A season of musical hits | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Halimaw from Labao Donggon
Jenine Desiderio, snake-woman

On the heel of Mario O’Hara’s “Stageshow” came the revival of the musical “Katy!” which emerged as a triumph for its star Isay Alvarez, who was battling a form of cancer but gave the performance of her life.


The music by Ryan Cayabyab was wonderful, as was the choreography (Cecile Martinez, Tin Limjap and Liza Martinez).


The play was three hours long, and judicious editing would have made it more effective. Nevertheless it was a resounding success, with loving direction by Nestor U. Torre.


The full house at the Aurelio V. Tolentino Theater, Cultural Center of the Philippines, gave it a standing ovation night after night.


“Katy!” will be restaged July-August at the Meralco Theater.


Arias galore


The Philippine Opera Company’s (POC) “A Little Night of Opera” was staged at the POC’s new Opera House (Bautista near Buendia, Makati City) and had a varied repertoire, from classical (Mozart) to operetta (Gilbert & Sullivan) and musical theater (Sondheim).


The scenes from musical plays required heavy acting (directed by Floy Quintos and William Manzano, respectively), and tenor Al Gatmaitan and mezzo Clarissa Ocampo threw themselves into their roles as lovers in Sondheim’s “Passion.”

MYKE Salomon as Handyong


Lena McKenzie, Lara Maigue and Elrica Laguerdia were delightful as “The Three Little Maids,” from “The Mikado,” as were tenor Nazer Salcedo and soprano Janine Santos in the serio-comic “Candida” by Bernstein.


Gatmaitan also had his big solo moment (pun not intended) in the aria “This Is the Moment” from “Jekyll & Hyde.”


Spotted in the crowd, as pangga Maurice would say, were opera luminaries Fides Cuyugan-Asensio and Irma Potenciano, who both appeared as the Countess Almaviva (played by Karla Gutierrez that night) eons ago.


Heroes and ‘halimaw’


Tanghalang Pilipino’s “Ibalong: The Musical,” written by Rody Vera, directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio and with music by Carol Bello of Ingkantada Band, lived up to its hype as a dance-drama-music spectacle.


With his stage presence and vocal-acting ability, Myke Salomon was an ideal Handyong, the Bicolano folk hero; but it was the hardworking Jenine Desiderio, as Oryol the snake-woman, who was the real star of the show, as she appeared on practically all the scenes.


Notable was the depiction of Handyong as young and brash (Cheeno Macaraig); then an imperious king (Salomon) who attains nobility by sacrificing himself for his son. And the asuwang, led by Jonathan Tadioan, who were supposed to be monsters, were treated sympathetically, being guardians of the environment.


Back in the limelight


The Metro Manila Concert Orchestra (MMCO) under modernist composer Chino Toledo is back in the limelight, with back-to-back concerts at the BDO-Francisco Santiago Hall in Makati City.


Halimaw from Labao Donggon

The first part of the program was focused on bold, imaginative works for piano and orchestra by young composers Michael Bulaong, Kabaitan Bautista and Ireneo Orio III.


Much more familiar and melodic was the pièce de résistance, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1, rendered with Gallic élan by young, Brussels-trained Michael Cu.


Toledo’s control over the young MMCO members and Cu’s elegant style completely won the audience over, and he was given standing ovations and made to play the obligatory encore, also by Chopin.


Epic from Panay


To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Ateneo Entablado mounted the epic from Panay “Labaw Donggon,” and gave it the pop-ethnic-music-dance-drama treatment, as written by Nicanor G. Tiongson and directed by Jerry Respeto at the open-air Cervini Field.


This is the tale of the warrior Labaw Donggon (Gio Gahol); his quest for love, battles with animal-halimaw; his falling under the spell of a love potion (gayuma) for many years; and finally his rescue by two strapping sons Azu Mangga and Baranugun (Nico Claustro and Geo Tolentino).


The music (Jema Pamintuan, Teresa Barrozo and Maynard de Guzman) is enchanting, and the choreography is an important part of the production.


The koro-dancers, menacing like Ninja assassins in their black garb, were trained for six months by the lead actor himself, Gahol, and by Ma. Elena Laniog.


The play ends with the joyful Binanog, a dance of the Panay Bukidnon tribe.


“Labaw Donggon” is another major production from Ateneo de Manila University, and is a worthy successor to last year’s hit “Sintang Dalisay.”


Indeed, the first quarter of 2013 has seen a string of musical hits, led by “Katy!” and “Ibalong.” Even the CCP has taken cognizance of the importance of musical theater and Pinoy excellence in this field.

MYTHICAL characters in Panay epic.


Outstanding play


What playwright Nicolas Pichay would call “a theater of ideas” descended upon Manila (St. Benilde’s School of Design and Art): John Logan’s “Red,” a two-character actor-dialogue-driven play starring Bart Guingona as the jaded, cynical abstract artist Mark Rothko and Joaquin Valdes as his idealistic (fictitious, unidentified) assistant.


Their differing views on life and art eventually lead to a violently verbal confrontation. Later (in real life) Rothko decides to keep the murals he is designing for a trendy restaurant and returns the fat commission fee. And he commits suicide.


To have ended it like this would have been depressing. So Logan wisely conjures up an upbeat coda, with Rothko ordering his assistant to go out into the world, where he belongs, and create his own works of art.


Guingona was consistently excellent as Rothko. The charismatic Valdes was a perfect foil, his character being both knowledgeable and naïve. “Red” may well be one of the most important plays staged this year.


Russian night, Coyiuto triumphs


It was Russian night at the second MMCO concert under the (invisible) baton of A-listed composer-conductor Chino Toledo (Audi-Global, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig), with works by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Khachaturian.


Khachaturian’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto in D Flat Major (first performed in Moscow in 1937 and condemned by the Soviets for being “modernist”) was essayed by pianist Cristine Coyiuto, who attacked the keyboard with ferocious intensity.


How could such a slight, petite woman produce trills and runs which rose above the sounds of the orchestra? It fairly took one’s breath away. Awesome.


Bizarre art auctions


Floy Quintos’ new play “Collection” (Dulaang UP, Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater) is loud, long, overwritten like most Filipino plays (this is a frequent observation of an aficionado friend), and overacted.


But it succeeds as a satire of art auctions (with the Banaue Rice Terraces sold to the highest bidder!), and as a study of our Catholic mysticism and veneration of the Blessed Mother.


Director Dexter M. Santos gave it the spectacle-gayish-tongue-in-cheek-major-production treatment, with a huge, high-spirited cast.


The focus is on a visionary during the Spanish past who leaves behind a miraculous icon. The latter is auctioned off at the end, sparking a riot. Shots are heard (shades of “Himala”!).


Acting honors go to veteran Jeremy Domingo as the auctioneer and to the young Teetin Villanueva as the mystic.

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