Monday, January 18, 2016

PDI Review: 'Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein' by the One Night Stand cabaret series

This was in last Saturday's paper--my first article for the year. A late post, because I spent the weekend in the surf town of San Juan, La Union. It's true that you can fall in love with a place in a way that makes you seriously think about living there someday. 

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'Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein': Oh, what a beautiful evening

If there's one thing Audie Gemora and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo taught us during "Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein," the first evening of this year's "One Night Stand" cabaret series, it's that dusting off a classic and making it sound new is a skill apparently only a few are gifted with.

No longer was the cabaret merely an arena for roof-rattling belting, as was the case with Ejay Yatco's concert (in our book, "One Night Stand's" best night so far); or a venue for celebratory nostalgia, as in last month's landmark reunion concert of the "Rent" 1999 Manila cast.


With these two pillars of our English-language musical theater, the watchword was interpretation, the evening transformed into a classy master class in singing some of the oldest and most beloved titles from the canon like they're being sung for the first time.

The likes of "My Funny Valentine" and "Where or When"--titles whose theatrical origins are probably lost to many nowadays--seemed to acquire a refreshingly modern-day burnish in Lauchengco-Yulo's hands.

Mind you, they weren't particularly polished renditions as far as vocal technicalities were concerned, but good luck finding anyone who could match the amount of heart and passion that Lauchengco-Yulo infused into those songs. These days, you'd be hard put to find a more expressive musical theater voice.

Tougher feat

Gemora, with his take on "Soliloquy" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel," accomplished an even tougher feat: making a stand-alone song out of a musical theater number that would otherwise feel like a fish out of water once removed from the context of the show.

With lesser performers, "Soliloquy," written as a seven-and-a-half-minute rambling monologue by the show's antihero Billy Bigelow, would have no doubt come across as indecipherable, even alienating, to those who are unfamiliar with it.

Gemora, instead, made you appreciate the song in its entirety and singularity. Lines like "You can have fun with a son, but you gotta be a father to a girl" suddenly made much more sense, as one surprisingly grasped the ideas of fatherhood and parental sacrifice, the simultaneous uncertainty and joy of discovery, at the tune's core.

It's the kind of insightful song delivery, in which every phrase is picked apart and meanings unraveled, that sets Gemora and Lauchengco-Yulo apart from the rest of the thriving local musical theater scene, including the night's three other performers--Teenee Chan, Al Gatmaitan and Pepe Herrera.

Space constraints

Gatmaitan, in particular, struck you as a lion compelled by space constraints to act like a lamb. His soaring operatic voice was in no way suitably matched to the intimate interiors of Twelve Monkeys Music Hall and Pub, as evidenced by his wavering "Younger than Springtime" (from "South Pacific").

On the other hand, Chan, whose soprano has been the sparkling delight of her ensemble appearances in such shows as Repertory Philippines' "Jekyll and Hyde," was all script and formality, the very antithesis to cabaret's laid-back, spontaneous nature.  

Nevertheless, she served up two of the night's highlights--an appropriately steamy "I Enjoy Being a Girl" from "Flower Drum Song" and what many have described as the consummate Broadway love song, "If I Loved You" (as a duet with Herrera).

Peculiar humor

Speaking of Herrera: Thank heavens this cabaret got him, or the air of old-world, venerable nobility that pervaded the evening (these are classics with a capital C, after all) would have succeeded in turning it into a stately affair more fit for a spruced-up ballroom in Buckingham Palace.

Employing his peculiar brand of humor--best described as the mutant love child of the Filipino barok and pasimple--Herrera was the anchor that kept the evening firmly earthbound, the welcome antidote to any moment that packed on more than the acceptable amount of musical theater elitism.

Together with Lauchengco-Yulo, he took on "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," and the result was a sexy, sparky and daring duet dripping with earnest longing and leaving a playful wink in its wake. It was, for this writer, the number that best captured the spirit of the night--a grand old dame of a song rendered breathtakingly new.

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ERRATUM: This article has been edited to reflect the following correction currently in the print and online versions. The 1934 classic "Blue Moon" was not performed by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, but by Pepe Herrera. Apologies for the misattribution.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Year in Film (2015)

Not even going to pretend this is some sort of credible "Best of" list, like something Metacritic ought to include in its calculations, or that you as interested reader and/or cinephile ought to take note of. In 2014, I saw a total of 178 films, thanks in large part to the extended summer break. This year, that number was down to 99. What can I say? Life happened. More mingling and dealing with the real world. More theater. Less time in the dark of the cinema/in front of my laptop.

Read this, instead, as a personal celebratory farewell: What I liked; what I enjoyed the most; what, on a very personal level, defined the year in cinema. My posts stopped at movie no. 94, and this piece can only mean I'll no longer blog about the rest: From the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), the New Wave section full-length film winner, "Ari: My Life with a King" (No. 95); the disappointing "Walang Forever" (No. 96); and the rightful (but disqualified) Best Picture winner, "Honor Thy Father" (No. 97); and then Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs" (terrific) and Tom Hooper's "The Danish Girl" (beautifully captured but trifling as junk food).

As with last year, my longlist included films from this and last year that I saw this year. Thus, for example, the presence of "That Thing Called Tadhana," which I missed during the 2014 Cinema One Originals Film Festival, or the Argentinian darling "Wild Tales," which I only saw in February.

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1. The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
The best films are the ones that keep surprising and delighting at every turn. Before I knew it, two hours had gone by--and I was so hungry for more.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)
A post-apocalyptic chase fever dream you wouldn't want to wake up from.

3. Wild Tales (dir. Damián Szifron)
It stays true to its title. "Ida" was the respectable winner of the Foreign Language Oscar; this would have been the more fun and daring choice.

4. Tangerine (dir. Sean S. Baker)
Two transgender Black women hunt down a girl on Christmas Eve. Unsparingly crass and unapologetically vulgar. One of the year's most joyous surprises.

5. That Thing Called Tadhana (dir. Antoinette Jadaone)
You want to know what real heartache looks like?

6. Selma (dir. Ava DuVernay)
A worthy challenger to David Fincher's "Gone Girl" as the best directed film of 2014.

7. Steve Jobs (dir. Danny Boyle)
An engrossing three-act play fueled by the words of Aaron Sorkin and the highly accomplished turns of Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet.

8. Honor Thy Father (dir. Erik Matti)
The devils behind the MMFF disqualification scandal were right to fear this one: It's the best Filipino film of the year.

9. The End of the Tour (dir. James Ponsoldt)
A work of enviable intelligence, thanks to Ponsoldt's restrained direction, Donald Margulies' absorbing distillation of the sources and Jason Segel's compelling portrait of the subject.

10. Sleepless (dir. Prime Cruz)
You leave the cinema thinking about the idea of romance: how it is to fall in love, how it is to be loved.

And another ten, because what the heck, give love, not hate: Clouds of Sils Maria (dir. Olivier Assayas); Mia Madre (dir. Nanni Moretti); Inside Out (dir. Pete Docter); Journey to the Shore (dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa); Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu); Love Is Strange (dir. Ira Sachs); Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland); The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott); Bridge of Spies (dir. Steven Spielberg); Ari: My Life with a King (dir. Carlo Encisco Catu).

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My pick for performance of the year is ALICIA VIKANDER in "Ex Machina." You'd have to give it to anyone who can make a seemingly bland robot so damn sexy and scary at the same time.

My 19 other favorites, in alphabetical order:
  • John Arcilla (Heneral Luna)
  • Juliette Binoche (Clouds of Sils Maria)
  • Rose Byrne (Spy)
  • Jessica Chastain (Crimson Peak)
  • John Lloyd Cruz (Honor Thy Father)
  • Tirso Cruz III (Honor Thy Father)
  • Matt Damon (The Martian)
  • Blythe Danner (I'll See You in My Dreams)
  • Glaiza de Castro (Sleepless)
  • Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
  • Edward Norton (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance))
  • David Oyelowo (Selma)
  • Angelica Panganiban (That Thing Called Tadhana)
  • Érica Rivas (Wild Tales)
  • Dominic Roco (Sleepless)
  • Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
  • Jason Segel (The End of the Tour)
  • Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria)
  • Tilda Swinton (Trainwreck)
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