Saturday, June 17, 2017

PDI Review: '50 Years of Telling Stories' - The Repertory Philippines 50th Anniversary Concert

My review of the Rep@50 concert last Sunday is in today's paper--here. Shoutout to the best editor in the world, Gibbs Cadiz, who used to be huge in Blogger.

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Rep's '50 Years of Telling Stories' an evening poignantly told

Eighty seasons and 443 productions are a lot to cover in two hours.

That was what Repertory Philippines attempted to do during its star-studded 50th anniversary concert, "50 Years of Telling Stories," at The Theatre at Solaire last June 11. The result was an evening that will be remembered more for the magnitude of talent on display than for the way such talent was put to use.

Best moments

Spanning nine segments, each directed by a distinguished Rep alumnus (with overall direction by Bart Guingona), the concert highlighted in its best moments one of the things this company does well: triple threats in sweeping ensemble numbers.

Never mind polish or perfection of technique. Occasionally, "50 Years of Telling Stories" felt like it could have done with a bit more rehearsal time.

Not that the entire affair, buoyed by Ejay Yatco's splendid musical direction and orchestrations, was a shallow celebration--far from it. But if we're talking of concerts to end all concerts to mark such a landmark event as Rep's golden year, as this evening ought to have been, then two examples come to mind.

The first is the Stephen Sondheim birthday tribute at New York City's Lincoln Center seven years ago. That evening, filmed live for a global audience (and, if we may add, posterity), was performed tightly and flawlessly, and never removed the genius and spirit of Sondheim centerstage.

Closer to home, the Philippine Educational Theater Association's 50th anniversary concert two months ago was, from start to end, a moving salute to true-blue Filipino theater.

Most inspired

Still, whenever the concert found its footing, it delivered--poignantly, sometimes powerfully.

The most inspired and most entrancingly performed segment, directed by Michael Williams and dedicated to the directors, had Guingona singing Sondheim's "Finishing the Hat" (an apt choice!), while three pairs of women harmonized with him to different tunes: Pinky Amador and Morissette Amon ("This Is the Moment" from "Jekyll and Hyde"), Sheila Francisco and Cathy Azanza-Dy ("I Can See It" from "The Fantasticks"), and Caisa Borromeo and Carla Guevara-Laforteza ("I Wanna Make Magic" from "Fame").

For the "In Memoriam" segment, Becca Coates and Liesl Batucan sang "Some Things Are Meant to Be" from "Little Women" (one of Rep's best musicals in recent years), and the downtempo arrangement only made this song about letting go and moving on all the more heartrending.

'One Day More' finale

The cherry on top, of course, was the finale: "One Day More" from "Les Miserables," which opened with the original cast of Rep's landmark 1993 production, who then literally handed over the microphones mid-song to a next-generation lineup, in a kind of symbolic turnover that saw Williams giving Marius to Joaquin Valdes, Monique Wilson passing over Eponine to Borromeo, and Karla Gutierrez, Cosette to Coates.

As finales go, that was pretty much the real deal.

When all is said and done, 80 seasons and 443 productions is still a feat unlikely to find parallels anywhere. It's this tradition of telling stories--or staging them, as Freddie Santos puts it--and telling them well that Rep has more or less sustained, creating for itself a brand that's now equated with excellence in English-language theater.

That, in the face of a 50-year history, is what truly matters.