Book: Song of Spider-Man

"Song of Spider-Man"

As one can imagine, writing a Broadway musical has its challenges. But it turns out there are challenges one can’t imagine when collaborating with two rock legends and a superstar director to stage the biggest, most expensive production in theater history.

Song of Spider-Man is playwright Glen Berger’s story of a theatrical dream–or nightmare–come true. Renowned director Julie Taymor picked Berger to cowrite the book for a $25 million Spider-Man musical. Together–along with U2’s Bono and Edge–they would shape a work that was technically daring and emotionally profound, with a story fueled by the hero’s quest for love–and the villains’ quest for revenge. Or at least, that’s what they’d hoped for.

But when charismatic producer Tony Adams died suddenly, the show began to lose its footing. Soon the budget was ballooning, financing was evaporating, and producers were jumping ship or getting demoted. And then came the injuries. And then came word-of-mouth about the show itself. What followed was a pageant of foul-ups, falling-outs, ever-more-harrowing mishaps, and a whole lot of malfunctioning spider legs. This “circus-rock-and-roll-drama,” with its $65 million price tag, had become more of a spectacle than its creators ever wished for. During the show’s unprecedented seven months of previews, the company’s struggles to reach opening night inspired breathless tabloid coverage and garnered international notoriety.

Through it all, Berger observed the chaos with his signature mix of big ambition and self-deprecating humor. Song of Spider-Man records the journey of this cast and crew as a hilarious memoir about friendship, collaboration, the foibles of hubris, and the power of art to remind us that we’re alive.

This book was highly-recommended by a friend, and after having read it–I can see why.

Glen Berger takes us on the journey Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark began–from the moment he stepped on as the musical’s co-writer. As the book’s blurb already mentioned, we bear witness to everything the musical goes through– But, ultimately, we become privy to all the heart that was poured into the project by all the people involved.

Living in the Philippines, everything I knew about the Spider-Man musical fiasco, I learned online; and thus, I had taken everything with a grain of salt. After all, a musical that had a high rate of injuries couldn’t have been allowed to continue as long as Turn Off The Dark did. Right? So it was eye-opening to see just how much the online news got right… and how little was exaggerated, at least, as told by the memoir’s author.

But what happened behind the scenes weren’t just a series of unfortunate events. What really draws you in, if you choose to read this memoir, is the love that can be found in the words that Berger writes. Even at his lowest point, Berger shows the love he had–maybe still has–for the project and all the people who were involved in it.

What pushes you to read page after page is how much humor Berger puts into every paragraph, every chapter, even as the world they are building within the narrative is collapsing. It’s like that comic strip of the dog in a burning house. The one that doesn’t do anything, until the last box where he says “this is fine.”

The book recounts the events of a train wreck–and makes you like reading about it.

But what the book ultimately sells isn’t the insider story of how a promising musical became a spectacular failure; but rather how, against all odds, we will still risk everything for a shot at brilliance. At success. At an art that straddles the fine line between profitability and meaning. And the lesson that not everyone will make it, but it doesn’t mean we stop trying. Even when we fail over and over again.

The Song of Spider-Man is a must read for everyone who ever dreamed. The behind-the-scenes shenanigans and gossip that the book makes known to its readers are just icing on the cake.

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Book: Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies

"Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies"

Michael Ausiello thought he knew every story line in the world–after all, he had a successful career as one of the most respected reporters in the world of television. But no sitcom, drama, or soap opera could have prepared him for the story line his own life was about to take. His partner for thirteen years, Kit Cowan, was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of neuroendocrine cancer, and although Kit and Michael did their best to combat the deadly disease for eleven months, Kit eventually succumbed.

In this moving and darkly hilarious memoir, Michael tells the story of his harrowing and challenging final year with Kit while revisiting the many memories that preceded it, and describes how their undeniably powerful bond carried them through all manner of difficulties–with humor always front and center in their relationship. From road trips to romantic getaways, from work-related junkets to anxiety-ridden doctors’ visits, from spectacular collections of Smurf figurines to lots and lots of Diet Coke, Michael and Kit’s story will make you cry with laughter while breaking your heart at the same time.

A truly unforgettable reading experience, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies is an inspiring and beautiful tale not of sadness and loss but of the resilience and strength of true love.

It’s truly a testament to the brilliance of an author’s writing when his publisher is willing to give away a book’s ending with the title. And it’s a testament to Ausiello’s love for his husband that you don’t want the book to end, because you don’t want anyone to die.

I don’t know if I’m considered a fan of Ausiello. I have, ever since I became connected to the Internet, followed his career from TVGuide.com to Entertainment Weekly, and then to TVLine–which is my go-to website for anything happening on American television. So when I found out that he had a book coming out, I put in a special order at my bookstore so I could obtain a copy.

As soon as I received the book, I tore into it. I let myself get absorbed to Ausiello’s life with Kit. But something curious happened while I was reading the book.

I kept forcing myself to put the book down.

The first time it happened was when I finished the fifth chapter. I could feel tears welling up as I thought to myself, “well, Kit isn’t going to die if I stop reading now.” He could live for another day, I thought to myself as I put the book down.

But I couldn’t stay away. Ausiello’s writing is like a magnet. It just draws you in.

The next day, it happened again. A part of me wanted to continue reading, and another part wanted me to stop. Inside my brain, a miniature version of myself was trying to fool me into thinking that Kit won’t die if I don’t finish the book. He can live for another day more.

This went on for a few more days. Until I ran out of chapters. And by then, I was already beginning to feel a bit of closure. I had already accepted the illness. The eventuality of death. And then I made a realization.

Ausiello had given his husband the best gift for someone who was gone too soon. He gave Kit the opportunity to live for another day. And another day. He gave Kit the chance to do what he does–becoming a part of other people’s lives. Helping them. Inspiring them. He lived for them.

I am grateful to Ausiello for opening up this side of his life for other people to see. It couldn’t have been easy to present the realities of their life, warts and all, but it made their journey all the more inspiring.

Happy endings are never not bumpy. And sometimes the ending comes before the happy. And we live on.

Thank you, Kit, for the life you lead. And thank you, Michael Ausiello, for sharing your love with everyone.

Book: Fresh Off the Boat

"Fresh Off The Boat"

Assimilating ain’t easy. Eddie Huang was raised by a wild family of FOB (‘fresh off the boat’) immigrants–his father a cocksure restaurateur with a dark past back in Taiwan, his mother a fierce protector and constant threat. This is the story of a Chinese-American kid in a could-be-anywhere cul-de-sac blazing his way through America’s deviant subcultures, trying to find himself, ten thousand miles from his legacy and anchored only by his conflicted love for his family and his passion for food. Funny, moving, and stylistically inventive, Fresh Off the Boat is more than a radical re-imagining of the immigrant memoir–it’s the exhilarating story of every American outsider who finds his destiny in the margins.

Confession: I picked Fresh Off the Boat up because I am loving the ABC family-friendly version of the book that’s currently airing on television.

I had never actually seen the book before, and only found out about its existence after all the hoopla surrounding the TV show prior to airing. And even then, I couldn’t find a copy of the book. I had to have a copy transferred from one branch of my favorite bookstore to the one I always frequent–just so I could read it. I’m not a fan of e-book reading. Hence the trouble of acquiring a copy. You can buy the book off Amazon or other e-book sellers for way cheaper. And buy it, you should. Because the book is an unapologetic look at what it’s like to grow up as something that a majority of the population around you isn’t: a different race.

One of the reasons why I loved the series Fresh Off the Boat was the fact that I could relate to what TV Eddie’s family was going through. The family may be Chinese, and most of what they’re doing are very Chinese, but the story they’re telling is universal for all minorities: we just want to be treated normally regardless of the size of our eyes, or the color of our skin. Sure, I’m Chinese too, but if you read the comments online from the show’s viewers, you can see that the love isn’t coming from just Asian viewers.

The book isn’t that.

Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat is universal in which you can understand what he’s going through not because he’s Chinese–but because he’s different. Different. He doesn’t stand out, he sticks out. And that is something not just immigrants can relate to. Sure, Eddie had a different upbringing, he had a different set of culture and tradition to explore growing up, but at the end of each chapter–Eddie is a human being who makes mistakes, who gets wronged, who learns. You know who else does that? Everyone else.

While Eddie’s internal struggles can speak to everyone though, his external ones can be alienating. This is where race comes in: how his parents show love, how he is treated by his peers, and everything else. This colors who Eddie becomes more than his DNA. He is a “yellow man” because this is how he is perceived, and because this is what people want him to be. But Eddie isn’t just a “yellow man.”

In the series, the character of Eddie’s mom is frustrated at Eddie for wanting to embrace American culture because he likes hip hop music and baggy jeans. He gets called out for wanting to be like everyone else. That isn’t the Eddie we meet in the book. Eddie is proud of his culture. Hip hop isn’t his way of embracing America, but a way to relate to what is happening to him in America. And the Jessica Huang we meet in the book is far from being the lovable stickler that the television series is painting her to be.

Confession #2: After reading the book, I did find myself comparing the television series to the source material. And I agree with author Eddie Huang’s assessment that the show lacks teeth and is a watered down version of the experiences Eddie had. But, at the same time, I don’t think half of the show’s viewers now would enjoy watching the book’s stories brought to life. It’s too real. And it’s too specific.

The show is about an Asian-American family who is trying to stay afloat in a land where the line between standing out and sticking out is always in favor of the “white.” The book is about Eddie. Chinese-American Eddie. As it should be. It’s his memoir. But while I felt for Eddie while reading his memoir, I couldn’t relate to many of the things he was going through. Eddie’s life isn’t a television show that can be resolved with a lesson at the end of each day. It’s his life. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, and it is what life should be. But it is not my life.

As Dong from the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt once said, “your experiences are not universal.” And it’s not just true for the white man. It’s true for all of us.

But we learn through what other people have gone through.

The book is different from the television series I am currently enjoying, and that is perfectly fine. Because the television is bringing new people, more people, to Eddie’s world. Hopefully, like me, they would want to know more too. And then they’ll see, just like me, that the book Eddie Huang wrote about his life is just as entertaining as the television series derived from it. And that it is sharing a more important story, if not as universal.

Book: Wickedmouth Unang Putok

"Wickedmouth: Unang Putok"

If I were to translate the title, I’d call it: Wicked Mouth, the First Bang. Why not explosion? Because, for some reason, I don’t think the author was referring to an explosive entrance when he thought of the title. Although, if you color that green….

Wickedmouth, the book, is basically a collection of recollections by an author whose mind is seeped in sexual innuendos…and blatant sexual thoughts. If there’s a book I would compare it to, it would be the very first Bob Ong book: ABNKKBSNPLAKo. Except with an R-18 tag, instead of the PG-13 that Bob Ong would’ve gotten.

Actually, the book comes with a parental advisory for explicit content.

A little warning if you do decide to buy this book. The humor gets some getting used to. Wickedmouth isn’t your typical funny “memoir.” It’s mean, it’s green, and it’s unapologetic. If you can’t find the fun in other people’s misfortunes, this book might not be for you.

I think I’m secure enough with my moral compass that I can admit finding most of the book funny. Because, it is. In a dark way. The book’s voice is basically that secret voice you use with your closest friends when you talk about someone you don’t like–or someone you’re very close with that you’ve become very comfortable with playfully bashing each other.

I wouldn’t want to be friends with the author though.

Wickedmouth is available in local bookstores. I found (and bought) my copy from National Bookstore.

Television: Kabang, the hero dog, gets spotlight on ‘Magpakailanman’

"Kabang: Hero Dog"

Dogs are known to be man’s best friend. But in this one instance, this particular dog became a man’s saving grace.

But Kabang’s story begins earlier than that. Earlier than his inception, actually. Because his story begins with Mang Rudy Bunggal. A simple man with a simple dream: he wanted to be a soldier. But because of the political climate, his mother forbade him to do so. And to ensure that he doesn’t go to camp without her consent, she tore up his birth certificate.

Hurting, Rudy decided to run away to find himself sans his dream.

In his journey, he ended up in Malaysia where he started a family. But his stay in the country was illegal. Against his wishes, he was separated from his family and deported back to the Philippines.

Rudy was forlorn. Nothing in his life was going right. And so he took to alcohol. It was during this time that he met a new family–one that will show him what he needed in his life: to find his mother again. To make amends. To move on.

But how can he do so when he can no longer find his way back?

Rudy decided to just be a good provider for his new found family. And it was during this time that he found Kabang.

A small pup, all Rudy saw in the dog was that it can grow up to become a delicious side dish for when he’s drinking with friends. But Dina, his pseudo-adopted daughter takes to the dog. The two become inseparable, and Rudy can’t find it in himself to take the dog away from her.

And so the two became close. Dina and Kabang. To see one would be to see the other. And it turned out to be a good thing. Because one fateful day, a motorcycle who had to swerve to avoid collision found itself on another collision course–with Dina! Kabang acted fast and used herself to block the motorcycle’s path. Dina was saved.

But Kabang lost the top half of his snout.

This would’ve been the end of Kabang’s story, but when the news broke out about the heroic deeds of this dog, Kabang became a celebrity. Help poured in. Kabang was given a second chance at life.

Kabang was sent to the US, and Rudy became a staple on the news.

One of the features on his life reached a shelter in a nearby province. An old woman has heard his name being said on television, and wondered–if this is the same Rudy she has been looking for decades.

A nurse makes contact with the foundation that has been helping Rudy and Kabang. Rudy finds out the name of the woman looking for him.

It’s his mother. The one he tried to find. The one he tried to go back to.

She has found him, because of Kabang.

But as time ticks down for Kabang, it does so as well for Rudy’s mother. Will Kabang’s spirit and courage lend itself to Rudy as he finds himself face to face with the woman who’s been missing in his life for decades?

Find out tonight on Magpakailanman; featuring Ricky Davao, Jillian Ward, and Snooky Serna in an episode written by Glaiza Ramirez, based on the research of Jonathan Cruz, and directed by Dick Lindayag.

Magpakailanman airs Saturday nights, after Vampire ang Daddy Ko.

Television: A loyal wife becomes an HIV carrier this Saturday on ‘Magpakailanman’

Magpakailanman: May AIDS ang Asawa Ko

Human immunodeficiency virus, more commonly known as HIV, is a disease that’s primarily transmitted via unprotected sexual intercourse. The more sexual partners you acquire, the greater risk you take on at being infected.

But what do you do when you’ve only been with one partner your whole life and you find out that you are HIV positive?

This is the story of Melissa Fernando, not her real name, who is happily married to a seaman who swore loyalty to her on their wedding day. After dealing with a dragon of an ex-wife, and the normal paranoia of second wives, the two thought they were finally living a fairy tale life.

Until Melissa is summoned to fetch her husband early from his work. And she finds out that he’s gravely ill. Test results baffle the doctors on what could be wrong with Melissa’s husband–until one of them suggests he be tested for HIV, and he comes out positive.

Melissa’s life is crushed. And just when things couldn’t possibly get worse, she finds out that she’s positive too. Thinking that maybe the ex-wife was the source of the disease, Melissa confronts the woman only to be confronted by the truth that her fairy tale marriage was a sham. The ex-wife came out negative. Her husband contracted the disease after he wed Melissa.

And worst of all, Melissa’s son starts showing symptoms of having the HIV disease.

This Saturday, find out what lengths a mother would go for the safety of her son, for an assured future that she might not even witness. Together with host Mel Tiangco, Magpakailanman hopes to debunk the misconceptions about HIV and to explore the life of an HIV survivor.

Featuring the stellar Jennylyn Mercado, together with Mark Herras, Gwen Zamora, Kathleen Hermosa, and Bing Davao, Magpakailanman presents “May AIDS ang Asawa Ko,” a cautionary tale about the dangers of affairs and the truths about HIV; directed by Laurice Guillen, with a script by Senedy Que, based on the research of Jonathan Cruz.

Television: A dad becomes both parents in tonight’s ‘Magpakailanman’

"Magpakailanman: Ronaldo Niangar"

He was a ne’er-do-well who wanted life to be easy. That is, until he met the woman who forced him on the straight and narrow.

Ronaldo Niangar knows that he didn’t lead a good and honest life. Which is why it was particularly difficult for him to court the woman he wanted to marry. She wanted him to change, and he did too–except to change is easier said than done.

But life has a way of forcing us to be good. Ronaldo’s time came when his youngest daughter fell with an illness that placed her in a comatose state.

His wife decided that to make ends meet, she would have to apply as a domestic helper abroad. Ronaldo wanted to stop her, but couldn’t. And then she proceeded to disappear from his life, and his children’s lives.

His youngest daughter wakes up from a coma, but something’s changed. Her illness had allowed for cerebral palsy to develop, and the girl is now vegetative in state, even though she is no longer in a coma.

As responsibilities pile up on Ronaldo, how long can he hold out before he returns to his old ways? How can someone who only wanted an easy life suffer this kind of life?

Find out tonight, on Magpakailanman, in Flowers of Hope: The Ronaldo Niangar Story, featuring Mr. Ogie Alcasid in the starring role. Joining him in the episode are Manilyn Reynes, Lexi Fernandez, Eva Darren, Spanky Manikan, and Mona Louise Rey. The episode also features the special appearances of Protege winners Jeric Gonzales and Thea Tolentino.

Flowers of Hope: The Ronaldo Niangar Story is written by Mary Rose Colindres, based on the research of Gel Launo. The episode was directed by Dondon Santos.