Fred Said

Review Blog

Next to Normal (Broadway)

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (0)

December 12, 2010


I watched this musical based on good reputation alone (multiple Tony nominations in 2009, 2 wins). I had no idea who the actors were. I had no idea what the music sounded like. I had a very vague idea about the story. I recall reading an article written by Ms. Lea Salonga about how this play tackled some psychological disorder like that, and that was it. Alright in all honesty, and the relatively inexpensive orchestra seats were a big come-on for me.


So finally, on the night of October 5, 2010, after a very full day on the Statue of Liberty (to the crown!), followed by a tour of Brooklyn, my wife and I watched "Next to Normal" at the Booth Theater on West 45th St.


While we were watching the play, I just could not believe how well the story was told. I could not describe it without spoiling it so I wouldn't. Suffice it to say here that this has quite an unusual theme for a musical. It tackles a dysfunctional family in which the mother was in the course of suffering a psychotic meltdown. Its brave book won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama earlier this year.


There is a consciously serious effort to put realism into the medical course and management of psychosis. There is a lot of talk about multiple drug therapy (there's a song called "My Psychotherapist and I"). There is even a 'shocking' scene of electro-convulsive therapy, and its aftermath ("Song of Forgetting"). Who would have thought we would witness a musical that did that! This downbeat topic was buoyed by a driving rock musical score (the score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey won the Tony), scathingly witty dialog (book by Brian Yorkey), amazing lighting displays and a very imaginative set construction.


The unfortunate mother Diana Goodman was played by Marin Mazzie. She was truly electrifying in her portrayal of the mental and emotional breakdown. Her pivotal scene about preparing sandwiches one morning was amazingly portrayed with heart-breaking impact. She has such a strong solid voice that effectively conveyed the rough psychological roller-coaster that her character was going through. It's hard to believe that Ms. Mazzie was not the actress who originated this complex role. (The original actress Ms. Alice Ripley won the Tony and other accolades for this role.)


Diana's husband Dan was played by Marin Mazzie's real-life husband Jason Danieley. Of course, their chemistry as the troubled couple was very palpable and real. Their son Gabe was portrayed by Kyle Dean Massey. This guy had great stage-presence and a very strong tenor, especially in the song "I'm Alive". Their daughter Natalie was played by pretty Meghann Fahy. She was also very good, but her performance was just ok when compared to the rest of the very talented main cast.


This was an excellent musical and is definitely a must-watch on Broadway. I was thinking if it would be possible to stage this play in Manila. I had no doubts about the acting and musical talent of a Filipino cast. But it might be the stage design that would be the challenge. When we came back, I found out that Atlantis would be staging this one next year, with no less than Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Jett Pangan as the doomed Mr. and Mrs. Goodman. Now, that is one play I would be watching for sure! (Next to Normal runs from March 11 to 27, 2011 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. For details, call Atlantis Productions at 892-7078 or 840-1187.)

Modern Japanese Theater: "Five Days In March" by Chelfitsch

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (0)

November 5, 2010


Last night, November 5, at the PETA theater in QC, there was a show entitled "Five Days in March" by a Japanese group called Chelfitsch. Being a fan of Japanese culture, I decided to check it out, even if I had no idea what this was all about. Even after reading the synopsis they gave out before the show, I still had no idea what to expect!


Acocrding to their write-up, Chelfitsch is a modern phenomenon in Japanese theater, founded by director Toshiki Okada only in 1997. The strange name comes from a combination of the English words "selfish" and "childish", which is how Okada sees modern Japanese society. Therefore, Chelfitsch performances are marked by "super-colloquial dialogue" and "sloppy gestures". "Five Days in March" (Sangatsu no Itsukakann) is its signature piece, having been performed in stages worldwide, and winning various awards.


The stage was bare, only a white backdrop and nothing else. When the show began, we readily see and hear what the write-up says. The seven actors just lazily mouth their kilometric Japanese lines, seemingly to themselves, with no effort to "act" as we know it. Instead, we see them talking, while only standing in unusual awkward poses, or acting in repetitive little gestures and movements. It turns out that the use of the white backdrop is for projection of the English translation. Throughout the performance, there was only play on lights, and no other production effects.


The "story" centers on a young Japanese couple who "hook-up" after meeting in a concert at a Roponggi club. They stay together for five days of hedonism in a "love hotel" in Shibuya. There were a couple confusing side stories which did not seem related to the main story, but just there for comic relief. I have to say that watching this was not really easy since you need to be following the translation as it was being flashed overhead. Since i do not understand any Japanese, I was reading the whole time and that can be taxing.


The main story was being told in various versions and points of view by different characters. When you follow the translations, you can get confused as to who is saying what, since everything seems to be said in the third person. You just try and figure the whole thing out by yourself. In the end, it just gets too convoluted in its repetitiveness. I cannot believe that such a bare scenario like this can actually last for 1 hour and 45 minutes, with a 10 minute intermission! My favorite segment was not the main story, but actually that side story of the weird girl in the movie house. That was really funny!


OK, so I am not yet entirely sold on the Chelfitsch style of performance, but I am still glad I watched this. It is curious and interesting while it lasted. Japanese artists really push the envelope here and that it why it is acclaimed. It is performance like contemporary dance where there are no traditions nor steps to follow. It is like free-flowing and stream of consciouness in its style of story-telling. The autistic-looking actuations and movements of the actors can be quite irritating as they can quite charming. The audience interprets as he sees it. There are no correct answers here.


There is a second (and last) performance of "Five Days in March" at 7pm tonight November 6 at the PETA Theater. Tickets are at P200 each. Go and experience an unusual style of theater as only the Japanese can deliver it.


A Little Night Music (Broadway)

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Ocober 12, 2010


The musical "A Little Night Music" first came out in 1973, also on Broadway. The music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim, and the book is by Hugh Wheeler. This production would later sweep the major Tony and Drama Desk Awards that year. This collaborative duo would be the same award-winning team for "Sweeney Todd" six years later in 1979. This recent revival staging of "A Little Night Music" started in December 2009 with Catherine Zeta Jones (winning her a Tony) and Angela Lansbury, with Trevor Nunn directing. This current replacement cast just took over last July 13, 2010.


I did not know what "A Little Night Music" was all about when I bought the tickets up to when we entered the theater to watch. I knew it was old, and I knew it had "Send in the Clowns" in it. But I confess to have been convinced to watch this particular show because for the rare chance of watching bonafide Broadway stars, Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch in action. After reading a rave review from no less than Ms. Lea Salonga herself (link here), I went right online and got the tickets weeks before we were in the Big Apple.




October 6, 2010



Walter Kerr Theater on West 48th St. (between 8th Ave. and Broadway, supposedly has almost a thousand seats. However, it still feels like a small intimate theater inside. The seats we got for this full house show were already on the very last row of the mezzanine, but we still saw the faces of the actors on stage very clearly. It is a very old theater, starting as The Ritz Theater way back in 1921. You can really feel its age.


Being set in Sweden 1900, "A Little Night Music" felt right at home in the Walter Kerr, as the antiquated decor of the theater felt like an extension of the stage. The music was mainly waltz in nature. The set and costumes were of that Victorian era. We were brought back to the time when aristocrats lived in huge mansions with extensive grounds. And in the midst of all this formal ambience, my wife and I were both surprised with the story that unfolded!


As it turns out, "A Little Night Music" was so far from the serious dramatic story I was expecting. It was actually the polar opposite since it was actually a comedy, and more than that, a sex comedy! Haha! We had no idea! The rather benign nondescript title and poster also did not suggest anything. Being unexpected made this theater experience more fun.


The book interweaved the stories of three men and three women as their lives inter-crossed with each other, with serio-comic results. When a middle aged lawyer Fredrik Egerman brings his trophy teenage wife Anne to watch a play staring his old flame Desiree Armfeldt, this would spark a romp that would involve Desiree's current beau, the Count Carl-Magnus, his wife Charlotte, as well as Fredrik's confused son Henrik. Even the butler Frid and maid Petra gets mixed into the fun action. The talented cast effectively ripped thorugh the risque scenes and naughty lines with hilariously precise timing.


As this was a musical, the songs and the singing were also very important. Here, the cast had topnotch voices. There were songs which were very complicated in their musical structure. Its Greek Chorus Quintet always sings in 5-part harmony. This complexity was most evident in the first act when Fredrik sang "Now", followed by Henrik who sang "Later", then Anne who sang "Soon." These three separate songs would later intertwine together in the end of that sequence. Excellent renditions by all in that vocally complex number!


Stritch and Peters (photo courtesy of


Two-time Tony award winner Bernadette Peters played the faded actress Desiree Armfeldt in all her world-weary jadedness. "Send in the Clowns," as Desiree's centerpiece song, was more of a challenge of acting and interpretation, rather than of pure singing. Ms. Peters certainly nails it with her tears seemingly visible from the back row. She gives this already very familiar (even tired) song an extraordinary depth of feeling.


Ms. Elaine Stritch brings all her acerbic wit to the role that bookends the play, Desiree's ex-courtesan mother Madame Armfeldt. She hits all her comic targets with glee and smirk, and the audience just could not control their laughter. Madame Armfeldt also has a kilometric speak-sing solo called "Liaisons" about her past, and the 84-year old Ms. Stritch delivers this flawlessly.


The rest of the cast were also very good. Stephen R. Buntrock had all the Old World masculine charm to effectively play Fredrik Egerman opposite Ms. Peters' Desiree. He just took over this role from Alexander Hanson a week ago. The Count and Countess Malcolm were played by Bradley Dean and Erin Davie with villaious aplomb. The five singers in the Quintet also had very good voices and harmonies.


Peters and Buntrock (photo courtesy of


Two impressive young members of the cast are in their Broadway debuts. Hunter Ryan Herdlicka played the difficult role of Henrik, who had to play the cello and hit very high notes! Ramona Mallory was very pretty and funny as the young virgin bride Anne Egerman, with her strong clear soprano voice. These two are Broadway stars of the future.


I am glad we decided to catch and experience "A Little Night Music" on Broadway. It was a last minute inclusion in our planned itinerary, on the afternoon of the day before we leave, but it was worth it. It was 2pm when we entered Walter Kerr that Wednesday afternoon, but came out already 5pm! That was again an unexpected surprise since we did not feel those three hours while we inside the theater. This play was definitely worth all the advance hype and publicity.






One of the reasons that gave me second thoughts about watching "A Little Night of Music" in Broadway is because Atlantis Philippines will have its own production of this play also this month. In the local production, Desiree will be played by no less than Ms. Dawn Zulueta, whom we would all be curious to see performing "Send in the Clowns". Nonie Buencamino pays her old flame Fredrik Egerman. The very hard-working Felix Rivera plays Henrik, while Cris Villonco takes on Anne. This homegrown cast is no less than powerhouse. I do hope I could get the time to watch this production as well. It only has a limited run, with only 10 shows in the last 3 weekends of October.


(photo courtesy of


A Little Night Music runs from October 15 to 31 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza. For tickets, call Atlantis Productions at 892-7078 or 840-1187.

Xanadu (Atlantis Productions)

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (0)

September 4, 2010


I had no idea what the musical "Xanadu" was about before I got tickets for my wife and I to watch it. "Xanadu" was a 2007 surprise Broadway hit musical with book by Douglas Carter Beane, with music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. I only knew the 80s song by Olivia Newton-John, but I did not watch the movie of the same title upon which the play was based. The movie did not particularly have a good reputation with the critics. However, I got interested in this production mainly because Rachel Alejandro was playing the lead, and I was really looking forward to show starring her, since her award-winning performance as Kate/Lucy in "Avenue Q" (also by Atlantis).


"Xanadu" opens in Venice Beach, California, circa 1980, with a young artist named Sonny Malone (Felix Rivera), who was frustrated over his imperfect chalk drawing of Greek goddesses. MIraculously, the figures in the drawing come to life as the Muses of Greek mythology led by Clio (Rachel Alejandro). Clio decides to disguise herself as the Aussie girl Kira (who wears leg-warmers and roller skates), in order to inspire Sonny to create something of great artistry.


Sonny and Kira talk with old mllionaire, Mr. Danny Maguire (Noel Trinidad) to let them turn his abandoned theater Xanadu into a modern arts hub and roller disco, but the old man sets impossible conditions for them. Meanwhile, two of Clio's elder sisters, Melpomene and Calliope (Chari Arespacochaga and Yael Alano Pineda), jealous over the leadership of their younger sister, likewise conspire for Clio to break Zeus' law, making her fall in love with Sonny, a mere mortal. Can Clio and Sonny overcome all these obstacles to make their dream for Xanadu to come true?


The plot and characters can get a little dated, cheesy and corny. The script mentions "Clash of the Titans" and yes, it can be as corny as that old movie. However, two main factors save the day for this production. First, there were the infectious songs, including hit songs by Olivia Newton John (like "Suddenly", "Magic", "Have You Never Been Mellow" and of course, the title song) which were all sung so well by Ms. Rachel and all very well-integrated in the story, "Mamma Mia" style.


And secondly, there was the goodwill of the crowd-pleasing cast . Rachel Alejandro and Felix Rivera revive their chemistry as love team-up from "Avenue Q" to create another memorable couple here in "Xanadu." As before, these two really know how to play cute, and the audience loves it. There may be a couple of stray flat or sharp notes here and there even for these two, but you will not mind. Their duet of "Suddenly" set in a phone booth is defintely one comic highlight of the show. Felix's tank-top and short shorts costume gag got tired after a while, but he even changed his short shorts at the end, and I found that detail hilarious. Felix' solo on "Don't Walk Away" was strong!


It was a revelation for me to see the formidable Ms. Chari Arespacochaga onstage acting, singing and dancing! I have only known her as a director until today, and Ms. Chari really owned her anti-hero role with glee. Ms. Yael Pineda was also very good as Ms. Chari's partner in crime, Calliope. Their duet on "Evil Woman" was fantastic! However, Yael's turn as Aphrodite was a bit too shrill to be understood properly. As for the minor Muses, Bea Garcia stood out among them with very clear vocals and charm. Anthony Tarrosa Ong shone in his tap dance solo as the young Danny Maguire. However, the other two, Alys Serdenia and Glenn Llanes, unfortunately did not look too comfortable yet with their roles, and were very self-conscious.


The best overall performance of the show however would be none other than Mr. Noel Trinidad as the old Danny Maguire. He is smart and funny. And his singing is clear and outstanding. His song highlight of the night was "Whenever You're Away From Me." He looked like he was the only straight guy on stage for the entire duration of the play! Haha! I have never seen him perform live before, and I am sure glad and lucky I finally got a chance tonight to see him in action. The role of Danny Maguire will also be performed in other shows by other seasoned actors Leo Rialp and Robie Zialcita.


The direction by Bobby Garcia is as good as ever. He really has a sharp way with musical comedies. Unlike our unfortunate experience in the stage seats in "Spring Awakening," the people in stage seats of "Xanadu" (P400 each only) seemed to be enjoying their time up there. They were directly facing the main audience, and were even given the chance to join inthe fun with the cast onstage. I also commend the cast for their brave skating on that small stage!


So again, my kudos to the Atlantis production of "Xanadu". We had fun watching it as children of the 80s, but very young audiences may not relate very well, I suspect. My wife and I came out of the theater smiling and singing the final title song as our LSS. She even purchased a CD of Rachel Alejandro singing the ONJ hits from this show, costing only P350 with the souvenir programme, and we listened and sang along with it all the way home. I wish Atlantis would do CD recordings again in their future shows, and even their past successes.


"Xanadu" will run weekends from September 3-19, 2010 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. Do catch it and capture the magic of the arts!

The Post Office (PETA)

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 5:40 AM Comments comments (0)

August 7, 2010


This play I watched yesterday was entitled "Ang Post Office," and it has quite a pedigree with it. The original was written by Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Tagore descirbed his dramas to be marked by "the play of more feeling than action." This philosophical and allegorical play, whom he called "Dak Ghar" in Bengali, is one prime example.


For its second offering in its 43rd Season, the Philippine Educational Theater Association stages "Ang Post Office", with Tagore's script adapted to the Filipino language and setting by Rody Vera. The play was most masterfully directed by Gardy Labad. The set design wondrously expanded the small stage. The clouds were used as the screen to project the fantastical stories being told. The drama is enhanced by the presence of a children's choir as they provide musical interludes. For the 3pm show of August 7 which I watched, it was the acclaimed Kilyawan Children's Choir which was featured. For other shows, they will have the similarly acclaimed Loboc Children's Choir.


You learn about the boy Abel as his foster parent Tiyo Pedring (played by no less than Bembol Roco) was advised by the abrasive doctor. Abel has an unnamed medical condition for which he needs to stay in the house at all times. By this time, you already knew how this play is going to end. However, that is not the point. It is the most whimsical and imaginative way we get there in the next one and a half hours that really mattered.


You take this highly emotionally-charged ride with Abel as he meets the people in his neighborhood as they pass outside his window, the Taho Vendor, the Barangay Tanod, the Police Chief, the Flower Girl and the Kids. You also meet their family friend Poldo (playfully portrayed by Kuya Bodgie Pascua), whom Abel calls "Taong Banal." These neighborhood friends feed Abel's fantasy about receiving a letter from the king from the new Post Office that was built across their house, until the play reaches its moving but inevitable conclusion.


For the show I watched yesterday, the lead role of Abel was played by Abner Delina Jr. He was able to make you forget that he is a bit older than the 10 year old that Abel was supposed to have been. Of course, his "acting like a child" thing can get a little cheesy at times, but the emotional wave of the story was still strong enough to suspend your disbelief and carry you through. I cannot help but rave about this emotional undercurrent that pervades this play because it was the main power of this play. This Filipino adaptation successfully preserves this intangible yet vital quality, and enhances it with uniquely Pinoy sense of humor.


Most ads and posters for this play trumpet the performance of an international child actor named Martin delos Santos. I am not discounting the possibility of catching this play again to watch a real 10 year old child essay the role of Abel. I am sure it will be worth it! I wholeheartedly invite everyone to try and catch this beautifully-staged little gem. Once again, congratulations to PETA for another wonderful production!




This project is supported by Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), UNESCO Commission for the Philippines, MISEREOR/KZE and Zest Airways Inc.

Showdates at the PETA Theater Center are as follows: August 6 (3:00 A.M. and 7:00 P.M.), 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29, September 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12 (10:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M.). For inquiries and reservations, contact PETA Marketing and Public Relations at (02) 725-6244, (02), 410-821 or 0917-8044428. Tickets are P300 only.



CATS Now and Forever (CCP)

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 5:25 AM Comments comments (0)

July 24, 2010



This was one show ticket I bought way way before the show itself. I remember buying these tickets for Andrew Lord Webber's "Cats" back in November 2009, when I was buying tickets for "Sweeney Todd" (shown December 2009)! So, this day July 24, 2010 came along, and finally, I saw "Cats".


Prior to the show, I was apprehensive because a couple of people told me how they fell asleep when they watched this show on Broadway, no less. But anyway, I was still optismistic since this is a most long-running show since it opened on the West End way back 1981, and we have Ms. Lea Salonga as Grizabella here.


The Show:


The show opens exactly at 8pm (so don't be late, or you will asked to wait for about 10 minutes before they allow you in). The "cats" appear in the audience area, even in the balcony! Then the music begins. Then the full extent of the lighting effects slowly unfold. The moment was magical. This continued as the "cats" all go onstage to perform the first song "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats." The rest of the play is a series of numbers about each "cat," strung together by a thin story about a cat being chosen "to be reborn into a new life".


The more memorable cats in the First Act were the flamboyant Rum Tum Tugger (the actor who played him looked and acted like Adam Lambert), the funny naughty couple Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, the stately patriarch Old Deuteronomy, and of course, the focus of all Filipino eyes, the ex-Glamour Cat Grizabella, played by Ms. Lea Salonga. She gave us a short version of "Memory" to end the first act. I did not really like the numbers featuring Jennyanydots (the old Gumbie cat) and Bustopher Jones (the very fat cat).


The Second Act was more interesting and well-paced, with several big flashy highlights. The memorable cats here were Growltiger and Griddlebone (with their funny operatic showdown), the "master criminal" cat Macavity (with his energetic fight scene), and the magical Mr. Mistoffelees (with his acrobatic ballet). The song we were all waiting for, of course, was the full version of "Memory," which comes towards the closing of the second act. Ms. Lea Salonga really stood out with her crystal clear diction and excellently emotional rendition of this dramatic song. The whole play ended with a beautiful anthem by Old Deuteronomy called "The Addressing of Cats," which was a very strong finale number.


The Good:


First and foremost, Ms. Lea Salonga! She is simply the best "cat" up there on stage. Her dancing and scampering may have been limited by her character Grizabella's old age, and she seemed to be hobbling (due to a sprained ankle?). But whenever it was Lea Salonga's turn to sing, her words were all rich and ringing, and we understood every word she sang. Now THAT is a real STAR turn. It was clearly not a problem with mikes or the sound system that we cannot understand what the other "cats" were singing about. They simply were not singing and enunciating their lyrics clearly.


The huge sets were fantastic! It was clear why the tickets were expensive. The entire stage of the CCP Main Theater was transformed into a cat's playground. The elaborate lighting effects were instrumental in establishing the fantastical quality of this story. There was a big scene where a train's locomotive engine was assembled on stage during the Railway Train number, and that was another highlight of the set department.


The costumes and make-up were fun watch in close up with your binoculars. The make-up used for the actor's transformation into a cat-like face were different for each one, and that is also very impressive. We got to see a "cat" up close when one came up there during the intermission. Too bad, we weren't quick enough to take a picture of it while it was there.


The Not So Good:


Where we were seated in the Balcony 1 center area, the view would have been very good. However our viewing was marred by several inconsiderate individuals in front of us who persisted in NOT leaning back, so that their heads were blocking our line of vision. It was indeed very frustrating, but we just had to grin and bear it.


From the first song, I had problems understanding what the cast was singing about! I purposely did not read ahead of time about the plot and songs, and I think that was a mistake. If you did not know anything, you would wonder what on earth is going on! Not fully understanding the lyrics is a recipe for boredom. Key points were lost to me, like what exactly does "Jellicle" mean, or why do they shun Grizabella, and what exactly does it mean when a cat is chosen to be "reborn in a new life." The first act was particularly difficult to get through.


You may also feel bored if you are not really into dance. This show is as much about dance as it is about song. A variety of dance is presented, mostly jazz styles, but also tap, ballet and gymnastics. I felt these may be the parts when people may feel bored if they did not understand what was going on. But there was one number which was obviously fantastic, even for those not into dance. It was that one of Mr. Mistoffelees with his 24 fouettés en tournant which was amazing to watch!


The Overall Verdict:


"Cats" is a rare visual spectacle that should not be missed (at least once in your life). The songs (based on some confoundingly cryptic t.s. eliot poetry) and the dances by themselves may not be to everyone's liking, but the total theater experience is unmistakably magical while you are in there. And most of all, it was awesome to watch the unmatched Ms. Lea Salonga bring that old familiar song "Memory" to fiery life in its original context. That priceless moment in the Second Act alone is well worth the admission.





"Cats" will be running at the CCP Main Theater from Tuesdays to Sundays every week from now up to August 22, 2010.

Matinees, Saturdays (3 p.m.) and Sundays (2:30 p.m.): 7,210 / 5,150 / 3,605 / 2,060 / 1,030


Evenings, Tuesdays (8 p.m.), Wednesdays (8 p.m.), Thursdays (8 p.m.) and Sundays (7:30 p.m.): 6,180 / 4,635 / 3,090 / 1,545 / 772.50


Evenings, Fridays (8 p.m.) and Saturdays (8 p.m.): 7,210 / 5,150 / 3,605 / 2,060 / 1,030


Senior citizens get a 20 percent discount, students 10 percent and group sales of 30 tickets or more 10 percent on outlet purchases. Tickets are availabe at Ticketworld: Call 891-9999 or visit the Ticketworld website.

Equus (Repertory Philippines)

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 5:10 AM Comments comments (0)

July 17, 2010


My wife and I braved the strong driving rain last night to catch the latest offering of Repertory Philippines, the long-acclaimed play by Peter Shaffer entitled "EQUUS." This play had its London debut in 1973 to much success. This had also been translated into a film with Richard Burton and Peter Firth in 1976. There had always been controversy whenever this play is staged because of its disturbing themes, as well as a notorious scene requiring full frontal nudity for its young leads. It had been in the news again lately because of a 2007 revival in the West End starring Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. So now, the play comes to Manila again, and it was finally time to discover what the fuss has been all about which began almost thirty years ago.


The stage design was very spare, only five benches in the foreground, and five arches in the background, representing the stables. We see the main horse Nugget in the very first scene. The actor was shirtless, with a metallic horse head and high hooves. In that scene alone, as Nugget was being embraced by teenager Alan Strang, we already get the uncomfortable feeling that would pervade through the whole play.


Veteran actor Miguel Faustmann plays psychiatrist Martin Dysart. He was onstage for the whole play and wow, does he own it! Dysart was talking the whole time with kilometric monologues, and Mr. Faustmann was flawless and riveting in his rendition of the difficult role. I particularly liked that rant he had about he and his wife being mentally in two different parts of the world while in the same house. He also raved about his personal insecurities and his envy for Alan's passionate sense of worship. This was indeed another example of AMAZING tour de force acting master class of the Philippine stage. He did have a problematic cough last night, which was rather distracting during the quiet scenes of other actors.


This night, the pivotal role of Alan Strang was played by a young Rep veteran Red Concepcion. He was very good. He was able to dominate the stage during that part when Dysart hypnotizes him and he acts out his adoration of his horse-god whom he called Equus. However, through no fault of his, Mr. Concepcion did not feel right for the role of Alan. First of all, he probably had the wrong "look" for Alan than what I expected. I understand the play was trying to create a homo-erotic vibe with the shirtless men-horses (with 6-pack abs) and all, but I did not think Alan should look or act in a gay manner, which Mr. Concepcion could not seem to avoid projecting. Or was he supposed to act this way? I don't really know. It just did not feel convincing that Alan (as Red portrayed him) actually wanted to watch the skin flick with Jill, much more to bed Jill in that climactic scene. One could not help but wonder how his alternate, the newcomer Marco Manalac, would attack this role.


There were three major supporting roles by women in this play, and they were all played to perfection! Roselyn Perez played court magistrate, Hesther Saloman, with such vigor and conviction. I enjoyed watching her conversations with Mr. Faustmann. Tami Monsod played Dora Strang, Alan's uber-religous mother, with delicacy and fervor at the same time. And best of all, Phoena Baranda played Alan's seductress Jill Mason like a real British sex-kitten. She was cute, and coquettish, and daring. I could not beleive that this is the same girl who played the nerdy, braided girl with braces Lougaine in "Spelling Bee!"


The male supporting characters were also very well portrayed by their respective actors. Stage veteran Dido dela Paz, who was so Filipino in "Portrait of an Artist," was so unmistakenly British here as Harry Dalton, the owner of the stables. Jaime del Mundo played Alan's father Frank Strang with admirable restraint as his repressed character required. The studs (with chiseled torsos as their main description) who portrayed the horses, well, acted like horses. I wondered though why they chose a Caucasian, John Stacey, to portray Alan's favorite horse, Nugget.


Now I understand why this play endured all these years despite its inherent negativity. It was so sick, it was good. It touches on religion, sex, parenting, adolescence -- all very loaded and heavy themes, and all controversial, all taken to extremes. After all, Dysart proclaims in one of his discourses, "Extremity is the point!" There is positively something that could offend someone anywhere in the script, but writer Shaffer was fearless. Fascinatingly, these issues did not feel dated at all, despite being written almost 30 years ago. The abominable psychotic act of Alan Strang that set this play into action was mentioned at the very beginning, yet you can palpate the very thick sense of dread and suspense up to the very end when you actually get to witness it happen.


It is said that this production of "Equus" is the first time director Audie Gemora helms a straight play. The material itself was good, but it needs a director's skill to bring it to life without being boring. Mr. Gemora does very well indeed! His ideas for the horses costumes and "acting" (so vital so the play won't look absurd) and the lighting design (so vital in the nude scenes) were excellent. After deservedly winning acting accolades for "Sweeney Todd" last year, he is sure to be in the running for Directing honors this year.


As with all controversial and intense materials, this play is not for everybody. It is a different kind of theater experience. Even if you decide to watch for the wrong reasons (only for the nude scenes), you will realize that the two hours build up to those climactic scenes would be just as provocative and stimulating. What do you think? Are you up to take the challenge of watching "Equus"?




The remaining playdates of "Equus" are on July 18, 24, 25, 3:30pm; and July 23, 24 at 8pm. Venue is at Onstage, 2/F Greenbelt One in Makati City. For tickets, call 887-0710. Because of the nudity and sensitive subject matter, this play is rated R-18.



***** Photo Credits:

Rated PG (PETA)

Posted by Fred on November 22, 2012 at 5:00 AM Comments comments (0)

July 10, 2010


The first show of this year's season of the PETA is a show dedicated to the use of theater as a medium of education. "Rated PG" is a play written by Liza Magtoto, with music by Vincent de Jesus (same award-winning guy who put "Juan Tamad" into music). It is directed by Mae Quesada-Medina. This musical play is about the Filipino family, specifically the tenuous relationship of parents and children. It focused on problems of communication, on discipline and imparting lessons.


The play introduces us to the lower middle class family of enterprising Joselle (May Bayot) who has a "conveniens" (sic) store in the form of a big biyahera's bag, a store she opens at her convenience, selling bras and slippers. She has two kids: a feisty teenager Rosalie (Joan Bugcat) and a hyperactive little boy Tonton (a very cute Arthur Castro). Her hard-working husband Romy (Jack Yabut) is a deliveryman (I think). We also get to meet Joselle's mother as well her colorful neighbors. Also playing a big part is the teen gang of Rosalie (or Ozie), the Jejesters.


One day, Joselle gets an offer to work in Barcelona, Spain, and this situation sets the whole play into motion. As time constraints with her visa and working papers set in, she vents off her frustrations against her kids and husband either in straight dramatic scenes, or in seriously dramatic songs. We effectively see realistic family conflicts portrayed onstage as the script tries to touch on every major issue about family dynamics in our local setting. We see everyone doing their own things, yet these activities can result in much tension when it comes to the homefront.


Throughout the play, parents receive tips on how to deal with our kids. Listen to each other. Set and agree on a daily schedule. Discuss and explain plans and problems. Show your love. Set and obey house rules. No spanking. No cursing. No scare tactics. Be ready to say you are sorry. Set a good example. We learn these lessons in nice little song production numbers which the cast does with gusto. In its last song, this play tells us that children are already whole human beings when they were born. While we should give them the freedom to fly on their own, they also need us, our guidance and our love.


The actors who play the central family of Joselle were all pretty solid in their acting. I have heard of May Bayot before, and this is the first time I have seen her in action. She plays a very strong Joselle. I am glad that the dad Romy was not written as a useless bum, like most Filipino shows tended to portray the father character. The teenager Ozie was very realistically written and portrayed, in all her teen angst. The young kid who played Tonton was very cute and malikot. The way Ms. Bayot and company lived the roles onstage, it was like looking into a mirror at certain home situations we are all too familiar with.


The script is very sharp, yet it has the requisite humor and pop references to appeal to the younger audience. The use of a projection screen as backdrop with colorful animated images was also very imaginative. The moving set pieces which was composed of two big wooden boxes and stairs were very well used and re-arranged to represent different venues. The props were very imaginative too, like using rubber bands to represent pansit.


I do have some comment about the songs. The tunes were not really too memorable for me, but they were appropriate to the mood and story. The singing was quite uneven also. The acting was better than the singing. But more importantly, some singers were chewing the lyrics. I felt a lot of vital messages are lost to the audience if the lyrics were not enunciated very clearly, and the cast should take more care in this aspect in future stagings.


Ms. Meann Espinosa of PETA's Marketing Office is right, it is encouraged that parents watch this play with their kids. But for me, especially if the kids are already in or nearing their teens. This could effectively serve a springboard for a good family discussion about the issues brought up in the play.


I thought a lot of the play's messages may have been lost to the very young members of the audience that afternoon. The little ones were only reacting when they see the funny antics of the naughty Tonton and his playmate Macmac, as well as various displays of affection seen on stage. But the rest of the play had them quite antsy in my observation. Some were even going around, in and out of the room. The play may be quite long for very young kids (almost two hours), and it had a ten minute intermission! Not generalizing though, depends on the kid, of course.


And so, for yet another timely, educational and socially-relevant stage production, a hearty Congratulations again to PETA!


P.S.: I learned that the kids in the audience this afternoon were from neighboring Barangays Kalusugan and Kristong Hari, as well as from M.H. del Pilar Public School. I wouldn't be surprised if this was all shouldered by PETA and its sponsors, in the spirit of community service and fostering the art of theater in the young. Kudos PETA!





The show opens on July 9, 6 p.m., at the PETA Theater Center, 5 Eymard Drive New Manila, Quezon City (behind QC Sports Club). Other performance dates are as follows: July 10, 11, 17 and 18 (10 a.m. and 3 p.m.).


For inquiries, contact PETA’s Marketing and Public Relations Office at 7256244, 4100821 to 22 or SMS 0917-8044428, e-mail [email protected]



Legally Blonde the Musical

Posted by Fred on November 1, 2011 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)

July 4, 2010

Truth to tell, I did not really plan to watch this musical. I did not watch the movie Legally Blonde nor was I entirely familiar with the storyline. I was not familiar with the musical nor its songs as well. Futhermore, I did not really think Nikki Gil was the right actress/singer to play the lead character Elle Woods as Reese Witherspoon made her famous in the film.


However, upon reading Lea Salonga's review in her Inquirer column (LINK) as well as the very detailed review of Ching Yu in his Multiply site (LINK), I thought it would be a good idea for a family day out to the theater. It is the 4th of July today, so what better idea it is to watch this all-American musical!


Although it did take some time for me to get used to the rather unwieldy costumes and the totally unfamiliar first two songs, I was already enjoying the musical by the third song, "What You Want," where Elle decides to follow her jerk boyfriend Warner into Harvard Law School. The rest of the story and the music was very easy to follow and to like.


Despite my initial misgivings, I have to concede that Nikki Gil does play a very credible Elle (although her wig looks very fake in sideview). And yes, she looked good in that pink Playboy Bunny outfit! By the end of the play, you can actually forget she is Pinay! Her singing voice was also very strong and consistently in Valley Girl character.


In the song "Blood in the Water," I finally hear the very rich baritone voice of Mr. Jett Pangan. Jett did not sing in his last project with Atlantis, "Spring Awakening." He should really sing more in future theater projects. His slimy, smarmy acting is also commendable.


The next memorable song number was "Ireland" by Jinky Llamanzares who was playing Elle's hairdresser Paulette. I have heard of Jinky before, but this is the first time I have heard her sing live. Her voice is really strong, awesome even. The song may seem out of character for an out-of-luck beautician, but hey, this is theater! Calvin Millado plays comic relief as the UPS delivery boy who was Paulette's dream man. His super-tight costume alone is so funny, not to mention his Irish dancing! LOL!


Geneva Cruz's highlight came in the first song after the intermission. Her character Brooke sings "Whipped into Shape" while dancing and jumping rope. Her voice is very rough in this song, and with my professional background, I worry about it. Her exposed midriff surely invites attention.


Nyoy Volante's stage talent was already proven in Atlantis' production of "Hairspray." He does do a very good job here as well. His voice may be drowned out a bit in certain songs. But his performance in "Take It Like A Man" was the best of them. He does look and act more like an elder brother to Elle, rather than love interest though.


I did not recognize that that was Cris Villonco playing Vivienne, Elle's rival. I thought that girl had a very strong voice in the penultimate "Legally Blonde" number. When I found out that it was Cris, then no wonder. Too bad she does not really get to sing much in this show.


Elle's old flame and the main reason she wanted to go to Harvard, Warner, was played by an actor unknown to me. He seemed to be weaker link in the cast since he does not succeed to project the charisma that made Elle so desperate to stalk him all the way to Harvard! His vocal performance was also rather uneven.


This show restores my admiration for the Atlantis group, which was slightly marred by their unsatisfying staging of "Spring Awakening" (LINK) last year. The music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin and book by Heather Hach are funny and witty and positive for the most part, which adds to the entertainment value. The stage design was good enough in due consideration of our local budget for these plays. Too bad they were not able to use real dogs for Brusier and Rufus. Some sound glitches were also very evident and distracting, like feedbacks and mikes dropping off.


Overall, the show is definitely fun, funny and watchable,as directed by Chari Arespacochaga. I watched it with low expectations, but I am glad to report we all came out happy and thoroughly entertained. Congratulations again to Altantis Productions!

Romeo and Bernadette (Repertory Philippines)

Posted by Fred on October 5, 2011 at 8:40 PM Comments comments (0)

February 28, 2010

"Romeo and Bernadette" is already the second production of the present season of Repertory Philippines. I was not able to see their first one last January called "Duets". I barely got to watch this one as well. This afternoon's 330pm show was already the last show of its run which lasted all weekends of February. I watched this musical comedy play (directed by Ms. Joy Virata) with my wife and three small kids.


From the get-go, we already felt that this play was not really for kids. There were a lot of parental guidance moments, like sexual double entendres ("I've got my own dagger down here." or "Dino the Drill"), salty language ("You sonovab****!" among others), and gun violence. I should have expected that the most logical place to resurrect Romeo would be the Mafia Gangland in Brooklyn, New York. I was just hoping that since the kids had no visible reaction, these things just went over their heads. Anyway, a lot of the spoken dialogs went over my head as well. 


I personally found the Brooklyn-accent comedy schtick used in the play (by Mark Saltzman) quite dated. The jokes, especially those with Mafia caricatures, were also quite familiar already to be truly funny. It was also unfortunate that the actor playing Bernadette's fiance Tito and that one playing her Dad drowned their words in their thick put-on accent making a lot of their lines unintelligible. The first act for me was quite dry, slow, with limited humorous situations. I liked the pace of the scenes and the songs in the second act much better.


The best part of this play is the charisma and the strong singing performances of the two lead, Romeo and Bernadette, played by PJ Valerio and Cris Villonco. I had already seen PJ before in his previous outings in "Altar Boyz" and "The Fantasticks." His tenor voice and delivery of his songs is really improving. I was more looking forward to seeing Cris Villonco. I had read so much about her Ophelia in last year's "Hamlet" which I missed. Her voice is really very strong and clear, and her acting was fresh despite the trite material. I look forward to seeing more of her stage work in the future.


Liesl Batucan was quite funny as her usual in her role as the ditzy Donna. Although, she did look a bit too old to be Bernadette's maid of honor, but Ms. Batucan pulls off this featured comic role as only she can. The other supporting actor who earned laughs was Rem Zamora who essayed multiple minor roles. His best character skit was the one where he was the gay florist, followed by the one where he was a female dance instructor. You would really admire his quick costume changes to switch from role to role.


Overall, it is just alright. The modest audience response was telling. This play was not that bad, but not that memorable as well. There was no song that really stood out. Although my personal favorite was that one which featured the four main characters, Romeo, Bernadette, Donna and Dino, all singing about love. The melody and arrangement was great while I was listening to it. I do not remember it anymore now though.