Monday, January 6, 2014

The Inquirer Roundtable PLUS The Best of Manila Theater 2013

At the Philippine Daily Inquirer's Makati office two weeks ago, the paper's first ever theater roundtable gathered eight of 2013's breakout stars for close to three hours of "insightful, revealing, often hilarious and altogether memorable conversation." 

The stars were Arnell Ignacio ("The Addams Family"), Chimmi Kohchet-Chua ("The Bluebird of Happiness"), Poppert Bernadas ("Lorenzo"), Aicelle Santos ("Katy"), Jayvhot Galang and Jojo Riguerra ("Maxie the Musicale"), Teetin Villanueva ("Collection"), and Mikkie Bradshaw ("Carrie").

Four of us who write the reviews for the paper were present: Gibbs - the editor, Walter Ang, Cora Llamas, and me.

Read the story in its entirety in the online version here.

*     *     *     *     *

Because lists are fun, and because it's six days into the new year, and also, because year-end roundups seem to be all the rage these days - check out Gibbs Cadiz's, Katrina Stuart Santiago's (in two parts), and Fred Hawson's.

This is far from exhaustive, of course. For example, missed "Lorenzo," PETA's "D'Wonder Twins of Boac," and a multitude of straight plays. Also, saw only one of the five Virgin Labfest sets (the Revisited, or the best of the previous year, so it doesn't count here), and didn't catch any of the Andres Bonifacio shows that swamped the final months of the year.

And so, the decision to merge and trim, to narrow down this list to at most 10 productions, 10 lead performances, and 10 featured performances under the premise of "personal favorites," which is to say, exclusions do not equate to judgements on merit. Also, the lists are in alphabetical order, since ranking is a far too taxing job this early in the year.


The Addams Family
(Atlantis Productions; dir. Bobby Garcia)
At the Meralco Theater where it played its 10 performances, this production gracefully rose above the shortcomings of its source material - paper-thin book, eclectic but unexceptional score - to give Charles Addams' titular clan of macabre eccentrics a rich and spirited life.

Boeing Boeing
(Repertory Philippines; dir. Miguel Faustmann) 
Maybe it was just the body giving in to the stress of an entire day at the Philippine finals of the International Public Speaking Competition, or maybe this was really the funniest production of the year. Last time a show achieved this level of hilarity was Atlantis' "Avenue Q."
(Atlantis Productions; dir. Bobby Garcia)
Rare is that local production that turns a Broadway flop into an insightful success. This was, pardon the pun, a "bloody" good show - visionary, stripped of stilted fantasy, instead bleeding with palpable horror.

(Dulaang UP; dir. Dexter Santos)
"Collection" is loud. It's loud, loud, loud, loud, loud. Everyone's shouting, racing to beat each other to the top, fighting for things they "deserve," killing each other (literally, by the end). What an exhilarating ride; would instantly jump at the chance to witness it all again.

Der Kaufmann/Ang Negosyante ng Venecia
(Tanghalang Pilipino; dirs. Tuxqs Rutaquio & Rody Vera) 
In the words of fellow Inquirer reviewer Walter Ang, a complete mindfuck. This was Shakespeare as a Nazi concentration camp pastime, where good-guy/bad-guy delineations were effectively blurred, where the swastika flag lording over performer and viewer was but the icing to this production's terrors.

(The Necessary Theater; dir. Bart Guingona)
This two-man show happened to be the year's most cerebral production - talk of Matisse and Pollock, art and mythology populates this one-act play - but on the shoulders of Guingona and Joaquin Valdes, was also the most mesmerizing. 

Sa Wakas
(Culture Shock Productions; dir. Andrei Pamintuan)
A middle-class Pinoy love story told in reverse - in fashion akin to Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along" - and set to the music of Sugarfree? This was a triumph for the original Filipino musical, from the vibrant staging to the terrific performances, plus that lightly devastating ending.

They're Playing Our Song
(9 Works Theatrical; dir. Robbie Guevara)
An astute portrait of that gritty, problematic relationship most familiar to the audience - and one that, in the very capable hands of Guevara and lead actors Lorenz Martinez and Nikki Gil, was never reduced to whimsy and vapid cuteness. 


Julia Abueva
"Cinderella" (Resorts World Manila)
Abueva, then all of 17 years old, was simply enchanting as Cinderella, as an embodiment of youth's fragile innocence. In fact, the production's most magical moment was her rendition of "In My Own Little Corner."

Pinky Amador 
"Piaf" (Atlantis Productions)
This was a complete disappearing act, an enthralling performance of unparalleled intensity and daring. The year's best piece of acting, period.

Mikkie Bradshaw
"Carrie" (Atlantis Productions)
A star-making turn defined by fearless dedication to character.  Bradshaw's Carrie - hunched posture, harried gait, nervous speech - was the epitome of inner beauty, if only because her singing was so far off from the physical unworldliness she so effectively conveyed. 

Regina de Vera
"Der Kaufmann/Ang Negosyante ng Venecia" (Tanghalang Pilipino) 
De Vera's Portia was the fairest presence in this twisted tale, an elegant and impeccably dressed blonde beauty who might as well have been queen of "Merchant's" Italy. Yet, not for a second did we forget that she was also its truest villain.

Topper Fabregas
"Boeing Boeing" (Repertory Philippines)
With his exquisite comic timing and an exceptional ability in playing awkward man-boys with a penchant for dead-pan comedy, Fabregas ensured that his portrayal of Robert was the funniest character to grace the stage this year. 

Bart Guingona
"Red" (The Necessary Theater); "Closer" (Red Turnip Theater)
This year, Mark Rothko and Larry the potty-mouthed dermatologist - arguably two of the theater canon's most articulate beings - paid Manila a visit. Wait, so it was just Guingona playing dress-up both times? Really?

Arnell Ignacio
"The Addams Family" (Atlantis Productions)
As Gomez, Ignacio oozed with magnetic charm in a performance fueled by unerring comedic instinct. Without him, "Addams" would have been only half as lustrous, half as hilarious.

Lorenz Martinez
"They're Playing Our Song" (9 Works Theatrical)
In Martinez's portrayal of Vernon, the high-achieving composer finding his way through a cluttered life, it's the quieter moments that mattered more. His unpretentious rendition of the jukebox staple, "Fallin'," was undoubtedly the musical's highest point.

Aicelle Santos & Isay Alvarez
"Katy" (Spotlight Artists Center) 
Two triumphant interpretations of a single character: Santos, as the teenage Katy, burst with infectious youthfulness; Alvarez, as the adult Katy, was a luminous portrait of sorrow. That Katy so seamlessly transitioned from fledgling to full-blown lady was this show's - and the two women's - greatest success.

Cris Villonco
"Closer" (Red Turnip Theater) 
"It would be Alice in this actress' hands that is the reason to see this show, where the shifts are all made believable," wrote Stuart Santiago. For whether she was the fearless stripper or betrayed lover, lost girl or vindicated woman, Villonco never hesitated to dive straight into the heart of the character.


Jennifer Blair-Bianco
"Grease" (9 Works Theatrical); "Boeing Boeing" (Repertory Phils.)  
While everybody else was either singing and dancing to bring down the ceiling, as in "Grease," or running and tumbling and slipping for laughs, as in "Boeing Boeing," Blair-Bianco kept it all at a minimum and emerged each production's most human element.

Maronne Cruz
"Spring Awakening" (Ateneo Blue Repertory)
The saving grace of a show marred by jarring disconnect between actor and material. While the rest of the cast fumbled on that stage, Cruz, in her brief turn as Ilse, displayed the maturity and skill of a seasoned performer.
Tirso Cruz III
"Katy" (Spotlight Artists Center)
A staple patriarch figure onscreen playing Katy's father with sagely, overbearing watchfulness. Cruz's was the least explosive portrayal on a stage inundated by hyperbolic theatrics, but his character's heartbreak was the most visceral.

Audie Gemora 
"The Producers" (Repertory Philippines)
Gemora breathed magnanimous, glamorous life into the role of the cross-dressing director Roger de Bris, down to the shaved legs, the hungry eyes, and every flick of wrist and sway of hip. (And that's short of calling his the featured performance of the year.) 

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo
"Carrie" (Atlantis Productions)
The clarity - in speech, song, and character - that marked Lauchengco-Yulo's compelling interpretation of Carrie's mother was but further testament to her peerless skills. Her Margaret was truly a pitiful creature of darkness, a most terrifying victim of religious fanaticism.

Leo Rialp, Alexander Cortez, Stella Cañete, & Jean Judith Javier
"Collection" (Dulaang UP)
These four formed the comedic backbone of - and undeniably provided color and life to - Dexter Santos' extravagant and ambitious auditory assault. Somebody should write this quartet a spin-off. 

Jojo Riguerra
"Maxie the Musicale" (Bit by Bit Company)
Amidst the seemingly endless, self-indulgent noise of "Maxie," Riguerra's relative silence and lack of embellishment as the policeman Victor was a breath of fresh air.

Joel Trinidad 
"The Bluebird of Happiness" (Trumpets)
His intelligent grasp of character and ease with comedy transformed Night into a charming, scene-stealing villain.

Joaquin Valdes
"Red" (The Necessary Theater)
Valdes' one main task was to hold his own against Guingona's Rothko. And that, he did quite spectacularly, in a performance that glowed with enviable actorly intelligence.

Marco Viaña
"Der Kaufmann/Ang Negosyante ng Venecia" (Tanghalang Pilipino)
"Antonio was introduced in the beginning of that play in calm quiet sadness; that Viaña believably sustains this throughout the narrative was just brilliant," wrote Stuart Santiago. Indeed, when Viaña's Antonio uttered his famous first line, "In truth, I know not why I am so sad," his sorrow was almost too real.

PHOTO CREDITS: "Sa Wakas" "Boeing Boeing," Julia Abueva, Lorenz Martinez, Isay Alvarez, Jennifer Blair-Bianco Pinky Amador Jojo Riguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer: Joaquin Valdes Audie Gemora