Godspell 2017

MANILA — MusicArtes’s production of “Godspell” returns for a limited run.

First staged by MusicArtes last year, “Godspell” is a retelling of the Gospel with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwarz, the man behind “Wicked.” The first act is a collection of entertaining, sometimes irreverent, interpretations of the parables, while the second gives way to the passion of the Christ, from Jesus’s increasing clashes with the Pharisees, to the last supper and to His eventual death and resurrection.

The cast is a bit different from the first run but still a veritable who’s-who of Philippine theater. Lorenz Martinez replaces Red Concepcion, who is preparing to play The Engineer in the UK tour of “Miss Saigon.” Gab Pangilinan replaces Sheila Valderrama-Martinez and gets to sing the play’s iconic “Day by Day”. Multitalented actor-beatboxer and “Rak Of Aegis” musical director Myke Salomon capably replaces OJ Mariano juggling the role of John the Baptist and Judas.

An Anton Juan-directed play never fails to make its material relevant for modern times. During the performances of parables shunning greed and hate, the audience gets to see projections of fascism, human trafficking and US President Donald Trump in the background. This gave a looming dark side to this “Godspell” staging.

This production of “Godspell” is set in a slum area. At first glance, it’s easy to mistake the junk heaps for some sort of surreal aquarium because of its shimmering Day-Glo inspired lighting. The setting itself is clever as junk and trash are recycled to make spectacular props to make eye-popping scenes. The misery and ignorance often associated with slum dwellers are nowhere to be seen. Rather, slum dwellers wax philosophical about Socrates, Descartes and retell the parables in different ways.

Juan liberally scatters memorable moments throughout the production. There’s Jef Flores channeling the gentle Christ during the parable segments, Maronne Cruz’s transformation from a ukulele playing hippie to a rocker chick in mere minutes, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo’s indie Mary Magdalene, the “All For The Best” vaudeville two-man comedy act, the Japanese retelling of the Prodigal Son, Caisa Borromeo’s showgirls-inspired “Turn Back, O Man,” and the post-intermission reprise of “Learn Your Lessons Well” where the entire cast can be seen playing a musical instrument. These are just some of the bits that made me go “awwww” while I watched “Godspell.”

I thought that this production was a wonderful celebration of the Gospel. There is just so much joy in this production. And in the end, that is what worship is really all about.

“Godspell” runs until May 21 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium of the RCBC Plaza, Makati. Evening shows at 8 p.m. on May 12, 13, 19, and 20, with 3 p.m. matinees on May 14, and 21.

NOTE: This review originally appeared as http://news.abs-cbn.com/life/05/12/17/theater-review-godspell-returns-with-all-star-cast

La Soiree at Solaire

MANILA — “La Soiree” is French for “the party” — and what a party it is!

It started as a midnight cabaret 11 years ago and has since been performed in Paris, London, New York, Stockholm and other global centers of culture. “La Soiree” in Manila, which opened Wednesday, marks the first time the show has been staged in Asia.

The experience starts at the foyer of The Theater of Solaire Resorts and Casino. Half an hour before the house opens, the speakers blar big band marches, beckoning the audience into the theater.

Inside, the first thing the audience sees is the stage — a one-ring circular elevated platform taking up barely a third of the theater stage surrounded by the “Cabaret section,” crowned with a string of lights that change the room into the inside of a small circus tent.

The house lights dim and the ringmaster takes center stage encouraging the audience to partake of the “refreshments” at the foyer bar, mischievously proclaiming that La Soiree “is THAT kind of show.”

At its core, La Soiree is a circus — spectacles of sensational feats of strength and dexterity shaken and stirred with mischief and naughtiness. High-flying trapeze artists and gentlemen acrobats in bespoke suits flex their very well-defined muscles with hula hoops, roller skates, pogo sticks, jump ropes, and much more.

It is also an utterly hilarious show. The show’s cross-dressing clown, Legato Chocolat, sets the stage for the many laughs that follow. Early in the show, a comic contortionist comes in and shows what you can, or rather, should not do with a couple of old tennis rackets. There’s the roller-skating flamenco dancer who makes her own Spanish telenovela; and a bungling roller skater juggler whose talent lies elsewhere.

The humor of “La Soiree” has a wickedly naughty side. Forget double entendres! It has blunt, straight talk about sex and its many derivatives. Cusswords are let loose in spades. This is definitely not for the weak-hearted or the close-minded. In one act, a politically incorrect lothario concludes his overtly lascivious diabolo act, telling the audience, “You’re all pregnant!”

Another act will guarantee that you’ll never listen to “America, The Beautiful” the same way again after an insanely raunchy kazoo rendition corrupts the song for you forever.

Strip-trapeze artists just elevate the naughtiness to new heights. To its credit, “La Soiree” reins it in enough to still be quite tasteful and not stray into rated-R territory.

“La Soiree” is not always loudly in-your-face. In one of the show’s quiet moments, a bubble artist waxes poetic about the science and philosophy behind his soapy creations. This discourse is supplemented by a poignant piano piece that just lulls the audience into a meditative hush.

From “Nessun Dorma” to Madonna, the soundtrack accompanying the different acts is beautifully curated for the audience to fully immerse themselves into the world of “La Soiree.”

The show’s artistry is a joy to behold. For the creators to figure out how bathtub water can make an aerial rope performance sensual and spectacular, or how an iconic scene from “Singing in the Rain” can be reinterpreted into an adept pole dancing act, is just amazing.

Apart from some minor quibbles with the audio equipment (which will probably get fixed in the succeeding performances), this show is technically polished. Performers come and go almost without pause, seamlessly transitioning between acts.

During steamier portions of the show, the stage is transformed for a moment into a cigarette-filled nightclub with smoke everywhere and backlight illuminating what was a fully-clothed performer just a few minutes ago.

It is a joy to watch this. The best seats aren’t near the stage. The best seats in the house are in the Cabaret section ON the stage. Along with the best up-close and personal views of the performance, lucky(?) Cabaret audience members have a chance to be part of the acts.

“La Soiree” shows that there is spectacle in intimacy. It is a rare gem of a show that’s not just to be seen, but to be felt and to be experienced.

Creative producer Brett Haycock remarked: “La Soiree is a celebration of the weird and the wonderful. It is a celebration of differences and people who accept everyone.”

A celebration of our sometimes naughty, often weird, always wonderful differences.

NOTE: This article was originally published at http://news.abs-cbn.com/lifestyle/09/24/15/review-la-soiree-mixes-circus-adult-cabaret