Period sex farce 'The Country Wife' up next from Dulaang UP

Period sex farce 'The Country Wife' up next from Dulaang UP 
By Walter Ang
Nov. 8, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Who will get pinched when a womanizer who pretends to be impotent (in order to get the married women, of course), meets an "innocent" and newly married woman who hails from the province?

Expect a sex farce and comedy of manners to ensue from that premise.

Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas is staging both "The Country Wife," written by William Wycherley, and its Tagalog translation by Nicolas Pichay, "Ang Misis Kong Promdi," starting Nov. 19 at the Wilfrido Guerrero Theater of Palma Hall, UP-Diliman, under Tony Mabesa's direction.

Martha Comia and Sue Prado alternate as the titular character Margery Pinchwife.

The challenge in this production for Comia, as well as the entire cast, is that they all have to memorize two scripts. All actors cast in the production will do both English and Filipino versions. George de Jesus and Tarek El Tayech alternate as the husband, while Jay Gonzaga and Neil Sese alternate as Horner, the womanizer.

Born and raised in Marikina, Comia started dabbling in theater in grade school up until her stay in Miriam College.

"After college, I had a corporate job but I wasn't happy," she says. "Seeing my mentor, Tuxqs Rutaquio, and my high school best friend, Kathlyn Castillo, in professional theater as a director-actor-set designer and as an actress, respectively, pushed me to resign and try my luck in the industry. I auditioned for Tanghalang Pilipino's `EJ: Ang Pinagdaanang Buhay in Evelio Javier at Edgar Jopson.'"

"That was my first play with a professional theater company," she says. She went on to act in several productions for TP ("Mulan," "Bombita," "Pinocchio") and the Philippine Educational Theater Association ("Noli at Fili 2000," "Ismail at Isabel"). She was also able to join TP's Actor's Company, its resident pool of actors.

Thoughts to ponder
This is not Comia's first foray into DUP territory. She was cast in its recent production of "The Duchess of Malfi/Ang Dukesa ng Malfi" and had previously acted in DUP's Dulaang Laboratoryo series (where students' thesis productions are staged).

This is, however, her first title role. "I am thankful, but also excited and frightened. My primary concern is how to flesh the character out, and how to play her well with all the other characters. In plays, the actors playing as an ensemble is more important than any one role. The title role is just icing on the cake."

Given that this play satirizes hypocrisy, Comia hopes that audiences, especially the younger ones, leave the theater with a few thoughts to ponder.

"Even if this play was written centuries ago, they'll see that this is how our society is today! It can be an eye-opener for them," she says.

In the meantime, she's having a good time preparing for her role. "Rehearsals are fun and stressful at the same time, but it's a good kind of stress!" she says.

"The process of our director, Tony Mabesa, is different from my past experience. My training was blocking, then scene work, then drop books (rehearsing without a script in hand). With him it's blocking, then drop books, then scene work."

"Sir Tony is very strict, very precise. You need to be quick with your thinking and instincts as an actor. But he is also very witty, and he likes to make us laugh a lot during rehearsals. One time I forgot one of his instructions and he said to me, 'Ano ba yan? You used to be bright, di ba? What happened?'" she says, laughing.

"If you're absent at one rehearsal, when you return, he'd call on you during company call and ask what food you brought for the entire company as your apology. So all of our rehearsals are like fiestas!"

"The Country Wife/Ang Misis Kong Promdi" has set design by Clint Ramos, costume design by Eric Pineda and lighting design by Shakira Villa-Symes.

"The Country Wife/Ang Misis Kong Promdi" runs Nov. 19-Dec. 7 at Wilfrido Guerrero Theater, 2/F, Palma Hall, University of the Philippines, Quezon City. Contact 9261349, 4337840, 9818500 loc. 2449, or e-mail

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Gantimpala Theater Foundation is looking for a new home

Gantimpala Theater Foundation is looking for a new home
By Walter Ang
Oct. 25, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

From a Gantimpala Theater production
of "Kanser (Noli Me Tangere)"
Gantimpala Theater (GT) is moving house again.

Its office and rehearsal space is currently at the Rizal Library of the Rizal Park (Luneta). Not to be confused with the National Library facing Kalaw Street, the Rizal Library is a smaller building between the Planetarium and the Japanese Garden.

The building will be demolished to give way to park renovations. Part of the refurbishing will supposedly include a canopy being built for the park's open-air auditorium, where the Concert at the Park series is held. The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra is scheduled to perform this month to reopen the auditorium to the public.

Wish list
"We are now on the lookout for a new home. Any referrals would be appreciated," says Jun Pablo, Gantimpala chair and president.

Theater, television and film director and actor Joel Lamangan is Gantimpala Theater's current artistic director. He stepped into the position months after GT's founding artistic director Tony Espejo passed away in 2012.

"Our wish list is this: a location in Metro Manila convenient enough for members and artists to reach the place; an area where the company could house its office, hold rehearsals and a storage portion for costumes, sets and props; a lot area of probably 300 to 500 sq. meters, preferably with an existing structure," says Pablo.

"A warehouse-type structure would seem ideal. We could hold productions in that kind of space (similar to Whitespace in Makati or Sinag Arts Studio in Mandaluyong).

"An old house may suit us as long as other residential dwellers wouldn't mind the volume of people coming in and out of the venue," he adds.

Also, "affordable rent that's within the company's budget. Or, even better, if the space could be used by Gantimpala for free, in exchange of services that Gantimpala could give, as is our present setup with the National Parks Development Committee."

Changing landscapes
It remains to be seen where the group's new office space will be, but real estate developments have been incorporating or preserving spaces for the performing arts in recent years.

SM Development Corporation has announced it "will save and preserve the culturally historic Philam Life Theater" in Manila.

The Public-Private Partnership Center has announced that it will be providing funding support for the Department of Finance's Manila Heritage and Urban Renewal Project, which aims to "preserve heritage buildings and landmarks" including "the preservation of. Manila Metropolitan Theater."

Megaworld's Resorts World Manila has the 1,500-seater Newport Performing Arts Theater, which recently presented Full House Theater Company's "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" (currently on a Singapore tour until Oct. 26) and is now hosting a touring opera production of "Noli Me Tangere" from the United States.

Solaire Resort and Casino will house Lunchbox Theatrical Productions/Concertus Manila's touring production of the musical "Chicago" (Dec. 2-21) in its 1,700-seater The Theatre.

Rockwell Land has announced the development of its 600-seater Proscenium Theatre at its Proscenium development in Makati.

Ayala Land's Circuit Makati, meanwhile, has announced the development of its 1,500-seater Circuit Makati Theater and its Circuit Lane, a black box theater. The developer aims to build on the location's performing arts heritage: in the 1900s, the 3,000-square-kilometer Santa Ana cabaret was the largest in the world.

Espejo was the first Filipino student and first Asian scholar at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, graduating with a diploma in Production and Stage Management.

He was one of the pioneers of dinner theater in the late '70s, staging Jose Javier Reyes' 1977 Taglish adaptation of Mart Crowley's "Boys in the Band" (which included Inquirer Lifestyle contributing writer Larry Leviste and current Tanghalang Pilipino artistic director Fernando "Nanding" Josef in the cast).

That same year, Espejo established at the Cultural Center of the Philippines the Gantimpala Pool of Talents, a group whose objective was to stage the winning entries to CCP's (now defunct) annual playwriting contest.

The group had its first few performances at the end alcove of CCP's third floor Main Gallery. Espejo recommended to then CCP president Lucrecia Kasilag to transform part of the ground floor canteen into a black box theater, where the group eventually staged all its productions.

The theater was called Bulwagang Gantimpala, which also became the company's name. (At that time, the other CCP resident theater company was National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio's Teatro Pilipino, holding court at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, then called Little Theater.)

The Luneta years
Following the 1986 Edsa revolution and change in government administration, Gantimpala's 1987-1988 season became its last at the CCP.

Away from the auspices of the government, the group was renamed the Gantimpala Theater Foundation. (The theater it used to occupy was later renamed Tanghalang Huseng Batute.)

The group held office and rehearsal space (and performances) at Manila Metropolitan Theater for a decade, moved to Makati for a few years, before settling in Luneta.

Espejo employed the "Four Classics" as a fixture of Gantimpala's annual season lineup (namely: "Ibong Adarna," "Florante at Laura," "Noli Me Tangere," and "El Filibusterismo"). Still being staged now (with occasional new versions), the productions are popularly described as the "curriculum plays," referencing GT's advocacy of using theater to augment schools' instruction of classic Filipino texts, since all four texts are required reading in high school.

Gantimpala Theater currently stages performances at Luneta Park's open-air auditorium, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Theater in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, and in various theaters when touring its productions.

To collaborate with Gantimpala or to offer it housing grants or referrals, contact 5280603, 8816424, 0933-4900724, 0915-2199058. Like them on Facebook (Gantimpala).

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On his 27th year as an actor, Roeder Camañag plays Apolinario Mabini

On his 27th year as an actor, Roeder Camañag plays Apolinario Mabini
By Walter Ang
Oct. 11, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Roeder Camañag
Roeder Camañag caps his 27th year in the performing arts by playing the titular character in Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas' ongoing production of "Ang Huling Lagda ni Apolinario Mabini."

Mabini is one of the country's national heroes. He was a revolutionary leader during Spanish colonial rule and was an advisor to the Emilio Aguinaldo-led revolutionary government, later serving as its prime minister.

With the coming of the Americans, he was exiled to Guam by the US colonial government. He earned the sobriquet "Brains of the Revolution" and "Sublime Paralytic," after having contracted polio just prior to the revolution against Spain.

DUP's production, meant to commemorate Mabini's birth sesquicentennial, chronicles the last days of his exile in Guam and explores the conditions that spurred him to return to his homeland.

The book is by Floy Quintos, with music by Krina Cayabyab, direction and choreography by Dexter Santos, set design by Ohm David, costume design by Darwin Desoacido and lighting design by John Batalla.

The songs were composed by Cayabyab for piano, cello, viola, and two violins.

"We wanted a musical that would reflect Mabini's character, his introspection, his statesmanship," says Quintos.

Little physical action
Camañag first prepared for the role by taking voice lessons with Pablo Molina.

"The music is difficult, so I needed to drill my vocal agility," he says.

"I also read available materials about Mabini and his writings. I went to Mabini's shrine just to get the feel of who he was and to trigger my imagination.

"And, of course, I had to lose weight," he says, laughing.

"The play is difficult in the sense that there is very little physical action," he adds. "Everything is internal, cerebral, if I may say, so it's necessary to know where it is all coming from so that the lines and lyrics make sense."

Quintos points out: "To the public mind, there are no great bravura moments, no dramatic battles or acts of extreme heroism that can be associated with Mabini. Hopefully, this musical reflects that very stoic and selfless character that has made Mabini the most underappreciated of our revolutionary heroes."

Cameo role
Born and raised in Cavite City, Camañag had his first stage exposure as a child.

"My uncle was a member of Dulaang Kabataang Barangay and I appeared in one of their productions. It was a cameo role in the play 'Gabun' where I sang 'Ugoy ng Duyan'."

"After college, I was itching to sing professionally. After high school, I took a workshop at the Ryan Cayabyab Music Studio and I was discovered by Ernest Gonzaga during our recital. I had my first professional concert at Rumors Game Room in Makati. The title of the show was `Take One.' I was 17."

He eventually got a recording contract with Vicor and he cut several albums, earning gold and platinum record awards along the way.

"I'm on iTunes and Spotify," he points out, laughing.

"At that time, Frannie Zamora was my stylist so I would always hang out at his place," Camañag recalls. "He lived in Pasay City in a compound owned by the family of Chito Valenzuela. He and Chito were both connected with Gantimpala Theater. A lot of stage actors lived in that compound, like Roobak Valle, Ronnie Lazaro, Joey Nombres, Len Ag Santos. Nonie Buencamino and Shamaine Centenera were newly married then.

"There were many professional actors who would hang out there and throw lines. I would observe them and listen to their conversations. I would also watch their productions.

"My manager Rene Durian decided that I should take an acting workshop with Gantimpala. I was inspired by Nonie Buencamino when I saw him in Tanghalang Pilipino's sarswela `Paglipas ng Dilim.'"

To teach and inspire
Camañag joined Gantimpala Theater's acting workshop in 1992 and played Bonifacio in the staging of "Katipunan: Mga Anak ng Bayan."

From there, he was cast in productions for other companies such as New Voice Company and Musical Theatre Philippines. He later joined Tanghalang Pilipino and became a member of its Actors Company from 2001-2003.

His first production for DUP was the lead role in "Elias at Salome." He was also seen as Abdalap in "Orosman at Zafira."

"One of my main goals now is to be able to inspire and teach young and aspiring actors," he says.

He's doing just that, as artistic director of Valenzuela City Center for the Performing Arts since 2006. The group provides its members free training in singing, dancing and acting, and produces musical productions that showcase their talents.

"Our artistic direction and thrust is focused mainly on developing productions that are not only entertaining but educational as well," he says.

"Our productions are geared toward providing schools and students in all levels with innovative learning aids, positive awareness of the arts and creative experiences that elevate values and morals," he adds.

"Ang Huling Lagda ni Apolinario Mabini," extended until Oct. 24, runs at Wilfrido Guerrero Theater, 2nd floor, Palma Hall, University of the Philippines, Quezon City. Call 926-1349, 433-7840, 981-8500 loc. 2449 or

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Pinoy theater productions tour Asian stages

Pinoy theater productions tour Asian stages
By Walter Ang
Oct. 4, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Sandosenang Sapatos
This October, Philippine Educational Theater Association's all-male production of "Haring Lear" will tour Taiwan, while Full House Theater Productions' staging of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" will tour Singapore. (Full House is the newly established theater company of Resorts World Manila.)

Using a translation by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera of William Shakespeare's "King Lear," the Peta production, directed by Nonon Padilla with set and costume design by Gino Gonzales, will be staged Oct. 11-12 at National Taipei University of the Arts.

Lighting design is by Jonjon Villareal and music by Dodjie Fernandez.

(Visit or contact +02-3393-9888.)

Peta also recently staged "Strong Boy, Deaf Boy and a Girl in an Abaya" in Japan, at the Showa University of Music in Kawasaki, as part of the Asian Gems of the Arts Concert for the Federation for Asian Cultural Promotions.

The production is a nonverbal, multimedia performance that makes use of contemporary and indigenous Filipino music and movement to tell the story of three children-Strong Boy, a street kid who has to work to survive; Deaf Boy, a simple boy living a frugal life until a storm strikes his coastal town; and Girl in an Abaya, a girl caught in an armed conflict between rebels and soldiers in the southern Philippines-as they journey to a place where they can live and dream without fear and danger.

This production was originally staged 13 years ago for the International Drama and Education Association World Congress in Bergen, Norway. This led to several invitations and touring performances in the Netherlands, Greece and France.

Written by Nicolas Pichay and directed by Dudz Teraña, this year's staging has been updated to include the experience of children who survived the recent Typhoon "Yolanda" tragedy. Musical direction is by Jeff Hernandez, and set and costume design by Joan Pamintuan.

"Strong Boy." will also have a limited two-show run from Oct. 29 to 30 (twinbilled with an excerpt from Peta's latest season production "FnL") at The Imaginarium Multi-Arts Festival of the Absurd, Peta Theater Center, Quezon City.

(Contact 0917-8996680. Tickets are also available through TicketWorld at 8919999 or

Meanwhile, Full House Theater Company's "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" will tour Singapore this October after ending its Manila run at Resorts World Manila's Newport Performing Arts Theater.

The musical, with book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, stars Michael Williams, Jon Santos and Red Concepcion as three gay friends who travel across Australia on a bus they christen as Priscilla.

The show is directed by Jaime del Mundo with musical direction by Inday Echevarria, set design by Jo Tecson, costume design by Edgar San Diego, lighting design by Shakira Villa-Syme and choreography by Nancy Crowe.

"Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" runs Oct. 16-26 at Resorts World Theater, Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore.


In November, Tanghalang Pilipino's musical version of "Sandosenang Sapatos" will be the Philippines' entry to the sixth Theater Olympics to be held in Beijing, China.

"Sandosenang Sapatos" is a children's musical based on Luis Gatmaitan's Palanca Award-winning children's book adapted by Layeta Bucoy, with music by Noel Cabangon and Jed Balsamo.

The story is about a shoemaker who dreams of having a ballerina daughter but ends up with a crippled daughter. The TP production, where several kinds of shoes appear as characters in the show, premiered last year and has had several reruns, including a limited 15-performance rerun last August at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

At the 2013 Philstage Gawad Buhay!, it was a finalist in three categories: Outstanding Production for Children in a Musical or Play, Outstanding Female Lead in a Musical or Play (Trixie Esteban) and Outstanding Musical Direction (Noel Cabangon and Jed Balsamo).

The musical was commissioned by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People in cooperation with CCP as part of the celebration of the 28th National Children's Book Day last year.

Celebrated every third week of July, the National Children's Book Day is held to commemorate the anniversary of the publication of Jose Rizal's "The Monkey and the Turtle."

The first musical adaptation of the book, created by the Valenzuela City Center for Performing Arts in 2008 with music by Jesse Lucas and adaptation by Jose Jeffrey Camañag, was recently restaged by Gantimpala Theater.

The Beijing-bound production will feature members of the Actors Company, TP's resident pool of actors, under Tuxqs Rutaquio's direction. Gerald Mercado choreographs, with sound design by TJ Ramos, lighting design  by John Batalla, costumes by James Reyes and Leeroy New, and set design by Rutaquio.

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Cayabyab-Lumbera’s ‘Noli’ musical to debut in Los Angeles

Cayabyab-Lumbera’s ‘Noli’ musical to debut in Los Angeles
By Walter Ang
Aug. 16, 2104
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Teatro Pilipino USA is staging a one-night-only performance of the musical "Noli Me Tangere" in Los Angeles this August, with the English supertitles provided by Palanca-award winner Chynna Roxas.

Music is by Ryan Cayabyab and libretto is by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera. The world premiere was directed by Nonon Padilla, founding artistic director of Tanghalang Pilipino, in 1995 at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The original cast included Monique Wilson as Maria Clara, Audie Gemora and John Arcilla alternating as Crisostomo Ibarra, Bernardo Bernardo and Bodjie Pascua as Damaso, and Nanette Inventor and Sheila Francisco as Dona Victorina.

TP has had two other directors stage their interpretations of the musical in Manila: Paul Morales in 2005 with set design by New York-based Clint Ramos, and Audie Gemora in 2011 with set design by Mio Infante.

Original direction
TP also toured the musical in Japan and Malaysia. For its US premiere, Olga Natividad, a former actress with TP now based in Los Angeles, is directing.

"I am restaging Nonon Padilla's original direction because I think his version is definitive in terms of this adaptation. To do it otherwise is like redoing a Hitchcock classic and failing to surpass it. Stick to Nonon's opus na lang."

Natividad was part of the ensemble of the original staging, aside from portraying lead and character roles in many other TP productions. She has acted for New York-based companies such as Theater Workshop Company, Sanford Meisner Theater, Diverscity Theatre and Ma-yi Theater Company.

"We've asked permission from the original creators to restage it the way it was, including Edna Vida's choreography. We will also be using the set and costume designs of the late Salvador `Badong' Bernal, National Artist for Theater Design. We borrowed the original costumes from Tanghalang Pilipino."

Passing the baton
Two Filipino performers now based in the US are playing the lead roles. Miguel Vera is Crisostomo Ibarra, a role he reprises from Manila restagings of the show. Vera was part of the ensemble in the West End staging of "Miss Saigon" and has also performed in other TP productions.

His children with actress Ai-Ai delas Alas, Sophia Andrea and Sean Niccolo, are part of the ensemble.

"This is a family affair. Lahat sila are part of the play," says Natividad, laughing.

Coloratura soprano Maria Cristina "Kit" Navarro plays Maria Clara. A graduate of the Philippine High School for the Arts (Theater Major), she has a Bachelor of Music Major in Voice degree from University of the Philippines and a Diploma in Musical Theater Studies from Biel Conservatory, Switzerland. She was a former member-soloist of the Philippine Madrigal Singers and the UP Filipiniana Dance Group.

The cast also includes other TP alumni.

"We have Nenen Espina, who was Cayabyab's assistant musical director. We have Angela Garcia as Sisa, Ariel Dayanghirang as Salvi, Joji Isla as Damaso," says Natividad. "Some of the cast performed in the original production or in the touring productions or in non-Padilla stagings. Not only is it a wonderful reunion, but now, they are passing the baton to the new cast of `Noli.'

"If 'Noli' becomes successful, TPU plans to produce more Filipino plays. The one-night show is meant for potential showbuyers and producers. They are interested in touring the show to other states, but we can't seal the deal until they really see it. We want to give them an alternative form of entertainment."

TPU will be performing "Noli" in Tagalog but will have English supertitles because "we considered our audience and not all of them are Pinoys," says Natividad. "Also, some of our cast members, especially the kids, do not really understand Tagalog, partly because it's deep Tagalog."

Natividad says of directing the young Filipino-American actors born in the US or those who relocated there while very young: "The Fil-Am kids are very receptive. They couldn't understand the language so basically they take visual cues and music cues, but they're trying their best to learn the language. The translation helps."

"I was really scared when Olga first contacted me," says Roxas, a former stage manager with TP now based in Guam. "I'd done translations and adaptations before, but nothing ever like this: A National Artist's interpretation of a National Hero's novel! I hope that I was able to stay faithful to and give justice to their works.

"I took time in reading and researching. I also consulted Jovy Peregrino, a Filipino teacher. I asked permission to do adaptations at some points because I'm scared I might lose the beautiful poetry of Lumbera's libretto if I do direct translations.

"I felt that I had to make the English translation poetic as well, especially with the songs' lyrics, but I veered away from making it too flowery or complex because it should be understandable by audiences who have never heard of the novel.

"This project made me appreciate the Filipino language more. Walang wika na sing-ganda at kay sarap bigkasin nang paulit-ulit."

"Noli Me Tangere: The Musical" runs Aug. 23 at Aratani Japan America Theater, 244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles. Contact or like on Facebook (Teatro-Pilipino-USA).

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Gia Macuja bags role of Imelda’s nanny in West End ‘Here Lies Love’

Gia Macuja bags role of Imelda’s nanny in West End ‘Here Lies Love’
By Walter Ang
Aug. 9, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Singer Mark Bautista has been cast in the role of Ferdinand Marcos for the West End staging of "Here Lies Love," a musical about the life of Imelda Marcos.

London-based soprano Gia Macuja-Atchison, a former actress with Repertory Philippines and sister of Ballet Manila founding artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, has been cast as Estrella Cumpas, Imelda's nanny.

The production is scheduled to begin previews on Sept. 30 and will officially open in October at Dorfman Theatre (formerly Cottesloe Theatre) in the National Theatre building.

This follows the casting of Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi in the West End revival of "Miss Saigon," along with Julia Abueva and Tanya Manalang as alternates for Kim.

Bautista was previously in (now defunct) Viva Atlantis Theatrical's "Full Monty" and Tanghalang Pilipino's "Noli Me Tangere."

Created by musician David Byrne and DJ/music producer Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook, the show premiered Off-Broadway last year and had a limited run. It won the 2013 Obie Award for Music and Lyrics and is showing again in New York this year, with New York-based Jose Llana reprising his role as Ferdinand Marcos.

Costume design is by New York-based Clint Ramos; critics have lauded his work as "vast and fabulous" (New York Times), "[providing] beautiful symmetry" (The Hollywood Reporter), and "top-notch" (New York Magazine).

Macuja's audition process started in May with the casting directors in the UK.

"I was called back six times, learning several songs and dialogue. When the American team came, I was called in three more times with a lot more dancing auditions until the final decisions were made," she says.

"It was very tough and hard going. Nakakanerbiyos sobra! As we were up against so many talented people not only from the UK but all over the world.

"I got a call from my agent and found out I was being offered the role of Estrella the day after the final auditions. I screamed for joy. Yes, singers are allowed to scream!" she says.

"After having the opportunity to perform the roles of Vietnamese Gigi and American Ellen in 'Miss Saigon,' then South African Nala in 'The Lion King' here in the West End, initially it felt a bit surreal to be singing as a Filipina about the Philippines here in the UK! What an honor! It makes me feel so proud!

"I think this is a fantastic opportunity to share something about Philippine history to the entire world," she says.

Macuja was with Rep in the '90s, playing roles such as Mary Magdalene in "Jesus Christ Superstar," Cosette in "Les Miserables" and Luisa in "The Fantasticks."

"I felt I needed to spread my wings abroad and the opportunity came for me to study," she says. She moved to London in 1997 to take a one-year post-graduate course in Musical Theatre at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

She then joined "Miss Saigon" for a year and then Walt Disney Theatrical's "The Lion King" until 2004, the same year she married violinist and conductor Robert Atchison.

"Since leaving 'The Lion King,' motherhood has kept me very busy. I have two children and the lifestyle here in England is very different from the Philippines, especially when you don't have family around to help. We have no yayas," she says.

Singing trio
Nonetheless, you can't keep a performer down for too long. She's formed a singing trio, called West End Mamas (, together with Cez Campos-Bonner and Maya Barredo-Duffy (both of whom have played Kim in "Miss Saigon").

The group performs in various London events and was in Manila earlier this year to perform in Ballet Manila's "Heart 2 Heart" and was in last year's "Ballets and Ballads."

She has also been doing some film work and is head of vocal coaching at Grosvenor School of Performing Arts.

Macuja has already started preparing for her role even before rehearsals begin.

"I have been researching and reading up on the life of Imelda. For me, whether you are portraying a fictitious character or a real one, the biggest challenge is making a character come alive given all the material you have. With Estrella, I have been told she is meant to be Imelda's `rock'. the one that just tells the truth as it was, which Imelda eventually rejects. I feel this is much more exciting because this all actually happened!"

"I have been keeping my voice in shape by doing vocal exercises as much as I can. I have also been taking regular ballet class as there is going to be a lot of dancing in the show. I am the singer, my sister is the dancer!" she adds, laughing.

"Martial Law was a very difficult time for a lot of people, including my father Cesar Macuja, who served in the Marcos government as deputy prime minister as well as undersecretary of trade, among his many other positions in government.  He was the first high-ranking government official to resign from the Marcos government before the 1986 Edsa revolution.

"When I told him I got the part, he said he was happy for me, but that it is a time in his life he would rather forget. I hope he comes to see me in `Here Lies Love' in London. I have always admired his courage to fight for what he believed in. We must not forget that there were also good and honest people during that time. My father fought for five years and won all cases brought against him."

For the New York production, visit For the West End production, visit

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REVIEW: Wit, pathos--and pointed questions--in 'Flipzoids'

Wit, pathos--and pointed questions--in 'Flipzoids'
By Walter Ang
July 26, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The peeling wall paint and crumbling papier-maché ornaments in the Music Museum's lobby may have been an indication of the state of its lighting systems. But it was most likely the aftereffects of Typhoon "Glenda" (which had left Manila only the night before) that caused the lights to go off three-fourths into GodInUs Productions' opening night of "Flipzoids."

There was magic in that moment. Actress Becca Godinez paused for one beat and decided to keep on talking. In a play about three lost characters trying to find their way, the darkness was, as one character mentioned, "fraught with symbols."

In addition to the steadfast actors, lighting designer Shakira Villa was also there to save the day, and then some. Several minutes later, her crew was able to get eight PAR lights to work. Even though she was "only" tasked to recreate and monitor Gerry Linsangan's lighting design from the show's Los Angeles run, Villa proceeded to ever so subtly choreograph those eight lights and was even able to sneak in a dimming moment to end a scene, matching the emotions on stage.

This is what you call a Pinoy's inherent, ineffable powers of pulso. And to see it in action was to give you goosebumps.

Three generations

The play features three Filipinos from three generations, living in the US and struggling with varying degrees and kinds of isolation as they seek to establish identity, home and family (personal, cultural and otherwise).

Seventy-something Aying (Godinez) yearns for Pagudpud after having been petitioned by her daughter Vangie (Ellen Williams), who works as a nurse in Anaheim. Aying then encounters confused young adult Redford (Maxwell Corpuz), born in the US to Pinoy parents.

Written by Ralph Peña (who immigrated to the US and is now the artistic director of the acclaimed Ma-Yi Theater Company in New York), "Flipzoids" had its Philippine premiere in 1998 when Ma-Yi toured the original 1996 cast at the Cultural Center of the Philippines for the Centennial Arts Festival.

The play has had more than 60 other performances in various locations in the US, and a revival in New York in 2011.

This production, directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera, was co-produced by Ted Benito's PAE Live! Productions and Latino Theatre Company in 2012 in the West Coast. Godinez produced the three-day Manila tour; she is also set to produce the Los Angeles and San Francisco legs of Ballet Philippines' US tour scheduled for October.


More than 15 years after it was written, and even if the play is set in the mid-'80s, Peña's text crackles with relevance, wit and pathos. The lines are unrelenting, evocative, thought-provoking and surprising. The jokes are hilarious, the punch lines are sharp, the frustrations are real, the vulnerabilities are poignant. The play suddenly detonates acts of violence (a hit to the face, a strangling, a slur) here and there, exploding the veneer of sense memories and intangible, uncertain futures.

When issues of identity are the topic, physical attributes and accents come, fairly or unfairly, into play. Was it a deliberate decision to cast plus-size actors for this production? To physicalize the land of plenty, perhaps? Redford was born in the US but the actor who played him has the most moreno skin tone in the cast. Take that, white America!

Vangie immigrated to the US; while actress Williams made a valiant effort at Pinoy-accented English, the twang she grew up with would seep in and her Filipino lines sounded a bit stiff. Godinez made for a very fair-skinned-with-a-tisay-accent Ilocana, but after the jarring first few moments, her consistent, strong characterization latched on to the audience and never let go.


This production sparks questions: Is identity skin color? An accent? Where you were born, grew up, eventually become successful? Where you'll die and be buried?

Remember, quite a number of Filipinos initially hated Laguna-born Charice Pempengco when she became popular because of appearances in US TV shows ("Oprah" and "Glee"), but celebrated US-born Jessica Sanchez (whose mother is from Bataan) when she became a runner-up in "American Idol" (she'd never been to the Philippines till 2012; the marketing buzz called it a homecoming!).

We are a people who vilified fashion brand Bayo for its "What's your mix?" ad campaign (featuring models' mixed-race parentage via percentage rates), but produce countless articles describing the tiniest fraction of Filipino ancestry of foreign celebrities.

Go figure. The show and the discussion must go on.

Earnest portrayals

Set designer John Binkley provided the ensemble with a wood-paneled backdrop that seemed like horizontal prison bars and constricting rectangular walking spaces. There was also a central pillar whose shelves were bedecked with blue mason jars. The set felt like a Crate and Barrel store--a wink at First World imperialism and Third World consumerism?

Williams and Corpuz, who both showed earnest portrayals and were even literally placed on higher ground and upstage (farther back the stage), were swallowed by Godinez's skill, experience and comic timing, notwithstanding her being blocked downstage (nearer the audience).

Rivera situated Vangie and Redford on the solid portions of the set and Aying on the impermanent sand. Symbolism aside, it's partly due to this spatial isolation and staging that made it a little difficult to relate to their relationships, because the three never seemed to come together.

Or was that the point? In contrast to the haunting and ambiguous ending directed by Loy Arcenas in the 1990s, Rivera epilogued this staging with a more pointed conclusion: The three characters may not have connected in the most ideal of ways, but they've redirected each other's paths to new (and better?) trajectories.

"Flipzoids" is included in "Savage Stage," an anthology of plays developed and produced by Ma-Yi Theater, available through or For details on the US tour of Ballet Philippines, contact; tel. 8323689, 5511003; or like on Facebook (Balletphilippines).

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REVIEW: Tacky, kitschy, gaudy and fabulous queens (Review of 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert')

Tacky, kitschy, gaudy and fabulous queens
By Walter Ang
June 28, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Let's remember that while Full House Theater Company's staging of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," a musical about two drag queens and a transgender woman searching for love and acceptance of self and from others, is being shown in Manila this year, countries left and right have been legalizing homosexual marriage while the Philippines remains the only country left in the entire world that has no divorce proceedings for heterosexual marriage.

Now, speaking of a long way to go, if you are looking for a road trip comedy with '70s and '80s disco and radio pop hits festooned with glitter and feathers, this show delivers.

Literary and theatrical purists needn't fret. If, during Shakespeare's time, male actors portrayed female characters who cross-dress as males, here we have a male actor who portrays a trans woman who dresses up in female drag. How's that for a 21st-century twist? Hi, Bill!

The musical, with book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, showcases Jon Santos and Red Concepcion in very strong acting form.

The seasoned drag queen, Santos as Ralph/Bernadette, versus the young upstart drag princess, Concepcion as Adam/Felicia: Hilarity ensues. But only because these two work hard at filling in their very high heels with energy, earnestness and fabulousness.

They don't talk with a lisp. They choose an accent they can maintain (no morphing accents here). They don't ape their songs; they sing their songs--with heart. They set up their punchlines with correct timing. They don't put on an affected caricature of their characters; they become their characters.

Concepcion is an unfaltering powerball of energy, cackles and sass. It doesn't hurt that he has a cute tush, too. Santos is not the strongest singer, but audiences don't care a bit since he creates a Bernadette so sincere and believable that her elegance and gravitas shine through to the hilt.

Michael Williams and OJ Mariano, both competent performers, are severely underutilized in this show. Mariano has one spoken line! Audiences would be much better off if either one of them played (or if both alternated) the role of Tick/Mitzi, the character that serves as the impetus for this adventure.

But due to Leo Valdez's ineffectual execution of the role, which drags the show's momentum, the character's dramatic arc now merely serves as forgettable narrative bookends to this fun, fierce journey.

Color and vitality
The look and feel of the production, courtesy of Jaime del Mundo's direction, Jo Tecson's set design, Edgar San Diego's costume design, Shakira Villa-Syme's lighting design and Nancy Crowe's choreography, has a campy, tacky, kitschy vibe that, strangely enough, works!

To wit, there is that opening number with a gaggle of backup dancers twirling their umbrellas, reminiscent of lunchtime variety shows. There are costumes that are (lovingly) inspired by Sto. Niño statues and ati-atihan garb. It's all topped off by a hokey Powerpoint presentation that looks like it was made by a third grader.

Here is a show about drag queens that doesn't quite have the sheen and sophistication of a Vegas or Moulin Rouge showgirl act, but rather, the rawness, color and vitality of the corner beauty parlor that has linoleum floors, pin lights left over from last Christmas and a plastic fortune plant; plus the loudness and pomp of the annual local barangay gay pageant, all mixed in with the gaudy, paid-by-our-taxes, imported street lamps of Roxas Boulevard.

In other words, the aesthetic is Pinoy na Pinoy! And it triumphs because it is unblinkingly (but with false lashes, of course) and unapologetically so.

Strong singing
Musical director Inday Echevaria has guided the ensemble into a strong singing unit and they execute Crowe's pop, energetic choreography with gusto. Take note, these are men who sing and dance in "regular" clothes and drag; and the women, too, are in drag. Androgyny and ambiguity abound.

Pinky Marquez in male get-up and a mullet is a joyful and hilarious sight (this is the woman who showed audiences full back nudity in Rep's "The Graduate"!).

Bituin Escalante's powerful voice booms throughout the theater as one of the three divas who provide the drag queens' sync-voices. Listen carefully, Bernadette gives the audience a Drag 101 lesson on why drag queens lip-sync.

The church choir at the funeral in Act One, while fun, feels a tad illogical; perhaps singing mourners in drag instead next time? Unless church choirs at funerals is a thing now?

San Diego's costumes are colorful, though there are a few ensembles that seem ill-proportioned, making the leads look squat, like men in drag instead of real drag queens. He also gives a nod to Madonna (whose songs were used in the Broadway version instead of Kylie Minogue's, which was in the West End version and now in the Manila staging) via one of his costumes for Concepcion.

Cinematic effect
The production smartly frames the very long stage with a false proscenium, focusing the audience's sightlines and the acting space to the center. This also makes the theater's two flanking video screens less distracting (though they seem to have been moved a bit farther to the sides as well). Someone please banish these two pointless monstrosities permanently.

Students who ride a school bus or employees who ply Edsa on commuter buses will tell you that the side panels of the eponymous bus, Priscilla, needs more details (such as rivets and grooves) and paint texturing (to make it look less like plywood and more like metal). But then again, if we're going for kitsch, this fits the bill.

The production employs the theater's video cyclorama to cinematic effect (a wink at the musical's provenance: Elliott's 1994 film "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert") when it becomes the desert backdrop, moving in sync with the rotating bus. The animation is clean and the perspective is correct, unlike previous ones used in this theater that looked like desktop computer video games from the mid-'90s.

The giant stiletto that appears on top of the bus (in the movie as well as the other international versions of the musical) couldn't be reproduced in Manila due to licensing agreements. However, Del Mundo's tongue-in-cheek, hilarious and very theatrical staging of this scene completely upends the iconic prop. Queens couldn't be any prouder of his fabulous idea.

Full House Theater Company's "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" runs until July 13 at Resorts World Manila's Newport Performing Arts Theater, and will play in Singapore in October 2014. Visit or call 9088833.

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The Diana Vreeland set that got its own applause? That's by Joey Mendoza

The Diana Vreeland set that got its own applause? That's by Joey Mendoza
By Walter Ang
April 12, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

It isn't every day that a set design receives applause from an audience.

Joey Mendoza's scenery for "Full Gallop," a play about former Vogue editor in chief Diana Vreeland after she'd been axed from the magazine, received applause for every single show in its recently concluded run, staged by Actor's Actors Inc. and My Own Mann Productions, at RCBC Plaza in Makati.

When the curtains rose at the start of the show, audiences invariably burst into spontaneous clapping at the sight of Mendoza's interpretation of Vreeland's apartment.

Mendoza had seen the original production of "Full Gallop" in New York.

"I immediately thought Manila would relate to this easily," he says.

Last year, when he heard there was talk of a Manila run, he got in touch with director Bart Guingona. "He's a friend from way back. I told him I knew the show well and it's been a dream to design it."

Guingona extended an invitation to design the set, and "I agreed immediately! Cherie Gil, the play's star and producer, was in New York December last year and we met at Tabule restaurant in Hell's Kitchen. I showed her some sketches on my iPad over appetizers and we got along famously. She was animated and funny and I had no doubt she could own the stage I wanted to design. I was designing the set with her in mind from the get-go."

Mendoza is mindful that not everyone knows who Vreeland is.

"However, I don't think anyone who knows more about fashion would enjoy 'Full Gallop' exponentially more than those who know less. The show is really about this force named Vreeland who was a larger-than-life character, a character that has to draw audiences and not scare them off-and designing the show had to reflect that.

"I also only knew a bit about Vreeland. I'm not a hardcore fashionista, but in Manhattan, you're constantly assaulted by fashion and style on the streets. Vreeland differentiated fashion and style: It isn't what you are wearing, but how you are wearing it-and I think the same can be applied in set design. You can have all the right fashionable pieces, but putting it together is the key."

Mendoza read the play, Vreeland's autobiography "DV," and other articles about the woman to get to the bottom of what she was like.

"If she were still around, how would she like her apartment to look today?" he asked himself.

Mendoza then made a mood board with photos of Vreeland's Park Avenue apartment, accessories and other images that helped inspire the tone of his design.

"One of the images in my mood board was a bottle of Opium Yves Saint Laurent perfume. I liked the gloss and clean lines, that black tassel and the leafy pattern on the box. I used some of that in the final design," he recalled.

Warm and funny
From there, Mendoza worked on crafting the look. "I researched other designers' work on the Internet. The original production's design by James Noone is a wonderful recreation of her famous red apartment, which worked well in Manhattan Theatre Club's intimate space. That was sort of the trend in set design in the '90s, but it's already 2014 and I definitely did not want to recreate that.

"Her 'Garden in Hell' apartment was designed by arguably the most celebrated interior designer at the time, Billy Baldwin. I didn't think it wise to mimic him.

"When I saw the play, I remember feeling like I was the early guest in her dinner party and she was entertaining me in her own ridiculous way, but always with a knowing wink and look, as if I were in on the joke.

"`Full Gallop' isn't a documentary or a museum piece. It's theater! And Vreeland is so theatrical. The play seems hysterical and large and I sensed that a realistic apartment wasn't right for this.

"I designed the three different wallpaper patterns: paisley, chintz and striped. The first two had a garden motif (leaves, vines, flowers) and there is a touch of blue in the chintz pattern that supposedly adds a somewhat `bruised' hue.

"The third was a homage to Baldwin. I like the sort of whimsical, almost circus-like candy stripe pattern and palette.

"The focal point is an enormous tied-back curtain, to add softness and texture and a sense of drama. Also, I think it's just hilarious, to have this huge fabric swatch on stage. The set needs to have a sense of humor, I think. The set, like Vreeland, while at first might seem intimidating, is actually warm and funny."

Hyperbolic, operatic
Mendoza was also inspired to create a hanamichi (a platform connected to the stage) for the set following a line in the play that mentions a kabuki actor.

"The runway platform used in kabuki is pretty much the same idea used in fashion shows. The set needed to be hyperbolic and operatic in scale, but intimate at the same time."

Mendoza also used music to enrich his process. "The play did not have a sound designer on board, so I just forged ahead with a song list myself and Bart was open to it. The set needed that support."

"The set is a modern interpretation in the spirit of Vreeland and I think it is critical that music should establish that. I didn't think a literal all-period, early '70s and oldies mix would have been right. How boring!

"I listened to jazz, swing, house, lounge, pop and hip hop. The songs before the play begins are performed by Rose Murphy, very playful and childlike. It turns contemporary-Parov Stelar's Booty Swing, followed by Lil' Louis, Demitri from Paris, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake and eventually Jay-Z and Alicia Keys doing `Empire State of Mind'; artists she would probably be hanging out with today."

Working across the world
Mendoza was a Repertory Philippines workshop attendee who graduated into backstage work and acting roles. His first set design was for a staging of the musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" in Dumaguete City.

Mendoza moved to New York in the early '90s and got involved with Rep alumni Jorge Ortoll's theater group, Ma-Yi Theatre Company, as a board member and designer. Since then, his work has been seen on the stages of LaMama ETC, The New World Theatre, Theater Row and others.

His recent design credits in New York include collaborations with Lou Moreno, artistic director for Intar; and Ralph Peña, artistic director of Ma-Yi Theatre Company. He's also a regular guest designer at Fordham University's theater program at Lincoln Center, where he also regularly mentors and critiques students in scenic design.

Mendoza had recently designed two other productions in Manila, both for Repertory Philippines: "Little Women" (Philstage Gawad Buhay! citation for Outstanding Set Design) and "Jekyll & Hyde."

"Working long-distance is an unconventional but not untried method; other foreign-based designers have done it that way before. Also, working styles in NY can be very different from that of Manila and I needed to adjust to that. There was a lot of email exchanges and Skype-ing in the process and that helped tremendously," he says.

Beautiful things
Mendoza created a source book for the production team, a detailed compendium of images for every single item used on stage: A variety of coffee tables, side tables, consoles, chairs, lamps, carpets, accessories, flowers, vases, etc.

"Vreeland says `I only want beautiful things!' in the first few minutes of the play. I think it says it all."

"I was fortunate enough to have a great team headed by production manager Ria Pangilinan to go on a scavenger hunt throughout Manila and beyond. In the end, only the bookshelf had to be custom-built. The production's set assistants Jojo Amboy and Ogie Reonal were tenacious and sticklers. The set couldn't have been done without them."

"I requested my brother, Anton, who is a successful interior designer in his own right, to be my eyes. He showed up on production week and adjusted the furniture and accessories. He walked all around the theater and adjusted accessories and set pieces for maximum impact.

"My siblings and I grew up not with comic books, but a collection of art, architecture and interior design books, which were always accessible on my parents' coffee table. My father is an architect and my mother is also an interior designer, both of them modernists. We were very familiar with Billy Baldwin and it made `Full Gallop' so much fun. We were on the same page right from the start and understood the era well. I had no doubt my brother would make it all work."

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Tuxqs Rutaquio sings, acts, directs, designs sets and costumes--and collects toys

Tuxqs Rutaquio sings, acts, directs, designs sets and costumes--and collects toys
By Walter Ang
April 5, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"I have over a hundred toys in my shelf, most of them in mint condition, never taken out of the boxes. Some are loose for display," says Tuxqs Rutaquio.

The collection began in 2004 with an Incredible Hulk action figure.

"I didn't know why I bought it in the first place, but I remember that it reminded me of my childhood and that I noticed how great the craftsmanship is on the details of the figure," he explains.

"At that time, the only things I collected were the comic books that I'd gathered since the 1980s, 'Uncanny X-Men' and 'Mighty Avengers.' I still have them in near mint condition.

The second piece for his collection was a no-brainer. "I never had a Voltes V toy as a child so that was the first hunt," he recalls.

From there, Rutaquio expanded to other robots from '70s and '80s anime such as Daimos, Mazinger Z and Transformers.

Manga-style figurines
He's already transitioned to bishojo figurines. "It means `pretty girls' in Japanese," he notes. "I discovered and fell in love with the pieces of a toy line called Kotobukiya. Shunya Yamashita, a popular manga/anime illustrator famous for his Final Fantasy illustrations, had created Marvel and DC women characters for Kotobukiya in manga style."

He says he has never seen characters like Wonder Woman, Bat Girl, Jean Grey/Phoenix or even Storm in manga style. "I was so fascinated. I got hooked because of their delicate aesthetics and detailed anatomy, showcasing the power and strength of women characters with a touch of sexuality."

He usually gets two different design versions of a character. "I have two versions of Darth Vader, Galactus, Superman (All-Star, being a fan of the Grant Morrison revamp of the story), Batman, Flash Gordon, The Iron Giant, Edward Scissorhands and many more."

All these characters, he says, "have a profound connection in my life . I buy toys that have a history for me, a sentimentality . When you see my collection, it's a summation of who I am because I grew up within the fantasy worlds of robots and superheroes."

Theater work
It's little wonder that he fits right in the world of theater. During his freshman year as a Fine Arts student at the University of the Philippines, Rutaquio was recruited by lighting designer Shakira Villa to help make props for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas' (DUP) "Ang Pagbabalik ng Madame."

"I was hooked," he says. "After that night, as much as I could, I joined every production of DUP. In my third year, I shifted to Theater Arts as a Technical Theater major focusing on Set and Costume Design, realizing that I could still apply what I'd learned in Fine Arts."

He focused his energies into learning design, watching plays from other theater companies, specifically works by National Artist for Theater Design Salvador Bernal, who later on became one of his teachers in the masters classes offered by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Rutaquio's first design work for DUP was "Elias at Salome," directed by DUP founding artistic director Tony Mabesa. Since then, he's won two Gawad Buhay! Philstage Awards for Outstanding Set Design in Tanghalang Pilipino's (TP) "A Streetcar Named Desire/Flores Para los Muertos" and "Kudeta."

He also dabbled in acting and had Anton Juan as a mentor, appearing in plays such as "Sakurahime," "Drunkenness of Noah" and "Antigone." He was cast in several of Chris Martinez's plays such as "Last Full Show," "Baclofen" and "Last Order sa Penguin." He also did a turn in Madiraka Productions' staging of "Temptation Island . Live!", and was Ada in TP's long-running hit musical "Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal," which also showcased his singing voice.

His more recent acting include the titular role in DUP's "Lulu" and last year's "Der Kaufmann" by TP.

Late bloomer
"I was a late bloomer as a director," admits Rutaquio. "To prepare myself, I started as a stage manager in Jose Estrella's all-women staging of `Waiting for Godot' starring Eugene Domingo, Candy Pangilinan, Lanie Sumalinog, Dolly de Leon and Frances Makil-Ignacio."

Nearing his last year as an undergraduate student, Rutaquio took up directing under Mabesa. His thesis production was Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

He credits directing for the Virgin Labfest (VL), the annual festival of new plays, for helping him hone his skills and find his directing voice. He's done several of Layeta Bucoy's plays for VL such as "Ellas Innocentes" and "Doc Resureccion: Gagamutin ang Bayan."

Rutaquio was appointed festival director of VL two years ago after founding festival director Rody Vera stepped down.

TP stint
After finishing his Masters in Theater Arts in UP, he did design work for Repertory Philippines, Atlantis Productions, Philippine Educational Theater Association and TP.

His involvement with TP mirrors his college experience, as he started out with design (set and costume designer for "Ang Pokpok ng Ohio"), then acting (in "Zsazsa Zaturnnah") and assisting TP artistic director Nanding Josef in "Eyeball: New Visions of Philippine Theater." Soon came an invitation to be TP's associate artistic director.

"What I enjoy most about doing theater is that I can dabble in different aspects of production-not because I get bored easily but because I like learning more and more. It has become my panata to do  all these things in a year," he says.

With TP now carrying out its annual summer theater workshops, Rutaquio is preparing for the company's new season which will open a few months from now with Layeta Bucoy's "Kleptomaniacs."

Commissioned work
Meanwhile, he's still working on his toy collection. He recently commissioned sculptors Wed and Rosa Lodriga to create a 13-inch statue of Zsazsa Zaturnnah.

"Being a great friend, Zsazsa creator Carlo Vergara agreed to have me produce this based on his design, he says. "I enjoyed the process with the Lodrigas. Every week or so, they would consistently send photos on the development of the sculpture. I admired how they took the time to carefully create the statue with love and passion! There are only three statues of this character made-my copy, one with Carlo, and the third with the Lodrigas."

"When I have time, I plan to have it reproduced for distribution to those who want a copy. I would love to produce other characters from the graphic novel with the same team," he adds.

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Hey, Madame Producers! Girlie Rodis and Celeste Legaspi's Musicat

Hey, Madame Producers!
By Walter Ang
March 22, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Rodis and Legaspi
Following the Edsa People Power Revolution in February 1986, the theater industry underwent changes. The Cultural Center of the Philippines saw the exit of Bulwagang Gantimpala (now Gantimpala Theater) and Teatro Pilipino from the complex, and the birth of CCP's resident theater company Tanghalang Pilipino. Gantimpala and TP are still alive and kicking.

In the private sector, a trailblazing theater entity was also born. Though it has effectively gone into semi-retirement, it seems poised for a big comeback.

Talent manager Girlie Rodis and singer-actress Celeste Legaspi remembers that after Edsa, "the euphoria was there"-and so they rode the wave to found Musical Theatre Philippines (Musicat).

The tandem went on to produce seven musicals-"Katy!" (1988), "Kenkoy Loves  Rosing" (1992), "Alikabok" (1995), "Sino Ka Ba, Jose Rizal?" (1996), "Larawan, The Musical" (1997), "Fire Water Woman" (1999), and "Saranggola ni Pepe" (2008)-that invariably showcased top-flight Filipino talent.

Unique undertaking
At the time, as Inquirer Theater editor Gibbs Cadiz noted in his blog, "Musicat was a unique undertaking in that it was the only local theater company exclusively dedicated to commissioning and mounting original Filipino musicals."

Newer and younger audiences may have never heard of these productions before, but "Katy!" generated acclaim anew last year in a restaging by Spotlight Artists Centre, while "Sino Ka Ba" was mounted by Gantimpala Theater from 2011 to 2012.

Legaspi had been headlining concerts in the years leading up to 1986 and had been a member of Tinio's Teatro Pilipino. She was known for adding theatrical elements to her shows. She did a bit where Max Alvarado and Dencio Padilla came out on stage and exchanged gunfire with Fernando Poe Jr. on a video screen.

"Interactive! It was a hit with audiences at the time," she recalls.

She also sang duets with herself via video. "Ginaya ako ni Barbra!" she laughs, referring to Barbra Streisand, who would make the set piece a staple in her latter-day concerts.

Legaspi and Rodis, who until now serves as Legaspi's manager and producer, jumped off from this inherent sense of the theatrical into full-fledged musical-theater production with "Katy!"

It had Mitch Valdes as the titular "Bodabil Queen" Katy dela Cruz, and Legaspi as her fictional foil Olivia, with music by Ryan Cayabyab, libretto by Jose Javier Reyes and direction by Nestor Torre.

"We also had Bernardo Bernardo as Tatay, Marco Sison as Peping, Gigi Posadas as Mary Walter, the late Tenten Muñoz as young Katy," says Rodis.

"We were able to invite Katy herself to come and watch. We arranged for her to arrive in a Rolls Royce, wearing a fancy gown by Ernest Santiago. It was always magical when she would come up the stage, looking regal and svelte at 83, wearing three-inch heels."

Rodis is also the manager of the likes of Joanna Ampil (currently starring as Grizabella in the European tour of "Cats"), Julia Abueva (presently in the West End rehearsing for "Miss Saigon" as a Kim alternate), Rachel Alejandro, Cris Villonco, Arthur Espiritu, Cara Manglapus and Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski.

But her major joy, she says, is producing original Filipino musicals. Or as Cadiz quoted her: "To this day I still don't own my house, but I own seven librettos!"

After "Katy!" came "Kenkoy Loves Rosing," based on the komiks by writer Romualdo Ramos and illustrator Tony Velasquez. It starred Regine Velasquez, Janno Gibbs and Nonie Buencamino. The music was by Bob Serrano (of the singing group Tux) and Archie Castillo, with libretto by Boy Noriega.

"Alikabok," meanwhile, inspired by Juan Luna's painting "La Bulaqueña," was about the Katipunera Bising Vallejo, played by Alejandro. Villonco alternated with Dianne de la Fuente in the title role in a restaging in 2002. The music was by Cayabyab, libretto by Noel Balmaceda with revisions by Legaspi's daughter Waya Gallardo for the restaging.

"Sino Ka Ba, Jose Rizal?" starred Ogie Alcasid, Mikee Cojuangco, Alejandro and Sam Concepcion (as the young Jose Rizal), with music and libretto by Legaspi's husband Nonoy Gallardo. It was based on Leon Ma. Guerrero's "The First Filipino," a biography of Rizal, with additional lyrics by Rene Villanueva.

Then there was "Larawan," based on National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin's play "A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino." Tinio, also eventually declared a National Artist (for Theater and Literature), served as both director and translator/librettist (he died a few days before the musical's premiere).

"Larawan" starred Legaspi and Zsa Zsa Padilla (Rachel Alejandro took over in the second run) as the Marasigan sisters, along with Roeder Camañag as Bitoy and Ricky Davao as Tony Javier. The chorus consisted of Fides Cuyugan-Asencio, Armida Siguion-Reyna, Nomer Son, Robert Natividad and Gamaliel Viray-all boldface names in Philippine opera.

"Ryan was worried that Rolando wouldn't like his music, and was overjoyed when Rolando said he was very happy with it. When I first heard the music with Rolando's libretto, I said to Girlie, `This will be our masterpiece,'" recalls Legaspi.

Another Joaquin play-the English-language "Tatarin: A Witches' Sabbath in Three Acts," his adaptation of his own short story "The Summer Solstice"-became the musical "Fire Water Woman." It showcased Jenine Desiderio, Michael Williams and Carla Martinez, plus the music of Louie Ocampo, lyrics by Tats Rejante-Manahan and book by Manahan and Bart Guingona.

"We dared premiere at CCP's Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino at the same time the touring production of 'Miss Saigon' was showing in Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo! It's heartening to note that we were completely sold out. Leo Valdez and Lea Salonga (playing the Engineer and Kim) would visit us while we were rehearsing," recounts Legaspi.

Waning interest
But in 2007, the partners decided to close down Musicat.

"We ran into some unscrupulous provincial producers who did not pay us. I certainly felt tired of it all," says Legaspi.

"We realized sadly that although our passion for creating and producing original musicals was strong and sure, the audience that had patronized [our productions] was no longer interested," adds Rodis.

But you can't really keep a pair of passionate, driven women down for too long. Musicat resurfaced in 2008 when it staged "Saranggola ni Pepe" for the National Theater Festival (libretto by Waya Gallardo and music by Nonoy Gallardo).

Its discography is now being rediscovered and restaged more frequently. Aside from Spotlight Artists Centre and Gantimpala Theater, even foreign groups have been licensing productions from Musicat. The Banyuhay Cultural Arts Guild in Doha, Qatar, staged "Alikabok" a few years ago and is planning to stage "Kenkoy Loves Rosing" this year.

"They have empathy with Kenkoy because we turned his character into an OFW," say Legaspi.
"It's faster to license from us now with the Internet," says Rodis. She's even uploaded videos of "Larawan" (the full musical) and excerpts of "Katy!" on YouTube for the whole world to watch.

"I'm hopeful that audiences are eager to watch Filipino musicals again. Last year's restaging of 'Katy!' was a revelation and inspiration," she says.

Musicat has not only resurfaced, it is evolving, says Legaspi. "We're looking forward to other different undertakings while maximizing our properties. We're making a film version of `Larawan.' It's exciting and a totally new challenge."

"Larawan is my favorite musical," says Rodis. "It needs to be seen by our youth, to remind them that there was a time when art flourished and our senators were statesmen. That's why it's the first of our musicals that we are turning into a film."

Both Legaspi and Rodis are judges in the first-ever English musical playwriting competition open to Filipinos 18 years old and above, amateurs and published writers alike. The winner will win P1 million. The competition is organized by Ignacio B. Gimenez Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated in part to supporting the promotion of Filipino arts and culture.

The IBGF Musical Writing competition deadline is June 30, 2014. Call 6400523, 0917-8629581, or visit or

To license Musicat musicals, call +639188380319 or e-mail

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Lito Casaje, recovering from the Big C, directs 'No Exit'

Lito Casaje, recovering from the Big C, directs 'No Exit'
By Walter Ang
March 8, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"No Exit," by French playwright Jean-Paul Sartre, depicts three deceased characters in the afterlife, punished by being locked into a room together for eternity. It is the source of Sartre's often misinterpreted quote, "L'enfer, c'est les autres," or "Hell is other people."

The original title of the play, "Huis Clos," is the French equivalent of the legal term "in camera," referring to a private discussion behind closed doors. It was first performed at Theatre du Vieux-Colombier in 1944. English translations have also been performed under the titles "In Camera," "No Way Out," "Vicious Circle," "Behind Closed Doors" and "Dead End."

Annual celebration
Lito Casaje is directing a production of the play, presented by the French Embassy as part of the Francophonie Festival this March, an annual celebration of French language and culture.

A playwright, screenwriter, professor, actor and filmmaker, Casaje co-founded the theater company Dramatis Personae with the late playwright Bienvenido M. Noriega Jr. in 1989. He's been partnering with the French Embassy ever since.

"My first project with Alliance was in 1990, a twin bill of two French avant-garde plays, Jean Genet's 'The Maids' and Eugene Ionesco's `The Lesson,'" he says.

"I remember performing these plays while we faintly overheard machine guns firing with the then ongoing Honasan-led coup d'état  against the Cory government, since we were in Makati."

"No Exit" will mix music, movement, poetry, masks, voice-overs and film.

"I'd like this staging to be more contemporary, timeless, spaceless, oblique, allegorical and theatrical than just merely claustrophobic, wordy, linear, straight-laced, monochromatic and cerebral," says Casaje.

He aims to "physicalize the poetry of Sartre's lines, essaying them with a bit of the actor's/character's choreographed movements."

Thematically, however, "there is really nothing you can do to make the play's existentially dark, cynical and nihilistic message less cryptic and more hopeful," he notes.

"Directorially and consciously, after my redemptive experience from cancer, I was attempting to debunk this worldview through a somewhat hopeful light, through an epilogue perhaps, but can't."

Four-cycle protocol
Casaje had initially proposed this production in March 2013. A few months later, he was diagnosed with Burkitt-like lymphoma. "The last of my four-cycle chemotherapy protocol ended in October. After my lymphoma/inferno phase, I re-proposed it in November," he recounts.

"My oncologist, Dauline So-Kaw, told me I'm already in my maintenance phase of recovery. She still wants me to pursue maintenance chemo protocol, to be administered every three months for two years.

"I'm really struggling on working things out the alternative way, meaning the all-natural, all-fiber, all-organic health food way, all the way.

"It's darn difficult, a continuing struggle to a point where my favorite pastas and pizzas would still get in the awful way."

Casaje posits that "No Exit" is "Sartre's eloquent dramatization of his `no way out' philosophy, that being trapped into something or anything, whether it's our own doing or not, whether we like it or not, is an integral part of our lives."

"But who knows," says Casaje, "this staging is a work-in-progress. I might just succeed in anesthetizing even a tiny bit of the theme's existential pain after all. This is my first mounting of this play and I'm having a lot of fun."

Lighting design is by Ian Bautista, sound design and music by Jerry Garcia, choreography by Arvey Lopena.

"No Exit" runs March 14, 7:30 p.m., at Rajah Sulayman Theater, Fort Santiago. Free admission. To reserve seats, contact Dramatis Personae 0928-2070827 or 0906-4974025. The production is available for nationwide school and university tours and socio-civic fund-raising events.

Visit the French Embassy website

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REVIEW: 'Rak of Aegis'--fitful narrative, heart-rending music

'Rak of Aegis'--fitful narrative, heart-rending music
By Walter Ang
Feb. 15, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Myke Salomon is able to break apart Celso Abenoja's compositions for seminal rock band Aegis into fun and sometimes funny new arrangements in Philippine Educational Theater Association's "Rak of Aegis."

His rearrangements, like a slower mix of "Halik," lets the lyrics and melodies' emotions flow in ways that rend the heart from new trajectories, but definitely no less potent than Aegis' familiar all-out wailing, face-melting renditions. His electronic dance music piece that samples the same song is light and catchy.

It's more pun in the Philippines with the production's title, a play on the title of the Broadway musical "Rock of Ages," and its setting in perpetually flooded Barangay Venizia, a takeoff from canal-lined Venice.

With book by Liza Magtoto (adding a few lyric changes here and there) and directed by Peta artistic director Maribel Legarda, this jukebox musical comes after Tanghalang Pilipino's "EJ: Ang Pinagdaanang Buhay nina Evelio Javier at Edgar Jopson" (The Dawn) in 2008 and Culture Shock Productions' "Sa Wakas" (Sugarfree) last year. (Magtoto has an unproduced, unstaged draft of a jukebox musical using the discography of the Eraserheads.)

Timely commentary
The musical shows audiences its characters' struggles with the elusive nature of happiness, offering a timely commentary on what it has meant to be a Filipino in the first few years of the 2010s: hoping against hope amidst the ubiquity of technology (that not all Filipinos have access to, much less utilize) and of calamities (the musical was created post-"Ondoy," pre-"Yolanda").

No matter how advanced the technologies available to them (i.e., the global reach of the Internet) and no matter how severe the disasters that have inundated them (meteorological, ecological, economic, and, of course, most importantly, romantic), the characters' ongoing concerns are still to seek out what will make them happy.

At least, what they think will make them happy--love or money (by way of a job or fame) or both.

Aileen wants to be famous so she can help her family. Kenny and Tolits both want Aileen. Aileen's father Kiel needs to keep his job. Kiel's employer Mary Jane needs to keep her business afloat.

Technical feat
Mio Infante's set design is a technical feat, with a strip of thigh-high floodwater right down the middle (which gets rained on, too). Dressed with floating detritus, the water looks absolutely disgusting and looks/feels like it smells bad, too.

Slightly confusing, though, is the lack of submerged infrastructure, making the flooded eskinita look more like an estero that had always been there (a banca too stately to be a makeshift raft reinforces this notion). Suspended miniature houses as a backdrop that were perhaps meant to create a false perspective of urban sprawl instead create a weird sense of upward scale: Is Barangay Venizia on a hill?

The ensemble sings well (musical direction is also by Salomon) and their blended voices sound solid. They're dressed in threads that feel very now and very real, with a touch of gaudy Pinoy sensibility, designed by John Pagunaling.

Joan Bugcat delivers on the vocal acrobatics required of Aileen. Both Bugcat and Salomon (Kenny) execute their roles with an appealing vibe that speaks of their characters' youthful naivete and whiny brashness.

Juliene Mendoza (Kiel) and Kalila Aguilos (Mary Jane) draw from what seems to be bottomless reservoirs of emotion. Mendoza imbues his songs with tender sincerity and anguished longing, while Aguilos informs hers with an edgy weariness.

Pepe Herrera (Tolits) is the surprise shining star of this production. He steals the show completely with his singing prowess and comic timing.

The production feels bloated because of a tendency to be redundant. It begins with an overture medley and ends Act 1 with a medley reprise. Several songs are repeated, the novelty of their new contexts wearing off with each refrain. The dialogue is didactic and constantly repeats facts, justifications, reasons and explanations.

One song that was repeated was worth it, though -- the entertaining baritone-soprano rendition of "Sinta" by Ron Alfonso (as enterprising sari-sari store owner Jewel), sans doble-kara makeup and costume.

Like the debris bobbing up and down the floodwaters of the set, the flow of the musical suffers from fits and starts, partly due to the way songs are cut and the way scenes are ended and sometimes due to slow scene changes and belabored audience participation segments.

Aileen losing her job comes a little late and out of nowhere in Act 1. Perhaps it might have added to the despair and created a sense of urgency if it happened earlier? It feels forced, as if the collaborators needed an excuse to be able to include "Christmas Bonus" into the musical.

Bubbly duet
Strange also is the fact that while Kenny and his mother get to say sorry to each other for past grievances, the same opportunity is not given to Aileen and her father.

Lighting design and blocking sometimes did not swim together, resulting in audiences straining to search for who was talking.

There is no way to miss, however, a cheer-inducing, bubbly duet between Aileen and Tolits backed by a chorus of labanderas with magic wands.

Note: Most roles are played by sets of alternating actors. The alternates are Aicelle Santos for Aileen, Isay Alvarez-Seña for Mary Jane, Robert Seña for Kiel, Poppert Bernadas for Kenny, Jerald Napoles for Tolits and Phi Palmos for Jewel.

"Rak of Aegis" runs until March 9 at Peta-Phinma Theater, Peta Theater Center, 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City (behind Quezon City Sports Club). Contact 7256244, 0917-5765400; or e-mail Tickets also available through Ticketworld at 8919999 or

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