Sunday, October 29, 2017

Review of Full House/RWM's CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG: Musical Mechanical Magic

October 30, 2017

Aside from "The Sound of Music," another movie that was constantly played and replayed in our house during my childhood was "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1968) We also had the original soundtrack LP record which we also had on repeat on our turntable, so I knew all those classic songs by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman by heart. I would find out later that the movie (directed by Ken Hughes and co-written by Roald Dahl) was not exactly critically acclaimed or that well-known by many, but nevertheless this movie had a nostalgic hold on me.

When I heard that Full House was going to mount the Jeremy Sams stage adaptation of  "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" in Resorts World Manila, I was both excited and apprehensive because I knew the movie and songs inside and out and I cannot wait to see it come to life, but at the same time I had high expectations which may not be met. I knew that this was going to be a technological challenge how they were going to make Chitty float or fly.

Caractacus Potts was an eccentric British inventor, a widower with two sweet children, Jeremy and Jemima. The playful children wanted their father to buy the remains of a classic race car so Potts needed to raise 30 shillings whatever it took. When he did, he transformed the car into one with special abilities, as only Ian Fleming can endow it. The covetous Baron of Vulgaria (a country which outlawed children) ordered his minions to steal the fantastic car because he wanted it for his own.

While it was hard to get Dick Van Dyke out of Caractacus Potts, Gian Magdangal was able to give him a charming personality of his own. As he reminded us in 9Works/Globe Live production of "Disney's Newsies" earlier this year, Magdangal possesses a strong singing voice perfect for musical theater. Whether the song is whimsical (like "You Two") or sad (like "Hushabye Mountain"), Magdangal sang them so well. He can also deliver in the dance department, as he showed in the dynamic "Me Ol' Bamboo" number. (Lorenz Martinez understudies this role.)

With her short hairdo and masculine costume, Yanah Laurel looked nothing like the immaculately ultra-feminine Truly Scrumptious of Sally Anne Howes. While it took a while for me to get used to it, Laurel's beautiful voice in her self-titled song "Truly Scrumptious"  eventually won me over, and cemented later in "Lovely Lonely Man" and "Doll on a Music Box" . Her Truly was spunky and feisty, a thoroughly modern woman of that era. (Arya Herrera understudies this role.)

The sugary Toot Sweets confection 
(publicity photo)

Albert Silos and Isabeli Araneta Elizalde were an energetic and chirpy Jeremy and Jemima Potts. (Noel Comia Jr. and Zoey Alvarado alternate in these roles.) I just saw Silos as lead in PETA's children's show "Tagu-taguan" last August. This is the first time I had seen Elizalde in action, since I caught her alternate in "Annie." I was happy to see James Paoelli, a delightful FDR in "Annie," back in a longer, but similarly lovable role as Grandpa Potts. He even had his own solo song "Posh" and comedy number with the old rickety inventors in "Roses of Success." (Michael Williams understudies this role.)

The colorful characters of the Vulgarian Baron and Baroness were played by Raymund Concepcion and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo with naughty pizzazz, especially in their featured song "Chu-Chi Face." Yulo had her own "Bombie Samba" dance routine which was a rather oddly-placed, off-tangent Brazilian-flavored number. (Juliene Mendoza and Christine Flores understudy these roles.) Mako Alonzo and Reb Atadero played bumbling spies Boris and Goran, who livened things up with their ad-libs and slapstick comedy sideshows as the show momentum would occasionally sag. (Chino Veguillas and Raul Montesa understudy these role.)

There was one seriously evil villain in the show and that was the scary Childcatcher as played by Lorenz Martinez. His make-up and costume looked like it was inspired by Danny DeVito's look as the Penguin in Tim Burton's "Batman Returns" (1992). This character gave me the creeps as a child as he was played in the old film by Robert Helpmann. Martinez's characterization was similarly sinister and dark. (Stephen Vinas understudies this role.)

Colorful Cast at Curtain Call

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang itself is the central prop of the show everyone is waiting for. It does not actually move, so the production makes things move around it to give the car a sense of motion. These "tricks" may or may not work, depending on from where you are looking at it. The much-awaited flying scene was a cleverly executed illusion against a dark starry sky to end the first half. The lighting was not too good from my viewpoint when the floater or the wings came out from the car's underchassis so the sense of wonder in those scenes was rather muted. 

Mio Infante's sets were wonderful when they are expansive and used up the whole stage, like the Pott's residence with its imposing windmill, the Scrumptious Candy Factory, or the Fun Fair. That beautifully hypnotic White Cliffs of Dover backdrop which turned from idyllic to menacing was executed perfectly. Aside from Chitty, they also had to come up with convincing machines for making breakfast, sweets and cutting hair.

Director Jaime del Mundo came up with another cheerful and fun show, featuring some imaginative ways to circumvent the technical limitations. As usual, the amazing talent of Filipino artists both on stage and off stage (particularly musical director Maestro Rodel Colmenar, choreographer Nancy Crowe, costume designer Bonsai Cielo) carried and lifted this production creditably. As an old fan of the movie, I could not say I was completely satisfied with all the scenes, but hearing the songs again and singing along to them made me very happy. 


“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” opened last October 21, 2017 and will run until November 12 at the Newport Performing Arts Theater of Resorts World Manila. Tickets available at the RWM Box Office and on at the following prices: ₱4,087.28 (SVIP), P3,334.36 (VIP), P2,581.44 (GOLD), P1,828.52 (SILVER) and P1,075.60 (BRONZE).  Shows run on Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm.

The show is best seen in the center sections of the theater. The visual illusions on the stage do not work consistently when you are seated in the peripheral sections, and you will tend to look at the giant video screens placed on either side of the stage. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Review of Theater Titas' WHAT'S IN THE DARK?: Trials of Trust

October 28, 2017

I was looking for a show to watch on the evening of Saturday October 28. I chanced upon an advertisement on FB about this Halloween-themed play by a new theater production company whimsically known as Theatre Titas. I had been trying to see a play in the horror genre in the past few Octobers but so far, this is the first time I actually had the best chance to go see one.

The Entrance to the Axon

The venue is called The Axon, a spacious ballroom in the lobby of the Green Sun Hotel along Don Chino Roces Extension in Makati. There were five groups of chairs arranged in a semi-circle around the performance space. Before the show, the two Theatre Titas themselves, Chesie Carino and Cheese Mendez, personally introduced themselves and their maiden production. 

The Theatre Titas!



Claire is a 10-year old girl who could not find her beloved Mama nor her way back home. Saul is a mysterious man lurking in the dark -- not only because of his ugly face, but also because of his ugly sins. This play is a conversation when these two contrasting characters meet in the darkness one night. In all her blind innocence, Claire chose to trust the kindness of the voice she can only hear, oblivious that that voice belonged to a dangerous man who could cost her her very life. 

Claire (Katie Bradshaw) consoles Saul (Epy Quizon)

In a simple two-hander play like this, the script and the acting need be able to grab the audience attention for the whole running time.  With her masterful choice of words, writer Nicole Fuentes took a tense encounter between a serial child killer and his potential next victim and turned it into an intimate, moving study of loneliness and trust. Director Carl Carino effectively used his lights and the darkness to bring out and build the drama.

Young Katie Bradshaw was riveting as fearless Claire, very confident in her performance, yet never losing the vulnerability required of her character. (Natalia Abad alternates in this role.) Epy Quizon is well-known actor of film and TV and this is the first time I am seeing him perform live, and in English. His Saul is a psychotic killer, but here Quizon sensitively played him as a psychologically damaged man we could pity instead of hate.


Newton was a man teetering on the edge of insanity because of the shocking death of his 9 year old daughter Carol on what should have been a fun vacation at the beach.  The day after Carol's burial, Newton forces his angry and horrified wife Jill to sit and witness him conjure up diabolical reanimation rites prescribed in an ancient book of black magic in a desperate effort to bring Carol back to life. 

The tragic family of Ethan (Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap), 
Jill (Sari Estrada) and Carol (Liv Gonzales)

The script alone of Juan Diego Gil was already very disturbing in itself. His words effectively depicted extreme despair and guilt pushing a man down a spiraling descent into madness. The loud verbal tussle between husband and wife further amped up the tension. Director Tinette Villanueva Miciano really played up the whole horror atmosphere with her ritual props and her lighting effects. Things do get over-the-top, but it worked!

You can clearly see the progression of raving insanity in the eyes of Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap as he portrayed the physically and psychologically exhausting role of the father Newton. (Javi Coromina alternates in this role.)  Sari Estrada was hysterical (who wouldn't be?) as the mother Jill who had to sit captive to the whole crazy show. Young Liv Gonzales had a disturbing role as the living-dead girl Carol, a role she clearly relished to play. 


With this auspicious debut of the Theater Titas, I'm looking forward to their next projects. 

WHAT'S IN THE DARK runs from October 27 - 29 at The Axon at Green Sun Hotel. There are two more shows today October 29 at 3 pm and 8 pm. Each one act play runs for about 40 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission in between. 

For tickets (@ P500 each walk-in, P450 if pre-ordered), contact Diandra at 0917 656 7293 for inquiries or reserve your tickets thru this LINK.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Recap of PETA's FESTIVAL OF WINDOWS: HALF OF THE SKY: Working for Women's Welfare

October 26, 2017

One of the centerpiece activities for its 50th foundation anniversary this year is this five-day international celebration of People's Theater for Development dubbed "FESTIVAL OF WINDOWS". The objectives of this grand event is two-fold: 1) To present an exhibition of how theater can be used for communication and advocacy through performances, lectures, workshops and discussions; and 2) to use arts-based means of bringing together artists, practitioners and audiences to share insights and experiences, identify historical and emerging trends and share best practices for arts as advocacy.

Each day form October 24-29, 2017 is full-packed with various activities the whole day. In the mornings from 10 am to 12 nn, there are lecture performances called "Dungaw" (or Peep-Out). In the afternoons from 1-5 pm, there are workshops, called "Tamwa" (or Look), or small group huddles called "Silip" (or Peek). In the evenings at 7 pm, there are performances called "Tan-aw" (or View) featuring not only PETA, but also other regional and international theater groups. While waiting for the house to open, the lobby was full of excited participants, several of them from different countries, like China and Thailand.


Too bad for me that despite all these exciting offerings, my hectic calendar this week could only allow me to check out a lecture-performance this Thursday morning October 26, 2017 called "Half of the Sky." The longer subtitle is "The Evolving Practice of Women's Rights and Gender-Equality Advocacy in PETA Workshops and Performances." This particular session was directed by Maribel Legarda, written by Liza Magtoto and presented by CB Garrucho, Lea Espallardo and She Maala -- all women. The program was delayed more than 30 minutes due to technical difficulties, which Ms. Magtoto joked was funny for a lecture about women by women, being late and "ngarag" (or haggard from lack of sleep).

PETA began paying due attention to women's issues by the 1980s, thanks to a woman named Remy Rikken, whom they interviewed on video. She was eventually appointed by Pres. Corazon Aquino to lead a commission dealing with women's rights. Rikken harnessed PETA to help her with this thrust and this eventually brought about the birth of the Women's Theater Program. We were told about landmark community theater projects (Advocacy Theater) with women lead characters like "Iteng" and "Libby Manaoag" who were meant to encourage the women in the cast and the audience to reevaluate their own feelings about these issues.

"Di Pa Makintab ang Sahig!"

The passion of PETA's women artists on that stage about this topic was very palpable, especially that of Lea Espallardo, who had been one of the facilitators from the get-go. Espallardo engaged the audience in a participative type of interaction for their short excerpt from "Iteng," about a battered wife. Anytime anyone from the audience wanted to stop and change how the story of the play was running can shout "Stop!" and express her desired change. That morning, a bold audience member named Wilma stopped the play when Iteng's husband was about to hit Iteng. She turned the play around and instead chased the husband around the stage with a metal ladle! 

Vincent de Jesus was there as musical director, playing the piano and leading the band for the live musical numbers of this presentation. So that was why it was called a "lecture performance." We heard songs like "Patriarchy" (by Lucien Letaba and Liza Magtoto), "Di Pa Makintab ang Sahig" and "Napasakamay" (by Vincent de Jesus and Liza Magtoto), with those incisively witty lyrics interpreted in energetic acting and dance by the funny and engaging ensemble. 

J-Mee Katanyag and her doll

Things turned serious with a provocative poetic dance from "La Vie en Rose," directed by Melvin Lee, with poetry by Lea Espallardo and Ces Millado, interpreted in dance by Delphine Buencamino, Stephanie Ocampo and Kit Trofeo. There was an excerpt from PETA's Creative Pedagogy for Feminist Education modules where J-mee Katanyag and Stephanie Ocampo meditated about their body images with the help of life-size dolls. She Maala also stepped out of her hosting duties to give a stunningly dramatic solo song number about a woman named "Magda," who was a "dove" (the Tagalog lyric "kalapati" described her better) who flew at different heights during her life. 

The event concluded with all the presentors and the ensemble on stage talking about the state of women's rights at the present. It was noted that with all the progress that have already been made in the areas of gender sensitivity, body politics, reproductive rights, HIV/AIDS, there are still forces that threaten to pull the movement back into the Middle Ages in the form of sexist remarks and rape jokes.  Thus, there is still very much a role for a Theater of Resistance, to lead the fight against this potential backward slide. It is in projects like this that one can clearly see why PETA deserves its Ramon Magsaysay Award.

The Presentors and Ensemble at the Finale

Here is a video clip of the rousing finale song number:

Friday, October 20, 2017

Review of Red Lantern's SOLO PARA ADULTOS: Daring, Diverting (but Drawn-Out)

October 21, 2017

While I had watched a number of theater productions with sensitive themes, even plays with nudity, I had actually never seen an original local play that billed itself as a sex comedy. I had no idea how this play was going to go down, but knowing how Filipinos enjoy their green jokes, I thought this show, to be shown for one-night only at the Music Museum, should be a lot of fun to watch. 

Jonamae San Andres (April Gustilo) was a Filipina who found success in the US as a porn star with the screen name of Veronica Fox. In her desire to open doors for Filipinos to wanted to follow in her footsteps, she accepted an offer to make a local porn film. She was proud of her job and saw porn as an expression of female empowerment, not victim-hood. 

The director of Veronica's new project was Dino, an award-winning director whose career had been on the skid. He still wanted to make this film artistic and relevant, but his lecherous Chinese producer Mr. Lee simply wanted to make plain pointless profitable porn. The two supporting porn actors in the film were Georgina (Tori Garcia) and Nicolas (Andres Vasquez), both of whom had been forced by poverty into the skin trade. 

JV San Miguel (John Raspado), a very popular mainstream actor, solicited the services of a home service masseur named Alfred (Vivo Ouano). The two tell each other their respective life stories and discussed the conflict of love and ambition. Alfred shared that his ultimate dream was to be an actor. JV, who had fallen in love with the hunk, promised to help him fulfill that dream.

These two separate threads merged into one cohesive narrative by Act 2. Then it gave the audience six different options for how this play could end based on which character gets accidentally shot and killed in a moment of deadly passion. The play concludes with an epilogue set during a showbiz awards night which told about the fate the film they were making (also entitled "Solo Para Adultos"), as well as the fates of each of the characters. 

The stage before the show

All the main actors, all unknown to me prior to this show, were very game in their daring and naughty roles. April Gustilo, who gained fame before as Wowowee's "Congratulations" girl, exuded confidence and bravado as her character required. The very fit and charismatic Vivo Ouano and much heftier and brooding John Raspado played their parts seriously, despite being mostly with their shirts off and only a towel around their waists. Cutie Tori Garcia and boyish Andres Vasquez were mainly there for comic relief, despite some sad details in their stories.

It was actually the supporting actors who really made the show come to life with their over-the-top comedy antics. Dodie Dizon, who played Mr. Lee, was constantly on a high level of energy. Ex-That's Entertainment member Brylle Mondejar, who played Direk Dino, was very convincing in delivering his artsy-fartsy convictions so sincerely, meriting awards consideration. Mosang, who played both the brash producer Mrs. Lee and the butch manager Tito, was very versatile. Genesis Gallios (who played the predator gay director giving JV a "workshop"), Tads Obach (who played TV hosts Mike Enriquez, Gus Abelgas and Boy Abunda), and Racing Chat (who played Jonamae's mother) all made a strong humorous impact. 

The play was quite entertaining, especially those who are interested in the sleazy goings-on behind the glitter and glamour of legitimate show business. It was fun to pick out all the local showbiz references squeezed into the script, like how Raspado looked like Jay Manalo and Ouano looked like Orestes Ojeda. It was also timely because it tackled the controversial casting couch, a staple of Hollywood news these days with the Harvey Weinstein scandal. At first, the dirty jokes and frank language may give an initial jolt, but being played for laughs and the wordplay so witty, you get used to them in no time. It was the more serious touchy-feely intimate scenes which could be uncomfortable to watch depending on your own orientation and sensitivities. 

The attractive cast during their curtain call

If there was a drawback of the show, it would have to be was length, almost three hours with two 10-minute intermissions. Some people sitting beside me were already dubbing it a "Lav Diaz" of plays. In Act 1 alone, we see the life stories of all six main characters played out in individual flashback vignettes. In Act 2, there were six different endings played out, each one was narrated by six known TV emcees. Act 3 opened with an unnecessary full dance number by a group of boy dancers. Then ironically, it seems NONE of those ending options we spent a significant time on in Act 2 ever happened at all! 

I guess that is what you get when you have three writers (Bong Ramos, AJ Rollon, and James Golla) contributing material with so much to say. The emotions of the various acts were going up and down like a roller coaster shifting between heavy drama and slapstick comedy. The material in each act may sound good separately; but when put together as a whole, it felt unwieldy in its own complexity. Some judicious streamlining needs to be done by director Alejandro "Bong" Ramos to trim the material down to a more manageable length when it gets re-staged February next year. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review of Art Theater Manila's SAKUNTALA: Fierce, Flashy and Fervent

October 13, 2017

I did not hear anything about this new theater company nor their maiden production at all, by any media. Then suddenly last week, there came the rave reviews from those who saw the play in its first week which were posted on social media with some very attractive photos from the production. Lucky for me, they had afternoon shows so I could go see it for myself. 

The story is based on a Sanskrit legend as written by Kalidasa in his epic masterpiece, the Mahabharata. However, in this Filipino translation by Allan Palileo, the setting was shifted to a futuristic dystopic society in the year 2080. King Dusyanta was hunting in the forest one day when he stumbled into a peaceful community of hermits. There he was smitten by the beauty of the hermit's adopted daughter, Sakuntala. When the two lovers decide to get married though, the demon Durvasas casts a curse which tore them apart.

The Main Stage

The technical aspects of this production were impeccable. The vibrant lighting design of Meliton Roxas added so much to the drama and dimension of the basic scenography by Ohm David. There was an interesting scene featuring puppetry of an illuminated fish set to swim in the green-lit abyss. The costumes and make-up by Raqs Regalado and Jody Carig were imaginatively dystopian yet distinctly Asian.  

As the play began, the exotic tribal music by Gian Gianan filled the room. The acoustics were perfect in the warehouse-like venue, making the music heady and even intoxicating to the senses. When the lovers were dancing together to the sensual choreography of JM Cabling, the music took on a life of its own creating a raw erotic wall of sound all around the audience. The final group dance for joy had such an ebullience and infectious energy.

Sakuntala and Dushyanta share an intimate moment, 
with Bharata looking on.

The title character may have been Sakuntala, but the more challenging role was that of the king Dushyanta. Vincent Kevin Pajara was magnetic in his portrayal of this regal character with his strong stage presence and smart carriage. No matter how cheesy his pickup lines were in the name of love-at-first-sight, Pajara pulled them off with charm and charisma. His delivery of his kilometric lines was solid. His dancing skills also did the choreography good. His character also had to sing, and this triple threat delivered well on that as well. (Paul Cedrick Juan alternates in this role.)

As the titular fair maiden Sakuntala, Ms. Chase Salazar could have played her to be the weak pathetic victim Kalidasa may have written her to be. Instead, the confidently modern Salazar gives her unfortunate character spunk and spirit. She was the first to declare her feelings for the man she admired. She did not shirk to express her anger and indignation when she was denied her rights. Salazar dramatic singing voice was showcased when she sang her Dushyanta a robust love ballad. Her chemistry with Pajara was so rich and palpable in those intimately choreographed pas de deux their characters shared. They definitely made a beautiful pair together. (Matel Patayon alternates in this role.)

Vincent Pajara, Chase Salazar and Paul Santiago
at their curtain call

Sakuntala's two loyal but naughty ladies-in-waiting Anusuya and Priyamvada were delightfully played by Lei Ann Quinquileria and Sarina Sasaki respectively. Dushyanta's best friend Madhavya was played by Al Angcoy, who also had to deliver lengthy complex lines as the play's narrator. The main antagonist Durvasas was played with flashy  fuchsia flamboyance by Paul Santiago

The most elaborate costume of the show, a truly cyberpunk outfit with a metallic stylized helmet, rose cape, chains and tubes, was worn by Jacques Borlaza as Sakuntala's adoptive father, the hermit Canwa. Ronnie Martinez played the serious Lead Hermit with the long white hair. Diane Formoso showed fortitude of will as Sakuntala's mother Gautami. Fritz Esase portrayed Bharata with youthful playfulness

Ronnie Martinez and Jacques Borlaza at the curtain call.

Congratulations to director Joey Ting for his grand vision had been fulfilled so cleanly with admirable polish. Despite being a new company in a new venue, there was nary any technical glitch noticeable as everything went on without a hitch. The sound quality, a problematic matter even the most experienced theater groups have issues with, was so remarkably crisp and clear despite all the movements the actors were doing. 

There may have been only a handful of people watching when I went to watch a Thursday matinee show. However, the level of energy in the actors' performances remained at full blast! With such an auspicious and audacious maiden production, we wish for nothing but the best, artistically and financially, for this fledgling theater company, Art Theater Manila. 


"Sakuntala" runs from September 27 to October 21, 2017. They have two shows, 3 pm and 8 pm, per day, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The venue is at Studio 72 Black Box Theater, #72 Kalayaan Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City, a white building right beside Verjandel Hotel. Tickets are available at the gate, at the following prices: P 1,000 for VIP A (150 seats), P 800 for VIP B (150 seats) and P 500 for Regular (300 seats).

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Review of Artist Playground's FLY ME TO THE MOON: Dark, Downbeat and Daring

October 8, 2017

Last year, Artist Playground presented Rody Vera's "Happiness is a Pearl" (MY REVIEW) at their Little Room Upstairs. This was a Japanese-themed play about what a person would do for love. This play was re-staged just this August to September, this time at a bigger venue in Arts Above on West Avenue. It turns out this re-staging was to prepare the audience for yet another Japanese-themed play by Rody Vera, also about love. But this time, "Fly Me to the Moon" would be about what love can do to a person.

Jo, a Japanese prostitute (or karayuki-san), and Melanie (a.k.a. Manuel), an aspiring Filipina transgender entertainer, meet onboard a dingy sea vessel en route to Japan. Jo told about why she was sent abroad to do her dirty job and her tragic forbidden affair with Muslim islander Ibrahim. Melanie told about her. Melanie told about how her dream to become a full-fledged woman drove her to ditch safety and stowaway on this ship.

Xosh Ardio and Dea Formacil 
as Melanie and Jo


From the get-go, you will note a puzzling temporal disconnect between the two main characters. Jo is demure and formal, dressed up in a kimono, humming standards like "Fly Me to the Moon". A karayuki-san was a Japanese woman from very poor families who were sold abroad to work as prostitutes in the first half of the 20th century. Melanie is clearly from a more recent time, a loud Japayuki-wannabe dressed in garish robe of silver lamé, singing gay anthems like "I Am What I Am".  This anachronistic contrast is not accidental and is essential to the story of Vera's play. 

The historical background behind the character of Jo is interesting. I never knew about karayuki-san before and was surprised to learn that international sex-trafficking happened even in those early days. In Jo's case, she was sent to a brothel in Southeast Asia (Sandakan in Sabah, Malaysia) to earn the price for his brother's "becoming a man," hence we see men dressed in tribal costumes as her customers and her true love Ibrahim. 

We can imagine how Melanie may have snuck up into the boat, but how did Jo get up there? Did she just board the boat with her Cat at the same time with Melanie? Or had she been in the boat the whole time? If it is the former, what made her decide to board the boat at that time after all those years? Did she see Melanie as kindred spirit? If it is the latter, how can a small boat remain seaworthy enough for fifty or more years to make the long sea voyage from the Philippines to Japan? Then again, maybe we do not really have to think too much about this issue.


Dea Formacil, who was just fresh from playing Maria Clara in "Kanser," now makes a complete turnaround to play the jaded karayuki-san Jo. Her acting style is appropriately subtle given the historical context of her character. Her delivery of lines was clear in her delightful Japanese-inflected English. Formacil had to portray her own flashback scenes so it must have been exhausting for her to move from one stage to another. (Fatima Cadiz alternates as Karayuki.)

Xosh Ardio is raw, "out-there" and over-the-top as Melanie, providing the energy to counter the oppressive darkness. It must have been difficult for this her to spend the whole time on stage topless (I guess this was a metaphor for his openness) or holding up a loose-fitting bra (should be fixed in the regular run). Melanie had another actor playing his flashback scenes, so Ardio is spared from costume change problems, but this may be confusing for the audience at first. I know Melanie was supposed to be a lousy singer, but I wish she could try to sing "Fly Me to the Moon" better. That was such a emotionally-charged scene, but its effect is hampered by the tuneless singing. (A.I. Hose Ki and Aldy Cadupay alternates as Melanie). 

Clifford Gonzales played Ibrahim, Jo's lover. He also doubles as the cat that accompanied Jo on the boat. The symbolism is apparent, and actually rather cute, given the dire circumstance they were in. (Ar Ar Ramilo and BJ Ocampo alternate as Ibrahim.) Manu Gallardo, who played Japanese officer Hirohito in another Artist Playground play "Lagablab" (MY REVIEW), again plays a Japanese baddie here, as the Captain of the ship the two main characters were on. (Jun Nayra alternates as the Captain.)

Gonzales, Formacil, Ardio and Gallardo after the show


"Fly" is more daring and more downbeat than "Happiness" was, as it dealt with brothels and deaths. The mood is persistently dark and gloomy throughout and the dim lighting design made sure we felt it. There was just a shrill panel of silly judges at an audition of gay singers that provided the only scene with laughter.  There are multiple scenes that dealt with illicit and forced sex which makes this play for mature audiences only. 

There is one main stage in the center where Jo and Melanie were talking, while their flashbacks were happening in two other smaller stages on either side. One limitation of the stage design was that it failed to consider that the seats of the audience were at the same floor level. People who sat on the third row already cannot see what was going on on the foreground so we had to stand up to see some scenes better. I hope this problem can be rectified during the regular run. This was not a problem in Little Room Upstairs because the bleachers were elevated.

Being still the press preview a week prior to opening day, there were still some problems in the sound department. Sometimes the background music would be too loud or tinny, tending to drown out the dialogue on stage. There was a very ingeniously staged scene where the Captain was speaking to Melanie in Japanese (how accurate, I would not know), and in the background Jo and the Cat were translating was he was saying real time. The idea was great, but the execution still needs polishing since the overlapping lines were difficult to understand at times. 

The main cast at the curtain call


There is however a major error of anachronism in the main song hummed by Jo in the play, which is fact also the very title of the play (making it difficult to rectify). "Fly Me to the Moon" was written by Bart Howard and  released as a recording (by Kaye Ballard) in 1954. The most popular version by Frank Sinatra was released in 1964. Karayuki-san like Jo were supposed to have existed before World War II, in the 1930s. I am sure playwright Vera had any compelling reasons for choosing this particular song for this play. 

Congratulations to director Paul Jake Paule for the imaginative direction of the complex script by Rody Vera that involved a lot of scene changes and flashbacks, which could have been more confusing in lesser hands. The transitions between those flashback scenes (especially those scenes not directly involving the main characters) could still need some smoothing out and streamlining for better understanding of the story.


"Fly Me to the Moon" runs from October 13 to 22, 2017 at ARTS ABOVE Artist Playground II, West Venue Building, 112 West Ave., QC (beside McDonald's). Play dates are as follows: October 13 & 20 (Fridays) 8pm, October 14 & 21 (Saturdays) 4pm & 8pm and October 15 & 22 (Sundays) 4pm & 8pm. Tickets are at P600, free seating, so if you want to get those front seats for unobstructed view, come early. Tickets available at Ticketworld and at the gate.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Review of THE SOUND OF MUSIC: Warm, Winning and Worthy

October 5, 2017

I first knew of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music" the 1965 movie starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. I believe it is the first live-action movie I had ever seen as a child, not sure if it was on the television or on videotape. We had a long playing vinyl record of the original soundtrack which was played on repeat. I guess it is safe to say that it was "The Sound of Music" that set me on my road to enjoying musicals on film as well as on stage.

There had been several productions of "The Sound of Music" by local theater companies over the years. 

There was the seminal 1980 production by Repertory Philippines directed by Zeneida Amador, with Baby Barredo as Maria, Chito Ponce Enrile as Captain Von Trapp and Celia Diaz-Laurel as the Baroness. That show gave us eventual theater stars Menchu Lauchengco, Monique Wilson and Lea Salonga who made their theater debuts as Von Trapp children, and Audie Gemora as Rolf. 

In 2006, Rep restaged the show directed by Barredo. It had Lauchengco and Wilson (with Liesl Batucan) alternating as Maria and Gemora (alternating with Michael Williams) as the Captain, with Cherie Gil (alternating with Rina Reyes) as the Baroness. Liesl was played by Vanessa Paoleli, Criselda Consunji or Menchu's daughter Nicole Yulo. Rolf Gruber was played by Topper Fabregas JM Rodriguez, Irra Cenina or Jaime BarcelonThis show was the only stage version that I got to watch. 

In 2011, the Resorts World produced its own version of the show directed by Roxanne Lapus. This starred Joanna Ampil or Cris Villonco as Maria and Audie Gemora, Ed Feist or Jon Joven as the Captain, and Pinky Amador or Lynn Sherman as the Baroness. Liesl was played by Tanya Manalang or Rachel Coates, while Rolf was played by Marvin Ong or Bryan Homecillo.


This September-October 2017, Concertus Manila (after successful runs of "Wicked" and "West Side Story" also this year) brings us the London West End Production of "The Sound of Music" at the Theater at Solaire.  This touring production was met with much excitement earlier this year when it auditioned local kids to be cast as the younger Von Trapp children last May, the list of which was announced last July. 

As expected it was certainly nostalgic to listen all these classic songs performed live on stage. These are songs whose lyrics I've known by heart since childhood, so the temptation to sing along audibly really took a lot of self-control to repress. It felt unusual to hear some songs in different parts of the play than it was in the film. "My Favorite Things" was sung in the abbey by the Abbess and Maria. In place of that song in the thunderstorm scene, Maria and the kids sang "The Lonely Goatherd" instead. "Edelweiss" was only sung once by the Captain, and that was at the concert. 

There were also two songs by Max (Jonathan Taylor) and the Baroness (Haylea Heins) that I first heard now. The satirical "How Can Love Survive" in Act I, the two sing about love among the rich and famous. The political "No Way to Stop It" in Act II was about convincing the Captain to accept the inevitability of the Anschluss (occupation of Austria by Nazi Germany). While they were catchy ditties in their own way, with their mature themes, it was clear why they did not make it into the movie version.

With the film so iconic, it was really very difficult to imagine anybody else as Maria and the Captain other than Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. At first, Carmen Pretorius looked too thin to be the gamine Maria, and Nicholas Maude not dashing enough to be the heroic Captain. but after a few songs all these little details fly out the window. Though the chemistry was not automatically apparent, by the time the Ländler dance scene came along, the audience did feel that romantic spark. When the first kiss came, there was an audible thrill and even applause!

The only first impression that stuck the whole show was that Zoe Beavon was too tall and too mature-looking to be sweet Liesl. As far as the other kids were concerned, aside from that night's Friedrich being shorter than Kurt, their being Filipino never really got in the way. In fact, Rayne Cortez, the girl playing the observant Brigitta and Tory Cortez, who sang some short solos as Kurt, gave standout performances. The touching reunion scene after the Captain joins them to sing the first time was wrought with sincere emotion. Tears will be difficult to rein in. 

For me, the best vocalist of the ensemble would have to be Janelle Visagie who played the wise Mother Abbess. Although she did look too young and pretty (with cute dimples) to be the most senior nun, her full soprano was very powerful. The Abbess' centerpiece song "Climb Every Mountain" ends both Act I and Act II, it was a sure showstopper both times, thanks to Visagie's commanding yet warm-hearted rendition of the classic anthem.

I have to mention the presence of actual Aryans in the cast made the ball scene and the concert scene uncomfortably chilling. The political tension of the musical festival scene was very palpable the way it was executed on the stage with that huge red flag with the eagle insignia. That actor playing Herr Zeller (the Nazi regional officer) can really make a chill run up and down your spine with his hateful character.

The set design and lighting design were beautifully rendered, faultless already in the timing, as it is expected from a touring production. The abbey backdrops give such cavernous depth on that small stage. The wedding scene with those metal gates and the glorious Madonna and Child sunburst sculpture hanging overhead was grandiose despite its short length. If there was any debit, it is probably the "I Have Confidence" scene that felt bare because did not have anything showing in the backdrop at all. Other than that, everything else brought us right into Salzburg in the late 1930s, and back to our own warm childhood memories of the classic film.


"The Sound of Music" runs from September 27 to October 22, 2017 at the Theater at Solaire.  Showtimes every Tuesday - 8:00PM, Wednesday - 8:00PM, Thursday - 8:00PM, Friday - 8:00PM, Saturday - 3:00PM and 8:00PM and Sunday - 3:00PM and 8:00PM.  

Ticket prices: P7,000 for VIP Orchestra Center; P5,800 for A Reserve Orchestra Premium Gold: P4,500 for B Reserve Orchestra, Premium Gold, P3,500 for C Reserve
Balcony Front and P1,500 for D Reserve Balcony Back.