15 Plays

Just felt like doing this after that  Facebook 15 Films meme. Consider this a self-indulgent way of sifting through memories NOT better left forgotten.

I cite these, not only for the plays themselves, but really for the whole experience of watching the live performance. To friends in the world of theater, thanks for some awesome nights of music, wit and after-performance dinner/coffee discussion fodder.

Just hope that this list pushes some of you to look em up on YouTube or Google (‘specially some of the more obscure ones) and to continue catching theater performances (even if they are a tad more expensive than movies)

Company – Stephen Sondheim – (Repertory Philippines, William J. Shaw Theater / Kookabura Theater Company, Theater Royal, Sydney) If there ever was a perfect night at the theater. This was when I saw this the first time at the Shangri-La. If there ever was an argument on why people should choose live theater over movies. This would be the experience I’d make ’em live through. I don’t know how he did it but the great Cocoy Laurel found a way to transmit emotion through his performance that night. This introduced me to Stephen Sondheim’s body of work through “Marry Me A Little”, “Being Alive” and the vocal nightmare of “Not Getting Married” (Lisa Infante! What ever happened to her?)

Saw this again in Sydney. Was sorta disappointed because the performances were nowhere near the caliber of the Manila Cast. “Not Getting Married” was SPOKEN instead of sung. The “moment” of the performance was during “Marry Me A Little” when the repetiteur went absolutely nuts on the piano, pounding on the keys matching Bobby’s angst on stage. Another good night courtesy of Mr. Sondheim.

Noises Off! –  (Repertory Philippines, William J. Shaw Theater) This is the connection to the 15 films meme. This is the play that got me wanting to watch Live Theater. I saw the movie (killer cast – Christopher Reeve, Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, Nicolette Sheridan, the late  John Ritter aka Jack Tripper, Mark Linn-Baker aka Cousin Larry From Perfect Strangers). Hilarious Movie! The second act of the movie involved turning the whole set around to show the backstage area, half of it done in silence and gestures. I really watched the play just to see if they would pull it off live. And they did! And I’ve been watching theater ever since. I do hope someone restages this in Manila.

Les Miserablés – Schonberg/Boublil (Repertory Philippines, MERALCO Theater <sniff!>) – The only play in this list that I didn’t actually get to watch. Got as far as the Meralco Theatre hoping there were still tickets… but alas… was not meant to be. The reason why this is on my list is that this is what really opened the door to my appreciating Musical Theater. Probably had one of the most heated arguments (who was the better Eponine? Lea or Kaho Shimada from the complete symphonic recordings) because of this. Also read that monster Les Miserables novel because of this only to find out that the play is just one small portion dug inside a lot of philosophical meanderings by M. Hugo.

Angels In America aka Perestroika/Millenium Approaches – Tony Kushner (New Voice, Music Museum) Before the great CarVer became a celebrity comic book artist, he was once a great theater actor. We as loyal friends trooped to watch this 7 HOUR play. (3.5 Hours for Perestroika and 3.5 Hours for Millenium Approaches). This was a pretty risky play to stage in Manila those days. But still, pretty well received. The HBO mini series with Al Pacino and Mary Louise Parker is also highly recommended. “The Great Work Begins!”

Once On This Island – Ahrens/Flaherty (Repertory Philippines, William J. Shaw Theater) I remember this as Maya Barredo’s last performance in Manila before leaving for Miss Saigon. Had this huge circular stage that extended three or four rows into the audience. My only beef with this is that most of the good songs were for the women. Fairytale/Romeo and Juliet mutation told in a Caribbean setting. IMHO, “Why We Tell The Story” has got to be one of the most poignant finales ever written. I get somewhat teary eyed when they get to the “You are Why” part of the song.

The Lottery – Shirley Jackson (Harlequin Theater Guild/TAP, DLSU Multi-Purpose Hall) The first of two forays performing on stage. Saw the movie version a coupla years back on the Hallmark Channel and did it bring back memories (sigh!). Can’t help but think that Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games had it’s roots here. (That and the uber-violent and maybe unintentionally funny Japanese film “Battle Royale”)

Love Letters – A.R. Gurney (Free Performance, Eastwood) Beautiful play with just a cast of two (Michael Williams and Pinky Amador if I remember correctly) just reading letters to each other on stage. Story told with just the letters and the vocal affectations of the two actors.

Rent – Jonathan Larson (New Voice, Music Museum) – The first run of this had an awesome, amazing, powerful cast! Bituin Escalante killed that night as Mimi. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I watched this. By the time that double sucker-punch –  the optimistic “Another Day” and the haunting “Will I?” came in, I was hooked. There’s this side story of getting to watch the thing with a complete Rent-Head stranger, but that’s for another day. The reprise of “I’ll Cover You” is in my Most Romantic Songs Top Ten.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change – DiPietro/Roberts (Repertory Philippines, OnStage Greenbelt) This was an off-broadway gem that I never thought would get here. I watched this THREE times during the THREE stagings with three different groups of people! People know my obsession with the songs on this play. “Tear Jerk”, “Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You”, “I Can Live With That” are all awesome in their own right. Nice play that doesn’t sugar coat this whole relationship thingie. Though those last bits were poignant enough to make a believer out of a hard-core cynic… even just for a coupla minutes.

Fools – Neil Simon (Repertory Philippines, William J. Shaw Theater) – What happens when you send a smart professor to the village of Kolyanchakov, a village of fools to make em smart. One of Neil Simon’s lesser known works but still brimming with wit through parody and farce. I think seeing this play paved the way for my liking IDIOCRACY so much. I remember watching The Fugitive and this for a birthday outing soooo long ago.

Miss Saigon – Shonberg/Boublil (National Tour Production, Lyric Theater, Star City, Sydney) I saw the performance at CCP and it just didn’t connect with me. Maybe it was the lousy acoustics of the CCP or maybe it was just being dazzled by the sheer spectacle of the moving sets and that helicopter. Not a good sign when all you can say about seeing a play is “Wow! Great Special Effects”

Then I was sorta dragged to watch this again in Sydney. Really lousy seats in the uppermost back of the theater. But I enjoyed that performance a lot more than the one in Manila. By this time, Cameron Mackintosh relaxed some of his “MUST-HAVES” (gigantic statue of Ho Chi Minh, full scale helicopter landing on stage, etc.)  before anyone could mount a Miss Saigon production. This version was “raw-er” and the performances just connected with me. Loved the way they pulled off the helicopter by just projecting the image onto the stage. Using helicopter engine noises coupled with the venue’s superior sound system (a la THX)  to make the audience believe that the helicopter was circling over and around the theater was awesome!

Dong-Ao – F. Sionil Jose (PETA/Virgin Labgest, Tanghalang Huseng Batute CCP) This play in Filipino introduced me to F. Sionil’s works. Powerhouse cast with Bembol Roco and Tommy Abuel. Never thought that eulogies at a funeral could have me riveted to my seat. Affected me so much I couldn’t stop talking about the play afterwards. It was a side story to “Mass”, the final book in “The Rosales Saga” quintology I had to go and buy the 5 books the following day just to see the world of Dong-Ao. Looking forward to reading more of F. Sionil’s books because of this.

Avenue Q – R. Lopez/J. Marx (Atlantis Productions, RCBC Theater) First heard of this by someone pushing me to listen to “The Internet is For Porn”. I was somewhat chronically depressed when this hit. Could Soooooo relate to “It Sucks To Be Me” and “Schadenfreude”. I “pushed” this to a lot of unsuspecting friends. Which is a good thing because I was able to get a group discount when I bought the tickets three months early! Rachel Alejandro rocked as Kate Monster. I just had to stay after the performance just to say she really sounded like Stephanie D’Abruzzio from the Original Avenue Q Cast Recording.

Defending The Caveman (RCBC Theater) One Actor. Two Hours. No Intermission. ROTFLMAO romp through the history chronicling the battle of the Sexes. Whodathunk “Men Are Hunters, Women are Gatherers” could explain soooo much about the bliss (or lack of it) relationships bring to people.

Cats –  (CCP, RUTG Asia) Spectacle. ‘Nuff said. Though I would really like a copy of those Filipino “Memory” lyrics.

Honorable Mentions

Xanadu (Atlantis Productions, RCBC Theater) – Was nostalgic seeing Noel Trinidad perform on stage again after a looong absence.

Miong (Repertory Philippines, AFP Theater) – The folks from Rep wrote an original Filipino musical for the centennial celebrating the life of Emilio Aguinaldo. Felt that the music and book were greatly influenced by Les Miserablés. Had its moments but in the end, it was a spectacular try. Hope more original stuff gets produced soon.

Songs For A New World (9 Works Theatrical, RCBC Theater) – Was really curious about this because of lyricist/composer James Robert Brown. Big fan of “The Last 5 Years” Cast Recording (and never saw it so it doesn’t make it anywhere on this list). Ty Taylor from Rockstar INXS was part of the original cast recording. Very nice songs. Watched this from the Lodge section of RCBC with that annoying railing. Kinda diminished the experience a bit.

Enter Laughing (Repertory Philippines, William J. Shaw Theater) – Actually a dishonorable mention. Proof that great tragedy can come from mediocre comedy. Never saw that many people walk out in the middle of a performance. Wanted to just exit snoring. The play was sooo bad that I can still remember wanting to leave the theater to this day.