Monday, December 26, 2011

My Christmas Movies

Not that they're all full of snow and carols and decorated trees and happy, smiling families. In fact, only one of them has happy and smiling, and it's in the form of a child dressed as an octopus. But to label them as just "drama," when what they really do is evoke a myriad of emotions, would be slightly insulting.

1. Love Actually (2003)

The first time I watched this, back in April, I thought it's but a British version of "Valentine's Day." But the Brits have always been a classy people, and no one from the starry lineup in this film ever attempts to take the spotlight hostage.

2. Undertow (Spanish: Contracorriente) (2009)

A haunting love story between two men in a seaside Peruvian village. There is a ghost, a painter (the sublime Manolo Cardona), and an elegant twist. Heartbreaking.

No good trailer, hence this dull poster.

3. 3 Idiots (2009)

"Follow excellence, and success will chase (after) you." If you feel like you're starting to lose the passion for learning, watch this. And kids, suicide is never the answer.

4. In a Better World (Danish: Haevnen) (2010)

A world of violence, a society trapped underneath the constancy of war, as seen through the eyes of two very different boys who find common ground in friendship and nurturing love. It's not an easy watch, but this film won the Oscar for foreign language film.  

5. Closer (2004)

The no-nonsense screenplay should be reason enough to suspect that this must be an adaptation of a play. Jude Law is a cowardly prick, Julia Roberts has a messed-up mind, Natalie Portman just wants to strip, and Clive Owen wins the nastiest mouth and most thrilling performance awards.  

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, from Galadriel

Aerial shot of Iloilo City

I'm no great champion of the church, but it was discomfiting and saddening to see how the Christmas Eve mass was far from overflowing with people. (We go to Santa Maria Parish, which was specifically established for the Filipino-Chinese community in Iloilo City.)

Discomfiting, because, as the celebrant of the last Aguinaldo mass said, our presence in church is itself a reflection of the state of our faith. But what of the scandals that have rocked this institution - the RH Bill, for example? Neanderthal cardinals out there still stand by the belief that condoms have no place in this world (and in preventing the spread of infections). No wonder people are leaving.

Saddening, because the merry mood of Christmas is, in fact, an infection that spreads through the cool wintry breeze. The joyous, festive atmosphere of mass is but a reflection of the attendance. And Christmas Eve mass is my favorite.

Perhaps Galadriel's words are our best guide: The world is (changing). I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it. 

Not related, really; I just couldn't resist.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Isn't It Queer?

So a week ago, we saw the critically panned New Years' Eve, as we thought it was the perfect feel-good detox movie after the Renal Physiology exam. For those unfamiliar with the film, it's one of those hodgepodge of intertwining vignettes featuring one big (or relatively big) Hollywood star after another, and the goal is essentially to make the viewers smile from the sheer niceness unfolding before their eyes. Yes, we were there when Valentine's Day made a splash on Chinese New Year two years ago. And yes, I've seen the Golden Globe-nominated Love Actually.

Anyway, I'm not here to review the film; that's Roger Ebert's job. But allow me to point out one tiny glitch in the film's December 2011 setting. Nope, not Halle Berry's conversation with her lover in Iraq (was it even Iraq?).

An aerial shot of Times Square populated by people sporting Nivea-sponsored hats showed an electronic billboard of an all-too-familiar picture: Bernadette Peters. Elaine Stritch. A Little Night Music. Like this:

Non-theater fans, outdated theater fans, and pseudo-theater fans (like those who think they're theater fans just because they watch Glee), allow me to enlighten you.

The 2009 Broadway revival of A Little Night Music, whose final cast included Peters and Stritch as the Armfeldt mother-daughter tandem, closed last January 9, 2011.

Unless, of course, New Year's Eve is not set in a specific time. I doubt it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Buhay Artista - or Life as a Kardashian Sees It

Ganito pala feeling maging artista.

So this is how it feels to be an artist - a rather literal translation, but it'll do.

Not the artist in the culture-y, painting-sculpting sense, like Raphael or Bernini. (The kick I needed to learn about them, I got from Dan Brown in sixth grade.)

In Filipino, artista stands for a plethora of connotations: celebrity, film star, actor, famous showbiz figure. In the mainstream Hollywood-y sense, someone as wild as a Kardashian, as admirable as Jesse Eisenberg (for me, at least), as legendary as Meryl Streep (who should win the Oscar for The Iron Lady, though I'd be fine with Michelle Williams for My Week With Marilyn after being robbed last season for Blue Valentine). But I digress.

If you think med students study a lot, think again. Wait, you're probably right - we study a lot. If you or someone you know or some random person near you complains that the next weekend will be completely miserable because there's one less party to attend or one less bottle of beer to drink, stop right before the period of that statement. Med students spend weekdays studying and weekends - guess what? - studying some more.

Now stop me from finishing this self-righteous portrait of med students as noble, selfless slaves to the future generations. 

I'm also formulating a law of my own, a theory, a postulate - whatever - and here it is: Med students study hard, and party harder. That's so original.

But really, what I've been meaning to say in this post is that I spent the past six nights going to some sort of party. Six consecutive nights of partying - get it? What a pre-Christmas celebration, right?

In case you're dying to know what my schedule was, here it is:

December 13, Tuesday: Intarmed Christmas Party. Buuuut, it didn't feel right, I must say. At least a fourth of the class was absent. That, for me, was a great travesty, given that it's only our first year in med proper. Buuuut, I can't blame those who were absent, since the party was actually planned only two nights before and made sort of formal the night before, when everyone was busy cramming for the Renal Physiology exam that I don't wish to discuss here. 

December 14, Wednesday: Medical Student Council Party. I still don't know how or what to call that one because what was supposed to be the grand year-ender for the entire council and all its committees and its many members had a turnout of... what, twelve? We had Dare Night first. The dares included singing in a music store in Robinsons Ermita using the sample karaoke machine, helping a random vendor along Pedro Gil Street sell at least P50 of his/her products, and having a stranger autograph your forearm. The second part was Karaoke Night, and the turnout was much better - around seventeen. Very impressive.

This shot does not do the lantern justice.

December 15, Thursday: Class of 2016 Party. So we had the UP Manila Lantern Parade first, where we won first place!!! The first time in six years the UP College of Medicine won the UP Manila version and got to represent the campus for the grander parade in Diliman. And then our class Christmas Party entitled FrostBite (since our acquaintance party last July was First Bite). Lots of cross-dressing involved.

December 16, Friday: Impromptu Party at Phil's. We went to Diliman to represent UP Manila for the Lantern Parade. The atmosphere seriously matched that of genuine festivals like Dinagyang. But the better part of the night was an impromptu house party at our classmate Phil's (the mastermind behind our award-winning lantern). It ended with three crazy boys and a confused taxi driver.

December 17, Saturday: Christmas Party at an aunt's. The tamest of them all. 

December 18, Sunday: Wedding at EDSA Shangri-La. The food was jaw-dropping awesome: best cod, best baby octopus, best prawns.

And there goes my attempt at sounding like a Kardashian. Oh wait, Kardashians can't write, can they?

Now, I put on my windbreaker, my Armani scarf, my leather gloves, my boots, and my fur coat, and say a grand hello to winter. Happy holidays to you who reads this blog.

Here's a little something from the UP Medicine Class of 2016:

Yes, that was the online invitation to FrostBite. See? Med students have lots of FUN.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mirthful But Underwhelming Kiddie Fare

The two most lavish musical theatre productions to hit the Manila stage this year are drawing audiences by the thousands weekend after weekend without fail. Yet, amidst the theatrical glitz and glamour, it is that timeworn adage, for the millionth time proven right, that ends up stealing the spotlight: It is not what’s on the outside, but what's within, that truly counts.

The musicals – the stage adaptation of the classic Disney film "The Little Mermaid" and Rogers and Hammerstein’s Academy Award-winner "The Sound of Music" – should be crowd-pleasers right from the first orchestral note. But by the time the curtains of their currently running local stagings fall – at least, during the performances that we caught – it becomes frustratingly apparent that either show never truly achieved that theatrical ‘swell’, that sweeping and thrilling level of satisfaction that's but expected from such onstage extravagance.

The Sound of Music (Resorts World Manila)

Between the two, it is in Resorts World Manila’s much-publicized production of "The Sound of Music," directed by Roxanne Lapus and recently extended to May 27 next year, that that absent ‘swell’ manifests more distinctly – a rather ironic case for a musical best identified by the lyrics, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”

Given the material’s global popularity, no doubt enhanced by that classic film featuring a vibrantly young Julie Andrews, one certainly has the right to expect a lot from this staging of the timeless, real-life story of Maria von Trapp of Salzburg, Austria, who suddenly found herself the governess of seven children and slowly falling in love for their stern naval captain of a father amidst the shadow of the Anschluss.

The November 12th evening show that we caught, however, could very well be summarized as such: Three legitimately soaring numbers including the finale in a relatively exciting Act I, followed by a surprisingly drab and unremarkable second act.

Those three numbers – the showstoppers, if we may – belong to arguably this production’s three biggest assets: Joanna Ampil as Maria (alternating with Cris Villonco), Pinky Marquez as the Mother Abbess (with Sheila Francisco as her alternate), and Pinky Amador as the Baroness Elsa Schraeder (played by Lynn Sherman in other days).

I Have Confidence.

Ampil, in only her second musical turn in Manila after racking up a-decade-and-a-half’s worth of West End credentials, is here unquestionably faultless as the love-struck novice. In "I Am Confidence," where Maria heads to meet the von Trapps for the first time, she puts on a show of incredible clarity and character, singing and playing the part on the revolving stage with just her prop bag and guitar and the gate set piece, in what can only be a theatrical solo of the highest order.

On the other hand, Marquez is no stranger to the musical, having essayed the same role in Repertory Philippines’s 2006 production and winning the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s annual theatre roundup’s Best Featured Actress in a Musical title. And no wonder: She sings a virtually incomparable "Climb Ev’ry Mountain," her lush vocals and superior technique resulting only to a rousing, ovation-worthy act ender.

A similar, if slightly less grandiose, sentiment can also be said of Amador, herself a member of the original "Miss Saigon" cast in London. At once scheming and desperate as the Baroness, she becomes especially clarion-voiced and delightfully riotous in "How Can Love Survive?," her lamentation on the wealthy’s supposed deprivation of romance.

But standout performances, in this case, can only do so much. If anything, this "Sound of Music" suffers most agonizingly from a lack of cohesion, gaping holes here and there in the overall direction that have melded over time and become too big to be kept hidden.

Suffering the most are the scenes with the children – "Do Re Mi," "So Long, Farewell," "The Lonely Goatherd" – which, at best, are finely rehearsed, if not perfunctory. Every ounce of verve that Ampil pours onto that stage is somehow unmet by expected vivacity from the children, whose vocal direction, it should be noted, has much room for improvement.

Ed Feist, as the Captain von Trapp, is physically and vocally stiff (outrageously enough, his character's solo "Edelweiss" is amiss, and that's a rather curious directorial choice). Some of the supporting cast have their share of shining moments (Miguel Faustmann’s sprightly Max, Debraliz Valasote’s derriere-swaying Frau Schimdt, a promising Rachel Coates as a delicate Leisl), but alas, have brief stage times.

Do Re Mi.

The standard for Broadway theatre is one main actor and an understudy to a role, or two alternating performers to a role at the most. But here in Resorts World, thirty thespians comprise the pool of actors for the thirteen main roles in the musical, such that each performance of the regular six-show week could very well feature a different permutation of the principal cast.

Could it be, then, that the varying work dynamics as well as inconstant performance schedules of the cast make it markedly tougher for the show to find a more stable footing?

Playing such a gargantuan theatre (the 1,800-seat Newport Performing Arts Theatre) makes it not entirely difficult to get swallowed up by space and spectator, after all. Even Mio Infante’s production design, as spectacular a fusion of concrete pieces and projected LED animation as can be, is spoiled by the intolerably slow transitions between scenes.

Perhaps it would have turned out better had we caught the production on another performance and with a different cast? The best word we could find for this "Sound of Music," as the cast started taking their bows, was ‘underwhelming’.

Disney's The Little Mermaid (Atlantis Productions)

Meanwhile, mermaids and sea animals have taken over the Meralco Theatre in "The Little Mermaid," Atlantis Productions’ year-ender. Directed by Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga, the musical is all sorts of Disney, from elaborately colourful costumes by Eric Pineda to Lex Marcos’s blue-inflected scenery and Jay Aranda’s lighting design.

Add to that Ceejay Javier's brassy musical direction (one of his best to date), and it's safe to conclude that, as far as technical matters are concerned, here is one unforgettable show.

Where, then, could this "Mermaid" possibly go wrong? A quick check on the story would perhaps do the trick: There is a mermaid named Ariel, daughter of the sea king Triton. In an act of rebellion and – whichever seems more fitting – ridiculous naivete/moot love at first sight, she makes a pact with the sea-witch Ursula and exchanges her tail and priceless voice for legs, all for the chance to be with a sailor prince that she’s only seen from afar the day before.

The first sign of a problem comes at the realization that the biggest star of the show is, in fact, Ursula.

L-R: Jaime Barcelon (Jetsam), Llamanzares, Felix Rivera (Flotsam).

Jinky Llamanzares has but two solo numbers – "I Want the Good Times Back" and the iconic "Poor, Unfortunate Souls." But in those two, she soars – nay, conquers - the stage with an inimitable presence and barrier-breaking voice, becoming a time bomb of evil and bitterness put to song.

Not, of course, that Ariel isn’t a starry presence herself. When the company announced the production’s leading players some months ago, we were one of the many who were quite suprised at the casting of Rachelle Ann Go, the label ‘mainstream pop singer’ somehow forever strapped to her belt.

Consider us now one of the pleasantly and genuinely surprised at how capable she is in tackling the role of the sea princess. Her singing is out of the question; "Part of Your World" was the first indubitable showstopper of the November 26 matinee that we caught.

But can she act the part and integrate the singing into it? Like the youthful teenager that Ariel is, Go is indeed a perfect fit for the role, all glimmering soprano and fresh energy. Consider hers a theatrical debut heralding the arrival of yet another promising talent.

In total contrast to Go’s unexpected triumph is a disappointing first taste of the stage for Erik Santos as Prince Eric. Given his equally buzz-worthy pop-sensation origins, Santos has no problem belting out "Her Voice" and "One Step Closer," his character’s solos.

But his diction needs much work, and his acting, his unreadiness to tackle a leading-man role is unequivocally made manifest by a malapropos awkwardness and rigidity onstage.

The two other major roles – Triton and Sebastian the red crustacean – also have a fragmented, uneven feel to them. Calvin Millado was a heartrending Kevin in "In the Heights," but the authority and emotions are severely downplayed, if not almost lost, in his portrayal of the ‘king of the sea’.

OJ Mariano, fresh from his two sensational theatrical turns this year (Collins in "Rent" and Vittorio Vidal/Daddy Brubeck in "Sweet Charity," both by 9 Works Theatrical), almost succeeds but inevitably fails to make a third one.

Instead, he gives us a Sebastian whose humour is oftentimes shrouded by a discomfiting, unplaceable accent. And his big numbers – the Oscar winner "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl" – settle for just very good, never quite making it to outstanding.

Go in The World Above - the first of four times the spotlight's on her shining, shimmering voice.

In this "Mermaid," it is the minor and ensemble roles that end up grabbing the final third of the performers' limelight: the literally luminous eels Felix Rivera (Flotsam) and Jaime Barcelon (Jetsam), Raymond Concepcion’s dignified Grimsby, Ikey Canoy’s dimwitted Scuttle, and the female chorus – Bea Garcia of "Next to Normal," Caisa Borromeo of "Little Women," Jenny Jamora of "A Little Night Music," to drop a few names.

So many things need fixing to make this "Mermaid" a truly under-the-sea experience, from the weakly acted, incomprehensibly sung opening number ("Fathoms Below," by the male chorus) to the over-the-place and over-the-top second-act closer.

It cannot be denied that Garcia and Arespacochaga's 'okay' direction means missed opportunities and the failure to achieve the material's full potential. By curtain call, most of the audience – around half of which were children – were on their feet, cheering and hooting.

For the level of entertainment that this production provided, it deserved the ovation. But as a production, it's far from a runaway winner – or swimmer.

Fifteen minutes into the first act, the power went out and somehow managed to trip the show over, delaying it for another fifteen or so. That, in the theatre of the biggest electrical power distributor of the country. Was that a portent of things to come?

* * * * *

The Sound of Music runs until May 27, 2012 at Resorts World Manila. Visit for show dates and tickets (from P1,000 to P2,000). The Little Mermaid closes on December 11. Visit for details on show dates and tickets (from P500 to P1,500).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Crazy Women

The aunt and the help have gone crazy. When they start laughing, there's no stopping them. To our very own Mrs. Lovett, Norma Desmond, Mama Rose, Diana Goodman, here's your version of "Pretty Women" from Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd."

 Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman in that scene from that film.

Crazy women,
making dinner,
Crazy women
are a wonder.
Crazy women!

Sitting by the window or
standing by the chair,
something that they say or wear.

Crazy women,
so demented,
staring at you,
right beside you.
Breathing lightly,
crazy women,
crazy women!

Blowing unlit candles or
pulling out their hair.
Even when they sleep,
they still are there
right there.

Ah! Crazy women, 
wiping mirrors
in the kitchen,
How they get you reeling!

Proof of madness
while they're living,
crazy women!
Yes, crazy women!
Here's to crazy women!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Praises and Lamentations

A nineteen-day absence. Totally acceptable if you thought I'd abandoned this shack of words, or that I'd somehow stagnated and just lost touch. I read that blogs have, on average, a lifespan of one-and-a-half years, and that doesn't even take into consideration how often their owners actually write in them. Not this blog.

I just went on a rather long vacation, to put it vaguely. (No, there was no real backpacking vacation.) A sabbatical, if you will.

* * * * *   

Josephine's in Tagaytay, if you have the luxury of time. It's been in the Philippine Tatler's top ten list of best restaurants in the country for, what, five years? How I got to eat there is a completely different - and wild - story involving my unfathomably horny best friend, a couple of girl friends, a guy friend, and a shiny black auto that traversed the Manila-Tagaytay-Manila route in six hours.

* * * * *

Please, please, please: Whatever you do, don't watch "Aswang." Let me spoil it for you: It's about a stupid brother and his annoying sister, and about aswangs who can turn into either crows or gophers.

The best thing in "Puss in Boots" (a fun movie, which doesn't mean "excellent movie") is Jill and her swine babies.

Go watch "Drive," starring Ryan Gosling (who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for "Blue Valentine," I must repeat). Here, he plays a man devoid of fear, with only that thin veil of sadness to mask his callousness.   

* * * * *

What is the difference between a terribly prepared lecture and a terrible lecturer?

We go to school to learn, not to have our attention spans tested by you, oh terrible lecturer. You, with your rambling, dragging, droning voice. You, who's obviously not interested in teaching. Reach out to your students, for heaven's sake!

* * * * *

A night cap: Lea Salonga singing "Send in the Clowns" in "Suites by Sondheim," a one-night-only concert in New York where musical theater artists of Filipino descent - Jose Llana, Adam Jacobs, Paolo Montalban, Jennifer Paz, etc. - sang the songs of the legendary composer. And that's why I love living in the Philippines.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lessons from Hell's Kitchen

Human behavior in the kitchen, magnified.

1. There will always be bitches out there, ready to bite your back any second. So bitch yourself up too and bite back.

2. Communication means communication. You don't just sit around, staring at nothing, waiting for the other person to 'talk' when that's all he or she has done for the past thirty minutes.

3. Some people just can't take the blame. What are they, infallible virgin angels?

4. There are also people out there who feel like they're the best and brightest in the world - but, as is the usual case among their kind, really aren't. But in front of your sorry face, they will act like they're the best and brightest unless one of you mans up and gets the freakin' fact plastered onto the prick's face.

5. When someone shouts at you for stepping on an ant, it's usually best to just keep quiet and mourn the death of the creature. But sometimes you also have to shout back.

6. There are billions of people out there going hungry and actually dying of hunger. So when you cook, get it right the first time!

P.S. I'm watching the latest season (9), the one that's being replayed (or maybe not) in Star World every night. Elise has a potty mouth but has the skills and is a darn good leader. Tommy has his mouth shut  all the time and should see the door shut behind him as well. Carrie's unjustifiably full of herself.

Friday, October 21, 2011


One week into the semestral break...

Manila. SLEX or Taft or EDSA or whatever.

... finally back to competitive writing, if that's even a term. An essay, this time, on a dead ilustrado and why he matters - should matter - because that's what the theme's conscripting us to write about. First prize is P50,000 - that's enough to pay for my UP Med tuition for one and a quarter semesters. 

... got to watch the biggest Filipino cinematic hit of all time this afternoon. (Please note the sarcasm.) No Other Woman, I therefore conclude, is a movie about incredibly stupid people making incredibly stupid choices. Ram (Derek Ramsay) is a hypocritical idiot with utterly no self-control and self-respect. His idea of escaping a manic mistress is a suicidal race down the streets of Manila in his billion-dollar ride. His wife (Cristine Reyes) is astoundingly dull and a war freak. Why else would she have come to the swimming pool if not to pick a fight (that she'd embarrassingly lose) with Cara (Anne Curtis)? And Curtis has never looked more beautiful, I have to say. So yeah, I'm on Curtis' side, real-life and onscreen. Or Reyes' mom - she was a riot! 

... how many ways can you spell 'research paper'? 

... the yearbook is finally running. Hopefully, before I go back to Manila, it'll be out. It better be.

... classmates, old friends, and chummies. We finally got to play badminton this morning. We've been meaning to since, what, last year? 

... driving! The streets of Manila are like the plains of Gorgoroth or the Pelennor Fields. You're not good enough, you get slain. Here in Iloilo, we have more, shall we say, manners. Yet I managed to hit a jeepney last Tuesday, my first and hopefully last hit, and the funny thing is: It wasn't even moving. 

... this new dog, Sydney or Sidney or Seedney, is a charming little guy. He likes to smell stuff and people a lot. He also likes play-biting my shoes. Fluffy is dead (No One Mourns the Wicked plays in the background). Troy and Hector are still ill with that mothereffing disease. I don't know what will happen to them, I really don't.

... that Sondheim concert by PhilDev on the 7th at Lincoln Center!!! Lea's singing Send in the Clowns, Not a Day Goes By, Move On. Oh what I'd do to be there! Or they should televise it here, at least.   

... I really should get back to writing. The deadline's on the 31st.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

25 Years of Phantom

Think of me. Think of me fondly.

Think you've seen everything there is to see in The Phantom of the Opera through that film starring Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler seven years ago? Think again.

Self-confessed theater junkies and Phantom addicts alike are celebrating throughout the world: Phantom's recently staged 25th anniversary production at London's Royal Albert Hall is now in theaters (up to October 18 in Manila) and, later this year, will be released in Blu-Ray, DVD, and CD. In other words, absolutely no reason to miss this while you live.

At the SM Mall of Asia cinema where I watched Phantom last Friday night, there were only around twenty of us for the last full show. But never mind the depressingly small number; at over three hours, the experience has only one parallel in my life: eight years ago, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The most glaring similarity? My mind shattered to pieces by the end. Spell 'epic'.

Here in this filmed version of what is very well Phantom as you'd see it on Broadway or the West End - only even grander - two questions demand contemplation: One, could Sarah Brightman really have acted her way through Phantom all those years ago as Sierra Boggess did here? And two, given the set and all those costumes, what exactly is Andrew Llord Webber's definition of 'lavish'?

Just think: If Sierra Boggess were the original Christine of Broadway, she definitely could have given Joanna Gleason's Baker's Wife in Into the Woods (the Tony winner for Best Actress that season) some really tough competition, agree? Boggess is now the definitive Christine, undoubtedly aided by her turn in the tragic Love Never Dies (whose score, above all, is just gorgeous).

Highlight of the entire film: Boggess' Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again - a masterclass in delivering those big musical theater solos. That number alone was justification enough for the ticket price.

And while we're at it, Ramin Karimloo's the Phantom, Hadley Fraser is a tad too operatic (between his and Patrick Wilson's All I Ask of You, guess whose I'd choose), Peter Joback is set to give London's Phantom a (literally) new voice, and Sarah Brightman's getting old (and losing her grip over the title song's last note).

But those are just side notes that I easily got over with. In the words of the Phantom: Bravo, bravo, bravissimo! Best of all, there was no Nick Jonas to ruin an otherwise perfect affair. 

4 1/2 Years

One semester down.

That gives us something like 4 1/2 semesters to go before that M.D. finally makes its way to my name. To one who knows not, 4 1/2 years after two (or a normal four) years of undergraduate studies might sound like an eternity. But trust me, when you're preparing and studying for exams every week, and taking one or two or even three of them every week, and getting that post-exam slump every week, you wouldn't even have time to think about the passing of time. You'd only remember time when it's passed. 

The semestral break has started. It started Friday night. Once again, I say to myself that the break's the perfect time to correct my erratic sleeping pattern. The past week, I slept at one almost every night. That shouldn't be so now. The height of our cell's restorative processes supposedly occurs from 10PM to 2AM. I don't know how true that is, but whatever - sleeping, the normal amount of it, is never bad.

So there, one major goal for the break. Oh, look at the time. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

'Next to Normal': Next to Basically Nothing Else

For the past two-and-a-half years, I've been heading off to the theater for as long as time and interest would permit. So far, the variety as far as quality is concerned has been interesting, but I've been lucky enough not to have caught a show that I ended up particularly loathing. Not yet.

The first one I saw was Atlantis Production's Spring Awakening, one of my all-time favorites. As it was officially my first time to experience professional theater, I could not have possibly passed fair judgement upon the production. I do vividly remember Joaquin Valdes' stellar turn as troubled leading-man Melchior Gabor, and Bea Garcia standing out from the rest of the supporting cast as a tragically sweet-voiced Ilse.

Valdes and Kelly Lati (Wendla)

There were the 'okay' productions such as The Wedding Singer (9 Works Theatrical), which showcased a brilliant Gian Magdangal (Robbie) paired to a lackluster Iya Villania (Julia); or this year's Aida (Atlantis), whose titular character (a comebacking Ima Castro in fine form), was overshadowed by Rachel Alejandro's scene-stealing Amneris.

Then, there were the ones that I'd say were 'good' - straddling that imaginary patch between 'soaring' and 'okay' - such as the much-improved third run of Rent (9 Works), its only semblance to its less exciting original run being Carla Guevara-Laforteza's explosive Maureen Johnson.

And then, we have the really good ones - productions that I'd be quick to say can give their Broadway counterparts a run for their money anytime: Little Women (Repertory Philippines), In the Heights (Atlantis), A Little Night Music (also by Atlantis). What do they have in common? First, Tony-worthy performances from their leading players, to borrow from Pippin: Caisa Borromeo as Jo March, Nyoy Volante as Usnavi, and Dawn Zulueta as Desiree Armfeldt. Second, one or two uneven performances that stained an otherwise perfect ensemble - I'm not naming them here.

Left: Zulueta sang a shattering Send in the Clowns.
Right: Borromeo (L) and Cara Barredo as Beth March singing Some Things Are Meant to Be (as of today, one of only four moments in theater that left me teary-eyed).

And finally, we have the ones that are so good, they should win a Tony for Best International Production of a Musical or something. There are two of them. The first one is Avenue Q (Atlantis). I'd say I made it to Manila just in time to catch its fifth and supposedly final run. Directed by Bobby Garcia, this is one production that will remain close to my theatrical heart because it was the first - and for a year - the only time that I exited the theater so impressed, I was at a loss for words. Here, I became a believer of Felix Rivera and Rachel Alejandro. A sixth run should be in order, Bobby.

The second one, I just saw for the third time last night - Atlantis' Next to Normal. I saw it on its opening and closing weekends last March, and now on the opening night of its rerun. In my opinion - and I am fairly certain I am not alone in saying this - this is one musical production that will remain unmatched in its electrifying brilliance for quite some time, if it hasn't already cast a shadow over past productions of a similar calibre.  

Here, my friends, is a cast that knows no bounds and no peers, one that's as fine as anyone's ever seen anywhere. Here is Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo poised to take home the Philippine Daily Inquirer's Best Actress in a Musical award for the year, and Jett Pangan and Garcia giving the toughest competitions to their fellow would-be nominees. Here, also, is Rivera in the creepiest performance of the year for a Broadway musical.

The Goodman trifecta (L-R: Yulo, Garcia, Pangan) in Better Than Before, a musical highlight of the show.

Here is a production with so much pathos, it leaves more than half the theater in tears by the end. Here is a production that has so much soul and so much genuine emotion, you can't help getting swept away by the current and going along for this one hell of a theatrical ride. Here is something one should choose to see if he or she could choose only one from all the shows that have been and will be shown in Manila. Here is Next to Normal, which, in sheer quality, is next to basically nothing else.

So I was doing quite well (compared to the rest of the audience) - until this: I Am the One (Reprise), the most heart-wrenching scene in the musical.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

LadyMed 2011: Valentina

I think I owe the world the rest of the cake, tiny slices of which I've been dropping in my previous posts. LadyMed 2011 is two weeks past - September 16 - and yes, things turned out quite well. Okay, that's understating it - we won! And since we're all visual creatures who'd itch to death if this world were devoid of images, I'm turning this into my first photoblog entry or something to that effect. Photo credits: Ephraim Leynes, Theodore Delfin Vesagas, Leonardo Serafin Infante, and Jenn Danielle Gargar. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

The theme for this year: Komiks. Philippine comics, that is - so no Spiderman or Batman or, heaven forbid, oh-so-generic Wonder Woman. We chose Valentina (the Filipino equivalent of Medusa), and our research was quite informative. We discovered that she actually has the power to heal, and that she has a PhD in Reptilian Zoology from the University of New Delhi (that make sense to you?).

First off, here are some shots from the shoot. Dress courtesy of Katrina Beatrize Manas. Headdress by Patricia Cruz. Makeup by Analigaya Agoncillo. Necklace courtesy of Philline Aurea Grace Salvador. Photos by Leonardo Serafin Infante. Venue: Unit of  Salvador, 3 Adriatico Place, Adriatico Street, Ermita, Manila.

And now, we transport ourselves to the night of September 16, 2011. This was the stage at the Philippine General Hospital Science Hall.

Meanwhile, the backstage was - wait, we had no real backstage, just the entire hallway surrounding the Science Hall, and it was a totally different kingdom. From the first year Intarmed students, there was Agua Cristi (just Google her); the second year Intarmeds had Dyesebel the mermaid; the fourth years (2nd year med proper) had Galema (the daughter of Zuma - again, Google); and the fifth years had Zsa Zsa Zaturrnah (of the musical film). And here's the star of the night: Costume and headdress by Dan Concepcion (you are so awesome!!!). Makeup by Analigaya Agoncillo. Prop staff by Patricia Cruz. 

First was the opening number, and we were the first to perform. This was how we did it: Four men enter with a sort of hostage, who turns out to be Darna (Valentina's archenemy). The men begin torturing her while she kneels on the floor, helpless and speechless. Then, Valentina enters and channels Angelica Panganiban in the wedding processional scene in Here Comes the Bride (2010).

Due to the crazy and highly inefficient communication system backstage, we ended up changing costume for the second part of the evening ahead of time. So for the preliminary interview, Valentina was already in her black cloak and bearing a brand new Jafar-inspired staff by Dan Concepcion. Bottom photo shows the five contestants (L-R): Valentina, Zsa Zsa, Agua, Dyesebel, and Galema.

And now, what was probably the most awaited and exciting part of the evening: the talent portion. Trivia: We started rehearsing only a week before the pageant. There are four parts to Valentina's talent portion since we wanted to incorporate a sort of storyline into it. The first segment is to Beyonce's One Plus One - a sort of theatrical number (read: sensually acting out the song). Midway, Darna comes in (her entrance has something to do with the lyrics) and slaps Valentina. Valentina falls and a random guy (to prove that she's sort of a slut/damsel in distress) comes to her rescue. Random guy sees her weird head and drops her. Fade out.

The second segment: Belly dancing + Hiphop. That's a lot of booty shaking. View photos in clockwise manner - the fourth photo is the signature snake-head move for the hiphop dance. 

The third segment: Sensual dancing to Usher's There Goes My Baby. Lesson: It is essential that a LadyMed contestant shows off his/her character's sexuality and sensuality by dancing with a group of men in minimal clothing. That is a personal humorous observation.

The fourth segment: Beyonce's Girls Who Run the World.

A talent portion highlight: The headdress came off in the middle of Who Run the World. First photo shows it already falling off a bit. Second photo shows Valentina grabbing it off her hair and now preparing to... Third photo shows Valentina hurling the headdress to the audience, to everyone's delight. 

... Who are we? What do we brought? We run the world...

The swimsuit competition. It was time to channel Shamcey Supsup - because part of our preparation was studying Shamcey Supsup (yes, Supsup who won 3rd Runner-up in the 2011 Miss Universe pageant because of her ugh answer, but that's another story). Swimsuit by Dan Concepcion.

The evening gown segment, where we again channeled Shamcey. Gown by Dan Concepcion. Oh, and if you're wondering what Valentina's doing in the lower right photo, that's her signature move: the snake tongue. Consistency was a major part of the competition, so we thought it best to pattern Valentina after - what else - a crocodile. Duh, a snake, of course.

The question-and-answer portion came next, and our question was: If you were any organ in the human body, what would you be and why? Our answer (in all Ms. Gay Barangay glory): I would choose the brain, initially, because that's where all the knowledge is. But what is the brain without the heart? What is the brain without the heart to decipher what is truly in this world, which is emotion and soul? Thank you. And the judges and the med proper freshmen went wild.

The night was shorter than expected, and a billion more photos were taken. The end result: Valentina was crowned LadyMed 2011, aside from winning the special awards for Talent, Swimsuit, and 'Pinakaartistahin' (most artistic? artsy? like an artist? a superstar?). And look who one of the judges was: Cai Cortez - the woman who made love with John Lapus in Here Comes the Bride.

So what did we learn here?

1. The UP College of Medicine really takes this LadyMed business quite seriously. Just like an exam, this pageant needs ample preparation and a whole lot of dedication.

2. When you join LadyMed, you realize just how difficult it is to be a woman. And that you do not enjoy eyebrow plucking, or the arduous process of putting on makeup and the equally arduous process of removing it afterwards, or wearing high heels for three hours at a party. 

3. More than shedding off all that fur and hair and wearing a girly swimsuit in public, it's the process itself - the long hours, the late hours - that makes one think twice about representing the class. And that it takes someone with serious balls to tackle a job like this.  

4. You'd win only if you have the best and most supportive friends and classmates rallying behind your back. So to everyone who helped make Valentina come to vibrant life, she sends you her sincerest gratitude.

So, who says med school ain't fun?