Wasn’t “Noli Me Tangere” written more than a century ago?

I was dazed coming out of the CCP after catching Tanghalang Pilipino’s “Noli Me Tangere”. But what struck me is how much of the power of the musical came from how relevant the core content still is.

Don’t get me wrong. The musical is awesome! Shades of the dark setting and powerful pieces of “Les Miserables” and  “Jekyll & Hyde”, this is what Repertory Philippine’s Miong should’ve been. With music by Ryan Cayabyab and book by National Artist For Literature (DADAS) Bienvenido Lumbera, song, poetry and prose  come together under Audie Gemora’s direction to deliver a heavy-handed message.

I’ve never been a fan of Mark Bautista. His Crisostomo Ibarra was a powerful presence on stage. He should do more of these. All of the supporting characters had their moments. Cris Villonco‘s Maria Clara was not the typical helpless damsel in distress. Padre Damaso, Kapitan Tiago, and the supporting cast had their moments.
Don Tiburcio and Doña Victorina really reminded me of the Thenardiers from Les Miserables. But even though, they were very slapstick-ish. I felt that their pretentiousness have real life counterparts in the society pages.

The power of this play really comes from how powerful, and at times creepy, the production staged key scenes. Elias sung conversation with Ibarra is particularly dark and heavy with meaning. The mock revolution staged by Padre Salvi to frame Ibarra. These are moments that just have to be seen live!

We accuse ourselves of having really short memories. I really thought that applied to anything after the EDSA Revolution. Turns out we’ve been forgetting more often, and for much longer.

This wasn’t a light-hearted night at the theater. If you want a kick in the ass that just happens to be accompanied by powerful music and prose, this version of Noli Me Tangere is for you. Art can be though-provoking and disturbing. This one did both for me.

Paciencia y Fe!

I went into Atlantis Productions “In The Heights” blissfully ignorant of the play. I thought that it was just another West Side Story clone. I was wrong, dead wrong.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvVgm4imyj0&w=560&h=345]

Without giving much away, “In The Heights” has more in common with Rent than West Side. There was even a song that reminded me of that emotional hand grenade “Will I?” from Rent. It tells the stories of a community of Puerto Ricans trying to get by in New York. Usnavi operates a bodega trying to make ends meet. He takes care of his abuela (Grandmother) while trying to get the attention of the hot and sultry Vanessa, a hairdresser who’s perpetually behind with her rent. Across the street is the Rosario Taxi Service, run by Kevin and Camila, whose daughter Nina is coming home from college with a spot of bad news. Benny, an ambitious employee of the Rosarios, is trying to make his way and may get to rekindle his childhood crush towards Nina. (Incidentally, Benny is supposed to be BLACK. This will make the ethnic Romeo and Juliet storyline make sense. This was not clear during the performance)

The music is a catchy blend of rap, latin and salsa. The music is a joy to listen to. Nyoy Volante’s Usnavi was poignant and his background as a pop singer really helped with some of the numbers. Though the the faster and more frenetic raps sometimes got muffled to the point of losing clarity. It’s when he slows down and lowers the volume that his rhyme sets an emotional vibe. K-la, who plays Nina, is a revelation. She had a really sweet and vulnerable presence on stage. Calvin Millado was powerful as Kevin Rosario. You can feel him overtaken by grief in one pivotal scene.  Jackie Lou Blanco was a welcome addition to the cast. Haven’t seen her in a long time. I gotta hand it to Atlantis. It’s really a nice touch that they’re bringing back long missed personalities like what they did with Noel Trinidad in Xanadu.

I usually get the emotional impact of a musical with the power of the finale. It took some time to sink in. I looked up the video on youtube (which came with lyrics). Lin Manuel is a genius. I just had to include his incredible acceptance speech when “In The Heights” won for best musical.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eI6icWf6CB8&w=420&h=315]

I think there are a lot of parallels between the Puerto Rican and the Filipino culture. This play will resonate with the Manila audience because of the underlying themes of family bonds, traditional values and the struggle to stick together in hard times.

In the end, “In The Heights” is about change, about failure, about moving on and staying put. And with paciencia y fe, to just find paradise where we are with what we have.

“In The Heights” runs at the RCBC plaza until September. Do visit www.atlantisproductions.com for showdates and times.

Nothing’s nothing! (or what I enjoyed about “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank”)

“Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” is an award winning indie-mockumentary following the production of an indie documentary “Walang Wala”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqDG_P96Rb0&w=420&h=345]

Let me get this out of the way: It’s one of the best Filipino movies I’ve ever seen. One of the Filipino movies I really enjoyed was “Juan Tamad” with Eric Quizon and Leo Martinez a long time ago. It was brilliant in its day satirizing Philippine politics. “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank”  does for the local film industry what “Juan Tamad” did for Philippine Politics.

It hits everyone! From pretentious filmmakers, to pretentious graphic designers (Hey, even I could make that winning poster design!), to pretentious diva-ish stars. The movie pokes fun at everyone in the film industry. Even the process of indie film-making is not spared. Eugene Domingo does such an awesome self-deprecating job at portraying… ummmm… well… Eugene Domingo. That expression on her face during the last scene is priceless!

They say the best way to criticize is to make your point through humor. “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank” does this on so many levels. From absurdly slapstick to intelligently sarcastic. Laugh a minute in so many ways.

Highly recommended! Please do watch this in the cinemas. Philippine Cinema needs your support to justify making movies like this!


The Cat in The Hat, Horton, Mayzie, Gertrude, The Sour Kangaroo and Whoville… LIVE!

The last time I was so looking forward to a local staging of a play was when Repertory Philippines did “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” I was so addicted to the cast recording that it was on loop ad infinitum in the car. (and I could sing a lot of the songs from memory)

This time, the subject of such anticipation was Flaherty and Ahren’s “Seussical” – a musical mishmash of the books of Dr. Seuss. The duo also did the book and music of “Once On This Island”. I loved the carribean vibe of this play. Loved it so much that watching the Rep production back in the 1990’s was one of the best ever nights I’ve had in a theater. The Seussical cast recording has the catchy tunes and the brilliant book of “Once…”. Combine this with the lyrical rhyme of Dr. Seuss and you get a gem of a musical.

With expectations through the roof, I dragged some friends to the preview of Seussical.

Repertory Philippines’ production of Seussical is typical Rep. The production design, sets, costumes are a feast for the eyes. The productions seen on YouTube are PEDESTRIAN compared to what’s on stage. Slow Claps for the way they pulled off the clover field and Gertrude’s tail!

The Rep children’s theater has been known for giving new theater actors stage time to earn their acting legs. It was nice to note that Seussical has its share of theater vets headed by Bituin Escalante as the Sour Kangaroo. Veterans share the limelight with upcoming stars.

There were some technical quibbles with the sound. A shame, really. Ahren’s and Flaherty’s book is a such a joy to listen to. This ended up garbled and muffled from where we ended up sitting. This somewhat brought down the enjoyment of the play. I just hope that they fix this before the actual run.

I wasn’t content seeing (or hearing) it this way. I will watch this again during the regular run.

One last thing, this is actually Seussical Jr. (aka Seussical for Younger Audiences), it’s Seussical without some of the more adult themes cut out. For those who have listened to the cast recording, the parts (and songs performed) where Jojo gets “drafted” into military school have been omitted. Still a minor quibble.

Repertory Philippines’ production captures the magic of Dr. Seuss. I dare anyone to listen to this and NOT break out into “Aaaawwww”s when the line “And I found your clover toooooo….” is sung.

Highly recommended for people who are in touch with their inner child. And even MORE highly recommended for people who desperately NEED to get in touch with their inner child, (You know who you are!)

“Seussical” runs until December 18 at OnStage Greenbelt 1. Check out  www.repertory.ph or call (632) 571-6926 or 571-4941 for showdates and times.