Saturday, March 26, 2016

Review of LES MISERABLES at Solaire: Somber Yet Still Scintillating

March 27, 2016

When they started selling tickets to this show last September 2015, I made sure I bought tickets on the first day out. However, due to work, I was only able to buy tickets late that afternoon. The run of this show will start March 11, 2016, which was during the kids' final exams. On March 16-23, we were going to be travelling as the family. Therefore March 26 was the earliest Saturday matinee show I could buy at that time, and it was Black Saturday. The only good center seats were already way up in the balcony area, but I grabbed them just the same.

The story (by Victor Hugo, the music (by Claude Michel Schonberg) and the songs of this play (original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, translated to English by Herbert Kretzmer) were very familiar to me already. I had heard and sung along with the soundtrack album way back in the 1980s. In 1993, we watched in awe the Repertory Philippines all-Filipino production staged at the Meralco with Cocoy Laurel as Jean Valjean. That show had the barricades scene done on a rotating stage which was unforgettable for me. In 2012, I rated the film version of the musical by Tom Hooper (with Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean) as my personal pick for the Oscar Best Picture that year.

Jean Valjean went to jail for 19 years for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. When he was released, he broke his parole and changed his identity, which became cause for the obsessive pursuit of police officer Javert. Years later, he became the owner of a factory where an unfortunate woman named Fantine worked. When Fantine dies, Valjean took it upon himself to adopt her daughter Cosette and raise her like his own. Several years later, when Cosette was a teenager, she meets and falls in love with an earnest student Marius. Then, the tumultuous June Rebellion of 1832 breaks out in Paris.

In this touring production, the performers were a multinational mix from the UK, US and Australian shows. Their exceptional singing voices were as expected, capturing all the familiar vocal styles and timbers we have heard and loved since the Original Cast recording, with the actors giving their roles their own personal nuances.

Aussie Simon Gleeson was a powerful Jean Valjean. Of all his lung-busting song numbers, for me, his best song was the perfectly rendered "Bring Him Home". Broadway's Earl Carpenter matched Gleeson well as the conflicted Javert, with his excellent renditions of "Stars" and "Javert's Soliloquy". Cameron Blakely and Helen Walsh played the irrepressible Thenardiers, very effective as the comic relief antagonists. I was disappointed when I did not see the name of Rachelle Anne Go on the cast list in the theater lobby. For this show, the tragic Fantine was played by Jessica Daley.

Emily Langridge and Paul Wilkins played lovers Cosette and Marius, with Kerrie Anne Greenland as the third wheel Eponine. I really liked how they staged "In My Life" which segued into "A Heart Full of Love" with the gate, the wall, and the balcony. There were no actual furniture on stage for Marius' lament "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" but the drama of the song was not diminished a bit with the interpretation done here with candles. 

The pacing of the show was at a faster than usual clip, with efficient transition of scenes with their respective set pieces. Along with the lighting and smoke effects, the video backgrounds gave a magical illusion depth to many scenes, making them look bigger than the actual limits of the stage. This was best seen in that scene when Valjean carries the injured Marius through the Paris sewers up to the scene when Javert jumps into the River Seine. Too bad there is no rotating stage for the barricades scene in this particular production.

I do not know if I am just imagining it, but the songs were seemingly sung with a faster tempo than I was expecting. I felt this sucked some of the soul out of the Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream" and Eponine's "A Little Fall of Rain", interpretations which I found oddly lacking. For me, Greenland's interpretation of the iconic song "On My Own" felt more angry than pained, which did not feel right for me. 

Despite seeming too dark or somber, I feel this dramatically-charged production will effectively make you appreciate why this show possesses such timeless appeal.  The show-stopping "One Day More" ending the first act (with the distinctive marching choreography) and the tear-jerking "Finale" (with the ghostly vocal effects) were very well-staged indeed. These two big scenes will really linger in your memory long after the show. 

The extraordinary music and the powerful songs of this musical will definitely endure for generations. Watching this epic musical unfold on stage with live orchestral music and live singing is so much better than just watching it onscreen as a movie or concert video. You simply must hear these people sing LIVE!


“Les Miserables” opened with a gala night on March 16 at The Theater at Solaire in ParaƱaque City. It will run up to May 1, 2016. Performances are from Tuesdays to Sundays at 8 p.m. with matinee performances at 2:30 p.m. for Saturdays and Sundays.  Show runs 2 hours, 55 minutes (with one 15-minute interval). 

Tickets are available at Prices are as follows: P7,000 for VIP, P5,800 for A Reserve, P4,50) for B Reserve, P3,350 for C Reserve and P1,750 for D Reserve.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Review of 50 SHADES! THE MUSICAL PARODY: Dirty Delights

March 12, 2016

"Fifty Shades of Grey" by E.L. James had been criticized for its embarrassing writing style from the time it hit the bookstores. Yet all of those negative criticisms did not prevent it from being a huge bestseller especially among bored housewives of the whole world. The 2015 film version was also much maligned for its further mangling of the already English-mangling book. It was no surprise that parodies of this book popped up in all forms of media in response of its hilariously contrived story and lines. In the past five years there had been three such stage parodies that were spawned. One of them is here right now.

Three ladies, Pam, Bev and Carol were having their book club meeting. Pam suggests “50 Shades of Grey”, and the three enter the world of dorky college virgin Anastasia Steele and her sexually quirky, contract-wielding beau Christian Grey. Of course, being a parody, the script by director Al Samuels picked out all the unintentionally funny parts of the book and blows them up in full LOL effect with blatantly raunchy songs and racy choreography. Theater fans will enjoy the references to "Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Miserables." Assistant director Robbie Guevara of 9Works augmented the script with some witty Filipino pop references (so funny when delivered by the American cast). 

Karel Marquez was a perfect casting choice as Anastasia. Her pretty face and expressive eyes exuded genuine innocence. Her clear Disneyesque voice managed to make her double-entendre filled song of yearning "There is a Hole Inside of Me" actually sound inspirational despite the very naughty lyrics. Those fans who recall her as Gabriella on "High School Musical" or Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" need not worry as this Anastasia does keep most of her clothes on. (US stage actress Brenna Wahl alternates in this role.)

The big "surprise" of this parody will be the way they portray Christian Grey. When I saw that Lorenz Martinez was going to play Grey, I cannot imagine how it would be. Seeing this actor in films like "Heneral Luna" and serious musicals like "Lorenzo Ruiz" and "Secret Garden," I felt Martinez did not exactly fit the book description of how Grey was supposed to look like. From his first scene though, you'd totally get the seeming casting anomaly and how it was comedy gold. His solo number "I Don't Make Love" is practically X-rated, not only because of profanity it contains and perversion it celebrates, but also for that shameless torso-baring red singlet he wore throughout that number. (American alternate Greg Kata played Grey in the Las Vegas version so it also should be interesting to see his attack on the role.)

Bituin Escalante is as scene-stealing as ever because of her strong stage presence and stronger vocal chops. Good thing she had that one spot solo in one of the ensemble song numbers and she makes those few minutes some of the most memorable in the whole show. As the depressed and repressed housewife Carol, Escalante would delight us with her comic antics, especially when Carol "blooms" towards the end, aggressively engaging a young guy from the audience.

Tall, statuesque Chloe Williamson plays Pam. She surprised the unexpecting audience when she rips out her Idina Menzel-like vocal calisthenics in Act 2 when she leads the singing of the show's main theme song "50 Shades."  Kaitlyn Frotton gets to play two characters, housewife Bev and Anastasia's slutty roommate Katherine. She is game and funny, especially in that wild side scene with fellow cast member Chris Hodgson and one audience member from the front row. 

When you see him onstage, you'd think George Schulze, who plays Anastasia's flamboyant admirer Jose, was one of the foreign cast because of his looks. However, this guy is actually Filipino, and had been a professional stage actor since 2008. Admittedly, I had only noted him once before in "A Horse and His Boy" where he had a very minor role. His turn as Jose gave Schulze a much bigger opportunity to display his flair for comedy and singing. 

Chris Hodgson, Isaac Saleh and Casey Rogers played the minor side characters, as well as helped moved the furniture and various set pieces on stage. However, they are really eye-catching mainly because of their barely-there costumes. In fact, in most posters and promo pictures of the show you see them (and their chests and abs) to catch the audience's attention, and not really the main actors.

The nature of this show is not a secret. This show is about sexual deviancy so expect it to be frank and graphic about it. This is definitely not for closed-minded, ultra-conservative prudes. Yes, some cheesy jokes and suggestive song lyrics may make you groan. It is a parody after all, so do not expect high-brow stuff. For the most part though, the humor is surprisingly good-natured and light-hearted. The actors were all engaging and genuinely having fun and this was infectious. For people who are open about these adult themes as well as vulgar, risque comedy, this can be fun show to watch and enjoy. 


"50 Shades! The Musical Parody" was only supposed to run from February 12 -28, 2016. However, because of audience demand, it had continue to run in March, and will continue to show up to next weekend: March 18 (8 pm), March 19 (5 pm and 8 pm) and March 20 (Palm Sunday, 3 shows 2 pm, 5 pm and 8 pm.). Show venue is at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater at the RCBC Plaza in Makati. Show is Rated R-18.

TicketS via Ticketworld. Prices: VIP FRONT ROW: Php 5,000.00, VIP: Php 4,500.00, ORCHESTRA CENTER: Php 4,000.00, ORCHESTRA SIDES: Php 3,500.00, LOGE: Php 2,500.00, BALCONY: Php 1,500.00.