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?