Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review of PETA's ANG BUHAY NI GALILEO (2017): Suppressing Science and Society

November 29, 2017

The Rajah Sulayman Theater in Fort Santiago was especially designed by founder Ms. Cecilia Guidote-Alvarez herself to be the venue for the plays of PETA since its birth in 1967 to the 1990s. This year, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, PETA returns to this outdoor theater to restage one of its most acclaimed plays -- Alan Glinoga's Filipino translation of  Bertolt Brecht’s "Ang Buhay ni Galileo," directed by Rody Vera.

Galileo Galilei was a noted astronomer in the 17th century who was able to develop a powerful telescope to discover truths about the universe around our planet, which unfortunately ran against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

As you can expect, this was as much about Galileo's discoveries and travails as it was about the Church's antagonistic resistance to scientific progress, which it felt displaced God (and his clergy) from its exalted central position. It talked about how the Church wanted the people to remain ignorant in order to keep them under their thumb. It showed that despite unlocking the mysteries of the skies, but the mysteries of human society remain unsolved. The science which was supposed to liberate man, the Church adamantly suppressed.

The Backdrop

Joel Lamangan returns to the lead role he originated during the first staging of this play in 1981. Lamangan looked much older than the age of 46 Galileo was supposed to be. He captured the eccentricity and stubbornness of the man, with some moments of odd belly laughter. The occasional lapses in line delivery was excusable since he was onstage practically the whole running time of the play. You can already hear the strain on his voice which is bad since this is only the first night.

Bodjie Pascua was also a member of the cast then as  again now. Here, he plays a number of  varied characters. Despite having different costumes, it could still be confusing to tell them apart with the different opinions of each character he played, be it a skeptical Aristotlean philosopher, a subversive balladeer or his Holiness the Pope himself.

The three close apprentices of Galileo were played by Gie Onida (as the illiterate Federzoni), John Moran (as the monk Fulganceo) and Ian Segarra (as his principled young ward Andrea). Andrea as a young boy was played by child wonder Noel Comia, Jr., who was the plays narrator as well. Each of these actors had their big moments in the play in which they shone.

Veteran PETA actors filled in the other roles. Gold Villar- Lim played his loyal daughter Virginia, as Randy Villarama played her aristocratic Beau Ludovico. Upeng Fernandez played Galileo's conservative housekeeper. Raffy Tejada played a very old Cardinal who thought Galileo's discoveries were the devil's work. Jack Yabut, Manny Pambid, Roi Calilong, Norbs Portales, Neomi Gonzales and more play smaller roles.

The Cast at the Curtain Call

The costumes of Brenda Fajardo consisted of pieces of cloth color-coded to define the social standing of the character who wore it. The spare set was also designed by Ms  Fajardo under the philosophy of Aesthetic of Poverty, but this was enhanced by the lighting design of Roman Cruz. The music by Dodgie Fernandez was played by a three-man band and a live choir. I could not see where these singers were, so their disembodied voices sounded ethereal.

Be ready for a long but picturesque walk from the front gate of Fort Santiago to Rajah Sulayman Theater proper. Last night, the very long first act started at 6:30pm and ran up to almost 8:30pm, which had many of the high school kids in the audience rather restless.

After a 10-minute break, the start of Act 2 was interrupted by strong rain showers which led to the show being stopped for about 30 minutes. After all the monobloc chairs were wiped dry, Act 2 began and would run at a more compact 40 minutes. Aside from rain, a spectacular fireworks show in the sky above Rizal Park (?) went on for a few minutes during Act 2. The actors had to play on and project their voices louder to be heard above the noise. During the play, there was a bat that flitted in and out of view. Now that's a live outdoor play experience for you!


"Ang Buhay ni Galileo" will only have three shows from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, 2017 at the Rajah Sulayman Theater in Fort Santiago. Show starts promptly at 6:30pm. Tickets sold at P600 only.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review of Rep Phils' HAIR: Hallucinating Hippies

November 17, 2017

For their final show on their 50th anniversary, Repertory Philippines chose to stage a Broadway play that was also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year -- "Hair". This musical had music by Galt MacDermot, with book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni. It began  off-Broadway in 1967, and eventually went on Broadway the following year. Its original soundtrack generated a couple of popular hit singles. Because of these songs, I knew this musical was about hippie culture, but this is the first I was going to see the songs in the context of the show from which they came.

It was the late 1960s in New York City, a tribe of hippies, led by their charismatic main man George Berger, welcomed a naive farm boy Claude Bukowski into their fold. Claude was initiated into their world of drug use and free love. During one of their anti-Vietnam War protests, the other hippies burned their draft cards. Claude initially also threw his card into the fire, but decided pick it back out, thinking of accepting the draft and going to serve his country as a soldier. 

The stage was bare except for layers of see-through curtains of hanging rope as the backdrop. The cast would later bring in blankets and pillows for them to lounge around in as the scene required. The magic of the minimalist stage design by Joey Gonz├ílez-Mendoza was completed by the remarkably dynamic lighting design by John Batalla, one of the best lighting work I've seen this year. Musical director Ejay Yatco himself was also dressed in hippie duds as he was conducting the live band in the pit. The hippies in their colorful costumes and wild wigs entered to dance and move on the stage, moaning and writhing a lot in some sort of hypnotic initiation rite. Then Moira Lozada stepped out to lead the tribe to sing the show's most famous song "Aquarius" in all its psychedelic glory to begin the show on a high note. 

After that rousing start, I sort of got lost with most of Act 1 with its various episodes of hippies singing their commentary on drugs, sex and race, dated by the use of some unfamiliar slang lingo and liberal doses of profanity. The singing prowess of the Filipino actors, however, was undeniable in solos like Crissy's "Frank Mills" (by Cara Barredo), Sheila's "Easy to be Hard" (by Caisa Borromeo) and Claude's "Where Do I Go".(by Topper Fabegas), and group songs like "Ain't Got No" and "Hair". Act 1 ended with the same bold ending which made the original show very controversial back in 1967 -- an ending which still made some audience members last night gasp in audible surprise. 

In Act 2, the trippy song "Walking in Space" led us into Claude's bizarre red-lit hallucinations about the terrors of war. PJ Rebullida's amazing choreographic execution of that recurring sequence of various wars and deaths made me feel like I was on that same vivid LSD trip as Claude. Songs like "Three-Five-Zero-Zero" and "What a Piece of Work is Man" give a haunting impact. The simple folksy "Good Morning Starshine" then segued to a powerful and catchy finale number "Let the Sun Shine In" which will stick with you long after you've left the theater.

Topper Fabregas successfully projected Claude's naivete and idealism (Markki Stroem alternates in this role). You can easily pick out Caisa Borromeo (as Sheila) from the rest of the female cast because of her radiant stage presence and soaring voice. I had never seen George Schultz as manic on stage before as he was last night, riding completely on Berger's outrageous groove. Cara Barredo was innocently sweet as Crissy as Maronne Cruz was wacky weird as Jeanie. Big guy Alfritz Blanche stood out from the ensemble as Hud, with his big afro and big voice in short featured solos in the group songs. Franco Ramos (as Woof) and Jay Barrameda (as Margaret Mead) also give notable solos. 

It was a tough challenge for director Chris Millado to make this 50-year old play current again for the new generation. I found it difficult to connect with Act 1 as it set the flower-power mood of the late 1960s in episodic introductory sketches with some now-obscure dated references. Fortunately, Act 2 completely turned things around for me. Act 2 gives "Hair" its timeless appeal and makes this show absolutely worth watching. Everything came together solidly and strongly in terms of its still potent anti-war message and the incredible ensemble performance by the whole cast. 


HAIR runs at the Onstage Greenbelt 1 with the following schedule: Fri - Nov. 17 (8pm), Sat - Nov. 18 (3:30pm & 8pm), Sun - Nov. 19 (4:30pm), Sat - Nov. 25 (3:30pm & 8pm), Sun - Nov. 26 (4:30pm), Sat - Dec. 2 (3:30pm & 8pm), Sun - Dec. 3 (4:30pm), Sat - Dec. 9 (3:30pm & 8pm), Sun - Dec. 10 (3:30pm), Sat - Dec. 16 (3:30pm & 8pm) and Sun - Dec. 17 (4:30pm). Tickets are available on at the following prices: ₱1,567.50 Orchestra Center, ₱1,254 for Orchestra Sides and ₱836 for the Balcony. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review of Dulaang UP's BAGONG CRISTO: Welfare for the Workers!

November 12, 2017

The theme of this 42nd Theater Season of Dulaang UP is "Honoring Defiance." With this 1907 play by the controversial writer Aurelio Tolentino, things simply do not get any more defiant. We just learned from the recent play by Tanghalang Pilipino how defiant Tolentino could be, hence his rather unflattering nickname "Aurelio Sedisyoso"given American authorities of his time. Dulaang UP chose a Tolentino play also to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary this year of this steadfastly patriotic man. 

Like his namesake Jesus Christ, the charismatic Jesus Gatbiaya goes around the countryside boldly and eloquently preaching his message of worker emancipation from the oppression of the opportunistic capitalists. Of course, the "Bagong Cristo" (New Christ) earned the enmity of rich businessmen, like Magdangal and Capitang Berto. They hated Jesus to the point of having him abducted and tortured, not even sparing the women who followed to help him -- Magdangal's ex love Neneng (Rachel Jacob), her friend Biheng (Elaiza Toledo), even his old mother Dolores. 

I salute Boo Gabunada for his mesmerizingly intense delivery of Jesus Gatbiaya's lengthy declamatory speeches. There was even a scene in Act II where Jesus had a 15-20 minute-long monologue all by himself on an empty stage. It was only Gabunada's impassioned voice that kept viewers at constant attention. This actor was able to capture the fascinating personality of his character that drew him his loyal followers. 

Rica Nepomuceno played Jesus' long-suffering mother Dolores. While her portrayal of this tragic maternal figure (Mater Dolorosa) was generally effective, the over-all impact was diminished by the weakness of her voice whenever she would start to sing. I frankly did not hear nor understand anything she was singing. This problem ruined the moment for her symbolically-loaded "Pieta" and "Crucifixion" scenes, which was truly unfortunate. I do not know if it was her microphone which was not working well, or was her soprano voice not in top condition. 

In plays like this, the more hateful the antagonists, the more heroic our hero. The coolly sinister performance of Nino Mendoza as cruel industrialist Magdangal was really seething with pure malice. On the other hand, Vincent Macapobre's haciendero Capitang Berto and Joseph Nabong's kidnapper Limbas were both played with hammy exaggeration, with loud voices and even fits of evil laughter. These over-the-top moments do serve well to distract us momentarily from the very serious tone of the play, and these were not completely unwelcome for me.

On the technical front, the rustic set design by Io Balanon, rich turn of the century period costume design by Mitoy Sta. Ana, and original music by Krina Cayabyab were the most remarkable. These elements brought us back to those seemingly idyllic times at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, yet there were also heinous elements that lurk insidiously.

Director Alexander Cortez was also able to give us some visually dramatic executions of certain key scenes, like the murder of Neneng's father Cabesang Andoy (Greg de Leon) or those powerful flag waving scenes at the end in response to the ardent exhortations of wealthy Jesus supporter Dona Salud (Gel Basa). His decision to use masks (Moriones and Venetian) to keep Jesus' many tormentors anonymous was wise because these bad guys could literally be anyone or even everyone. 

The events of this play may have happened more than a century ago. However, poor workers continue to be oppressed under the thumb of rich capitalists. As their plight continues to exist, the message of this play remains essential and current. When Jesus Gatbiaya speaks, it was as if he was talking in the here and now. 


"Bagong Cristo" runs from November 8 to December 3, 2017 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, 2nd Floor Palma Hall, UP Diliman, Quezon City. Show times are Fridays at 7PM, Saturdays and Sundays at 10AM and 3PM.

For ticket, show-buying, and sponsorship inquiries, you may contact Camille Guevara (0917 823 9531), the Dulaang UP Office (Tel. No. : 926-1349 / 981-8500 local / ), or you may drop by the Dulaang UP Office at Palma Hall Room 136, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Review of Atlantis' MATILDA the MUSICAL: Extraordinary Endearing Esang

November 12, 2017

I first heard of "Matilda" as a 1996 film based on a 1988 Roald Dahl book. This starred Mara Wilson in the title role and Danny de Vito (who also directed) as her father, Harry Wormwood. In 2011, the musical version of "Matilda" (music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and book by Dennis Kelly) debuted on the West End in London. This production won a record-setting seven Olivier Awards, including Best Musical. Its Broadway was in 2013, for which it won five Tony Awards. This year, Atlantis brings the acclaimed hit show to Manila.

A precocious little girl named Matilda was born to the Wormwoods, a slimy car conman and his bimbo dancer wife. Feeling unloved by her family, Matilda immersed herself in a lot of books, something for which her parents despised her more. When she entered school, her genius for reading and math caught the attention of her kind teacher Miss Honey. This same ability earned the ire of ogre-like headmistress Mrs. Agatha Trunchbull, a former Olympic gold medalist in the hammer throw event, who thought children are like maggots who needed to be broken. Time came however when Matilda just could not take Trunchbull's cruel bullying anymore. 

The heart and soul of the whole show was Telesa Marie "Esang" De Torres who played Matilda. I first saw her as a Mini-me Lea Salonga on "Showtime" and later as a contestant under Team Lea on "The Voice Kids." So impressive was her snappy Hermione-Granger sounding British accent with which she flawlessly delivered the longest lines while narrating four parts of her story about an escapologist and his acrobat wife. When we hear her sing her solo songs "Naughty" or "Quiet", it was transcendent of any initial expectations for a child performer her age in her first lead role in a major production. It would not be too much of a stretch to say that "Matilda" is for Esang what "Annie" was for Lea Salonga. (Uma Naomi Martin and Felicity Kyle Napuli alternate in this role.)

The goody-goody adult characters on Matilda's side were her dedicated teacher Miss Honey and the friendly librarian Mrs. Phelps. Cris Villonco's kind face and crystal voice were perfect for the sweet but determined Miss Honey. "Pathetic" shows off her skill with tongue-twisting lyrics and "My House" provides the more sentimental moment of the show. Emeline Celis-Guinid had to be wacky and flighty to keep her character from being stuffy. 

The cute child actors who played Matilda's "revolting" classmates were bursting at the seams with their quirky personality. Standing out in their more prominent roles were Josh Nubla (as the chocolate cake glutton Bruce) and Gabrielle Aerin Ong (as Matilda's best friend Lavender). Likewise drawing attention on that crowded stage were Alba Berenguer-Testa (as Hortensia) with her patrician looks and Nicole Chien (as Alice) for being Lea Salonga's daughter. The other kids last night were: Pablo Palacpac as the bespectacled Nigel, Chi Chi Tan as the pigtailed Amanda, Ian Albert Magallona as Eric, Teddy Velasco as Tommy. My favorite songs by the children were "The School Song" with its innovative A-B-C lesson and their rabble-rousing number "Revolting Children." (Miguel Suarez, Maria Ericka Peralejo, Chantel Marie Guinid, Ella Gonzalez, Gabo Tiongson, Denise Arteta, Rhythm Alexander and John Joseph Miraflores alternate respectively.)

But of course, as with all other plays and musicals based on children's literature, those bizarre kooky villains were a lot more fun to watch. Jamie Wilson was hilarious in his gender-bending role as the terrifying and hateful Miss Agatha Trunchbull with her twisted philosophy for teaching children.  Wilson had this funny perpetual scowl on his face as he marched around the stage in his fat suit, skirts and bloomers. Her song number "The Smell of Rebellion" was a such an outlandish riot and showstopping highlight. 

Joaquin Valdes and Carla Guevara-Laforteza stretched their skills for slapstick comedy to play the crazy Wormwoods with their bizarre makeup and cartoonish costumes. They have outdone their own off-kilter characters earlier this year, as Spike for Valdes in Rep's "Masha, Vanya, Sonia and Spike" and as Lady of the Lake in Upstart's "Spamalot" for Laforteza. Valdes and Laforteza frequently do amazingly quick changes to play their dramatic alter egos, the Escapologist and the Acrobat.

Nel Gomez was hardly recognizable as the spaced-out elder brother Michael. Bibo Reyes steals his scenes with his stupid pseudo-Italian dance instructor character Rudolpho. Tim Pavino had a very short featured role as Mrs. Wormwood's cool doctor in the beginning of the show, as Steven Conde did as the Russian mob boss Sergei towards the end. Rhenwyn Gabalonzo, Teetin Villanueva, Gerhard Krystoffer, Alex Reyes, Jim Andrew Ferrer, Gabby Padilla and Mica Fajardo complete the rest of the ensemble. 

The beautiful stage design depicting Matilda's favorite library is immediately arresting in its size and play with colors, as designed by Faust Peneyra, and enhanced by Driscoll Otto's lights. The magnificent carousel opening the second act is a most impressive set piece. Other remarkable aspects of the show were Raven Ong's costumes and Cecile Martinez's choreography. Director Bobby Garcia, as always, never fails to wow the audience with how he staged the shadow play story-tellling and the telekinetic special effects. This technical finesse, coupled with the on-point performances, make this one another triumph in the already extensive Atlantis catalog of Broadway hit show productions. Kudos!


“Matilda” opened last November 10, 2017 and will run at the Meralco Theater on weekends until December 10, with 8 pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Ticket available at Prices range from ₱4,000 (Orchestra Center), ₱3,500 (Orchestra Sides and Loge Center), ₱2,500 (Loge Sides) and ₱1,500 (Balcony).