Monday, February 29, 2016

Review of Repertory Phils ALMOST, MAINE: Quaint and Quirky

March 1, 2016

It was a Saturday night when I went to catch this show on its second weekend. While I have attended shows where the Onstage Theater was not full, but this one was the saddest attendance I have seen. I was dismayed to see that there were less than twenty people inside when I entered the auditorium. The Rep really needs to improve their publicity it seems, especially for shows with a relatively obscure title or playwright. There was so little I see about this new play of theirs in regular or social media. Nevertheless, the stage looked very good, so I was determined to stay and enjoy their show, as I usually do. 

The stage only had one big square platform in the middle, and every other surface was coated in white to simulate snow. I thought this set design by Coco Anne and Baby Imperial was simple yet very well done. Together with the windy sound effects (by Jethro Joaquin), the bluish lights and the "steam" behind the characters (by John Batalla), the winter illusion was complete and realistic. The emptiness of the auditorium made the desolation of the setting even more felt.

"Almost, Maine" by John Cariani is a collection of unrelated vignettes about 21 characters who lived in an imaginary town in the northeasternmost tip of the US, where winters were harsh and where the Northern Lights play in the sky. There were only two characters in each scene, except one with three. All the scenes tackled various aspects of love -- falling into love, falling out of love, regretting love, hurtful love, hopeful love, affirming love. These 21 characters were played by 4 actors, upon whose charisma the success of this simple yet whimsical play rests.

Reb Atadero is really very good in playing eccentric characters, just like he did in his breakthrough role of Benjamin Braddock in "The Graduate" (also by Rep 3 years ago). Among the four actors on the stage, I thought Atadero was best able to project the strangeness of the situations being depicted in the vignettes assigned to him. He was very good as East in the scene called "Her Heart" and as Danny in the scene called "Story of Hope". He had this Jesse Eisenberg vibe going on which makes his stand out from the rest.

Jamie Wilson is such a veteran already with all these unusual roles he is given to play. Only he could have pulled off the role of Pete in that weird "Prologue-Interlogue-Epilogue" scenes or as Steve in the scene called "This Hurts" with his trademark teddy-bear innocence and charm. Wilson's age may sometimes get in the way of roles like Chad in "They Fell" or Dave in "Seeing the Thing", where a younger millennial actor may have been better cast.

Caisa Borromeo was in three straight scenes in the first act. Her performances were good, but nothing that really grabs you. Her best scene would be that in "Story of Hope" where she really shone as Hope, the girl who goes back to her hometown to finally answer the question of a suitor she left hanging years ago. This was the only scene that I felt chemistry between Borromeo and Atadero, barely felt in their two other scenes together. "Getting It Back," the last scene of Act One also with Borromeo and Atadero, did not work for me.

Natalie Everett works very hard to make her roles pop, but with inconsistent results. I thought the role of Rhonda in "Seeing the Thing" was not really fit for her as her acting efforts were very evident. That scene was not comfortable for me to watch and it was even the very last scene. However, in total contrast, she was really so good as Marci in the scene called "Where It Went." Her subdued, natural yet powerful performance in that scene alone made up for everything else. 

Overall, Rep's production of "Almost, Maine" as directed by Bart Guingona is an "almost" success. The general feeling is good, but it was a mixed bag. When it works, it really works; but some scenes did not really fly. Being love stories, this depends heavily on the chemistry between the cast members, which was not always there. The various roles assigned to the cast members did not always feel right for them -- be it by look, by age, or by personality --which may affect the success of their scene as it toes the line between cute and corny. 

Still, the script and production as a whole were very charming in their own odd little way, and is certainly worth checking out for fans of quirky rom-com films and plays. This should be seen by more young people for whom themes like these would definitely connect more. That empty Saturday night when I watched it was just a one-off fluke. That really should not happen again in the next two weeks of this play's run. It deserved more love than that.


“Almost, Maine” plays Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees as 3:30 pm, until March 13 at the Onstage Theater in Greenbelt 1, Paseo de Roxas cor. Legazpi St., Makati City. For tickets, call Repertory Philippines at 8433570 or TicketWorld at 8919999. Ticket prices range from P400 to P800.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Review of Red Turnips' CONSTELLATIONS: Romance and Relativity

February 27, 2016

The Red Turnips new show is being staged in a new theater venue, the Power Mac Center Spotlight Theater, which is located on the second floor of Circuit Lane in Circuit Makati. The venue is elongated with the audience seated on two parallel rows along the horizontal axis of the room with the stage in the middle. There was one main hexagonal raised stage in the middle of the room, with several smaller "stages" scattered on either side. There were nylon cords creating a web around the area occupied by the stages. The whole area is bathed in blue light.

I always look forward to new productions by Red Turnip because the plays they choose to stage are very challenging --  both for the actors to perform and for the audience to take in and digest. This new show "Constellations" definitely fits that mold. This play had only two actors and the words the exchange in their conversations to hold your attention for 80 full minutes straight, hardly anything else. And boy, how they nailed this. My attention was not only held, it was riveted.

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. 

The actors for this play practically had to be schizophrenic, quickly shifting from one emotion to another at the ring of a bell. Cris Villonco set the pace for the play with her very fluid shifts from flighty millennial to smart scientist to drama queen. There was no doubt that she could pull this role off, and she certainly did. I have only seen JC Santos in Filipino productions before, so his performance here in English was a remarkable revelation. He was certainly able to keep up with Villonco's frenetic pace and make his own memorable moments. 

Relativity and romance may seem to be an unlikely pairing for a play, but young British playwright Nick Payne shows us that it can be done with astonishing effect. This play debuted in London in 2012 (with Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall) and brought to Broadway in 2015 (with Ruth Wilson and Jake Gyllenhaal in his Broadway debut), both productions receiving critical acclaim for the actors and the writer. 

For this local version, director Rem Zamora fully harnessed the best of his two actors and presented the material in the most hypnotic fashion. The lights (John Batalla), set (Ed Lacson, Jr.) and sound (Teresa Barrozo) were unobtrusive as they should be for a play like this. Everything had to be toned down in order to fully showcase the actors and their words they say and how they say them. All the technical aspects worked together successfully for this full enhancing effect to create the "multiverse" where this play existed.


Red Turnip Theater's CONSTELLATIONS opened last February 12, 2016, and will run on weekends until March 6 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight Theater in Circuit Makati located at Level 2, Circuit Lane, A.P. Reyes Ave., Makati City. Tickets are available through TicketWorld (all outlets, call 891-9999 or or Red Turnip Theater at 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Recap and Videos of MADONNA REBEL HEART TOUR MANILA DAY 1: Quintessential Queen!

February 25, 2016

She is an artist whom fans in our country had been wanting to see for the past thirty years. When it was announced middle of last year that Madonna was finally coming to the Manila for a concert, everyone got very excited. The extravagant P58,000 per seat in the VIP section apparently did not matter. The February 24 date quickly sold out. Just like the One Direction and the EX-O concerts before it, a second date was also opened on February 25.

On concert day itself, the MOA Arena was full of very excited fans of all ages, but mostly children of the 80s and 90s whose long wait to see their Queen of Pop was finally becoming a reality tonight. There were fans who dressed up for the occasion. I saw girls who wore the "True Blue" look, the "Cherish" look, the "Like a Virgin" look. I also saw guys who wore "Take a Bow" matador coats, as well as several transvestites who came in very daring "Express Yourself"-style drag outfits.

By 8:30 pm, a lady DJ named #DJMaryMac took to the stage to warm up the audience. Whenever she played songs from the 80s, notably Whitney's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody", everybody got excited and even sang loudly along. However, most of the songs she played were of the modern EDM genre. In fact by the one hour mark, people began to get impatient when her set began to last so much longer than typical front acts. Her set ended 1-1/2 hours later at about 10 pm! As her table and gear were being dismantled to clear the stage, a voice announced that we will have to wait 30 minutes more before the show will begin. A loud groan was heard from the audience, and people started to file out of the theater for a snack or souvenir or a trip to the bathroom.

By about  10:45 pm, the house lights were finally dimmed and people started to scream loudly. I personally felt like I had butterflies in my stomach much like I was about to have a big plunge drop on a roller coaster. The anticipation was quite exhilarating at that point.

The opening song "Iconic" (from the "Rebel Heart" album) was the most elaborate concert production number I have ever witnessed, where Madonna entered in a glittery cage. From that opening number alone, you can already see that this will not be an ordinary concert in terms of its elaborate lights, its colorful costumes, its innovative stage design and props, its complex choreography. This was followed by another song from the last album, "Bitch I’m Madonna" (VIDEO) with its Japanese flavor and racy language. With this song, we are already warned that this concert will still be Rated R. Madonna's age of 57 did not mean jher mouth had mellowed in terms of attracting controversy.

Her very early hit "Burning Up" followed next, with Madonna playing an electric guitar centerstage. The next song "Holy Water" had those Catholic images which had long been Madonna's favorite whipping boy. The stage had four poles (which just had to have crossbars near the top) and her dance mates were four dancers dressed like nuns. Her big hit "Vogue" was thrown into the mix to the delight of the audience. This set ended with "Devil Pray" where Madonna was writhing on the floor of the raised stage with her hands tied together by a red rope. 

After an interlude with some elaborate special effects of air and fire, the next set had Madonna and her dancers in an auto mechanic shop in another big dance showcase "Body Shop." She then addressed the surprised audience with a spiel generously peppered with "M-F" bombs! She even wanted the audience to answer her questions with a "F - yeah!" She then took up her ukulele and sang her sweet old song "True Blue". This segued to an energetic rendition of one of my personal favorite upbeat songs, "Deeper And Deeper". 

A metallic spiral staircase appeared over the heart-shaped stage and Madonna performed the dramatic "HeartBreakCity" with one of her male dancers, ending in an impassioned "Love Don’t Live Here Anymore." This set ended with a simple version of her classic signature song "Like A Virgin" but this one had everyone on their feet singing and dancing along. The big productions were reserved for the newer songs she is promoting.

The next interlude had four beds with four couples doing those sexy suggestive moves to the sultry songs "Justify My Love" and "S.E.X." 

Madonna and crew came out in Spanish matador-inspired costumes to perform "Living For Love". This dissolved into another sweet classic "La Isla Bonita" (VIDEO). She walked to the heart stage, put on her acoustic guitar and unexpectedly sang what I thought was her most obscure #1 song, "Who’s That Girl." The next song again had everyone up on their feet dancing and singing at the top of their voices-- "Like a Prayer"! She was very effusive with her thanks to the audience before she sang the title song of the tour "Rebel Heart." 

The next interlude set to the tune of "Illuminati" had the dancers in tuxedos with coat tails. But what set this number apart were the dancers on tall poles who were bravely swaying in all directions. That act was truly breathtaking to witness. 

Renditions of #1 hit "Music" and "Candy Shop" (from the "Hard Candy" album) followed with a 1920s nightclub setting and costumes. Another classic hit "Material Girl" was sung on a hydraulic stage with lighting effects. She then took a small bouquet and threw it to the audience. A girl named Zorina (?) caught it. I thought Mads would call her up on stage, but oddly this did not happen. Madonna then sat on a raised mini-stage in the middle of the central stage, and surprised the audience by solidly singing a French torch song "La Vie en Rose." 

Her dancers then escorted a tall blonde-wigged transvestite chosen from the audience to dance "Unapologetic Bitch" with the Gay Icon herself. After the number, Madonna chatted with her giddy guest, who called herself "Super Starlet" (VIDEO). Again, the conversation took a raunchy turn when Madonna naughtily gave Super Starlet a banana and a straw as gift souvenirs. Then the words "Bye Bitch" was shown onscreen, and everyone just cleared out of the stage without warning.

The house lights were not yet being turned on, so the audience knew there would be another song at least to end the show. It would be her joyous early hit "Holiday." Madonna courted controversy here by wrapping a Philippine flag around her waist while dancing. I was really hoping the flag would not touch the floor as it dangerously swayed down so closely. She eventually gave the flag to one of the dancers. These dancers would later display the flag horizontally with red side up, which they corrected promptly, thankfully. The song ended with Madonna being lifted upwards by a cable, where she bid her final goodbyes. The show ended at exactly 1 am, making it the latest show I have ever seen.

This would count as one of the most unforgettable concerts I have seen, and you know I have seen a lot. The lights, graphics, stage design, choreography were out of this world. (I know I should already expect anything from Madonna, but the bad language can still be sort of off-putting, until you eventually get used it being repeated so often throughout the show, up to her very final words while hanging on the cable.) Her vocals were not really the highlight here, but it was her grandiose showmanship and her one-of-a-kind artistic vision joyously celebrated in her music and dance. This extravagant and ostentatious show of the Queen was indeed worth the 32 year wait!

POSTSCRIPT: The concert on Day 2 followed the same order of songs, except for two significant changes. Instead of singing "Who's That Girl" and "Like a Prayer", Madonna sang a medley of "Dress You Up/Into the Groove/Lucky Star" and, in celebration of EDSA Revolution Day, a song she said she has never sung live for 30 years "CRAZY FOR YOU"!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Review of Repertory Phils' THE GAME'S AFOOT: Wacky Whodunit!

February 8, 2016

Since I was younger, I am a big fan of detective books and films, from the Hardy Boys to Agatha Christie to Arthur Conan Doyle. That was why when Repertory Philippines announced that their first play for this their 49th season was a whodunit-comedy entitled "The Game's Afoot" (written by Ken Ludwig and first staged in 2011), I was excited to go see it. However, because of busy schedules at work, I was only able to watch it yesterday, on its very last day of the run.

William Gillette was a stage actor best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the 1930s. He was injured by a real gunshot during the curtain call of his final performance in New York. So while convalescing from his injury, Gillette invited a few friends over for a Christmas Eve dinner at his isolated Connecticut mansion. When an actual murder happens that evening, Gillette literally donned his Sherlock Holmes garb to figure out who the killer is.

The guest list include William's mother Martha and William's co-stars in his latest play - veterans Felix and Madge Geisel, the debonair Simon Bright and the ingenue Aggie Wheeler. The plot thickens when vicious gossip-mongering reporter Daria Chase makes an appearance. As expected there was a lot of witty repartee and puzzling plot twists to make this a pretty engaging and entertaining, albeit old-fashioned, ensemble play.

The Cast 
Seated: Joy Virata, Paul Holme, Pinky Amador
Standing: Pineda, Eckstein, Domingo, Flores
(photo from Rep Phil FB page)

I think Paul Holme could do parts like William Gillette blindfolded already. He was so much into Gillette's skin, it felt like he was actually playing himself as he snugly fit into that Sherlock Holmes cape. Jeremy Domingo is so comfortable in these bumbling best-friend roles like Felix, much like his character in "Run for Your Wife", only wearing a tux this time. Jay Glorioso is cozily doing these mother roles once exclusively Joy Virata's turf. (Ms. Virata actually alternates in this role.) It was fun to finally see Hans Eckstein play a numbskull character like Simon. 

I did not recognize Pinky Amador as she arrogantly strutted onstage as the arch, bitchy and scandalous Darla Chase. Ms. Amador can really transform into these interesting characters she picks, as she always had in her other plays like "August Osage County" and "Piaf." That role that the juiciest lines and the most surprising (and hilariously macabre) scenes. This was truly the centerpiece role of the whole play, and Ms. Amador absolutely commanded it.

The rest of the roles were filled by promising newer names: Mica Pineda (as Aggie), Christine Flores (as Madge) and Natalie Everett (as the Inspector). Pineda and Flores looked and acted very convincingly as glamourous Broadway stars of the 1930s. Ms. Everett looked so awkward and unlikely as a pioneering female detective (which may be how the role was originally described), but she got to deliver some pretty funny lines as this cop was also a frustrated actress. 

The spectacular set for the opulent Gillette mansion 
designed by director Miguel Faustmann himself

I felt this play was also very interesting because the story involved theater people and their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Since I write about theater, one line by Martha Gillette really stood out for me. "She's cruel. She's evil. She is a theater critic, you know." This line had me laughing out loud like a crazy person. Subtle wit like this is truly hard to come by these days. 

This is the type of play that only Repertory Philippines can deliver so well. As evidenced by the near full house in yesterday afternoon's final matinee show, there is still a healthy market for these traditional genres of theater. The Rep is approaching 50 seasons of existence, and it remains to be relevant today. This is despite the emergence of more modern and much edgier theater fare in Manila's very vibrant theater scene now, itself a fruit of Repertory's pioneering efforts. 


As a bonus for watching yesterday afternoon's finale show, we were also able to see and hear Rep stalwarts Joy Virata and Baby Barredo pay tribute to the late Ms. Zenaida Amador, whose 83rd birth anniversary they celebrated yesterday. It was Ms. Amador and her signature brand of theater discipline who raised Repertory Philippines up from its shaky birth to the institution it is now. It was interesting to hear Ms. Virata estimate that probably 70% of local Filipino theater actors/crew members became part of Repertory Philippines.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Review of PETA's 3 STARS AND A SUN: Futuristic FrancisM Fervor

February 7, 2016

As their followup to the phenomenal success of "Rak of Aegis" which ran for two hundred shows (or even more), PETA decided to mine the musical and lyrical legacy of another iconic Filipino artist -- hip hop legend Francis Magalona. Decidedly, the subject matter of FrancisM's rap songs are very serious social and political commentary which makes it a natural fit with PETA's socio-educational advocacies. The title alone announces proudly the nationalistic fervor of this play.

It is 2096 and what is left of the Philippines is contained within the confines of a metal dome called the "Stormdome". Led by their ruler Grand Vidame Inky, the rich live in clean and white comfort in Lumino City. The poor live in dank and dirty darkness in the bowels of Diliman City, scavenging and recycling the garbage of the elite. Those caught plotting against the ruling class though would lose all their memories via a cruel process called "reconditioning".

A rebel group called Tropang Gising led by the feisty Sol plot on overthrowing the Grand Vidame to reverse the status quo.  Inky's children, the impulsive Chino and the idealistic Diane were also coming to their own respective realizations about their mom and her ruling style. One fateful day, these young people meet Mang Okik, a mad ancient hermit who knew Inky's father Rasputin, the old man tells them about the Philippines and her heroes they never knew, before the Stormdome was ever built.

Vidame Inky sings "Mga Kababayan Ko"

The unnerving action begins during the National Anthem itself. While the audience was singing, taser-toting guards of Lumino (called Protektanods) were ordering us to stop singing. It is not common that we see a dystopian play in Filipino, so the futuristic setting and culture they present was very interesting. The starkly and diametrically contrasting fashion sense of the rival cities, white vs. black, was a bold statement in itself.

Thankfully, the language was not as exclusive for each city. All the characters in both Lumino and Diliman knew how to talk in Filipino, as well as in English. Those in Lumino though were more comfortable in speaking English, but they were not averse to speaking in Filipino, accented with twang as it may be. Having to sing the songs of Francis M made it necessary for the citizens in both cities to be well-versed in both Filipino and English. 

Sol and Diane sing "Kaleidoscope World"

Myke Salomon, who won accolades from his first stint as Musical Director for "Rak of Aegis," is bound to earn more recognition for this project with his inventive re-arrangement of the Francis M songbook. I admit I was not too familiar with all the FrancisM songs used in this play. "Mga Kababayan Ko" was a rousing opening song number. "Kaleidoscope World" became a lullaby which would be a key to remember erased memories. "Meron Akong Ano," "Ito Ang Gusto Ko" and other less familiar raps and ballads were given a striking new arrangement as conversations involving different characters, either duets, quartets or as an ensemble. The cast were all very good in both singing, rapping and acting aspects. 

Gold Villar gave an impressively strong and athletic performance as Sol. Her female perspective on this role will definitely be different from the attack of her male alternate for the same role, Nicco Manalo. Manalo had previously done a rap musical with a political tone before in Tanghalang Pilipino's "Kleptomaniacs," also playing a poor guy from a squalid neighborhood. 

Raffy Tejada gave a very moving performance as Mang Okik, laced with just the right amount of humor. (His alternate is another theater veteran Bodjie Pascua.) His history lesson scene was truly a critical turning point in the narrative of this play.

John Moran had a very strong tenor which he put to great use in his role as Poy. His scene mourning the loss of a dear friend was heartbreaking with his plaintive Filipino-reworded version of "Cold Summer Nights". (His alternate is Nar Cabico.)

Chino, Vidame Inky and Diane

Che Ramos-Cosio was beautiful yet imperious as Vidame Inky. I saw her first in an indie film "Mariquina" and as a supporting character in Red Turnips' "Rabbit Hole". Here she really breaks loose with a powerful and memorable performance. (Her alternate is Carla Guevara-Laforteza, whom I have not seen in a Filipino play before, so that should be interesting.) 

Justine Pena was the voice of our conscience as Inky's frustrated daughter Diane and she was able to earn our sympathy for her plight. (Her alternate is Giannina Ocampo, who should also do very well.) 

Ever-reliable Gio Gahol debuts in this show as Inky's brash son Chino. His best moment was "Living in the Wild," a powerful rap duet with his sister Diane which Gahol and Pena nailed so well. (His alternate is Paolo Valenciano.)

In smaller roles in this show were: Jef Flores (as Winston), Gab Pangilinan (as Chelsea), Jet Barrun (as Nazty), Lee Viloria (as Kat), Roi Calilong (as Bogs), Gimbey dela Cruz (as Yaya) with Yesh Burce and Ian Segarra rounding up the ensemble list. Alternating in these roles are: Norbs Portales, Anj Heruela, Anna Luna, EJ Pepito, Jason Barcial, Nica Santiago, Raflesia Bravo, and Lance Busa, respectively.

 Being educated by Mang Okik

The first thing you notice upon entering the theater is the imposing scaffolding of metal occupying the stage reaching all the way up to the ceiling. This was a grand brainchild of production designer Gino Gonzales The lighting design of Ian Torqueza was very haunting and cinematic, particularly during the climax and denouement in the final act. Multi-talented Delphine Buencamino was responsible for the energetic choreography. Teresa Barrozo handled the sound chores creditably as always.

The pacing of the storytelling in Act 1 was rather slow on the build up, and you may feel the lag. However, when the character of Mang Okik came on the stage and gave his history lesson, the story becomes clearer and you will realize with awe how big this whole scenario is. The whole Act 2 will keep you on the edge of your seat up to that explosive climax, when the audience exploded into spontaneous applause. 

Director Nor Domingo successfully achieved the futuristic vision of visionary writers Mixkaela Villalon and Rody Vera, with the music and lyrics of Francis M fitting right in perfectly. The patriotic message it proclaimed was unmistakable, clear as crystal. Big kudos to cast and crew for another audacious and timely production!

The Final Tableau