Theater: F(r)iction, A New Musical

"F(r)iction"

“It’s the stories we believe that make us who we are”. Life is full of twists and turns, dead ends and blank spaces. “Friction: A New Musical” follows the journey of a brilliant upcoming writer who finds help from a stranger that challenges his whole concept of reality.

It’s never easy giving birth to new material, and it’s never easy to hear what other people have to say about your work when they see it. Which is why I want to commend the creative minds behind Friction for venturing out with a new musical after the diamond-in-the-rough production of Toilet, the Musical.

Unlike Toilet, Friction knows and celebrates its limits. And, most importantly for me, it doesn’t feel overcrowded. Not with just three actors on stage.

Red Concepcion is serviceable in the lead role. He takes on his character with gusto, but I felt certain hesitations in scenes where I needed to see him more vulnerable. Gabriella Pangilinan, as the girlfriend, is a little better. In the entirety of the first act, I felt for her, and I empathized with her. And then we get to the second act. As she confronts the lead character, we see her pull back a little. I didn’t feel the rage that I was expecting her to feel, nor the despair at her realization of what was going on.

The one actor I can’t say anything bad about is Fred Lo. I liked how he gave two distinct voices to the two character he plays. There is strength in the way he voices the psychiatrist that’s supposed to help our lead character write, and there is a palpable uncertainty in the way he voices the stranger. I don’t know if it was a directorial decision, if so, good on director Toff de Venecia for having that sight because not every director would have an actor do that–not for any theater production with a short run like Friction.

And that brings me to the direction; Friction was staged at Saint Benilde’s black box theater–a small space that director de Venecia utilizes really well, along with the sparse furnishings. The entrances and exits of the actors tell as much of the story as the dialogue, and if there is one thing I would wish for this production, it’s just enough budget to allow for Gabriella’s wardrobe to reflect the passage of time that her movements are supposed to invoke.

Now, let’s talk about the story–

Friction feels like a study on how writers’ work. I don’t know if that was the intent, I didn’t ask, but it sure felt like one. Especially in the first act when we’re not entirely sure what the musical is about yet. Truth be told, the first act felt formulaic. You can see clearly where the story was going, and you can even draw comparisons to Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…Boom. I’m still on the fence if that’s a good thing. Friction just doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

Until the second act begins.

In case Friction gets staged again, I will refrain from spoiling what actually happens.

The second act takes a foreshadowed twist into a direction that is expectedly unexpected. Because it’s well plotted, the twist doesn’t feel out of the blue, but it definitely gives the musical new life wherein the audience is taken to the edge of their seats. You will want to know what happens next because everything is up in the air, because nothing is safe, because there are people involved who will get hurt… And, let’s admit it, for a story to be good, there has to be something that needs to be at risk somewhere–something that the characters and the audience are supposed to care about. And Friction delivers in how it wraps up its story.

I like how it ended. I don’t love it because the writers went the Nicholas Sparks route during the denouement… But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My dislike for the Nicholas Sparks way of dealing with problems is a personal preference. It works for most people. So I don’t hate it. Let’s settle with like. Especially since I don’t regret watching the musical, and I didn’t feel the need to tear it to pieces after watching.

Friction is a good musical. Solid and dependable. And a good follow-up to Toilet, the Musical, which I hope will still see the light of day in the future–with a better script.

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Theater: Toilet, the Musical

"Toilet, the Musical"

The play begins with the janitor finding graffiti on the bathroom wall. It seems that someone has had thoughts of taking their own life. The show then progresses to introduce the different characters, and one by one, their darkest secrets are revealed, but the identity of the bathroom vandal remains a mystery.

As final exams draw near, crazy things start to happen. More graffiti start to show up and just like that, our 8 characters are thrown into a swirling vortex of drama and insecurity, flushing them down into hopelessness and despair. And all of this happens in the unlikeliest place: the public toilet.

Toilet is an original musical that is being staged by Ateneo Blue Repertory, and watching it was figuratively a trippy journey to the past–and for my friends and I, a literal trip as well because it was being staged in the Ateneo Exhibit Hall–the home of our own staged original plays back in 2006.

But we’re not here to talk about the past. Or my friends and I. We’re here to discuss Toilet. And what went on in it. So here we go:

I think Toilet shows a lot of promise–it just doesn’t always deliver. Story-wise, the musical plays it safe with teen angst in a high school setting. Unfortunately, due to an overpopulation of characters, you can barely follow the story. In the first act, anyway. The second act is cleaner, and has a better handle on what the story is supposed to be about: suicide.

Yes, the synopsis says there’s a suicide. The janitor character begins the musical by saying that it’s a story that deals with an unexpected suicide. But watching the first act, it is never clear that suicide was even in the cards. And I blame it all on overpopulation.

Toilet has eight main characters. Eight. Most of them are underdeveloped stereotypes straining to break free of their mold. One of them successfully does so, the others don’t. And when your musical is about the unmasking of these stereotypes to show the real person underneath, and you fail to take these characters out of their formulas, then the musical sort of fails, right?

Fortunately for Toilet, the music (and the second act) saves it. The musical is not a failure. It just has a lot of stuff to work out. Maybe for when they decide to stage it again.

Before I continue, I would like to make a disclaimer. I’m an adult. I’ve been in a work force for almost eight years now, and most of the problems raised in Toilet are stuff I never had to face because my high school was… Well, I studied in a Chinese school. When something offends us, we look away. So that’s probably one reason why I can’t relate to the sexually-active students of Toilet.

Most of the student feedback I’ve seen online are positive. So I guess the generation now can relate better to the material. But I believe in grounding. This is a term my friend used when we were discussing the musical after watching it. Grounding–making things real, or making it feel real for the audience. Wicked does this wonderfully. So does Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal. And those are musicals based on fantastical universes. What grounded them was the fact that they had heart.

Toilet needs to find its heart.

And the time to workshop the whole musical before they stage it again.

Because, really, when you watch the musical, you will see the potential. You will see that there is a gem underneath the overpopulated stage. And I’m not just saying this because Ateneo Blue Repertory gambled with an original production, although I really want to congratulate them on doing so.

Toilet is a diamond that’s yet to be mined. I hope more people watch it so Ateneo Blue Repertory will risk staging it again. With revisions, of course. You, of course, are encouraged to make your own mind up–so catch the production at the Ateneo Exhibit Hall weekends until March 1.

Theater: Rak of Aegis

"Rak of Aegis"

A rock comedy musical using the songs of Aegis will tackle Filipino resilience, or how the country faces and resolves compromising situations, whether this be a natural disaster or a broken heart. S et in a subdivision that has been flooded for two months, “Rock of Aegis” will revolve around the love interests of the main characters, whose names are derived from those of Aegis band members as a tribute to the Filipino novelty rock group that made waves in the 90’s.

If I can only say one thing about Rak of Aegis, it is this: it’s entertaining. But this is a blog and I have to expound, so I’ll say this instead:

Rak of Aegis takes your expectations, smashes it, and then sings vocal acrobatics while dancing on top of your smashed expectations. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing… You will have to watch it yourself to decide. For me though… It’s definitely not one of the better Filipino musicals in existence.

Wait. What? Yes, Rak of Aegis is not a perfect musical. Story-wise, it’s a bit of a mess. There are four story lines with no clear focus of which is the most important…until they tie it all up in the end. That’s when you realize that the most important character in the musical is the one thing you don’t really pay attention to–except for the spectacle it presents.

And this is a shame. I actually think any one of the four stories could have been made the main arc–while letting the other three flourish as subplots that become a surprise part of the main thread all along in the end.

Rak of Aegis also does a disservice to its wonderful cast of actors, all of whom bring their A-game in the performances, because its story lacks focus from beginning…up until the beginning of the second arc.

No one leads the musical. You don’t have a Marc Cohen. You don’t have an Elphaba… or a G(a)linda. You don’t have a Zsazsa Zaturnnah. Heck, you don’t even have a Maxie. The musical doesn’t know if it’s going to be a love story for the younger cast, or a love story for the older ones; It doesn’t know if it’s a call to action (it does become that in the end), or a family story.

The good thing is, although the story is confused, the music is definitely not. Rak of Aegis is unapologetic in its use of their source material: the Aegis songs. They mix and match verses from different songs, giving new life to the raucious videoke staples. And you’ll even be pleasantly surprised at how they rearranged some of the songs to make them into a heart-wrenching, if gut-busting, ballads about losing the one you love.

And then there’s the ensemble. They’re the most hardworking bunch of people in this production, I’m sure… Well, behind the set managers and their props people. It is to them that I credit how infectious the joy of Rak of Aegis is. They’re unwavering energy, on top of their larger-than-life presence (while portraying different characters) are a hoot to watch.

I maintain my stance that Rak of Aegis could still use some edits on the way its story unfolds, but I am sure of one thing: this musical will follow the footsteps of Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal in inspiring a new cult…following.

Rak of Aegis continues its run at the PETA Theater until March 9, 2014.

Theater: Wicked in Manila

"Wicked"

A decade after it made its Broadway debut, Wicked finally came to the Philippines! And there was no way my friends and I weren’t going to watch it.

Wicked is the story of two girls who went to see the Wizard before Dorothy even came to Oz. It’s one of my favorite books for sentimental reasons… and those reasons are also why I love the musical. And why my friends and I have been looking forward for this musical to be staged here in the Philippines, so we can watch it together. And that’s also the reason (I’m using this word a lot) why I might have liked this production better than the one I watched in Singapore…although, if I’m not mistaken, it’s almost the same cast.

What I liked: how they utilized the smaller stage of CCP’s main theater, the light direction, the costumes–they made it work. And their Glinda was positively crazy.

What I didn’t like: nothing. Although, maybe because of certain expectations, I wasn’t very fond of Fiyero’s acting (or voice), nor was I pleased with the alterations in certain songs… like how this production’s Elphaba sung Defying Gravity.

I’m not going to write a lengthy reaction post to what I saw. Mostly because the experience is very much colored by the joy of watching it with friends. Emerald-colored glasses and all. But I would believe that everyone, and I mean everyone, would enjoy watching this musical while it’s still playing here in the Philippines.

So if you can find a ticket, buy the ticket. Watch and enjoy.

If you already have a ticket, and you already love the musical, then enjoy the show. Don’t set expectations, like I did.

And if you already have a ticket but have no idea what the show is going to be like…how is that even possible? But you’ll probably be the best audience, because this will seriously amaze you.

Get ready to see the Wizard.

Theater: Maxie The Musicale

"Maxie The Musicale"

Maxie behaves like a girl, wears clips in his hair and bangles on his wrists and even wears lipstick. He is teased by neighbors and former school friends. His sexuality is, however, fully accepted by his two brothers and by his father. One night he is accosted by two men who attempt to molest him, but is saved by the appearance of Victor. The story will revolve around the conflict between his love for the handsome young police officer and his family’s illegal livelihood. And will their friendship develop into a relationship?

I never really warmed to Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros. It was a good movie, I don’t deny it that. A lot of people liked it. It won awards, if I’m not mistaken. I remember it being a huge deal. Everyone was raving about it.

Fast forward to 2013, and people are doing the same thing for its musical adaptation: Maxie, the Musicale.

I didn’t come in with high expectations. How could I? I wasn’t a fan of the original material. So even with all the raves about the show, I was hesitant about it. And yet, I made sure to come in with an open mind.

I was ambivalent about the first part of the first act. It was crowded. It was loud. But it had its charms, I’ll give it that. I don’t know about the opening number establishing the milieu well, but it definitely underlined the high energy that the cast brings throughout the whole affair.

And it’s this high energy that I have a problem with the most.

You see, the material of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros is a little serious. There’s an inherent wonderment in the material, because of the lead character’s young age, that fits well within the bleak world set up in the movie. Maxie has a bubble world where nothing bad happens. And the musical tried to carry this throughout the whole musical with its upbeat music and danceable songs– which, I thought, did the content a disservice.

Maxie’s bubble world of rainbows and happiness clashed with the bleak set-up of the musical. The slums is populated with the petty and the corrupted, and this is supposed to make Maxie’s heart shine even more. But it doesn’t. Because aside from Maxie and friends, none of the other characters are even barely likeable.

It’s a musical of villains where Maxie and friends are horribly out of place. And it doesn’t help that what made the source material charming, the relationship between Maxie and his brothers, take a backseat to Maxie’s comic relief posse and the forced love story between him and police officer Victor.

Yes, the romance that is Maxie’s main story thread feels forced. And it’s entirely the musical’s fault. Because what made Maxie’s infatuation with Victor in the source material work was the fact that it was unrequited. Victor cared for Maxie, but Maxie saw more than just caring in the way Victor treated him. And that was supposed to be it. The musical, in giving Victor his own development arc, ruined that.

Instead of being the object of affection, Victor became a nuanced character that you can’t understand. Because by being developed to be worth Maxie’s affections, the musical only underlined his selfishness even more.

And what was with the teasing that there’s a possible Maxie-Victor end game? It was pandering at the audience. I have nothing against homosexual relationships, but is it right to tell the audience that a straight older man can be gay because he falls in love with a tween? Yes, tween. Maxie is twelve years old. Victor must be, at the very least, twenty-one. That’s a nine-year age gap that wouldn’t matter if Maxie wasn’t a minor.

Speaking of pandering; What was with the nonsensical shower scene featuring characters that only show up for that scene? The one with Victor, with Maxie in his room, was fine. It pushed the story. But the shower scene was gratuitous at best. And while the beauty pageant competition drew the most laughs in the second act, it only cemented the fact that the musical is very confused with what it wants to be–and with what it wants the audience to take away.

Maxie, the Musical is a roller coaster ride–and not in a good way. Because as it takes you up, the way down is only made clearer.

I still have a few things to say, but that seems to wrap up my reaction to the musical nicely. So I’ll just list down a few more notes:

One. Maxie’s dad overdid the vibrato. And he has too many solos for someone we don’t really care about. I mean I know we’re supposed to care about him. But because we focused too much on Maxie’s relationship with his friends and Victor, we don’t really see why we should care about Paco (Maxie’s dad).

Two. Maxie’s only female friend is a scene stealer. I loved every scene she was in.

Three. I love and applaud how the second act began. It was a nice way to get the story moving, while reminding the audience what happened in the overly long first act.

Four. Al Gatmaitan is heartbreaking–even with the limited material he’s given. With a musical this loud, I have to give props to his quiet delivery: the way he emphasizes his inner conflict with just a quiver in his line delivery, with the drag in his steps, the hesitation… Wow. This only makes me more sad that Maxie’s relationship with his brothers wasn’t put more to the front. Then again, I didn’t mind the fact that we didn’t see much of Jay Gonzaga. What we got was more than enough.

Five. The ending that never ends. If this hadn’t been a musical, the part where Maxie sees his dad being shot dead would’ve been the perfect end. But because it’s a happy musical that’s supposed to be positive, we get an ending that keeps going and going and going, just so we could go back to Maxie feeling okay. To Maxie being able to move on. To Maxie being extremely and annoyingly coy. To the musical pandering once more to the audience by teasing a possible Victor-Maxie end game that would’ve just been wrong on every level.

And, *mic drop.*

Theater: Disney’s Aladdin [Atlantis Productions]

Atlantis Productions' Aladdin

After the success of it’s productions of Disney’s BEAUTY & THE BEAST in 2005 and Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID last year, Atlantis Productions proudly announces that it has been handpicked by Disney Theatricals to stage the Asian premiere of it’s newest stage musical Disney’s ALADDIN.

Based on the much loved animated film, Disney’s Aladdin tells the story of a street-smart commoner whose whole life changes with one rub of a magic lamp. The brand new romantic musical adventure incorporates all the beloved songs from the film’s Oscar®-winning score and brings some of the movie’s most memorable characters to life. Jafar, Iago, the Sultan, the Genie and of course Aladdin and Jasmine come together to create a whole new world of magical musical theatre for the whole family.

Disney’s ALADDIN features music by eight time Oscar Award winner Alan Menken and Lyrics by Oscar Award winner Howard Ashman, Oscar Award winner Tim Rice, and Tony Award nominated lyricist Chad Beguelin (who also wrote the brand new book of the musical).” — (C) Atlantis Productions

Hey guys! If you have nothing to do on the night of December 8, that’s a Saturday, why not check out Atlantis Productions’ staging of Disney’s Aladdin?

Here’s a review from ABS-CBNNews.com;

Apparently, the songwriting team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman initially conceived “Aladdin” in the lines of the classic Bob Hope-Bing Crosby “on the road” movies but this was supposedly changed when Robin Williams signed up to voice the Genie. For the stage version, they brought the original concept back. As such, the musical is more of an old-fashioned cornball comedy with a merry band of musicians – Aladdin is the fourth member – who also acts as the narrators.

This new stage musical from Disney Theatricals brings to life a story we already know and love and gives it new life, with a different way of story-telling–and new music!

The musical will be staged at the Meralco Theater, which is located at Ortigas Avenue in Pasig City. And the ticket prices are as follows:
Php1,500.00 – Orchestra Center
Php1,350.00 – Orchestra Side
Php900.00 – Orchestra Side Obstructed
Php1,100.00 – Loge Center
Php1,000.00 – Loge Side
Php700.00 – Balcony Center
Php600.00 – Balcony Side
Php500.00 – Balcony Back

If you’re interested, contact Onay Sales through her mobile number: 0917.908.0565! Again, this is for the 8 p.m. staging on December 8!

Movie: I Do Bidoo Bidoo (Heto nAPO Sila!)

"I Do Bidoo Bidoo"

I couldn’t find a synopsis of the movie online, so just watch the trailer first:

Watched it? Did you like it? Or were you, at least, intrigued by the story–or even just the concept? I was.

I love APO, which is short for Apo Hiking Society, songs. I am familiar with writer-director Chris Martinez’s work, and so far I haven’t been disappointed with any of his films. And the film is co-produced by Unitel–which produced one of my favorite Filipino films–Crying Ladies. And I do I still need to mention that I like musicals?

So imagine my horror when midway through the movie, I realized that I wasn’t liking the film. At all. A couple more scenes later, and I was ready to walk out. (And, apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had the thought, as a couple did walk out in the middle of the movie.) The only thing that made me stay was the fact that it was made my Unitel. I was really hoping for an 11 o’clock save that would salvage the whole film. But nothing came. And the train wreck that was I Do Bidoo Bidoo sputtered to its end. It didn’t even crash and burn.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I measure how good a movie is by how much popcorn I consume. At the end of the movie, when the bucket is still full, that means I was so engrossed in the movie that I completely forgot about eating. A half-full bucket means I enjoyed it, but not enough to warrant my full attention. An empty bucket means the movie failed to hold my interest. So what does it say that twenty minutes into this film, and I’ve already consumed the entire bucket of popcorn I had with me.

During a lover’s quarrel, I found myself answering back to the screen in annoyance.

Somewhere after the middle of the film, I was already restructuring the movie in my mind. How could this have been better?

The sad thing is, I think they did pick the write songs for this jukebox musical. Unfortunately, they didn’t pick the right story. Nor did they get the right cast.

Well, save for Eugene Domingo.

Now, before you say I’m biased, take into account that I’ve seen Kimmy Dora 2. I am not riding from a Eugene Domingo high. In fact, whatever goodwill I had for her previous roles dissipated after seeing that movie. So I didn’t choose to watch this film because of Eugene. But after seeing the movie, I found myself saying that it was a good thing Miss Domingo was there, as she was the only saving grace the film had. The way she portrayed her character, and sung her songs, connected to the story at hand. She didn’t feel out of place in this musical world that Chris Martinez was trying to create.

I can’t say the same for the rest of the cast who looked like they were either making a music video, or performing on a concert stage.

Speaking of which, I absolutely disliked how the film chose to transition to songs. Especially the scene where Eugene’s character was being comforted by her friends. The scene started with them comforting her. Then cuts to a shot of the pots and pans. And then it pans down to Eugene and her two friends, in almost the same position, breaking out into a production number.

What? What the heck was the shot of the pots and pans for? Seriously?

And on the subject of useless set-ups;

What was the point of showing Zsazsa Padilla swimming with rose petals? Was there really a need to show Neil Coleta enjoying a night out on a bar full of Sam Concepcions? And why did the film have to set the opening at a traffic jam that only served to show Eugene at her cattiest? She’s catty for 90% of the film, it doesn’t really need establishing.

And I get symbolism. But Eugene’s character isn’t the one who is stuck in a predicament she has no control over.

I could go on and on about how much I disliked this film, but I don’t want to be the guy to tell people not to watch something–especially since this is a Filipino film, and I really want film studios to take more chances at making out of the box movies…

But, this movie was a terrible waste of my time. It was a messy mix of story lines thought up to connect beloved APO songs.

And, I really need to get this out of my chest: whichever graphic artist/special effects editor thought that a gigantic moon, not proportionate to its distance to Earth, would not go unnoticed should get fired. Stat.