Saturday, October 22, 2016

PDI Review: 'Changing Partners' by MunkeyMusic; 'Annie' by Resorts World Manila

My first piece under the Inquirer's redesign, which has drastically reduced our word limit to 650 (and that used to be my minimum count). Anyway, "Changing Partners" ends tomorrow, while "Annie" runs until December 4 (or so they say). The online version here.

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Heartbreak in 'Changing Partners,' easy comforts in 'Annie'

"Changing Partners" curtain call: (L-R) Vincent de Jesus, Anna Luna, Jojit Lorenzo, Agot Isidro, Sandino Martin, Rem Zamora.

There are two ways to an audience's heart, or so musical theater insists these days.

"Changing Partners," the self-styled torch musical by Vincent de Jesus, prefers madness as its method: the mangling, twisting and turning of the heart--or four.

This is Cris and Alex's May-December relationship, but told through shifting perspectives. Sandino Martin and Anna Luna play Cris, while Agot Isidro and Jojit Lorenzo play Alex, and a merry-go-round ensures as the story mixes and matches the actors, exploring the nuances that arise with each pairing.

Once the honeymoon phase of this affair is over, the fissures created by age and sex widen, spewing doubt, and with it, fear.

And De Jesus, unsurprisingly, captures the cracks and tears at the seams of this love with precision ("Minahal kita/ sa pag-aakalang mahal nga kita," goes a line) and a flair for language that crackles as it rolls off the tongue ("Kababae mong tao, kung kani-kanino kang lalaking nagpapakaladkad," Alex spits at Cris).

No one in theater today must be more adept at capturing that thing called "hugot" than De Jesus: the cruel pain of surrendering, of letting go, of loving and not being loved in return.

It is this pain that director Rem Zamora and his first-rate cast understand so well. They never hold back, but also never devolve into cheap hysterics. (Luna, especially, does heartbreak so beautifully.)

And when they jab at each other's wounds, it is with such clear intention that one feels the weight of mistrust it all carries.

As a staged reading at this year's Virgin Labfest, "Changing Partners" was already "a fully realized show," we wrote. This full production is the real deal: a towering musical out to drain the tear ducts and tangle the heartstrings.

Ready embrace

Meanwhile, Full House Theater Company's "Annie" stays true to its kiddie roots and approaches the audience with a ready embrace so warm and wooly, it instantaneously summons childhood memories of tender, loving care (whether they be factual or fabricated).

The story of the spunky orphan who unexpectedly finds family in a billionaire's mansion has more or less weathered the test of time. Its songs (which includes the timeless optimist's anthem "Tomorrow") still carry with them a tuneful youthful zest, and director Michael Williams keeps his show moving at a fast enough pace without rushing through the non-musical moments.

A closer look, though, reveals clunky choreography, rough ensemble singing, and an incohesive set that relies too much on digital projections (which don't really make the proceedings any classier). Makes one wonder how the budget was divided--maybe a huge portion for orphanage matron Miss Hannigan's raggedy lump of a costume?

Still, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo plays Hannigan with such infectious fun, and Annie finds a promising talent in Isabeli Araneta Elizalde (alternating with Krystal Brimner of the film "Honor Thy Father"). And Caisa Borromeo is a scene-stealing Star-to-Be, unveiling that killer of a voice that, alas, isn't often on full display onstage.

For the most part, this production is amenable, and therefore, pleasant enough, doling out small, easy comforts in an inappropriately cavernous theater. It approaches the heart with a touch so genial, it makes the occasions when it loses its way easy to set aside.

With Christmas just around the corner, one need only think of this "Annie" as a present wrapped in such shiny, pretty paper, never mind that what's inside doesn't exactly match the lovely packaging. 

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