)
Ang Bata sa Drum (My Review)
Ang Lihim na Kasaysayan....Taxi Driver (My Review)

Notable Performances: 

Mayen Estanero, Timothy Castillo and Jonathan Tadioan (Sa Kulimliman), Ira Ruzz, Sheryll Villamor Ceasico and Gilbert Bacolod (Lagablab), Skyzx Labastilla (Indigo Child), Renante Bustamante (Bait), Raven Relavo (Ang Bata sa Drum), Irma Adlawan (Loyalist), Sheenly Vee Gener and Aldo Vencilao (Ang Mga Bisita ni Jean), Adriana Agcaoili (Hapagkainan), Tomas Miranda (Happiness is a Pearl), Lou Veloso and J-Mee Katanyag (Ang Lihim na Kasaysayan....Taxi Driver)

B. Full-Length: Original Filipino Material or Filipino Adaptation: 


Written/Translated by: Guelan Luarca
Directed by: Alexander Cortez

Antipholus of Ephesus is a known and respected citizen of his city. His loyal but foolish servant Dromio is always at his beck and call.  One day, Antipholus of Syracuse pays a visit to Ephesus, accompanied by his own foolish servant Dromio. The people of Ephesus mistake both sets of men for each other because they apparently looked exactly like each other. Even Adriana, the jealous wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, and her romantic sister Luciana also fell victim to this madcap mix-up. In fact, each Antipholus and each Dromio were themselves misled by their twin's identity. The situation would later escalate to crazy accusations of mental illness and demonic possession.

Director Alexander Cortez created a very lively and energetic, occasionally naughty, occasionally absurd, overall very entertaining show. Gino Gonzales' costume design with those geometric designs and bright colors really livened up the stage, along with Ohm David's complementary set design that seemed to be a colorful cartoon town come to life, so vibrant. Citations go to Meliton Roxas Jr. for his complex technical direction and lighting design and PJ Rebullida for his wacky choreography.

Other Notable Productions: 

Pangarap sa Isang Gabi ng Gitnang Tag-Araw (My Review)
Ang Dressing Room (My Review)
The Tempest Reimagined (My Review)

Notable Performances:

Paul Jake Paule, Gabo Tolentino and Khen del Prado (Katatawanan); Liesl Batucan, Jonathan Tadioan and Lhorvie Nuevo (Pangarap); Roeder Camanag and Andoy Ranay (Dressing Room); CB Garrucho (The Tempest)


Best: CONSTELLATIONS (My Full Review)

Written by: Nick Payne
Directed by: Rem Zamora

The synopsis is very simple, deceptively so. Marianne is an astrophysicist. Roland is a beekeeper. They meet at a party. They fall in love and live together. They deal with various problems life throws at them, from affairs to mortality. This was told in little episodes, not in chronological order. It will be up to you to figure out what their real personalities are. It will be up to you piece the whole story together. 

From the very first scene, you will instantly see how this play was going to be different from anything. The same lines were repeated over and over. However, there would be different responses to the same question. There would be different emotions and voice inflections to accompany the same words.  These differences in delivery or words used, small or insignificant as they would seem, lead to different outcomes. In this play, we actually get to see the various "what-if" scenarios and what happens afterwards. 

Other Notable Productions:

Tribes (My Review)
Suicide Incorporated (My Review)
Pillowman (My Review)

Notable Performances: 

JC Santos and Cris Villonco (Constellations), Kalil Almonte, Angela Padilla, Teroy Guzman and Dolly de Leon (Tribes), Hans Eckstein, Jeremy Domingo and Mako Alonzo (Suicide), Gabs Santos (Pillowman), Reb Atadero (Almost Maine); Pinky Amador (The Game's Afoot)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Review of Globe Live and 9 Works' A CHRISTMAS CAROL: Holiday Heart and Humility

December 16, 2016

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens is probably one of the best-known Christmas stories. The name of its lead character Scrooge had become part of the English language to be mean someone who hates Christmas. A musical version of this classic  had been written by Alan Menken (of Disney musicals fame) with lyrics and book by Lynn Ahrens (who also wrote "Ragtime", "Once on this Island" and "Anastasia" among others). 9 Works Theatrical, in partnership with Globe Live, brings this 1994 show to life this year at an outdoor amphitheater, Globe Iconic, in the Central Square of Bonifacio Highstreet in Global City. 

Ebenezer Scrooge is a busy and bitter money-lender who does not think Christmas is a special day of the year. That Christmas Eve, he was visited by the ghost of his dear departed friend and business partner Jacob Marley to warn Scrooge to change his ways lest he suffer in chains like him.  Scrooge was visited by three ghosts who showed him scenes from Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. Realizing the errors of his ways, Scrooge became a changed man upon waking up Christmas morning and sought to make amends with the people he had been mean to all these years. 

At first I thought that this new production was a remake of another "Christmas Carol" musical staged by Repertory Philippines just two years ago. It turned out that I was mistaken. That former show by Rep was entitled "Scrooge" with book, music, and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. One of the reasons for my confusion was the casting of Miguel Faustmann again here in the lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge. With his looks and age, Mr. Faustmann is really the first local theater actor that comes to mind to play Scrooge, and he knows the role only too well. He attacks his grumpy role with an endearing wit, which enables him to make his audience empathize with Scrooge's scarred "bah humbug" psyche.

The visual spectacle of this show lay in the manner of how they stage and portray the appearances of the four ghosts. Ariel Reonal is really making a name for himself in the local scene with his very energetic performances in the last two 9 Works shows, "American Idiot" and "Tick Tick Boom". As Jacob Marley, Reonal plays him as a manic ringleader, heading an entire ensemble of creepy zombies with various deformities to haunt Scrooge. 

The scenes of the Ghost of Christmas Past were very charming , with the portrayal of Young Scrooge by Al Gatmaitan and his lady love Emily by Mitzie Lao. The "Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball" scene was a joyous and comic highlight as choreographed by PJ Rebullida and Yek BarlongayJun Ofrasio played Mr. Fezziwig with over-the-top glee. However, the rather low-key and genteel portrayal of Norby David of the Ghost of Christmas Past himself felt weak in contrast with all the energy around him.

Ghost of Christmas Present was portrayed with imposing heft by Franz Imperial, with his booming high-range baritone vocals. The scenes in in Bob Cratchit's (Raul Montesa) humble house were very moving especially with the adorable portrayal of Dewayde Dizon as Tiny Tim. My only comment on that segment was that the sexy costumes and dance moves of the ladies in that office party scene were a bit too risque to be child-friendly. 

Ela Lisondra again impresses us with her complex yet graceful dance moves as Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. When she also played Blind Old Hag in other scenes, we hear her beautiful crystal-clear voice. The startlingly frank and dark spooky visions Scrooge sees in this segment can really shock anyone into humility and repentance.

Snowfall and Christmas Tree bring on the holiday spirit!

From the prodigiously creative brain of scenographer Mio Infante, the technical crew of 9 Works was able to recreate a district in old London on that big stage with another impressive multi-tier set, with smoky chimneys to complete the illusion. When the snow fell during the finale, we felt we were actually there in London. The beautiful Victorian age costumes (by Twinkle Zamora  and Ian Cataralba) looked very rich and authentic, and these were further enhanced by the hair and makeup by Myrene Santos.

I did have some problems with some blocking decisions, even when I was seated along the center aisle. There were several scenes when Scrooge had his back turned to the audience in the downstage area center, and this blocked the view of the actor he was facing, performing on centerstage. In the finale song number, there was a tall female child standing in the forestage area, and she totally blocked the view of Scrooge carrying Tiny Tim standing on centerstage. 

Aside from these minor side comments, director Robbie Guevara once again delivers a very classy world-class production. Also deserving citations were the lighting design of Martin Esteva (so critical for the atmosphere of the ghost scenes) and the sound design of Jaime Godinez and Rards Corpuz (so challenging for an outdoor venue like this). Maestro Daniel Bartolome passionately leads the 9 Works Philharmonic Orchestra in their live performance of the grand musical score that accompanies this show.

Kudos to all the members of cast and crew of this production, which could honestly be an annual holiday event right there at the heart of BGC for years to come.


Now on its second week, "A Christmas Carol" still has five shows left, on December 17-18, 21-22 at 8PM and a special show on Christmas Day itself December 25, 2016 at 7PM. Venue is at the Globe Iconic Bonifacio Highstreet Amphitheater, 7th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City. Ticket price is P2,100 for all sections.



December 27, 2017

Globe Live and 9 Works intends to make "A Christmas Carol" a Christmas tradition in BGC and I have no objection to that fantastic idea. For this 2017 show, the music and the songs  are the same, but director Robbie Guevara had made some big changes to make this 2017 edition distinctive from the previous 2016 production described above.

The most significant change employed was the the set. Before, there was a huge three-tiered London town with elaborately detailed houses where the characters moved in. This year, as designed by Ed Lacson, Jr., there were only three houses onstage with more simple details. Above the houses as the main centerpiece was a giant tilted clock with moving hands to indicate the time when the ghosts appeared. Instead of a giant Christmas tree onstage at the climax, a giant Christmas wreath took its place in front of the clock.

The lighting design of Shakira Villa Symes enlivened the set, as well as enhanced the ghostly visions Scrooge was having onstage. Tricky body doubles were used to make Scrooge appear on different parts of the set and later materialize somewhere on a bed or a chair somewhere else, and lighting was critical for this new staging gimmick, as well as that very creative visual illusion of men digging dirt in in the foggy graveyard, as shown by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be. 

The Cast at the Curtain Call

The relative simplicity of the set and streamlining of the scenes made the morality story of Ebenezer Scrooge stand out more. The flow of the story felt more fluid than before. (I still have my reservations about those risque burlesque girls in the beginning of Act II like before as being rather inappropriate for a children's show.) Having played Scrooge very many times before, Miguel Faustmann is able to effectively embody the hateful character with much more humanity and warmth than before. 

The new casting is also quite affecting. The ever-energetic Noel Rayos played two exhausting over-the-top characters here -- Jacob Marley's ghost and Mr. Fezziwig. Franco Laurel is back after a three-year hiatus to play Ghost of Christmas Past and he did with much flair. Nico Dans with his long hair and hefty build was a standout as Ghost of Christmas Present. Jon Abella gave a touching performance as Bob Cratchit, together with the cute child actor Jaime Yupangco who played Tiny Tim. Laurence Mossman played a dashing Young Ebenezer Scrooge to Mitzie Lao's Emily, and they had a great duet version of "A Place Called Home" together. Arman Ferrer's singing voice as Scrooge nephew Fred Anderson is dominating in its depth and clarity.

"A Christmas Carol 2017" opened last December 7, 2017 at the Globe Iconic Amphitheater and will have one last show tonight December 27, 2017. Tickets are at P2000 each, but Globe subscribers get a 15% discount.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Review of Ballet Phils' AWITIN MO AT ISASAYAW KO: Fancy and Frenetic

December 2, 2016

The very concept of this modern ballet is very interesting indeed -- combining the grace of ballet with the dance music by the timeless Filipino 70s disco band, VST & Co. The advanced promotions for the show were well-concocted making this show one of the most intriguing and most irresistible shows ever produced by Ballet Philippines.

The story opens set in the present, with two elderly people on opposite sides of the stage. Old Victor was a cripple, while old Teresa was bedridden. Then the scene flashed back into the 70s, during the dark Martial Law era in Manila. There was construction worker Victor and his rich colegiala love Teresa, who was also desired by the haughty rich fellow Gabby, who was desired by Lita, 

Teresa's friend. Victor's best friend Arturo also longed for Teresa, but soon fell for the earthy charms of Ester, an older "lady of the night" who in turn longed for Victor's attention. Victor's pre-teen brother Lito, who also had a serious crush on Teresa, rebuffed the attention given him by Betty, a sweet young girl of his age.

With such a synopsis of intersecting love interests (written by Bibeth Orteza), it was not too easy keeping up with the events happening on the stage, especially when there was hardly any dialogue. We had to be astute enough to pick up the relationships as they are presented in dance and songs. I admit that if not for the synopsis in the souvenir program, I honestly would not have known who was who, nor understood what was going on.

One cause of confusion for me was the casting of BP company member Garry Corpuz in the lead role of Victor. While the dancing skills of the tall and lanky Corpuz was undeniable and strong, he felt miscast. There was a part in the beginning when Corpuz was dressed up in a wig and girl's uniform, I thought he would be the comic relief of the show, like he was in other BP shows I had seen before. Then it turned out that he was actually playing the romantic lead vis a vis the lovely Denise Parungao dancing Teresa. I felt no chemistry between them. (The alternate cast with Jean Marc Cordero and Rita Winder sounds like a more promising pairing.)

From the opening scene, I was disappointed that I would not be seeing local ballet royalty (and real-life husband and wife) Nonoy Froilan and Edna Vida as old Victor and Teresa. In Act 2 though, Butch Esperanza and especially ballroom specialist Ednah Ledesma would also charm us with their dance moves. Seeing their sweet scenes together, I felt that the Froilan-Vida pairing should definitely be a more romantically thrilling event to witness.

Among the singers, there was also a sense of miscasting. Karylle was so vivacious and vital in the role of Ester, a character who was supposed to be an old fading beauty. Vocally, Karylle was the strongest performer with a stellar rendition of the ballad "Ikaw ang Aking Mahal," followed by the showstopping "Kiss Kiss" number with Michael Pangilinan (as Arturo), which brought the house down at the end of Act 1. (Cookie Chua alternates as Ester, which is interesting knowing their disparity in singing styles.)

Michael Pangilinan sang the title song right at the start of the show as Arturo, setting the lively pace of the show. He gets to sing lead in most of the big hits, smoothly hitting all those falsettos. He also got to sing a dramatic solo "Ikaw ang Aking Pasko" in Act 2 to accompany the old couple's dance. (Sandino Martin alternates as Arturo, and I am sure the acting intensity would be different.)

Unfortunately throughout the show, the singing was affected by the less than perfect sound system. The starting notes of practically all the songs were not heard well from where I was. This was most evident with the voice of Kyle Echarri in the role of Lito. His notes were dropping, it felt like he was forgetting his lyrics. Echarri looked good on that stage, but I never really got to hear his singing voice too well. (Noel Comia alternates as Lito.)

Markki Stroem attacks his antagonist role as Gabby with over-the-top glee. He was so hammy in his portrayal in all three aspects of singing, dancing and acting, he was actually coming across as delightful and funny, the most entertaining performer on that stage. His most memorable number was the opening song of Act 2, "Rock Baby Rock" where Stroem was sporting short hugging shorts. He did not look as trim as his Leading Man character this time, so it looked really amusing, and he camped it up all the way. (Jef Flores alternates in this role, and it would be interesting to see how differently he'd attack this showy role.)

The vocal group Viva Voce gave a powerful performance as the chorus, in songs like "Mabuti Pa Nung Bata" and "Swing". They never had mic issues it seemed, so their vocals sounded strong and flawless. Members Glenda Liao and Anna Dinnah Migallos were also given the opportunity to do some acting as the mothers of Victor and Teresa, respectively. I wished they had spot solos to sing too.

The ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Gerard Salonga was faultless in their live accompaniment of the whole show. Those VST & Co. songs were iconic to begin with, and we can really hear why they were hits back then and why their appeal endures up to the present day.

Frankly, it was very surprising to see and hear the anti-Marcos sentiments the show fearlessly professed. There were posters and banners declaring Marcos's sins. There were scenes of the Metrocom cops being harsh, violent and even lethal during activist demonstrations and rallies. There was a strong sense of irony about this whole scenario, since this show was being staged in the Main Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, a legacy of the Marcos regime. If there were any pro-Marcos members of the audience last night, they were polite. No one walked out, or anything.

Since I watched this show on opening night, I felt there were still a lot of issues that they need to settle down. Not only the sound issues as I mentioned earlier, but there seemed to be a some issues with the blocking of the dancers. There were scenes where the multitude of dancers looked messy, seemingly getting into each other's way on stage, at least from the angle where I was seated. However, when the dancers hit it right and all dancing neatly in precise simultaneity in numbers like "Kiss Kiss" and "Rock Baby Rock" (both choreographed by PJ Rebullida), the scene was truly an amazing vision to watch. 

All in all though, opening night glitches, curious casting and complex story line aside, the energetic dancing and the catchy music are a cheerful joy to immerse in. 


"Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko" is currently running in the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, from Dec. 2 to 11, 2016, with 8 pm shows on Fridays, and 2pm and 6pm shows on Saturdays and Sunday. Ticket prices range from P 3,090.00 (Price Zone 1) and P 1,545.00 (Price Zone 2) to P 515.00 (Price Zone 6) and P 309.00 (Price Zone 7) through Ticketworld or at the CCP Box Office.


December 9, 2016

The cast meets the fans in the CCP lobby after the show.


Sorry for the all-caps but I am excitedly exclaiming this statement to all. I watched the alternate cast of this dance-musicale tonight and it totally changed my previous assessment of the show. Having the correct actors and dancers for each role certainly made significant improvements in this production. From an erratic, scattered show, it had made a complete turnaround to become a cohesive, consistent production -- a complete winner.

First and foremost, watching Filipino ballet royalty Nonoy Froilan and Edna Vida dance so ebulliently together in their roles of old Victor and old Teresa was already worth the price of admission. Sir Nonoy still had the carriage and the swag. Ms. Edna still had the grace and flexibility (even fully stretching her leg up above her head!). The audience rewarded their energetic routines with spontaneous standing ovations, even midshow. 

Jean Marc Cordero and Rita Angela Winder totally felt right in the lead roles of Victor and Teresa, both in terms of their looks, chemistry and dancing skill. With them in the lead, the storytelling became less confusing as the pairing made perfect sense.  

As Arturo, I was sure Sandino Martin would give the acting aspect more intensity than Michael Pangilinan. It turned out this would be true about his singing as well, particularly in dramatic songs like "Ipagpatawad Mo" and "Ikaw ang Aking Pasko." 

As Ester, Cookie Chua delivered the proper attitude for the character, a jaded beauty past her prime, with her rich, rock vocals. Karylle's more pop approach worked very well, but this earthy one by Chua also did. 

Jef Flores was also very entertaining in his villain role of Gabby. While Markki Stroem had more arrogance, Flores piled on the sleaze -- both attacks worked, in different ways. In "Rock, Baby, Rock" when he was wearing those hilariously short white shorts, Flores also took the opportunity to showcase his skill with an electric violin. 

In the role as Lito, theater wunderkind Noel Comia Jr. had commanding stage presence and a strong soaring vocals that stood out from his adult co-stars onstage. Comia's scenes with an amorous Betty could look a bit awkward, because he looked much younger than his alternate Kyle Echarri.

Granted, comparing a show on opening night and a show one week hence may not be so fair. The story and the music are the same. Not sure, but stage blocking and direction seemed to have been tweaked to make the storytelling clearer this time. The execution of the dance ensemble was more fluidly kinetic already. The microphone sound glitches were kept at a minimum, hardly noticeable. The ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra was as potent and spirited as ever. 

However, it was really the more astute casting of roles in this show that made a world of difference with the final product we experienced. I trust the other cast had already made the necessary adjustments to make their combination of talents work more smoothly before this show ends its run this Sunday. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review of Full House/RWM's ANNIE: Triumphant Tomorrow!

December 1, 2016

I had long known about the musical "Annie" because it was well-known that Ms. Lea Salonga broke through local mainstream show business by her precocious portrayal of the title role in the Repertory Philippines production back in 1980. I was not watching plays yet back then.

This current production by Full House at the Resorts World Manila Newport Performing Center is the first major local staging in thirty six years. So this is the first time that I am actually seeing the complete play as written by Thomas Meehan, with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. I knew it had several faithful film adaptations, but I had not seen any version until the modernized remake in 2014 with Quevenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx, so I do not think that counts. 

This show had been running September 30, 2016 and this week is already its last weekend. It just so happened that this week, we are also having the 60th Jubilee Annual Convention of our professional society (PSOHNS) at the Marriott Hotel and in place of having a Gala Dinner, we were informed that we are all going to watch a special performance of "Annie" instead -- an unprecedented treat for me during a convention.

The year was 1933 in New York City during the Great Depression. Annie was an optimistic 11-year old girl left by her parents in the New York Municipal Orphanage as an infant, under the irresponsible care of the ever-drunk Miss Hannigan. She constantly held on to the belief that they will come back for her, with a broken locket around her neck as their promise. That holiday season, Annie was chosen to spend two weeks with the billionaire Oliver Warbucks, two weeks that will profoundly change Annie's life.

I realized that, aside from the ubiquitous "Tomorrow" and "Hard-Knock Life", I did not really know most of other songs in the show. A few sounded familiar like "Maybe" and "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile", but the others were new to me. The first act felt a bit long and slow. However with Act 2, the plot picked up and is sustained up to the end. I did not expect Act 2 to have that delightfully executed White House scene that I totally, totally loved. James Paolelli as President FDR was so sweet, as if Steve Martin played him. 

As with other RWM productions I had seen in the past, sometimes the stage may seem too big for the small number of actors onstage. To make up for that, they create excellent sets and backdrops further enhanced by graphic projections to achieve a realistic 3-dimensional effect. We see the revolving stage in action on the very first scene. The first time we see the interior of the opulent Warbucks mansion, I can almost hear a collective gasp of awe from the audience. When the glittering giant Christmas tree was wheeled in, it was breathtaking. My personal favorite set was the one in the conference room at the White House. Outside the window, we even see the lawn with an American flag proudly waving. 

Child actress Krystal Brimner is only 9 years old but she went beyond my expectations with her earnest and touching performance in the title role. I recognize her name as the girl who played John Lloyd Cruz's traumatized daughter in the acclaimed indie film "Honor Thy Father" (2015), which actually won her an award that year. As Annie, there was a danger of her optimism coming across too sassy and annoying, but the winsome Brimner hit the right balance and never crossed that line. Her singing voice was full and strong in its high pitch, especially in her iconic song "Tomorrow". (Isabeli Elizalde alternates as Annie.)

Michael de Mesa was smart and elegant as Daddy Warbucks. He was noted to be straining in some of his tough belting songs in Act 2. Nevertheless, his sincere warmth shone through his gruff exterior. That little waltz he did with Annie was heartwarming to witness. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo was so funny and nasty in the thankless role of the comically hateful role Miss Hannigan. Her rendition of her featured song "Little Girls" was such a strong show-stopping star moment. Such depth!

Jill Pena was a classy and kind Grace Farrell, while Justine Pena was trashy and unscrupulous Lily St. Regis. But both Pena girls have such beautiful soaring sopranos that pierce the ensemble songs they're singing in. Mako Alonzo was so slimy playing the conniving brother of Miss Hannigan, Rooster. (Red Concepcion alternates as Rooster.) Again, I am going to say that I enjoyed the performances of the actors in the White House scene. Aside from Paolelli as FDR, also outstanding were James Perez and Chino Veguillas as his aides.

Congratulations to director Michael Williams for this difficult achievement of successfully directing children and dogs. (I never knew that Sandy only had two scenes!) Aside from the set design, the costume design by Gino Gonzales also contributed to taking us back to the 1930s New York. The lighting design of Jonjon Villareal was effective in creating drama in various scenes, The live orchestra under the baton of Maestro Rodel Colmenar was a joy to listen to as they accompanied the play. You will go out of the theater singing "Tomorrow" as the Christmas spirit of the play envelops you with cheer. 


"Annie" has six more shows at the Newport Performing Arts Center at the Resorts World Manila: December 2, 8pm; December 3, 3pm and 8pm; December 4, 3pm; December 10, 3pm and December 11, 3pm. Tickets are sold at: P3,441.92 (SVIP), P3,011.68 (VIP), P 2,366.32 (Gold), P 1,613.40 (Silver), P 860.48 (Bronze).

"Annie" has just won Best Musical Production (Foreign Material) from the 29th Aliw Awards announced last November 30, 2016, while the two girls who played Annie, Brimner and Elizalde, both got cited as Discovery of the Year.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review of Atlantis' FUN HOME: Fathoming Frailties of a Father

November 21, 2016

Since it was announced that Lea Salonga will be returning on a local stage for a play, fans had been looking forward to watching this production. I have heard of the title "Fun Home" and the multiple Tony Awards this musical play brought home just last year. Therefore the hype and anticipation for watching such a recent Broadway hit show locally is very high leading up to its debut at the CP Romulo Auditorium at the RCBC Plaza, Makati City last November 10, 2016. This is the international debut of this show, a real big deal.

"Fun Home" is the nickname fondly given by the members of the Bechdel family for their maudlin family business, the Bechdel Funeral Home. We follow the story of the narrator, eldest daughter Allison: her childhood growing up, her sexual awakening in college and her current occupation as a comic book graphic artist. The story is told with regard to her delicate bond with her jack-of-all-trades father Bruce, who may or may not have been as ideal a dad as she thought.

This story originated from an actual 2006 autobiographical graphic novel by the real Alison Bechdel. The musical was first developed in 2009 with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Teson, and first played Off-Broadway in 2013 before its Broadway debut in 2015. The show went on to win five Tonys out of its twelve nominations, including Best Musical, Director (Sam Gold), Book, Original Score and Lead Actor (for Michael Cerveris).

The flow of the play is familiar and typical enough. We meet what seems to be an ideal happy American family composed of father Bruce, mother Helen and their three kids Alison, Christian and John. Later in the course of the play as events unfold, we see that they are actually a dysfunctional family. So far, so familiar.

However, this play goes beyond just simple dysfunction to tackle one sensitive issue after another: from gay girls cavorting and gay guys seducing, to child abuse and marital abuse, all the way to lying inside coffins, and there is even talk of body lice! These are all very serious controversial stuff that the more conservative musical theater fans may not really feel comfortable about. After watching, it was frankly very difficult to process how I liked the story, or not. 

If you go to watch the show without any knowledge about the story, the unfolding of the story can be quite discomfiting for some more right-wing folk. The show is rated PG-13 for some intense scenes which require maturity, but there are actually young kids in the cast so those sensitive scenes can come as quite a shock for some people. I'd personally rate it R-16. Anyhow, you need to remember that this is already a Tony award-winning book so more people love it than you don't.

If the story may evoke conflicting reactions as it progressed, I believe that the conclusion will be universally loved. The touching way the ending scene ("Flying Away") was executed by director Bobby Garcia with his three Alisons (of three different ages) really hit its mark. When that beautiful drawing of small Alison playing airplane with her father flashed on the screen behind the actors, I was swept by an overwhelming rush of emotion as the image of me and my own father (as well as me and my own daughter) flashed in my mind. 

It was really amazing how they cast three actresses of different ages to play Alison. The 43-year old Alison Bechdel was played by Cris Villonco and of course, she could do no wrong as she was practically onstage the whole time narrating the story while working on her graphic novel. As good as Villonco was as always, impossible as it may seem, the two younger Alisons were given more to do in terms of character development and the two younger actresses actually do much better.  

10-year old Small Alison was played by the young dynamite Andee Achacoso. 11-year old Achacoso played her character very naturally with the right balance of charm, smarts and mischief. She also had a good rapport with two boy actors who played her kid brothers (Ronan Crisologo ? and Albert Silos). Fathers in the audience (like me) will be able to feel the father-daughter connection. Her biggest song is also the most controversial and , "Rings of Keys," telling us how she felt when she first saw a butch lesbian. Hearing a child sing this brave song can be unsettling for the uninitiated. (Katie Bradshaw alternates as Small Alison. Daniel Drilon and Teddy Velasco alternate as Christian, while Noel Comia, Jr. alternates as John.)

19-year old Medium Alison was played by Mikkie BradshawI first saw her as "Carrie" and knew back then that she is one very good actress and singer. Bradshaw had a light, Disney-esque vocal quality that conveyed her character's innocence and curiosity (so well heard in her humorously naughty song of awakening entitled "Changing My Major"), in perfect contrast to that incredibly deep earthy voice used by Yanah Laurel as her girlfriend Joan. 

Atlantis decided to get a bonafide Broadway star, Eric Kunze, to play Alison's father Bruce. This role is complex and meaty -- a flawed character that actors love to sink their teeth into. For audiences, his scenes were very discomfiting to watch. That scene when he picks up male student in his car was particularly squeamish, especially with that Hitchcock-like music that played in the background. His big moment of painful and ultimately mortal catharsis came in a song called "Edges of the World." Ironically, of all the actors, I had most trouble hearing Kunze's lines. His mic might not be working perfectly that show.

Young Fil-New Zealander actor Laurence Mossman played multiple roles of Roy, Mark, Pete, Bobby Jeremy, boys who hung around the Bechdel home for various reasons. At first we thought he was just there mainly because of his good looks and buff body as those roles required. However, he actually surprised us with his strong tenor singing voice in the song "Rainbow of Love". I think we will be seeing more of this guy in future stage productions.

Despite what audiences would expect for a star of her magnitude, Lea Salonga actually had very little stage time as Alison's long-suffering martyr of a mother Helen. Anyhow, Salonga would make the most of her big showcase moment when she gets to spill out all the harrowing emotions and frustrations Helen had held back all these years in a powerful ballad entitled "Days and Days." This single song alone, rendered with simmering intensity coming to a full boil, is able to highlight why Salonga is our national treasure.

Lending creative support to Director Bobby Garcia are the talented and ever-efficient technical geniuses: Musical Director Ceejay Javier, Vocal Director ManMan Angsico, Choreographer Cecile Martinez, Light Designer Adam Honore, Set Designer Faust Peneyra, Costume Designer Oz Go, Sound Designer Kevin Heard, Projection Designer GA Fallarme and Hair and Make-up Designer Johann dela Fuente. As with other Atlantis shows, the production ran seamlessly with no obvious hitches. We do not really have to go to Broadway to catch these hit shows anymore. (Coming up next year is Cyndi Lauper's "Kinky Boots".)


There are only five shows remaining of their limited 18 show run: Nov 25 (Fri) 8PM, Nov 26 (Sat) 3PM/8PM and Nov 27 (Sun) 3PM/8PM. On Ticketworld, tickets cost P 4,180  (Orchestra Center), P 3,657.50  (Orchestra Right / Left), P 3,135 (Loge Center / Sides) and P 1,567.50 (Balcony). 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Review of PETA's THE TEMPEST REIMAGINED: Intricate Integration

November 12, 2016

Adapting Shakespeare into Filipino certainly sounds like a formidable venture. However, in various such local productions, the talents of Filipino theater artists have made the tricky transition look easy. This year alone, Dulaang UP had done "A Comedy of Errors" while Tanghalang Pilipino did "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to great success. In recent years, PETA had done "King Lear" in 2012 and "Twelfth Night" (as "The Wonder Twins of Boac") in 2013, both of which were very well-received. 

This present production of PETA entitled "The Tempest Reimagined" was done in cooperation of the British Council, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and The Japan Foundation Manila. The director and playwright of this play Nona Shepphard is British, as is the set designer Marsha Roddy. The lighting director Tsuguo Izumi is Japanese. This international technical staff together with the all-Filipino cast gives this play its unique look and flavor. The script was translated to Filipino/Taglish by Liza Magtoto. The sound design is by Teresa Barrozo.

"The Tempest" was about a sorcerer Prospero who ordered his enslaved spirit named Ariel to whip up a destructive storm at sea, sinking the ship which carried the Queen Alonsa and her family. The survivors all sought refuge on Prospero's island, enabling his daughter to meet and fall in love with Alonsa's son Ferdinand. This main story line was complicated by subplots about Prospero's brother Antonio and his treacherous plots, as well as about the island monster Caliban and his drunken encounter with the fools Stephano and Trinculo. 

In her adaptation, Shepphard changed "The Tempest" from a play containing only one major female character (Miranda) into one with six female characters. The central character of the sorcerer Prospero remained to be male, but was now played by a female actor. The King Alonso was now a Queen, Alonsa. The king's brother Sebastian was now a sister Sebastiana. And in the most inspired deviation from the original, the powerful sprite Ariel is now being portrayed by three actors, one male and two female. 

Furthermore, this main story was extended to include the story about the fates of Papa Boms, Edith, Alina and Diego, four strangers who got together when they were swept up by the giant storm surge that rose and flooded Tacloban City at the height of Super Typhoon Yolanda. Social commentary was directed towards the national government, local government and the private sector and the quality of their relief and rehabilitation efforts for the victims of the disaster.

I was not familiar at all with the story of "The Tempest" so it took some time for me to get into the drift of the story. The casting of Prospero as a woman (CB Garrucho) was a particularly puzzling modification of uncertain significance. The portrayal of Ariel as a trio was initially confusing (but this later turned out to be a fantastic decision). Why were Jenny Jamora and Brian Sy (who seem to be the same age) cast as mother and son?! The whole Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo subplot did not seem to fit too well into the narrative.

The inclusion of the Yolanda characters, portrayed by the same actors running around the stage and varying their costumes to signify the character they were playing, did not make it any easier for me to understand what was going on at first. To be honest, the manner how and the reasons why the two stories connected to each other at the end were not so clear for me even up to now that I am writing about it. 

This was the first time I saw PETA President CB Garrucho in a major stage role. She had those long Prospero lines perfectly down, delivered with no errors. While I can imagine a man play this character with ruthlessness, but Garrucho instead imbued her Prospero with gentility and compassion. Bodjie Pascua is such a reliable veteran with his effortless natural style as Papa Boms. Norbs Portales had an easygoing sense of humor as the narrator Jaime. This was the first time I have seen the Red Turnips Jenny Jamora and Topper Fabregas deliver lines in Filipino. Meann Espinosa, John Moran and Renante Bustamante all had their moments to shine as Edith, Caliban and Antonio respectively.

In the show I watched today, Ariel was played by Gio Gahol, Neomi Gonzales and Gab Pangilinan.  The conceptualization and execution of this character was flawless, great lines. Their makeup and costume really stood out among everyone else. Their harmonizing in song was also so beautiful to hear. There was another memorable trio that made a lasting impression: John Moran, Jack Yabut and Topper Fabregas as Gods 1, 2 and 3. Their hilarious exchange of lines made its implicit mocking of governmental action (or inaction) during Yolanda most engaging with effective satire. 

The acting talent on that stage was undeniable and this was the saving grace of this show. The set may have looked very simple before the show began, however the way they portrayed the titular tempest onstage was so good. We all felt like we were aboard that ship being tossed around by the waves. The lighting and sound design both deserve commendation as well. I admit my difficulty in fully grasping the structure of the play and some of the casting decisions. The intention to integrate stories of Yolanda with Shakespeare may have been noble, but the overall result of the complexity was a little unwieldy for me.

"The Tempest Reimagined" will run from November 11 to December 4, 2016 at the PETA Theater Center. For tickets,, 8919999.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Recap of VIENNA BOYS CHOIR Live in Manila 2016: History and Harmony

November 11, 2016

The Vienna Boys Choir is one of the oldest choirs existing in the world with a history dating back at least 500 years. Illustrious musicians like Mozart and Salieri have worked with the choir, while Schubert and Haydn have actually sung with the choir. It was really fortunate that the boys performed at the Plenary Hall of the Philippine International Convention Center for a one-night only concert on November 11, 2016 as the final stop of their Asian tour this year. The last time this famed choir performed in Manila was back in 2004.

The show opened with the Philippine and Austrian National Anthems sung by the girls and boys of the Hail Mary the Queen Choir from Cubao, decked in bright and colorful Muslim-inspired costumes. The young current principal of Xavier School, Fr. Aristotle Dy, SJ delivered his opening speech, followed by the Ambassador of Austria to the Philippines, Dr. Josef MuellnerTheir speeches reminded us that this concert not only celebrates the 60th anniversary of Xavier School, it also celebrates the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Austria and our country.

The members of the Vienna Boys' Choir were mainly from Austria, but over the years, more and more boys from other countries have joined. This present visiting group (the Bruckner group) was multi-racial. There were at least four Asians in the group, including Yu (from China), Ryusei (from Japan), Jeong-Min (from Korea) and Lance (from the Philippines). Lance So is the first Filipino member of the choir. He is the son of Mr. Eric So, a member of Xavier School batch 1992 who was responsible for bringing the choir over in cooperation with the Embassy of Austria. Their current choirmaster (since 2008) is the youthful and energetic Italian pianist and conductor Manolo Cagnin

Lance So delivers his speech
with Maestro Manolo Cagnin beside him

The first half of the program was dedicated to classical choral pieces by Vivaldi, Schubert, Verdi and Strauss. Two rather unique pieces stood out and were most well-applauded. The first was the amusingly rhythmic "Capricicciata a tre voci" and "Contrappunto bestiale alle mente" (from Adriano Banchieri's farce "Festino", 1608) where the boys sang with sounds of a dog, a cat, a cuckoo and an owl. The second piece was the strange but delightful "Cat's Duet" compiled by Robert Lucas de Pearsall (using melodies from Gioachino Rossini's 1816 opera "Otello"), where four boys sang nothing else but meowing sounds the whole time. The main boy soprano Robert (from Ireland) offered a stirring solo performance of Schubert's "Ave Maria" to the country. 

The second half of the program after a short 10-minute break featured an eclectic mix of more familiar songs. It opened with the Rosemary Clooney ditty "Mambo Italiano" (Bob Merrill, 1954), then Enrico Caruso's Neapolitan barcarolle "Santa Lucia". More popular songs followed with some boys showing off their talents on guitar, violin and percussion: "O Sole Mio'", "That's Amore," "Nella Fanstasia," "Amazing Grace" and "Volare". For me, the most beautifully-rendered song of this set was the quintessentially Austrian "Edelweiss" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music." Their final song on the program was "Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss II, Austria's so-called "secret national anthem". 

The impressive Sopranos whose soaring voices defined the VBC sound

The Hail Mary the Queen Choir came out again and sang the Ilocano folksong "Pamulinawen" together with the boys. After that, another soloist Matthew (from New Zealand) came forward to render the very popular Mandarin standard song "Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin (The Moon Represents My Heart)" to the delight of the Chinese members of the audience. The boys generously entertained the calls for a few more encore numbers (including a Christmas song medley) until the concert of angelic voices finally came to an end. We had just heard one of Austria's national treasures sing for us live, and that was an extraordinary experience to cherish.