I'm not letting go of 2010 without a recap of the new names and fresh faces on the local boards that made theater-going last year such a jaunt of discovery, surprise and revelation. For, while it was largely a year of reruns and musicals, it was also a year of many newbies making their mark--or, in a few cases, of perennial featured actors finally seizing the moment to shine and be recognized. The advent of bright new talents--and being there to witness their rise--is always a thrilling moment, and a hopeful one. It gives the assurance that local theater is far from breathing its last; that, a few years down the road, perhaps sooner than we know, these young performers would be the new stalwarts and headliners, the pillars of a theater of the future that's both a reflection of and an evolution from the best parts of the present.
That sounds pompous, and it is. So just this: These people did well last year--or showed promise, at the very least. Most of them are rookies, so their efforts deserve to be remembered and encouraged all the more. To use an earlier explanation-caveat: These are my personal favorites--those that reached out to me, grabbed me from across the footlights with their truth, power, honesty, wit, style. They're singular to me, in other words--preferences borne out of the unique mindset, disposition and belief system I had brought to that very moment in the dark when these performances were playing out before my eyes. They're the ones that connected the most with me, sometimes despite the inadequacies of the material.
[In alphabetical order]:
• Nicole Aldiosa. Sprightly turn marked by a fresh-as-a-daisy soprano voice in Tanghalang Ateneo's Walang Sugat, followed by a touching Maria Clara in Dulaang UP's Isang Panaginip na Fili.
• Cara Barredo. She's racked up quite a number of Rep plays, but in Little Women, she came into her own with a performance of heartbreaking sweetness and quiet strength as the dying Beth.
• Caisa Borromeo. What else have I not said about her breakthrough, star-making performance in Little Women? Only that that kind of talent on the upswing needs to have a worthy follow-up.
• Delphine Buencamino. As the indomitable Amazonian princess in DUP's rerun of Orosman at Zafira, the daughter of acting royals Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino showed she is her parents' daughter to the hilt, acting, singing and dancing up a storm.
• Cai Cortez. Rather rigid, one-note turn in the Virgin Labfest's Ondoy, but hers is an undeniably forceful presence, later reaffirmed and used to great effect in DUP's Shock Value.
• Jules de la Paz. One of those young character actors who can carve out their brief moment onstage with arresting uniqueness and fearlessness, as with his gorgon of a showbiz stalwart in Shock Value.
• Martin de los Santos. All of 10 years old, his precociously nimble performance lent PETA's Ang Post Office its heart, soul and gravity.
• Mian Dimacali. Fresh off college (Ateneo), she made for a terrific, tornado-force Maureen in 9 Works Theatrical's second run of Rent.
• Arman Ferrer. The male vocal find of the year, his commanding baritone simultaneously anchoring and letting soar TA's Walang Sugat.
• Nikki Gil. Effervescent, infectiously joyful turn as Elle Woods in Atlantis Productions' Legally Blonde. She wasn't right for the role (too smart by half), but she gave it her all.
• Kierwin Larena. He didn't have much to work on in VLF6's Isagani, and neither in the long-running Enzo Santo by the Philippine Stagers Foundation, but even in those, he exuded promise and made you wonder what he could do given the right material.
• Kelly Lati. After You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (at the UA&P two years ago--she was a hoot as Sally), then Rep's Little Women--and in between a lackluster turn in Atlantis Productions' Spring Awakening--it's clear this 20-year-old has a bright comic vein waiting to be tapped fully.
• Fredison Lo. Callow in Rent's first run and underutilized in Spotlight Artists Centre's Magsimula Ka!, he nevertheless seems on the path to the big leagues with his clarion voice and leading-man presence. Good news: at the recent rerun of Rent at Rockwell, he was markedly better as Mark.
• Marco Mañalac. Playing Alan Strang in Rep's Equus was a gutsy choice for anyone's theater debut; it took a while, but Mañalac grew into the arduous role and, in his best moments, was affecting and illuminating.
• Mara Marasigan. Directing a streamlined Medea starring her celebrated mother (Irma Adlawan), Marasigan unveiled a show characterized by stylistic daring and compelling emotional clarity. A very encouraging directing debut.
• OJ Mariano. As Collins, the best thing in Rent, period. He was also fierce in Isang Panaginip sa Fili, which means he can be as versatile as they come.
• Inno Martin. His dreamy take on Basilio in Isang Panaginip na Fili led the veteran theater-watcher Amadis Ma. Guerrero to declare him an “exciting new discovery.” Right on.
• Jerald Napoles. Not a newbie by any stretch, but where Napoles previously had to appear in mostly second-string roles, in Magsimula Ka! he was given the prime comic spotlight, and he made the most of it, uproariously. That should make 2010 his big year.
• Lora Nicolas. While she's had considerable musical-theater exposure abroad, Little Women was her first appearance on a Philippine stage, and she captivated with her lovely voice and regal bearing.
• Paul Jake Paule. As I noted after VLF6--two strong turns in Balunbalunan, Bingi-bingihan and Carmi Martin, playing essentially the same character with appealing naturalism and self-assurance.
• Mica Pineda. It was only a bare-bones thesis production, but a full-length They're Playing Our Song at UP provided a showcase for her triple-threat skills. Another musical leading lady in the making.
• Myke Salomon. First major musical-theater role, and he got to sing--nay, own--the warhorse Magsimula Ka. And why not, with all that energy and vocal versatility?
• Janine Santos. The vocal find of the year on the distaff side--a lustrous, shimmering soprano that, when heard (in Walang Sugat and Isang Panaginip na Fili), often occasioned those shows' shiver-inducing moments.
• Alys Serdenia. The Miller's Son became the perfect 11 o'clock showstopper in Atlantis' A Little Night Music with Serdenia performing it with winning poise and brio. Consider her for Aida, please.
• Sheree. Don't laugh--the former Viva Hot Babe played Mimi in Rent's second run, and was surprisingly more than adequate in it--tender and fragile and authentically sexy. If she goes for it, she can have a future on the musical stage.
• Floyd Tena. Fine voice, handsome presence as the alternate Basilio in Isang Panaginip na Fili. There's a dearth of leading men in local musical theater; here's a viable candidate.
• Kakki Teodoro. Another not-quite-new performer, though mostly in featured roles; this time, by taking on a daunting variety of character parts in Magsimula Ka!, she demonstrated her ample vocal and comic abilities to the fullest.
• Pat Valera. He still seems to be finding his footing, voice and style as a director, but as a dramaturg, Valera is leading the way among his peers, from his work on Orosman at Zafira to the thoughtful, thorough effort he put into adapting Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac to the Philippine milieu circa 1940s (at UA&P). The show itself needed pulling together, but the material was ambitious enough and plausible enough--one of the best new adaptations I came across last year.
• Dawn Zulueta. The part of Desiree was her first major sally into musicals (she had a minor part in Rolando Tinio's Larawan a full decade ago), but you wouldn't know it from the natural authority and ravishing fullness she brought to Atlantis' A Little Night Music. For a theater newbie, she conquered.
Did I forget anyone? Feel free to remind me. Your turn--who were the fresh faces in theater that made you sit up last year?