Now, the venerable Amadis already counts an entire lifetime of going to plays, musicals and concerts behind him. Despite his protestations to the contrary (“I'm not really a critic, I tend to like everything,” he once told me), he's been one of the more conscientious observers of the performing arts scene in the country, season in and season out. So when he raves this way about someone, you have to ask--who's he talking about?
That newly proclaimed “matinee idol” is Victor Robinson III, a third-year Communication Arts student at the Ateneo and a theater newbie who bagged the lead role of Juan Tamad in PETA's triumphant musical, Si Juan Tamad, ang Diyablo at ang Limang Milyong Boto. Victor alternates with Marvin Ong (Best Featured Actor for Rep's Sweeney Todd in the recent Philstage Gawad Buhay! awards) in the part.
On the afternoon that Amadis watched the show, it was Victor he caught. His report: “Victor was a hit, singing, dancing and acting. His stage presence and simpatico persona won over the youthful audience at the PETA Theater in Quezon City. He received the most applause, and was almost mobbed by his fans after each show.”
(Right after that paragraph, he quotes... me. “'His singing voice is terrific, like Marvin, raved a colleague, Gibbs Cadiz, who is usually hard to please.” Whaa--that “hard-to-please” tag again. Moi?)
My year-end Best of Theater round-up last year did include three acting citations for Juan Tamad--for Vince De Jesus, Joann Co and a young actor I was watching for the first time: yep, Victor Robinson III. Having watched the play a number of times now to catch the alternates--and make sure my closest friends didn't miss this important homegrown musical--I can add some more names to the list. Aside from Marvin and a uniformly strong cast (Best Ensemble for a Musical Production in the Gawad Buhay!--recognition above all for the director-head whip, Phil Noble), Robert Sena also excels as the alternate Diyablo, and Joann Co and Stella Canete are delightful Lola Anitans, Juan's grandma. And the show has a scene-stealer in Lotlot Bustamante, who plays a variety of parts with unflappable comic flair.
Victor and Joann performed two songs from Juan Tamad at the Gawad Buhay! rites--a welcome musical moment marred only by their lackluster garb, which had none of the visual punch of Boni Juan's original costumes for the play. See the performance shots below with Victor in a gray-orange combo and Joann in a maria clara? Now, take a look at the accompanying video of their Gawad Buhay! performance and see how well-chosen costumes do make a difference by distilling character and adding energy and pull to what's happening on stage.
Still, if you can get past the hastily assembled threads, you should be able to enjoy Joann and Victor's voices--big and clear and forceful, and well-suited to Vince's nimble, ear-friendly melodies. His lyrics, too, deserve attention--both poetic and gritty, lyrical and specific. In Juan Tamad's ode to indolence, for instance, in which Vince deftly links the character's laziness to the general sense of malaise of the rest of the nation, the imagery he employs is folksy, winning:
Ako'y lumaki sa bayang hindi na nananaginip
Mga bilasang pangarap nilalangaw lamang sa pantalan
Ang buhay ng tuod ay mas pinagpala
Hindi maliligaw dahil walang patutunguhan
Bakit ko pa iiwanan ang buhay-tamad?
The way Victor's vibrato nails the long last note in “pantalan” is quite a treat to hear--probably the sound of promise that made someone like Amadis sit up and take notice very early in the musical (it's the first song after the prologue, with the Diyablo as a slithery Cabaret-like emcee ushering the audience into the world of the show). The appearance of a bright new talent in theater is always an occasion for cheer. On this his first foray into professional theater, Victor Robinson III--along with the show he headlines--is (to quote another Vince de Jesus musical) “Victoria! Winner! Tagumpay!”