Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12.20.2010
Noticeable was the dip in new original material
Martin de los Santos, Bodjie Pascua and Bembol Roco in PETA's “Ang Post Office,” adapted by Rody Vera from Rabindranath Tagore's “The Post Office,” directed by Gardy Labad
THE DOWNTURN that has affected the rest of the world in the past two years seems to have settled on local theater as well in 2010.
Dulaang UP announced an all-revival season, beginning with its 2008 blockbuster “Orosman at Zafira” to tide it over a rough financial patch.
Tanghalang Pilipino, while still eking out a season of four productions (of uneven quality and attendance), was in similar straits. It has said that, next year, it will also rely on restagings to boost its coffers.
Peta’s early months were given over to the election-advocacy musical “Si Juan Tamad, Ang Diyablo at ang Limang Milyong Boto” which had begun its run late last year. It scored another hit in “Ang Post Office,” but had a fast-disappearing show in “Rated: PG” (which we failed to catch--its non-inclusion here not a judgment on its merits either way).
In place of serious drama, musicals of all stripes reigned--from the pan-Asian exertions of Asia On Stage’s “DragonTales” to Spotlight Artists Centre’s sprightly revival of “Magsimula Ka!” to Dulaang UP revisiting Floy Quintos’ “Isang Panaginip na Fili” and 9 Works Theatrical bringing back “Rent” to Manila.
TP got on board by adapting Lope K. Santos’ seminal Tagalog novel “Banaag at Sikat” into a so-called indie-rock musical. And if the Philippine Opera Company’s “Master Class” wasn’t strictly a musical, it was still a rerun--movie icon Cherie Gil having first played Callas in 2008.
Atlantis Productions paced the music fest with a returning “Avenue Q” and three new glittery, leading-lady-heavy Broadway imports (“Legally Blonde,” “Xanadu” and “A Little Night Music”).
Repertory Philippines had an intense entry in Peter Shaffer’s intellectual drama “Equus,” but it really achieved its peak with its year-end big musical, “Little Women.”
It was as if the doldrums of the moment didn’t need any more underlining by chest-heaving, furrowed-brow stories onstage--hence the overload of cheery, feel-good entertainment, most of them of foreign bent.
That left the Virgin Labfest, now on its sixth year, the sole reliable font of homegrown, all-original dramatic material, if only in one-act form.
Except that, this year, the Labfest seemed to have plateaued, too. Many of its entries showed polish and proficiency, but none matched the potent, provocative impact made by, say, last year’s standouts--“Doc Resurreccion: Gagamutin ang Bayan” (by Layeta Bucoy) and “Isang Araw sa Karnabal” (by Nicolas Pichay).
Interesting but smallish visions dotted the festival lineup--which made the announcement the Labfest would begin producing full-length plays next year a welcome level-up move.
For purposes of this round-up, reruns and revivals, first appraised during their original runs, were no longer considered, but new performers stepping into these shows were. The Andrew Lloyd Webber behemoth “Cats,” an all-foreign production except for Lea Salonga as Grizabella, was likewise not included.
Here, then, are what we consider the best of Manila theater in 2010.
Best Play (One-Act)
Honorable mentions: “Balunbalunan, Bingi-bingihan” (Debbie Ann Tan, writer; Issa Lopez, director); “Suor Clara” (Floy Quintos, writer/dir.); “Higit Pa Dito” (Allan Lopez; Tuxqs Rutaquio, dir.)
Best Play (Full-Length)
“Ang Post Office” (Rabindranath Tagore’s “The Post Office,” Filipino translation by Rody Vera; Gardy Labad, dir.) Minor incongruities in the Indian-Filipino transposition aside, this was that rare species: a work both whimsical and profound, entertaining enough for kiddie audiences while also imbued with a wise, spiritual grace that moved and edified. The use of the Kilyawan and Loboc children’s choirs as live musical accompaniment was an inspired touch.
Honorable mentions: “American Hwangap”—Filipino version (Lloyd Suh, Filipino translation by Joi Barrios LeBlanc; Chris Millado, dir.); “Equus” (Peter Shaffer; Audie Gemora, dir.)
Mario O’Hara (“American Hwangap”—Filipino version). Another towering performance from this evergreen titan--a pitch-perfect blend of patriarchal bluster and brokenness that anchored--made rational--the rather petty dysfunction at the heart of the play’s Korean-American family.
Honorable mentions: Martin de los Santos (“Ang Post Office”); Bembol Roco (“American Hwangap”—English version); Miguel Faustmann (“Duets”); Red Concepcion (“Equus”); Jojit Lorenzo (“Ondoy”); Lorenz Martinez (“Collector’s Item”); Paul Jake Paule and Ariel Diccion (“Carmi Martin”)
Monique Wilson (“My Name Is Rachel Corrie”). In the year’s bravest performance, Wilson recast what could have been a firebrand part--a young American peacenik killed in Gaza--into a starkly artless, uninflected portrait of a girl’s awakening blooming into tragedy. Counter-intuitive, harrowing--and liberating.
Honorable mentions: Irma Adlawan (“Medea”); Gina Pareño (“American Hwangap”—Filipino version); Joy Virata (“Duets”); Frances Makil-Ignacio (“Suor Clara”); Missy Maramara (“Balunbalunan, Bingi-bingihan”)
Best Featured Actor-Play
Nicco Manalo (“American Hwangap”). Remarkably his fragile, unstable man-boy part would emerge as the sanest, keenest element in a contemporary household populated by outwardly normal nervous cases. Sustained, poignant, beautifully shaded acting.
Honorable mentions: Jeremy Domingo (“American Hwangap”); Mario O’Hara (“Tatlong Mariya”); Dennis Marasigan (“Tatlong Mariya”); Bodjie Pascua (“Ang Post Office”); Jules de la Paz (“Shock Value”)
Best Featured Actress-Play
Che Ramos (“Tatlong Mariya”). Her blowsy, gaudy take on the nouveau sister-in-law was both specific and metaphoric--canny enough on its own, but also an embodiment of the whirlwind of modernity that would engulf a family immobilized by ennui.
Honorable mentions: Liesl Batucan (“American Hwangap”); Ana Abad Santos (“Shock Value”); Pheona Baranda (“Equus”)
“Little Women” (music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, book by Allan Knee based on the Louisa May Alcott novel; Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, dir.). So-so musical transformed into an unexpectedly expressive, buoyant experience in the theater. Thoughtful and innovative, this production glowed with Lauchengco-Yulo’s astute directorial choices and actor’s feel for incident and character.
Honorable mentions: “A Little Night Music” (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler; Bobby Garcia, dir.); “Xanadu” (music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, book by Douglas Carter Beane; Bobby Garcia, dir.); “The Wedding Singer” (music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy; Robbie Guevara, dir.); “Walang Sugat” (music by Fulgencio Tolentino, lyrics by Severino Reyes; Ricardo Abad, dir.)
Nonie Buencamino (“A Little Night Music”). “A beacon of clarity and exactitude, an actorly intelligence ever layering his vocals,” we wrote in our review of the show. Refusing to subsume character to musical prettiness, Buencamino’s Fredrik Egerman was, accessibly and appealingly, all flesh-and-blood.
Honorable mentions: Felix Rivera (“Xanadu”); Nazer Salcedo (“Isang Panaginip na Fili”); Arman Ferrer (“Walang Sugat”); Robert Seña (“Si Juan Tamad, ang Diyablo at ang Limang Milyong Boto”); Gian Magdangal (“The Wedding Singer”); Myke Salomon (“Magsimula Ka!”)
Caisa Borromeo (“Little Women”). Hers is a bona-fide “a star is born” performance--easily the brightest, most accomplished musical turn this year, brimming with the sweep and fire and feeling of an ingenue stepping up to her moment with destiny--and running away with it.
Honorable mentions: Dawn Zulueta (“A Little Night Music”); Janine Santos (“Walang Sugat”); Delphine Buencamino (“Orosman at Zafira”); Ayen Munji-Laurel (“Banaag at Sikat”); Cris Villonco (“Romeo and Bernadette”); Nikki Gil (“Legally Blonde”); Mica Pineda (“They’re Playing Our Song”)
Best Featured Actor-Musical
Noel Trinidad (“Xanadu”). He was gone from the boards for years, but when he came back, Trinidad showed he had lost none of the sharpness and sangfroid that must have attended the best of his performances in years past. A master class in on-stage effortlessness and style.
Honorable mentions: OJ Mariano (“Rent”); Jett Pangan (“Legally Blonde”); Leo Rialp (“Xanadu”); Dondi Ong (“Isang Panaginip na Fili”); Inno Martin (“Isang Panaginip na Fili”); Johann de la Fuente (“The Wedding Singer”); Jerald Napoles (“Magsimula Ka!”)
Best Featured Actress-Musical
Pinky Marquez (“Little Women”). Tremendous is the word for Marquez’s two musical moments in “Little Women”—the Act 2 ballad “Days of Plenty,” in particular, acquiring incandescence and majesty from her distinguished, powerful singing.
Honorable mentions: Cara Barredo (“Little Women”); Jay Glorioso, Jenny Jamora and Alys Serdenia (“A Little Night Music”); Janine Santos (“Isang Panaginip na Fili”); Carla Guevara-Laforteza and Mian Dimacali (“Rent”); Chari Arespacochaga and Yael Pineda (“Xanadu”); Jinky Llamanzares (“Legally Blonde”); Nicole Aldiosa (“Walang Sugat”); Kakki Teodoro (“Magsimula Ka!”)