Theaterbatoring "Sweet Charity" and "Noli Me Tangere"

thoughts on "sweet charity" and "noli me tangere"
by walter ang
aug 30, 2011

i caught 9 works theatrical's "sweet charity" and tanghalang pilipino's staging of the lumbera-cayabyab musical "noli me tangere."  i don't normally do combo-reviews, that is, talking about wo or more shows in one piece, but what the hey, it's interesting to me that both materials have strange(!) plot structures and auteur-ish (hmm!) provenance. whaaat?

sweet charity
this was my first 9 works theatrical production.  it was a fun show. the plot was weird in that the entire first act seemed like a throwaway, what with charity's one-night encounter with a film-star that didn't really make any sense, that didn't really push the story forward anyway, and that just made the first act seem to drag on forever.

one assumes that, given the provenance of this musical (as wikipedia puts it "conceived, directed and choreographed by bob fosse"), the plot, as stringy as it is, is most likely there just to frame the dance numbers. (auteur alert!)

what was good to see was that, despite this weird plot structure, the cast was game.

nikki gil was a sprightly, winsome charity; what vitamins does she take? she's got stamina, this one. she's singing and dancing onstage almost the entire two hours of the production! gil has already made her stamp as a musical leading lady after her turn as elle woods in atlantis production's 2009 staging of "legally blonde." and yes, she's got the looks and charisma for it.

and while her turn as charity showcases even more of her skills, a bit of her elle woods would creep up once in a while.  someone should cast her in a dramatic musical role to stretch and further hone her acting muscles. something tragic with lots of repressed longing, maybe like fosca in sondheim's "passion."

kris lawrence was as a surprise as oliver lindquist (he's got comedic timing, who knew?); oj mariano had presence (and not just because he towers over everyone else, he can sing, this one).

ciara sotto-ocaner as helene was a revelation.  she's hilarious!  her screeching, high-volume voice initially grated on the ears, until you realize she's taken her role and just flew with it.  she played a palengkerang talakera and she wanted you to know it.  when she does a split onstage in the second act; it's hokey, yes; but also so in character that you just have to cheer her on.

some of the sets were a bit too far upstage, like when charity and oscar were stuck in an elevator, and later, in a ferris wheel.

dance numbers
and the dance numbers are fun, all things considered.  the dancing is almost there. this is bob fossey choreography, and you can tell that the cast aren't trained dancers, nonetheless, they power through the pieces.

the rich man's frug number was fun and scary. fun because of the mod costumes, of seeing fossey choreography onstage, of the groovy music; scary because of the varying heights of the cast and the paunches!

okay, i'm all for color-blind and height-blind casting, these are things that can be worked out with some judicious blocking.  but with this number, you have proof that paunch-blind casting does not always work onstage. a quick google search reveals a youtube clip from the movie version and i'm glad to see the local production didn't copy the costumes from the movie; however, for this particular dance number, perhaps coats on the men might have given a better silhouette, given the lines of the choreography. either that or spanx for men might be in order.

let's point out right away that we are not being overly critical here of the human bodies we see onstage--after all, some sense of physical uniformity for the ensemble is still paramount in creating pictures on stage. nonetheless, for this particular production, it is these human "flaws" and complicit acceptance that this isn't an exact fosse clone that seem to help create an endearing show.

noli me tangere
ordinarily, i wouldn't mention previous stagings of a show because there is always an internal goal to appreciate, digest, assess and evaluate a show on its own merits. more so in this case since i've not seen any of them anyway, but then, there have been publicity materials, media interviews and director's notes that talk of audie gemora's stripped-down, straightforward staging of the material versus nonon padilla's symbolism-filled, stylized staging. (auteur alert!)

the die is cast! the assumption is that this staging has been crafted from the very beginning with an intertwined reaction of sorts, an "anti-direction" in relation to a previous direction.  it becomes part of the audience gaze (for those of us who read the programme notes, at least, kekeke) to compare this staging with an unseen "symbolism-filled" staging.  it's like trying to not think of a pink elephant with a polka-dot bowtie!

[and maybe a whole generation of audiences have no idea who nonon padilla is anymore since he's not staged anything in years save for the 2009 staging of peta's "saan ba tayo ihahatid ng disyembre," but i saw many of his productions for tp in the late 90s and early 00s. and i've seen his staging of "fili" (those giant clock gears!). so, yes, padilla as auteur of the lumbera-cayabyab rizal-novels musicals is sorta kinda ingrained in my brain, and therefore, part of my gaze, kekeke.]

singing, lighting
all the actors sang beautifully. especially the classically-trained singers like al gatmaitan (padre salvi), red nuestro (kapitan tiago) and ring antonio (doña victorina).

katsch katoy had some beautifully rendered lighting schemes.

the plot
the plot is weird in the sense that the structure of the book* is also weird. the book has these action-filled chapters mixed up with chapters that are for pure contemplation of rizal's ideas, metaphors and symbolisms.

(*yes, i've been reading the book, kekeke. as part of my personal participation in the 150th birth anniversary of rizal's birth, i've been trying to plow through the lacson-locsin english translations of "noli" and "fili." i wanted to finish "noli" before i saw this production, but, alas, i failed! i'd only gotten to chapter 35 by the time i saw the production.)

sequence in the structure
not having seen any of the previous stagings (and not having finished my re-reading of the book yet, kekeke), i can't say if the adjustments made by gemora and dramaturg rody vera in creating bridge scenes to highlight "the letters (of the lead characters) angle" makes the material any tighter.

but as it is, the material (just like the book) is (still) episodic; momentum fizzles often.  the musical's sequencing hews too faithfully to the book's chronology to make it move appropriately.

mxstxrbatory music
it does not help that cayabyab's music style for this musical, though it sounds good, does not build, does not climax, does not end with flourishes--it's all  a series of melodies that don't sound like they're going anywhere.

in colloquial theater/advertising/marketing-speak, this is what we call "mxstxrbatory," (and i can't spell it out here because of these crawling robot censors that could shut down my blog if i did, kekeke), which basically means you're just going on and on with/to no end in sight, kekeke.

straightforward versus stylized
gemora's "straightforward staging," given the episodic structure of the material, given the circuitous music, ended up being too straightforward--because as these scenes trudge from one to another, unfurling the book chapter by chapter, we're led to ask "how would a stylized, symbolic staging bear out? maybe a stylized scene here or a symbol there would perk things up and move things along?"

and if it's a straightforward staging, why does padre salvi have three ninja-type, macbeth-ish weird-sisters matrons following him around?

plots and triangles
the major "action" plot points are there, from the opening dinner party, to the lovers' conversations, etc.  the "added" action plot points are there, too: the discovery of letters, the confrontations about letters, etc. but then, the "contemplative" plot points (from the book) seem out of place (and out of sequence) onstage.

when the espadaña couple comes out with their rousing song (and it's a funny, perky number), it's so out of place.  like, "where did they come from and what are they doing in this musical?"

and so just like "sweet charity," we're dealing with another case of weird plot structure!

if the story of sisa and her two sons are "backgrounded" as a subplot to the crisostomo ibarra-maria clara de los santos-padre salvi love/lust triangle, then how come the espadaña couple aren't backgrounded as well? if they're comic relief, should their big number come out so late in the production (faithfully following the book's sequence of events)?

against the foregrounded love/lust triangle plot, do we still need to see a whole song number by kapitan tiago about his collection of saint statues/figurines? and in the second act, too! when all we want is for that damned block to fall on ibarra already.

symbolic set design
if the staging is "straightforward" then the set is definitely "symbolic," and so right away, there is a visual incongruency. does this kind of set design work in context with/in relation to the material/the staging?

mio infante's expansive flight of stairs is sculptural, solid and a visual showcase. and yes, there are layers of symbolism: layers of society and all that.

but as part of the fabric of the staging/story, we are led to ask, "stairs as leading to what?" or is that the point? to show the audience that (to paraphrase a line from the movie "joy luck club") the characters in this musical, and of course, symbolic of filipinos as a people, are always going up and going down, but always in the same place? not really getting anywhere?

his three-walled enclosure with windows (that reminds me of the walls-with-windows in tanya mccallinsimilar's set design of théâtre du châtelet's staging of "sweeny todd") was, according to my seatmate g.c., symbolic of the characters being enclosed/entrapped.  hmmm. my reaction was: "why is this musical set inside a warehouse?" kekeke!

Of circles, Mercury retrograde, carbs and friends

Of circles, Mercury retrograde, carbs and friends
By Walter Ang
August 27, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The real reason why I suggested that my friends have regular file-swapping nights is because I'm too lazy to search for files and too impatient to wait for files to download on my own.

And also, for someone who once knew how to code HTML like a pro, I seem to have used up all my IT brain cells learning that (now) ancient coding language, and haven't yet gotten around to learning how to use torrent sites.

But it's all good. My friends hardly get to see each other anymore anyway given separate lives, separate worlds, and separate schedules that wouldn't intersect on their own unless we made a conscious effort to make them do so.

So file-swapping nights were born. File-swapping sessions, for those who haven't yet caught on, are opportunities for you to copy files from your friends' gadgets: Photos, music, videos, audio books, e-books, silly animated GIF files, etc. You can do this without the added layer of food, music, and comfortable furniture, but it's more fun if you've got them.

They don't happen too often; they don't happen as regularly as we initially hoped it would (but then again, it's kind of corny to have too regular a thing going?it would seem oh-so-suburban of us, kind of like cross-stitching Tuesdays for senior ladies), but when they do, they're a nice opportunity to catch up.

Carbs and friends
We congregate every so often, lately at a Greenwich branch that's central to the different places where we work or live. Greenwich has brought down the prices of its pizza and pasta best-sellers, dubbing it "presyong kaibigan." What's not to like? Lower prices, carbs with meat and cheese, meeting up with friends?good times.

The meet ups usually begin with an inside joke: "I haven't seen you since Facebook!" Then we smirk and laugh, but sometimes become kind of slightly worried that we spend more time bonding via social networking sites rather than in real life. Add that to the fact that when we do meet up, it's to exchange soft files! "We're kind of very Star Trek this way, I guess," a friend pipes in.

We occasionally bemoan long days at work ("Please no more shop talk!" everyone cries), but most of the time, it's really just a chance to catch up on gossip and dissect everything under the sun, like dissing celebrities (Guilty giggling all around).

Files and flavors
But first, of course, the food: Greenwich pizzas come in 9" diameters or 12" "barkada" diameters with variants such as Classic Hawaiian and Ham & Cheese Pizzas. Then there is what is called Ultimate Hawaiian and Triple Ham and Cheese Overload for the famished and ravenous.

There are snack sizes and full sizes of Lasagna Supreme. They also have Pasta Supreme Meat Plates, which combine a pasta dish and a protein dish: Chicken Carbonara & Premium Beef Strips and Lasagna Supreme & Jumbo Crunchy Chicken.

Once the ordering is out of the way, we bring out our various gadgets: MP3 players, laptops, netbooks, android smartphones, iPhones (or iPod Touch units), or whatever and all sorts of connectors, adaptors and wires. (Okay, sometimes we bring real books for swapping, too.)

Gadgets are swapped to allow your friends go through your library; in go the flash drives and copying/swapping can commence. Best to drag the drinks away from the clumsy ones to avoid possible accidents with liquids and electronics.

Circles, real and otherwise
Then the eating and story sharing can get underway. Once, the astrologer in the group used the pizza we'd ordered to teach us the basics of astrology: How the slices were like the 12 zodiac signs and the toppings were the planets that can be found in a birth chart.

There's a Mercury retrograde going on right now, when the planet of communications seems to be going backward in its path in the sky, and therefore, its energies go into backwards chaos. So, lots of miscommunications in the air and electronics going haywire.

So we ended up not swapping files (to avoid possible sharing of viruses; no one wants to be blamed for destroying another person's gadget) and just eating and talking.

The circular shape of the pizzas spurred discussions on Google Plus, Google's new social networking service. Everyone wants in but can't seem to wrangle an invite; and when they do get in, no one's in it yet to make it any fun.

And those who are already in want to know how they can add someone in their "circles" of friends but not have that person's posts ("shoutouts" in FB) show up in their streams ("walls" in FB). You know, the kind of friends who you need to add because you'll never hear the end of it from them if you don't, but whose dementor-type comments in the virtual world are really kind of ? dementorish.

Very complicated! Remember when it only used to be mailing groups? And how there used to be e-Circles, which was bought out by e-Groups, which was then bought out by Yahoo! and so it became YahooGroups?

"Meeting people from your past and thinking about the past is very Mercury retrograde," we nod in agreement. But really, after the food's all gone and we separate for the night, we all know we're going to post photos in our Facebook accounts the moment we get home (or wherever we can get Internet access).

Join the Greenwich Barkada at or follow @greenwichpizza on Twitter for more Presyong Kaibigan deals.

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A no-frills way to access Southeast Asia and the world

A no-frills way to access Southeast Asia and the world
By Walter Ang
Aug 14, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

AirAsia will be opening Philippine offices by the third quarter of 2011, with an initial offering of regional flights as it studies the viability of domestic flights. Meanwhile, AirAsia Berhard (the mother company based in Malaysia) has been flying out from Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (aka Clark Airport) to locations in Southeast Asia.

The AirAsia group currently has over 60 destinations. Filipinos can use the low-cost airline to fly around the region or use its hub in Kuala Lumpur to board flights on AirAsia X, its long-haul service, to destinations in Australia and Europe (London and Paris).

AirAsia is considered the region's largest low-fare, no-frills airline and a pioneer of low-cost travel in Asia, with its founder Tony Fernandes having pushed for open-skies agreements. AirAsia won the Skytrax World's best low-cost airline award in 2009 and 2010.

Fernandes heads the Tune Group, a holdings company that has entertainment and leisure groups that include the AirAsia service, Formula One team Lotus Racing, and the low-budget Tunes Hotel.

For AirAsia Philippines, Antonio "Tonyboy" Cojuangco is chair, Michael "Mikee" Romero is vice-chair and Marianne "Maan" Hontiveros, former president of Ballet Philippines, is president and CEO. AirAsia Philippines is also considering flights to and from the west coast of the United States.

AirAsia uses the Low Cost Carrier Terminal of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The terminal is a distance from the airport, so keep an eye on the arrival and departure times of your flights if you plan to take a long-haul flight on AirAsia X but will be using another airline to fly into Kuala Lumpur.

You need to make sure your arrival time into KL will leave you with enough time to make it to the terminal for your departure, though bus and taxi services are available.

AirAsia X offers up to half the price of some other long-haul carriers and is an option for budget travelers. Ticketing for both AirAsia and AirAsia X is conveniently done through a single website.

Costs are cheaper compared to other airlines because everything else you'd expect from a flight has to be purchased piecemeal. Budget travelers will have to use their jackets or coats if they find the air-conditioning chilly; otherwise, comfort kits consisting of a blanket, an eye mask and a neck pillow are available for purchase in-flight.

Even if people now can have a single gadget, say a smartphone or touchscreen tablet, that contains technology for music, games and ebooks, the ones who don't have one or whose batteries have run out have the option to purchase an entertainment console. The consoles are like thick iPads that contain music, TV shows or movies. Best to pre-order online as the planes have limited units on-hand.

The consoles are useful for staying awake when travelling from Asia to Europe, since the flights will arrive at night time in London or Paris. This way, you'll feel (hopefully) sleepy when you land there and mitigate jetlag.

Hot meals are also available (cheaper if you pre-book them online, do it at the same time you book your flight), with international, Asian and vegetarian options available. The menus are available for viewing online and all meals are Halal. Snacks like instant noodles and fruit cups (on certain flights) are also available.

Its version of business class is called Premium Flat Bed. The seats have adjustable head and foot rests and the seat reclines to vertical.

If you leave, say, Europe in the morning and manage to sleep for the duration of the flight, you arrive at the Kuala Lumpur airport early in the morning of the following day. If you manage to stay awake from that time onwards, it should help reset your body clock.


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Bewitching Barcelona

Bewitching Barcelona
By Walter Ang
August 14, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The surprising thing about Barcelona is how relaxed it feels. It's a vibrant city, but also refreshingly laidback. Perhaps it's because the city grew beside the coast of the Mediterranean sea. When you're that close to so many beaches, really, who has time for angst? It slowly but will surely enchant you.

We flew to Kuala Lumpur from Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (aka Clark Airport) with Air Asia, and then switched to its long-haul carrier Air Asia X to fly to Paris' Orly Airport. We hopped on a Vueling flight, Spain's low-cost carrier, and one hour later, we were in Barcelona.

After a quick stop at a Turisme de Barcelona (the city's tourism office) kiosk, positioned immediately outside the customs exit in the airport, to ask for maps and general directions, a bus ride dropped us off at Placa Catalunya, smack in the middle of the city. Surprisingly tiny when seen in free maps for tourists, this large plaza is the nerve center for travelers, the landmark from which all adventures and itineraries are usually plotted.

A demonstration (or two) was happening in the plaza. Even the demonstrations had a relaxed feel (this is not a light observation, having grown up in Manila where high emotions on the streets are daily fare). People laughing; information desks (!) set up to provide passersby answers to the issues on hand; brightly colored Catalan flags wrapped around the plaza's statues; dogs wading in the fountains, pundits in scientist costumes putting on street theater to narrate their cause.

Is this a political demonstration or street fair? Whatever it is, it's a great introduction to the city's energy. And also strangely apt for a Filipino visitor to encounter this show of public resistance, given that this city is where the reformist propaganda newspaper of Rizal's time, La Solidaridad, was published.

From the plaza to our hotel, it's a short ramble down tree-lined, animated La Rambla street, the major tourist artery. Lined with hotels, hostels, restaurants and souvenir shops, it has a promenade filled with snack stalls, flower booths, human statues, fortune-tellers, dancers and musicians. Oh look, there's a Joan Miro tile mosaic on the pavement.

A day or two later, we would slooowly partake of paella in one of the al fresco dining areas of the restaurants. Of course, we paid a little more than usual since these restaurants are obviously tourist traps, but the chance to people-watch was worth the price.

Hotel 1898 celebrates Spain's past connection with the Philippines (the year our country gained independence) through its use of the former office building of Compania General de Toabacos de Filipinas.

Barcelona interior designer Rosa Rossello has created a stately feel with dark tones and bold lines while peppering the walls with black-and-white photo murals of details from the Philippines, such as woven mats and even criss-crossing telephone lines.

If you're lucky to get a room facing La Rambla, you'll get a bird's eye view of the goings-on in the street. It has a rooftop pool and bar, and the building's basement warehouse has been transformed into a spa with an indoor pool.

City overview
Who wants to stay indoors, tempting as it is, when there's a city to explore? A short walk further down La Rambla will already take you to the pier; it's the center point for several beaches on its left and right. In the opposite direction is the Eixample district, where shopping awaits.

Turisme de Barcelona has a kiosk along La Rambla and several in Placa Catalunya, with a big office underneath the plaza accessible via an escalator. Official brochures and maps and advice from English-speaking staff make trip planning a breeze. It also has an official guidebook filled with detailed maps, proposed routes, and information of interest on landmarks and attractions.

It offers the Barcelona Card, which includes free travel on public transport, discounts and free offers at museums, cultural venues, leisure facilities, night-clubs, shops, and restaurants.

Recommended is the double-decker Barcelona Bus Turistic, a convenient way to get an overview of the city's attractions and to get your bearings as you plot which places you'd like to explore. You can get on and off the Bus Turistic as many times and for as long as you like at any of the 44 stops.

But the best way to experience a city is, without a doubt, walking in, through and around it. We recommend the walking tours of Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), the old Roman settlement of Barcino from which the city evolved.

The tour takes you to the side streets, revealing surprising landmarks in the middle of nowhere, including pillars from ancient Roman structures that have been preserved. And the tour guide might show you a prime example of how relaxed an attitude Barcelonins have, even when it comes to architecture: When they couldn't fit an arch décor on a wall completely through because of an ill-placed perpendicular wall, they just folded the arch!

There's also a walking tour of Catalan modernisme architecture, some of which are Unesco World Heritage Sites. The most well-known proponent of the modernisme aesthetic (known as Art Nouveau in the rest of Europe) is Antoni Gaudi. His curving, rippling building facades dot the city and reach their zenith in the city's most renowned landmark, the Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia (Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family).

The crazy patterns of Gaudi's aesthetic somehow mirror the myriad choices the city has for tourists?food and shopping, of course, but also performances, from music to flamenco.

Sports buffs can catch football games in the city and visit the Museu Olimpic i de l'Esport (Olympic and Sports Museum), built to commemorate the city's hosting of the 1992 Olympics.

If you're lucky, the city's team Futbol Club Barcelona (also known as Barca) will be winning against whatever team it's against and you'll experience hearing a whole city cheer in unison through the night as the game goes on. And you get to join the street victory parade the following day.

If walking and bus rides are not your cup of orxata de xufa (a local drink made from tigernuts), the city offers bicycle, scooter and moped tours, and, for those who can afford it and want a special experience, helicopter tours.

With the World Youth Day 2011 to be held in Madrid August 16, Filipinos who will participate should maximize their Schengen visas and swing by Barcelona before coming back home.

This trip was made possible by Air Asia (, Turisme de Barcelona/Barcelona Tourism Office ( and Instituto de Turismo de España/ Tourist Office of Spain (

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De La Salle University launches health program for faculty and staff

'Animo' for fitness-think chair yoga routines
By Walter Ang
Aug. 9, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

As the school year opens, in addition to celebrating its centennial, De La Salle University will be charging ahead with a health and wellness program for its faculty, administrators and staff.

"Our 'Animo Wellness' campaign consists of a health and wellness information drive and a series of activities that promote a healthy lifestyle among our employees," says Edwin Reyes, director of the university's Office for Sports Development. "Employees observe a full trimestral schedule that can be very stressful."

Employees are motivated through a Passport to Wellness, where they collect stamps for every in-campus Animo Wellness activity joined. Those who gain the correct number of stamps qualify for raffles, where treats such as iPod Nanos with Adidas miCoach kits and spa retreats are given away.

Starting this trimester, employees will be sent a packet containing information on risks associated with an unhealthy Body Mass Index, an indicator of body fat calculated from a person's weight and height. "The kit contains a measuring tape with instructions on how to use it to compute for one's BMI," Reyes says.

On the campus, a series of posters posing the question "What are you going to do about it?" will challenge them about their BMI measurement results. "Other posters and stickers will announce that hypertension is the leading ailment of DLSU employees, while offering simple but useful fitness trivia called 'Live Green Tips,'" he says.

Since weight and hypertension issues are linked not just to exercise but also diet, the campaign will also encourage proper nutrition through healthy eating. Electronic billboards, posters and stickers around the campus will carry nutrition information on cafeteria food.

The university will also hold two programs that "employees can easily incorporate in their daily lives."

"Stairway to Wellness" encourages the use of the stairs instead of elevators in going less than three floors up or down. "We'll have posters on elevator walls and along stairwells that note the number of calories that can be burned and the cardiovascular and other physical benefits that can be achieved in using the stairs," he says.

"Later on, the 'Stairway to Wellness' will `level-up' into the `Conquer Andrew Challenge,'" he says, Andrew being Br. Andrew Gonzalez Hall, a 21-story campus building where a stair-climbing competition will be held.

A series of easy-to-follow chair yoga routines will be shown on electronic billboards around campus and uploaded on YouTube.

The Animo Wellness is meant to be a long-term campaign, and builds on efforts that were already in place to promote wellness in the community.

Last year, the university held a weight-loss challenge inspired by the television show "Biggest Loser" for faculty and students. "The challenge was a success with the turnout and the resulting weight loss of its participants," Reyes says.

Health and wellness seminars are regularly held with experts as speakers. "Last year we had topics ranging from basic life support to stress relief to increasing one's emotional quotient," he says.

"The Animo Wellness campaign targets not just the physical well-being, but mental, emotional and spiritual health of participants as well," he notes.

To this end, the university also maintains Shalom Center, a 100-sq m in-campus facility intended as a place for faculty and staff to rest, relax and engage in wellness activities such as meditation, massage and yoga.

It features several air-conditioned lounge areas, a silent room, coffee area and a media lounge where guests can relax to music and videos. Reflexology services and yoga classes are offered. "The center hosts activities year-round like videoke night, comedy night, book club. We average around 30 visits a day," he says.

"Our founder, Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, dedicated his life to educating the less fortunate,"

Reyes says. "He's the patron saint of teachers. It's only fitting that we also teach our teachers how to stay fit so they can teach well. Healthy people contribute to a productive society."

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"Seussical," unique children’s musical, starts Aug. 13, 2011

"Seussical," unique children’s musical, starts Aug. 13, 2011
By Walter Ang
Aug. 8, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Nacio Samonte (alternating with
three other actors) as JoJo
Repertory Philippines' Children's Theater will stage the musical "Seussical" starting August 13 and run for the rest of the year.

"Seussical" combines characters from the books of Theodor Geisel, more popularly known as Dr. Seuss, which includes "The Cat in the Hat," "Horton the Elephant," and "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas."

Not all Filipino families might have been exposed to nor are even aware of the books, but they might be familiar with the three movies that are based on the books.

Comedian Mike Meyers played the titular role in the movie "Cat in the Hat."

Taylor Momsen (who plays Jenny Humphrey in the TV show "Gossip Girl") played Cindy Lou Who in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," with comedian Jim Carrey as the Grinch.

Carrey also voiced Horton the Elephant in the animated film "Horton Hears a Who."

Atypical fairy tale
Oliver Roxas's Van Gogh-inspired set design.
This is the first time Rep is staging a children's musical that isn't a "classic" fairy tale, nor a stage version of a Disney animated film.

Rep artistic director Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo says Seussical is the "most modern" children's theater piece that the company has attempted in its 19 years of producing musicals for kids.

The music and lyrics of Seussical is by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, both of whom received two Academy Award (more popularly known as the Oscars) nominations and two Golden Globe nominations for the songs and score of the cartoon musical "Anastasia."  They are also co-creators of the Broadway musical "Once On This Island."

Former comedy troupe Monty Python member and Broadway musical hit "Spamalot" creator Eric Idle co-conceived the show.

Crazy, colorful adventures
Oliver Usison alternates with
Nic Campos as Horton the Elephant
The Cat in the Hat acts as narrator in this musical where Horton the Elephant discovers JoJo, a new microscopic friend who lives in Whoville, a city that exists on a planet that fits in a speck of dust.  Horton can hear the Whos because of his large ears, even if he can't see them.

Horton promises to protect the Whos even as he gets involved in crazy adventures:  has has to convince the colorful characters of the Jungle of Nool that Whoville exists, he has to take care of an abandoned egg, he has to deal with a bunch of mischievous monkeys, he gets kidnapped and sold to the Circus McGurkus, he has to face a trial, and he also almost loses the only girl who loves him.

Exposure to the arts
Costume design sketch.
"Ultimately, the powers of friendship, loyalty, family and community are challenged and emerge triumphant," says director Joy Virata and founder of Rep's Children's Theater.

Virata has assembled collaborators to help achieve her vision of exposing "children to as much of the arts as possible."

Former Rep actor and now UK-based Oliver Roxas used Van Gogh paintings as the peg for the set design. To encourage use of imagination, Roxas does not mask the actors as animals but uses nineteenth century circus silhouettes as the peg for the costumes.

"Edna Vida, an exponent of modern dance, has put her expertise into the choreography.  She calls it 'organic' dance," says Virata.  "The music exposes the children to modern music cadence."

Audience participation
Virata is dismayed to hear of reports that art classes like drawing is no longer included in the elementary school curriculum ("I may be wrong and would love to be corrected," she says.).

"I decided to ask children to draw their own conception of Solla Sollew, 'an island where troubles are few' and is one of the songs in the show.  We will select drawings to put into a slideshow to be projected in the musical," she says.

"National Bookstore kindly and generously agreed to donate Dr. Seuss books that will be awarded to children whose drawings we use."

Rep debut
Bituin Escalante
as Sour Kangaroo
Oliver Usison and Nic Campos alternate as Horton the Elephant.

Four young actors will alternate in the role of JoJo.  Noah Ramos, grandson of Gift Gate maven Virgie, had played JoJo in a school production of "Seussical Jr." and auditioned for this Rep production.  He landed the role and makes his Rep debut together with alternates Nacio Samonte and Nicolle Cojuangco.  Alternate Alessa Zialcita, whose father Robbie is also in the cast, made her Rep debut at age six in "The Sound of Music."

Also making her Rep debut is Bituin Escalante as the Sour Kangaroo, a brash kangaroo who tells all that Horton is a fool for thinking there are people living on a dust speck.  Escalante alternates with Pinky Marquez and Ampy Sietereales.

"Seussical" runs Aug. 13 to Dec. 18, 2011 at Onstage Theater, second floor of Greenbelt 1 Mall, Paseo de Roxas cor. Legazpi St., Makati City.  Rows of seats or entire shows can be bought at discount.  Special show times and dates can be arranged.  

Visit, subscribe to, and add "Rep Phils" in Facebook.  Call 571-6926 or 571-4941. Tickets also available through Ticketworld at 891-9999 or

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Theaterbatoring DLSCSB's "Titus Andronicus" 2011

thoughts on de la salle college of st. benilde's "titus andronicus"
by walter ang
aug. 6, 2011

since i realized earlier this year that 2011 is the year of the titus andronici and since i've already caught one staging this year, i figured i might as well catch the remaining two.

so, despite a super busy schedule, i made an effort to catch de la salle college of st. benilde's production of "titus andronicus," staged for the thesis work of its graduating classes in production design and technical theater. let's leave the grading of the costume design, set design and lighting design to their teachers.

translated and directed by george de jesus III, the show is a straightforward staging that's fun and funny. fun because the various murders, dismembering, and other acts of violence are done without hesitation and very matter-of-factly, as if the people in this ancient roman universe chop limbs off other people everyday for breakfast.

funny because, apparently, shakespeare has built in some really funny situations and de jesus stages them as such.  there is no pretense at high-brow seriousness in de jesus'  handling of the text.

most of the actors play the major roles with a consistent sense of nervous cackling energy, a kind of anxious paranoia that seems apt for the material.

crazed funny
joel saracho is in fine form as titus andronicus, but lacks a bit of gravitas as he's overwhelmed by the way the play is staged and by the other actors.  titus is a sad, pitiable figure in the first act, victim to the machinations of his enemies.  he finds his stride in the second act as he plots his revenge. initially, i felt saracho's voice was not deep enough to convey the stature of titus, but it grew on me as i realized it humanized titus instead.

gwyn guanzon as saturninus (who becomes emperor at titus's refusal of the position) and kalila aguilos as tamora, queen of the goths, are hilarious in their roles.  guanzon plays saturninus as a neurotic, bratty, excitable, panicky, screamy, fagotty evil emperor. aguilos is a crazed, loud, focused and sexy tamora.

i've seen paolo o'hara in so many comedies (which he does so well) that it's impossible, i feel, for me to take him seriously in serious roles.  so i giggled a lot even as he plowed through serious scenes as marcus, the brother of titus.

creepy evil funny vs bumbling evil funny
gab santos as chiron and paul jake paule as demetrius, the two sons of tamora who rape, dismember and glossectomize* titus's daughter lavinia, execute their characterizations leaning more towards the bumbling dolts school of villainy, and as a result, fails to evoke fear in the audience when they are about to do their deed to lavinia. de jesus, santos and paule have developed characterizations that seem to lack a level of sinister dread that would have been a nice additional layer to the characters.

(the notes i've read on titus usually point out that titus, being one of shakespeare's earliest plays, presents many of what are to become his stock characters in his later plays.  the two brothers, i realized after watching this show, are precursors to hamlet's rosencratz and guildenstern--but i'm not a shakespeare scholar, so please don't quote me on this, kekeke. i saw red concepcion and felix rivera as rosencratz and guildenstern in repertory philippines' 2008 staging of hamlet; they were funny, but evil scary creepy funny.)

two heads are more than one
nar cabico as martius and ga fallarme as quintus, sons of titus, get their heads cut off.  the production design majors had to showcase their model-making skills by making prosthetic disembodied heads, but i think it would have been more fun to have let the two actors climb underneath the set and stick their heads out for the head-presentation scene, kekeke!

in any case, they get to have fun as they get to play other roles: both ham it up when cabico doubles as tamora's (funny) nurse and fallarme doubles as the (funny) clown. later on, both also perform as goths.

joshua deocareza has got a great swagger as aaron, tamora's amoral lover and co-mastermind of the troubles for the adronici.  he made his character come to life with a very pinoy-flavored machismo, kind of like an arrogant action movie hero, that worked.

but he has to be careful with his ad libs. he said "okay" during one of his scenes! and he has to go through a mime or props handling workshop, methinks, because he picked up his (doll) baby, at one point, just like a doll!  these are glaring errors that mar an otherwise effective performance.

weight of words and babies
but deocarez is not the only actor in the cast who mishandled the way objects weigh and the way words are said.

several actors picked up and swung swords as if the swords were as light as the papier-mache they were really made of instead of metal.  and one actor pulled out alarbus' innards with too much ease--i have never pulled out innards from a freshly killed human before, but i imagine that it would be a slimy and hot (37 degrees celsius at least) proceeding, not clean and fast at all.

also, lavinia and titus recover from the trauma of being dismembered far too easily.  lavinia's freshly dehanded wrists land far too often to the ground, perhaps steadying herself on her elbows might have been more apt?  not even a retching cough from titus after he has his hand chopped off, no lightheadedness or shortness of breath--he turns around and starts talking as if he'd only picked a scab off his arm.

there is also some inconsistency on the use of names ending in -us and being replaced with -o.  for example, saying "saturnino" instead of "saturninus."

russell legaspi is a revelation as lucius. he carries the role well, cuts a striking figure, is able to exude vulnerability while imbuing gravitas to the role.

in this play where actors are pushed, shoved, pulled by the hair, stabbed, dragged around and suffer all sorts of indignities, an unstable world with unstable characters, legaspi's steady stance throughout the play provides bookend anchors for the audience. he stabilizes the unraveling, fraying edges with the final cuts and is left to clean up the terrible mess.

*okay, glossectomize is a medical term and, therefore, connotes surgical instruments and professional doctors. it's not the most appropriate word to replace "tongue cutting by dagger" but i just wanted a chance to use the term, kekeke!

45-year-old virgin opera and more

45-year-old virgin opera and more
By Walter Ang
Aug. 1, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Chris Borela
An original Filipino opera has finally been staged 45 years after it was written.

The University of the Philippines’ College of Music recently presented the world premiere of Ramon Santos’ “Ang Mahiwagang Hardin” at the college’s Abelardo Hall.

And at the heels of presenting new work, the college takes a look back via a concert featuring excerpts of lyrics/libretti written by its professor emeritus, coloratura soprano Fides Cuyugan Asensio.

Asensio’s own Music Theater Foundation Philippines, in cooperation with the UP College of Music, presents “Applause: A Musicale Retrospect” on Aug. 4-5, also at Abelardo Hall.

Santos’ virgin opera was finally deflowered, thanks to Christopher Borela’s search for material to fulfill the thesis of his Master in Choral Conducting degree.

“My journey began more than two years ago with the search for an opera, sarswela or musical composed by a Filipino,” said Borela. “The composition should be meaty and the composer should be of merit.

He alphabetically went through a list of composers at the college's library.  It was love at first sight when he got to the letter "S."

"Santos submitted 'Mahiwagang Hardin' as a requirement for his Bachelor of Music Composition degree in the UP Conservatory (now College) of Music," said Borela.  "The opera piano-vocal score was finished on May 15, 1965."

Also a professor emeritus of the college, Santos is a world-renowned composer whose works have been performed in major music festivals around the world. He has done extensive studies in Philippine traditional music and Southeast Asian and Southern China music.

The arts community and music aficionados were in an uproar in 2009 when Santos was elected for National Artist of the Philippines but was removed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

It's complicated
“I admit that I had not been aware of this opera,” said Borela. “Santos composed the music and wrote the libretto himself. I found the music extremely challenging.”

The opera is described as a “musical journey that crosses the real and surreal to illustrate that truth, love and beauty transcends time, place and form.” Nine-year-old blind orphan Ligaya lives with her flower friends in the enchanted garden and becomes endeared to Binata. Dama de Noche foretells the impending doom of Ligaya.

“I found the music for the chorus very interesting and powerful,” said Borela. “The melody is very tonal. The dances sound like Stravinsky. The vocal lines for Dama de Noche and Binata are complex and atonal. The musical style for these characters stresses intense emotions and harsh dissonance. The accompaniment seems not to aid the singing. The overture begins with an ever-changing motif of minor, major and even modal forms.”

He noted several other technical elements of the composition that rendered the opera as “different and challenging,” but graciously gave way to oversimplifying the description to aid non-opera experts as “definitely even more dissonant than Sondheim.”

Not the first time
Director was Roselle Pineda, a professor for the Department of Art Studies, College of Arts and Letters; and choreographer was Angel Lawenko-Baguilat, artistic director of UP Dance Company.

For the cast, Borela recruited two-time European Gran Prix winner UP Madrigal Singers, as well as Jesper Mercado, Mary Jane Egloso, Biance Camille Lopez, Kitbielle Pagui and Ervin Lumauag.

After the one-night-only performance, what did Santos have to say about the consummation of his opera? "It made me really happy.  I just keep on making works, I never know when they will be performed.  All these things that I'm doing have a purpose," he said.  "It's either for self-satisfaction or for graduation," he added while laughing.

Fides Cuyugan Asensio
“Applause: A Musicale Retrospect” is Asensio’s “gesture of thanking the artists, supporters and friends who have been supporting her through the years.” Her foundation gives scholarships to young classical performers.

Asensio was the first Filipina to receive a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She established her career upon returning to Manila and eventually became chair of the Voice and Music Theater Department at the college from the late 1980s to the late ’90s.

The concert lineup includes “Amy” (work in progress); “Larawan at Kababaihan: Mukha at Maskara,” music by Lucrecia Kasilag; “Mayo—Bisperas ng Liwanag” (inspired by “Mayday Eve” of Nick Joaquin), music by Rey Paguio; “Spoliarium,” an opera on the life of Juan Luna, music by Ryan Cayabyab; “Why Flowers Bloom in May,” music by Kasilag; “Song of Joseph,” a musical on the life, love and death of St. Joseph,” music by Raymond Roldan; and “La Loba Negra,” music by Francisco Feliciano.

Directors for the concert include Behn Cervantes, Alex Cortez, Nazer Salcedo, Henry Tejero, Noel Cabazor, Tony Mabesa and Alegria Ferrer.

“Applause: A Musicale Retrospect” runs Aug. 4-3 p.m., and Aug. 5, 7 p.m., Abelardo Hall, UP College of Music. Proceeds will fund ongoing scholarships in the field of arts, music and music theater. Contact 4121575, 9296963, 0919-6577961, or

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