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

9Works Theatrical’s A Christmas Carol 2016

MANILA — The story of Ebenezer Scrooge has been staged countless times by local theater companies. And why not? It’s a timeless story that’s perfect for the Christmas season.

Yet jaded theater fans would probably say “Bah Humbug” to yet another version of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” with anticipation of “same-old corniness” of this story of Yuletide redemption.

9Works Theatrical and Globe Live’s dark and magical production of Lynn Ahrens’ and Alan Menken’s “A Christmas Carol” quashes these expectations with a light and sound spectacle seemingly made for modern audiences.

At its core, “A Christmas Carol,” which opens Saturday, is really a ghost story set in the London slums during the Industrial Revolution. While this is still a family-oriented musical, 9Works Theatrical dared to bring this dank setting to the Globe Iconic Store stage.

This version of “A Christmas Carol” has the beats of a Disney movie. I thought that the music was very similar to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” particularly during the dark parts. The music was given justice by the 22-piece 9Works Philharmonic Orchestra and guest choirs that will be appearing throughout the run.

What first struck me entering the venue was how the massive the set was. The set was three floors high and had islands and bridges that extended into the audience. I think that it would be better to pick a seat at the back to fully see what is going on. This became more evident as the play progressed as so many things were happening on stage that it was pretty hard to look back and forth and take everything in.

Miguel Faustman, himself a veteran of various versions of “A Christmas Carol,” plays the miser Ebenezer Scrooge. The character fits him like a glove. This time, though, there is a menacing quality to his Scrooge.

“Miss Saigon” and “American Idiot” veteran Ariel Reonal plays Scrooge’s doomed partner Jacob Marley. The first appearance of the character is scary and sets the tone for the rest of the ghosts.

Norby David’s Ghost of Christmas Past was playful and lithe, bringing Scrooge back to happier times and showing his eventual descent into a miserable human being.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, ably played by Franz Imperial, brought Scrooge to the present, showing how yuletide joy could be found despite the dark setting. This is where I thought the production dragged on a bit due to extended dance numbers and borderline bawdy set pieces.

And then there’s Ela Lisondra’s Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come, a silent graceful harbinger of the fires of damnation. Don’t blink during this sequence as things happen very quickly.

It’s rare to rave about the special effects in a local theater production but 9 Works Theatrical was not shy about showing off their technical mastery. From little touches like changing window colors to denote multiple timelines to terror inducing phantasms, digital projection, sound design and lights come together to repackage an old story into a spectacle today’s audience can appreciate.

A surprise on Christmas morning on stage with the cast singing the last song makes for one of the most joyful finales I have ever seen on a local stage.

It would’ve been easy to make this another corny production yet this was a grand ensemble play with so many movie parts. 9Works Theatrical and Globe Live have elevated “A Christmas Carol” into a magical, big-budget, light and sound musical spectacle.

Yet with all its shiny trimmings, “A Christmas Carol” doesn’t lose its heart.

“A Christmas Carol” opens Saturday and runs weekends at the Globe Iconic Store in Bonifacio High Street Central until December 25.

NOTE: This was originally published as http://news.abs-cbn.com/life/12/03/16/review-a-christmas-carol-is-haunting-yet-spectacular

Blue Man Group at Solaire

MANILA — When you get into your seat, look up! The laughs start even before the show starts with irreverent announcements discouraging texting, drone-flying, plerking, and cob-wobbling (whatever that means) that escalates quickly at the expense of several hapless audience members.

Then the show begins in earnest with the acclaimed Blue Man Group.

Founded in 1991, this multi-awarded part-performance art, part-science lecture, part-rock concert, and part-improv act hits Philippine shores for the first time, opening at The Theater of Solaria Resort and Casino on Thursday.

The onstage shenanigans of these three silent blue painted men will amaze, tickle and, at times, gross out. Nothing is spared in the insanity as liters of paint, mashed bananas, marshmallows, Twinkies, Jello, fire extinguishers, tissue paper, deadpan voiceovers and lucky audience members are used to roll-in-the-aisles comedic effect.

The show serves up a kinetic feast for the senses where the transitions between scenes come at a frenetic pace. Day-Glo, pastels, and the iconic Blue Man Group wind pipe organs work with the technical whizbangery of lights, and gigantic moving transparent LED screens to make this show a spectacle of sound, and a symphony of sight. It is an absolute joy to watch this live just to feel the bass when the percussions kick in.

This polished production isn’t afraid to alternate between eardrum-splitting head banging sets and small intimate scenes that build up to its grand penultimate act that transforms the theater into a big playground that will make adults feel like kids again, leaving the venue into a delightfully beautiful mess.

This is one show that should not be missed for the laughs, the spectacle, the jaw-dropping sense of amazement, and for the zany blending of science, music, comedy and art.

The Blue Man Group is on a limited run at The Theater at Solaire until September 25.

NOTE: This article originally appeared as http://news.abs-cbn.com/life/09/16/16/review-blue-man-group-offers-feast-for-the-senses

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

Rep’s 76th Season Preview

My love of theater started with Repertory Philippines a good fifteen (or so years ago). It was with a little play called “Noises Off” which that old movie with Christopher Reeve, Carol Burnett, Mark-Lynn baker was based. An evening in the theater turned into a lifetime fascination with the stage.

Fifteen (or so) years later, Repertory Philippines is still one of the bastions of Philippine Theater ushering in its 76th season with an excellent selection of English straight plays and musicals. Marking it’s 45th year of bringing English theater to these shores, there’s something for everyone in the next season’s plays.

First up is Boeing Boeing to be directed by Miguel Faustman. This marks stage and screen veteran, Michael de Mesa’s first appearance in a Rep play. The story is about a man who uses flight timetables to meticulously manage the schedules of his girlfriends. His girlfriends are all flight attendants on different international airlines and routes thereby guaranteeing they will never run into each other. Flights get delayed, Flights get cancelled and chaos ensues…

No Way To Treat A Lady is a musical black comedy about two men with domineering mothers. One of the men is a serial killer who only kills women who look like his mother. All the victims will played by the same actress (who also plays his mom).  Audie Gemora, Michael Williams, Carla Guevarra, Pinky Marquez and Sheila Francisco are featured in this muscial.

Rounding out the regular season is the return of Cherie Gil to the Rep Stage. The Graduate, based on the movie that made Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft iconic

Repertory Children’s Theater, making the transition to Repertory Theater For Young Audiences will be bringing back Alice In Wonderland this season.

The major production for the 76th season will be Mel Brooks’ The Producers. The story of a broadway producer whose idea of raking in case is to produce the worst play ever performed in a theater. Things don’t go exactly according to plan.

A most entertaining RIVALRY

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

When I first heard that someone was producing a musical about the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry, I thought that the folks behind it were a little bonkers. And with that, wished them a whole lotta luck. The reason was that the other original Filipino musicals with English lyrics I’d gone to really didn’t leave an impression. They were great attempts but far from unqualified successes.

I was right, sort of. The people who’re behind RIVALRY: Ateneo-La Salle The Musical are bonkers. And I mean that in the BEST possible way. Who’d have thought that the La Salle-Ateneo basketball-centric (but not exclusive) cycle of one-upmanship could become a killer musical?

This is not just some cheapo production. RIVALRY has a huge ensemble composed of theater veterans whom regulars will instantly recognize. The whole cast fills up the stage at portions of the show. No mean feat as Meralco Theater has one of the widest stages among the performing venues in Manila.  Ed Gatchalian’s score, Joel Trinidad’s lyrics, and Jaime Del Mundo’s book and direction come together for a very entertaining night at the theater.

Set in the alternate-timeline of the 1968 NCAA basketball season (nb. I write “alternate-timeline” because La Salle and Ateneo did not meet in the NCAA finals in 1968.), the story revolves around the basketball shaped world of the Valencias and the Basilios. The Valencias representing the Ateneo. The Basilios, La Salle. Something seemed to happen a long way back to spark a bitter rivalry between the two patriarchs. A rivalry that’s been passed down to their sons. Paco, the star Blue Eagle and Tommy, the ace Green Archer. Quito, the younger Valencia, falls for a Maryknoller and asks his cousin, Tommy for advice on how to win the girl. As with stories like this, things get quite complicated.

The show had heaps of interesting moments: the ROTC number citing the Science/Math inclination of La Salle and the Liberal Arts specialty of the Ateneo,  pre-game locker room scenes that capture the war-like fanaticism of basketball, a hilarious song number by colegialas (Spanish accents! No Valley Girls!) about La Sallian Sallite boys, actors singing while doing burpees and push-ups, a musical tongue-in-cheek speculation on how the rivalry began (CHICKENS!) and some other scenes (which I will avoid raving about to keep this spoiler-free).

Oh yeah, La Sallites Sallians beware! We are the butt of the big jokes in this play. You’ve been warned!

The show isn’t without fault. I thought that the first act was a bit too long. Possibly because so many plot points had to be set up for the second act. I thought that the orchestration sometimes drowned out the vocals. But then, this was the same problem the last time I saw a play in this venue.

My highlight of the evening was getting to meet Noel Trinidad who I thought stole the show with his short cameo. Watch out for him when he shows up on stage! I made the effort to congratulate him after the show. I’ve been a fan of the Champoy duo ever since I was a kid (Yeah, looong time ago). It was fun geeking out about theater with people who’ve made the stage their lives. Yet another moment where I really regretted not having a camera.

Ed Gatchalian, the man behind the music, said that while the Philippines has one of the most the most talented pool of theater actors in the world, the local theater audience is not expanding as it should be. He cited the need for original content that the audience, not the writers, would like. The rambunctious La Salle-Ateneo rivalry is something that a lot of theater-goers would remember as either a rabid participant or an amused spectator. If this gets La Sallians and Ateneans to troop to into the seats and watch their FIRST theater production, this may pique their interest to catch others. The increase of theater-goers may then support the creation and production of original Filipino material.

I think that everybody will get something out of Rivalry.

For Archers and Eagles, it’s a story of why we should give credit to the other for ending up who we are, for better or worse. For Maroons, Tigers, Falcons, Bulldogs, Warriors, and Tamaraws, it’s your chance to laugh at the sheer spectacle (and sometimes ridiculousness) of it all.

Highly recommended. Support Philippine Theater!

RIVALRY: Ateneo-La Salle The Musical will be staged at the Meralco Theater from January 27-29, February 2 to 5,  February 9-12, February 15-19, February 22-26, February 29-March 4, and March 7-11.  Shows startsat 8pm on Wednesdays to Saturdays with 3pm matinee shows on weekends. Get your tickets at Ticketworld branches or from the Ticketworld Web Site or call 891-9999 for details

The obligatory rivalry joke:
(school names removed to protect the guilty)
A conversation between 2 students from [SCHOOL 3]
Student 1 : Isn’t your Dad from [SCHOOL 1]?
Student 2: Yeah.
Student 1 : And isn’t your Mom from [SCHOOL 2]?
Student 2: Uh-huh.
Student 1: So why are you here in [SCHOOL 3]?
Student 2: My Mom and Dad were at each other’s throats for for weeks trying to get me to enroll in their alma mater. Finally, during one of their really heated arguments. I had enough and just shouted at the both of them to just let me decide where I’d go for college.
Student 1: And?
Student 2: They didn’t take too kindly to me shouting at them. So they both told me to GO TO HELL! And that’s why I’m studying here in [SCHOOL 3]

Onstage in 2012

I haven’t been collecting as much info as I should regarding the theater scene this year. But from the little info I have, these are productions that will be making a dent in MY credit card bill this 2012.

  • You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown (9Works Theatrical) – After scoring a home run with Sweet Charity last year, this should be a fun a way to experience your second (or third, or fourth) childhood.. The songs are recognizable as commercial jingles and Sesame Street songs from ages ago.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gL-kWD8Gtdg&w=420&h=315]

  • Jekyll & Hyde (Repertory Philippines) – This is one of those cast recordings I’ve been playing for what seems like forever. The once overplayed “This Is The Moment” comes from this musical. Besides that, there are are other more powerful, darker and more interesting pieces in this show. I’m really curious how they will present the transformation scene where Jekyll turns into Hyde.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k23ztv7Qyhk&w=420&h=315]

  • Rock Of Ages (Atlantis) –  This promises to be a fun rock musical with the music of Starship, Journey, Twisted Sister, REO Speedwagon among others being used (and lyrics amusing mangled) to tell the tale of up-and-coming rocker Drew, the in-danger-of-being demolished rock club, the Bourbon and mega-ego rocker, Stacee Jax.  It’s interesting that the movie version of this with Tom Cruise will be showing this year too.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBI0DNn0g_c&w=560&h=315]

  • God Of Carnage (Atlantis) – Lea Salonga and Menchu Lauchengco-Laurel in one play sharing the same stage. ‘Nuff Said. This has a VERY limited run so expect tickets to disappear really quickly. The movie version of this play will also be showing next.
  • Forbidden Broadway (Upstart)a mishmash of broadway parodies making fun of Les Mis, Miss Saigon, Rent, Wicked and other hit shows. Though it might not be as enjoyable for those who aren’t familiar with the songs and the shows, the inside jokes and numerous winks will have theater regulars rolling in the aisles.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pa0pw6SIWtA&w=420&h=315]

  • Virgin Labfest 2012 (Tanghalang Pilipino)this annual collection of short plays performed at the CCP showcases the best of the best of Filipino playwrights. Check out the CCP website for featured shows and schedules when this comes around.
  • The Phantom Of The Opera (Concertus) –  The company that brought Cats and Stomp! to CCP will be bringing an Australian cast to stage Phantom in the CCP. I really want to watch this though I’m sure ticket prices will be through the roof. Not really happy about the acoustics of CCP from watching Cats. Expensive seats are a must to get full satisfaction from this. But if anything, Cats was a spectacle. Phantom, with the lavish sets and costumes will be even more so. If they use digital backdrops like they did with the 25th anniversary at Royal Albert Hall, this is really gonna blow the audience away!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGUSFVEvTio&w=560&h=315]

There will be returning shows from last year. Atlantis will be restaging Next To Normal and In The Heights. Defending the Caveman and Love, Loss and What I Wore will also be restaged for those who missed it last year (or those who want to see it again).

And Yes, I know there are other awesome productions this year. With my severely limited budget (‘specially after Phantom), I have to be really choosy stingy. 🙁 The list is also subject to change (we all have dreams of winning the lotto, right?)

Beyond The Barricade, Is There A World You Long To See?

It really wasn’t a good start to 2012. I was down in the dumps partly because of a really long recovery period from an injury. But really, my sad state was really because of a series of related questions that I couldn’t find any convincing answer to end 2011. The questions were “What are you passionate about?” “What makes you happy?” “What is it that will make you jump out of bed in the morning rarin’ to go?”

Two weekends into 2012, I found a copy of the 25th Anniversary of Les Miserables. The one that was performed at the O2 theater in London. Wasn’t really expecting much from it. Loaded up. Clicked play…

…and I found myself singing along to the entire musical. I found it astounding because I really couldn’t remember the last time I Iistened to the CDs. I first listened to this over two decades ago. I was instantly transported back to the first time I’ve ever heard the Les Miserables Cast Recording. I remember falling in love with the wit of the book and the power of the music. This was the cast recording that made me fall for the music of the theater and discover Sondheim, Bricusse, Lloyd Weber, diPietro and other lyricists and composers of the theater.

I remember trooping to Meralco Theater over two decades ago only to be told there were no tickets left.

I remember the confrontation duet where Valjean and Javert face off after Fantine’s death.

I remember RED AND BLACK!

I remember STARS!

I remember ONE MORE DAY!

I remember ON MY OWN and a very heated debate over who was the better Eponine: Lea Salonga or Kaho Shimada. (ME: Kaho Shimada because of the vulnerability she brought to the role. THEM: Lea Salonga for power and style)

I remember BRING HIM HOME! (Alfie Boe’s operatic interpretation was something else)

I remember that killer call to action FINALE.

The copy I got came with some great supplementary documentaries. Matt Lucas’ (Little Britain fame) road to playing Thenardier, a day in the life of Cameron Mackintosh as he closes down the production at the Barbican and oversees the 25th anniversary production, and a behind the scenes of the first run through of the anniversary performance.

The O2 performance was a concert just like the 10th anniversary celebration. They had clever ways of showing key scenes. I particularly liked the way they “built” the barricade in this performance. It was symbolic, high-tech and very dramatic. I will not spoil it for anyone planning to catch this.

Alfie Boe sang a really different interpretation of Valjean. An opera singer by trade, he had some operatic affectations that I sometimes found distracting. But after “Bring Him Home”, I was sold. It felt like “The Prayer” where the power of his voice….

Lea, as always, killed it with Fantine. I thought Samantha Barks, the girl who played, Eponine, had some missteps with some songs. Very pretty Eponine though. Nick Jonas (of the Jonas Brothers) was just okay as Marius. Nothing really spectacular. The guy who played Javert was also okay. But I felt he lacked  the power of the Javert in the cast recordings. I thought he was too easily overshadowed by Alfie Boe during the confrontation duet.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuJSDILBqdI&w=560&h=315]

I missed this when it was shown in the cinemas. Seeing the Phantom Of The Opera on the big screen in digital HD was a treat. Would have loved seeing this in larger than life HD. Would love it even more to finally see this live. (sigh). Ah well, one for the bucket list.

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.