Ela Lisondra: Swinging from London's 'Miss Saigon' to Manila's 'Christmas Carol'

In BGC, an open-air 'A Christmas Carol' starting tonight
Ela Lisondra: Swinging from London's 'Miss Saigon' to Manila's 'Christmas Carol'
Dec. 3, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Ela Lisondra.
Photo by Hugh Maynard
9 Works Theatrical's "A Christmas Carol"--the classic story of stingy Ebenezer Scrooge and how he changes for the better after being visited by three Christmas ghosts--opens tonight and runs until Dec. 25 at Globe Iconic Store, Bonifacio High Street Amphitheater, Bonifacio Global PCity (BGC), Taguig.

That's the same open-air space where 9 Works presented the punk-rock musical "American Idiot" as a live concert experience several months ago, in collaboration with Globe.

This version of "A Christmas Carol" features the music of Alan Menken ("Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Pocahontas," "Hercules," "Tangled") and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens ("Once on This Island," "Anastasia").

Playing the Ghost of Christmas Future is Ela Lisondra, who is marking her first Christmas back in the Philippines after eight years of performing in various productions around the world, most recently in "Miss Saigon" in London.

What is she most looking forward to this holiday season? "The hamonado," she says. "Kidding aside, it's being with my family."

"I missed the feeling of a strong family bond. Pinoys are very family-oriented. In other countries, Christmas is more of a celebration, a reason to get fat and to buy and give presents. For us, being in a big Catholic country, we don't forget the real reason behind the season."

Female swing
Miguel Fastuman as Scrooge
Lisondra was also part of "American Idiot." Before that, she spent the past two years playing Miss Everyone Else in "Miss Saigon"--that is, she was one of the production's two female swings, someone who takes the place of absentees.

She had to learn 10 female roles, Gigi's (the role originated by Isay Alvarez) ensemble bits, and even a few male roles. She had to be ready to do any one of them (or several) on any given show.

"Nobody understands how terrifying it is to get a few hours' notice that you'll be on for another role. You think to yourself, 'Shoot! What does she do again?'" she says.

"I had to remember that role's lines, harmony, costumes, props, hairstyle, entrances and exits, the quick [costume] changes and who the dresser was. Backstage, where do I sit? Onstage, who is my GI and where is my spotlight? What's my back story for this particular role?"

Boot camp
Note from Jon Jon Briones, who played The Engineer.
"It was really difficult in the beginning and the pressure was high." Once she'd gotten used to it, Lisondra made it fun for herself by ensuring she had different artistic choices and background stories for each of the roles. "That's what kept it challenging and exciting." 

With actors taking vacation leaves and getting injured or sick, swings are always on. She once covered five people in one show.

Prior to "Miss Saigon," she honed her chops as a performer in Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland in shows like "Mulan," "The Lion King" and "High School Musical: Live!" Lisondra says these experiences, plus the "Miss Saigon" boot camp of sorts, has only made her hungry for more.

"Being a late bloomer, I still need to learn and experience more theater. Being home in the Philippines gives me that opportunity. Performing in my home country feels good."

In "A Christmas Carol," she will be working with Miguel Faustmann as Scrooge, Raul Montesa as Bob Cratchit, Norby David as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Franz Imperial as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Rocco Buser and Dewayde Dizon as Tiny Tim.

Robbie Guevara directs, with Daniel Bartolome as musical director. Onyl Torres is assistant director, Daniel Bartolome is musical director. PJ Rebullida and Yek Barlongay, choreographers; Mio Infante, set designer; Martin Esteva, lighting designer; Ian Cartalaba, costume supervisor; Myrene Santos, hair and makeup designer; Jaime Godinez and Rards Corpus, sound designers; Chuck Ledesma, sound effects designer; GA Fallarme, video designer. 

Now that she's back, "I'm happy to break the chain of working on Christmas day," says Lisondra. "Wait, no, I'm working pala on Christmas this year!"

Tickets: 0917-554-5560, Ticketworld.com.ph. Details: Fb.com/9WorksTheatrical.

Inquirer.net link:


'Mula sa Buwan' is a heartbreaking indie-alternative Pinoy 'Cyrano de Bergerac' musical

'Mula sa Buwan' is a heartbreaking indie-alternative Pinoy 'Cyrano de Bergerac' musical 
'Mula sa Buwan': 'Cyrano de Bergerac' transposed to 'sarsuwela'-era PH
Nov. 25, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

KL Dizon as Roxanne, Nicco Manalo as Cyrano,
Edward Benosa as Christian.
Photo by Gerald Gloton. 
Does a boy with a big nose have a chance at love? Black Box Productions' staging of the musical "Mula sa Buwan" will show audiences the possibilities.

The idea to stage a Filipino adaptation of the play "Cyrano de Bergerac" came to book writer and director Pat Valera while he was exploring ways to break rules--the rules of traditional Filipino theater genres, that is.

After doing dramaturgy and assistant direction for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas' komedya "Orosman at Zafira" and sarsuwela "Ang Kiri," he wanted to challenge himself.

"How can I further the sarsuwela and make it relevant and refreshing for today's youth?" he asked himself.

He chose a theme close to the hearts of the young--"love, ideals and a world based on a play that broke my heart!"

Indie-alternative music
Then came the music. "Being immersed in Original Pilipino Music and surrounded by great artists and musicians, I thought, why not an indie-alternative-sarsuwela that would rock out the kundiman and harana?"

(Valera, incidentally, is the producer of the annual Summer Siren Music Festival in Crystal Beach, Zambales.)

The first version of the musical, "Cyrano: Isang Sarsuwela," premiered in 2010, staged by Dulaang Roc. Inquirer Theater section editor Gibbs Cadiz praised the work, especially the songs, which were "one of the show's strongest elements-raucous, eloquent and melodic. ready to bolt the orbit of Filipino musical theater and rock primetime radio."

For this restaging, Valera and composer William Manzano have reworked and tweaked the material. Manzano's other composing credits include "Rizal X," "Maxie the Musicale" and "Macho Dancer."

Young and idealistic
In French playwright Edmond Rostand's play, Cyrano (insecure about his nose) writes love letters for Christian (insecure about his lack of wit) to Roxane, the woman they both love.

It was required reading for Valera at Ateneo High School. Students were also required to watch the high school theater group Dulaang Sibol's staging.

"The story struck a chord. I left the theater in tears. The young and idealistic me gravitated to Cyrano because he's the perfect mirror for the pimply, misunderstood teen: ugly guy, poetry used by another, the girl lost, unloved by the ever-changing world-but amidst everything, remains true to his virtues until the very end. He's the proverbial me-against-the-world figure," he recalls.

Valera's playwriting/adaptation credits include "Sepang Loca," "Lulu," "Information for Foreigners" and "Mga Lobo Tulad ng Buwan." His one-act play "Gawani's First Dance" won a Palanca Award this year.

He resets the story to 1940s Manila, a time of young cadets and colegialas. His adaptation choices don't just tie in to nostalgia, they also commemorate history. He was inspired by the Hunters ROTC, a guerilla group during the Japanese occupation composed of young cadets.

"Manila then was the Paris of the East. Our country was on the brink of independence. The characters in 'Mula sa Buwan' aren't seasoned soldiers but young college students initially oblivious to the impending war. But when it does come, they're forced to grow up."

"The musical also speaks about the ravages of war, our unsung heroes and how we deny history as we all rush to forget the pain in order to survive and move on."

Nicco Manalo and Boo Gabunada will alternate as Cyrano, KL Dizon plays Roxane, while Fred Lo and Edward Benosa alternate as Christian.

Lyrics by Valera and Manzano, musical direction by TJ Ramos, musical arrangement by Dana Marquez. Set design by Ohm David, lighting design by Meliton Roxas, choreography by JM Cabling. 

"Mula sa Buwan" runs Dec. 2-4, Irwin Theater, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City. Tickets: 0917-539-0133, Ticketworld.com.ph. Details: Fb.com/MulaSaBuwan.

Inquirer.net link:


After Belarus and Taiwan, 'Sintang Dalisay'--a Filipino 'Romeo and Juliet'-- to play in Vietnam

After Belarus and Taiwan, 'Sintang Dalisay' to play in Vietnam
Kalil Almonte reprises Romeo in this Filipino 'Romeo and Juliet' that moves to the Sama-Badjao dance 'igal'
Nov. 12, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tasha Tañada and Kalil Almonte
Even when Kalil Almonte is rehearsing or acting in productions, he still works out for at least an hour and a half every day.

"My body feels lazy when I don't have rehearsals," he says.

However, a role he's reprising provided a challenge.

"For the first few rehearsals, my body had to get used to the choreography again," he notes. "My muscles felt heavy and there was no grace at all! There are also fight scenes, so it's really physical. My body hurt after each rehearsal."

He's playing Rashiddin (Romeo) in Tanghalang Ateneo's "Sintang Dalisay," an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," which will be the Philippine entry to the Third International Experimental Theater Festival in Vietnam this month.

Directed by Ricky Abad, this adaptation is set in a fictional southern Philippine location and incorporates igal, a traditional dance of the Sama-Badjao people, as the movement motif.

Abad and playwright Guelan Luarca converted G.D. Roke's awit (metrical romance poem) "Ang Sintang Dalisay ni Julieta at Romeo," which itself adapted Shakespeare's play into a stage version by supplementing it with Rolando Tinio's translation of the play.

The adaptation premiered in 2011 and has toured Belarus and Taiwan.

Different view 
"I last did the role two years ago in Taiwan and it's been three years since we showed to a Philippine audience, so I am excited to do it again," says Almonte.

He's been busy doing other roles in plays such as "Fluid" and "Games People Play." This year alone, his credits include "Bait" for Virgin Labfest, "Tribes" for Red Turnip, and "Loyalist Redux" for Never Again: Voices of Martial Law.

"A drama professor once told me that when you reread a book at another point in your life, you'll be affected differently, that it speaks to you differently. I understand that more now as I return to the role. Many things have happened in my personal life that the Romeo speaking about defiance, love  and commitment now is so different from the Romeo back then," he says.

And, perhaps, a little more circumspect about matters of love, this time around. "All of us in the cast have different boyfriends and girlfriends now since the 2011 premiere. Everyone broke up," he says, laughing.

Simple regimen
Almonte in "Fluid."
How does he keep in shape for the demands of the stage, especially the dramatic, highly stylized and choreographed part of Rashiddin?

"My regimen is simple. I just lift weights and use whatever machines or equipment are available in the gym," he says. "I actually work out more intensely when I have productions."

He eats rice for brunch; none for the rest of the day. "As much as possible, brown rice. If it's not available, then only a half-cup of white rice. Rice talaga nagpapalaki ng tiyan," he notes.

Audiences will have a chance to see Almonte's reinterpretation of the character when "Sintang Dalisay" starts its homecoming run in Quezon City this December.

Meanwhile, he's happy to be reunited with the cast: "There's nothing else like being with longtime friends again."

Tasha Tañada plays Jamilla (Juliet); the cast also includes Gel Basa, Charles Yee, Joe-nel Garcia and Cindy Lopez. Edu Abraham (musical director), Dan Liamco and Jayson Gildore are the accompanying musicians.

"Sintang Dalisay" has set and costume design by the late National Artist Salvador Bernal, lighting design by Meliton Roxas, choreography by Matthew Santamaria. The igal master teachers who trained the cast include Calsum Telso, Dalino Kamamihare, Nur Pergon, Abdul Hailaya, Al-Shadat Mohammad, Basar Jalaidi and Munir Jawadil.

"Sintang Dalisay" runs Nov. 15, Rạp Đại Nam (Đại Nam Theater), Hanoi, Vietnam; Dec. 9-11, Rizal Mini-Theater, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City. Tickets: 0917-843-1400. Details: Fb.com/TanghalangAteneo.

Inquirer.net link:


It's playwright Liza Magtoto's season in the sun at Peta

It's playwright Liza Magtoto's season in the sun at Peta
She has three plays back-to-back-to-back; "The Tempest Reimagined" is up next
Nov. 4, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Liza Magtoto.
Photos by Jojit Lorenzo
Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) just wrapped its two-year run of "Rak of Aegis," a jukebox musical with songs by rock band Aegis sewn together with a story by playwright Liza Magtoto.

Consolidating different aspects of Filipinos' lives, she captured the zeitgeist of Pinoy life in the early 2010s: celebrating love (romantic and familial) amidst the rise of social media and natural disasters.

Audiences will see more of Magtoto's work since she dominates Peta's 49th season (aside from "Rak," she's adapting Shakespeare's "The Tempest" into a contemporary Filipino setting) and she's opening the 50th season (as librettist for next year's restaging of "Care Divas," a musical about male Filipino workers in Israel who moonlight as singing drag queens).

"Nagkataon lang," she says. "I'm so grateful that Peta has nurtured me and, in some way, I hope I'm giving back. I'm quite honored and humbled at the same time because, as we all know, these plays become complete only because of the collaboration with the director, musical director, ensemble, production staff."

"It's an honor to take part in keeping Peta alive in showcasing the form and content that we've done in the past years," she adds.

Scared, then fired up
Magical spirit Ariel, played by Gab Pangilinan
(with alternates Gio Gahol, Neomi Gonzales and Ian Segarra),
and deformed savage Caliban, played by John Moran.
Sets and costumes designed by Marsha Roddy,
lighting design by Tsuguo Izumi,
sound design by Teresa Barrozo.
Magtoto first encountered Peta when its efforts mirrored the zeitgeist of an earlier time period.

"I was especially moved by Peta's plays during the martial law years. The feeling of community was so palpable. The way audiences cheered and clapped felt, for that singular moment, like we were liberated from repression."

Inspired by Jo in "Little Women," she thought she'd become a fictionist. "Writing plays felt scary. It took a long time before I got into it."

Norbs Portales plays Jaime,
a created character for this adaptation:
a fisherman from Leyte who tells
the story of "The Tempest,"
the setting of which, for this production,
is set on a Philippine island
that survived Typhoon Yolanda.
Growing up, her father took her and sister Bing to Repertory Philippines shows. "Then Bing would take me to Peta plays since she'd been in their workshops."

While taking up Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines, "I enjoyed plays like 'Iskolar ng Bayan' and the seditious plays of the 1900s."

That exposure to theater "made me see the immediacy of the medium, the impact it has on the audience, and that we can show something we can't in mainstream media. It fired me up to go into theater.

"I felt I had so much I wanted to say, to mirror life's ironies which I wanted to laugh at, to hopefully make people think."

She's been with Peta since the '80s, doing backstage work, then acting, then playwriting. "The late Charley de la Paz established the playwright's group Writer's Bloc and tried to make me attend sessions. I was always unavailable. After he died, I pledged to attend until I finally had the courage to have my play read."

Great challenge
CB Garrucho plays Prospero.
She will play the character as male.
Scores of plays and awards later (like last year's Philstage Gawad Buhay for Outstanding Libretto for "Rak"), there's no resting on her laurels.

She is discussing possible edits to "Care Divas" with director Maribel Legarda (Peta's artistic director).

For "Tempest," she's working with director Nona Shepphard (artistic director of London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) to incorporate interviews she's done with survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda in Leyte.

"Some characters may speak in modern English; some scenes will be in Filipino. It's a great challenge to put these languages together, yet connecting them poetically with something as seemingly prosaic as disaster risk reduction in the Philippines."

"The Tempest Reimagined," Nov. 11-Dec. 4, Peta-Phinma Theater, Peta Theater Center, Quezon City. Tickets: 725-6244, Ticketworld.com.ph. Details: Fb.com/PetaTheater.

Inquirer.net link:


Is this a ghost I see before me? Theater artists share their ghost stories

Yegads! Is this a ghost I see before me?
Theater artists share their ghost stories
Oct. 29, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Photo from homesteadtheatre.files.wordpress.com
When a theater goes dark for the night, a stagehand leaves a lighted lamp on stage. No one knows why anymore, but some oldtimers say it is to keep ghosts away. Others say it lights the stage for the ghosts to play. Whichever theory one adheres to, most people agree: "A great theater is haunted."

So said multi-awarded American director and playwright Emily Mann. For some Halloween fun, here are encounters with stage ghosts and haunted theaters by theater artists.

Adriana Agcaoili, actress, Gantimpala Theater and Dulaang UP. 
When I was a freshman at the University of the Philippines, I was told that one of the theaters had a resident spirit named Marita and that she usually made her presence felt backstage left, especially when a female character was maltreated on stage.

I was doing stage management for a show and I was assigned at backstage left. When Tess Dumpit started weeping after her character was humiliated, a lower-pitched female voice started groaning and sobbing along with her-from backstage left!

My hair stood on end. I thought I was imagining that unearthly sound. But my companions whispered, "Who's making fun of your leading lady backstage?"

They had heard it, too! My wide eyes told my answer. I had goosebumps till the end of that show.

Roeder Camañag, artistic director, Artist Playground.
In that same venue (UP's Guerrero Theater), I was supposed to slap my co-actress, Jean Judith Javier- but a hand stopped my arm. I was frightened because I realized both of Jean's hands were on her navel.

My costume bracelet fell off my arm in the opposite direction of the slap. Later on, an audience member said he saw the bracelet move up my arm and thought it was a special effect. Marita doesn't like it when women are hurt on stage!

Oliver Usison, actor, Repertory Philippines.
During a workshop, Rep's resident sound engineer was fixing the speaker cables in the orchestra pit underneath the stage. Kids were running all over the place. He saw a girl standing with her back turned towards him. He thought she was being naughty, as students were not allowed in the pit.

He called out to her. She slowly faced him with a very angry look on her face. He immediately realized she wasn't one of the students. He ran as fast as he could out of the theater.

Aries Alcayaga, stage manager, Philippine Educational Theater Association.
When we were rehearsing this play, the cast started getting injuries every day. One actor noticed that a small chair on the stage had been missing for a few days. Another actor pointed out that the chair was for our "munting audience."

We looked for the chair and returned it. We also had a priest bless the stage and we left some food for the little guests. After that, the actors stopped getting injured.

Jonathan Tadioan, actor, Tanghalang Pilipino.
One of our crew members arrived early for our call time. While he was in the restroom, he heard knocking on the door of the cubicle he was using. When he glanced down, he saw a very hairy foot.

Topper Fabregas, actor/director/cofounder, Red Turnip.
Actress [and Red Turnip cofounder] Cris Villonco is as white as a ghost. Does that count?

Inquirer.net link: