The Phantom of the Opera

I fell in love with the Phantom of the Opera many, many years ago – even before my tenth birthday, the moment I heard the song “All I Ask Of You” playing on our stereo. It was hauntingly beautiful and it was also at that moment that I became a fan of Barbra Streisand.  Fast forward a couple of years and I finally managed to get myself a copy of the novel by Gaston Leroux and I fell so in love with the story I just had to reread it again. And again, until I could almost recite the lines. 
So imagine my excitement when I heard late last year that the Phantom will be staged here in Manila. Hubby had been fortunate to watch the Broadway version (I wasn’t able to join him on his trip – I was pregnant that time, and well, we don’t really mix business trips with vacations; too stressful for us) so he was a bit nonchalant about it but for me, the only version I know was the movie version. By hook or by crook, I knew I had to see it.  And I told hubby I will not settle for anything less than front row (spoiled wife alert). 
The famed chandelier. Sorry for the blurred shot. Cameras weren’t allowed and I took this shot on our way out.
What can I say? Five minutes into the show and I was bawling my eyes out. The songs were just too perfect and we couldn’t help humming along every now and then. My favourites (aside from All I Ask Of You) include Think Of Me, Angel of Music and Music of the Night. 
These songs were rendered wonderfully by the cast; Christine Lyon gave a fine performance as Christine Daae. She was pretty, sexy and therefore looked and sounded almost exactly as I imagined Christine would be (not exactly, mind you, because of my personal bias that Christine should have a softer register, sort of ethereal sound to her voice). 
Of the two guys vying for her attention, I found Jonathan Roxmouth’s Phantom’s singing more piercing and perhaps, more skilful than Anthony Downing’s Raoul. But Downing was just too cute. He reminds me of Prince Caspian (from the Disney movie) except that he sounds so good. 
Jonathan Roxmouth as the Phantom

Anthony Browning as Raoul
As for the costume and set, well, I can’t find any fault with it. Everything was as it was in the movie and in the Broadway version (according to hubby), except for the lake and the masquerade scenes, which were decidedly tamer for the Manila version. 
Hubby and I loved it so much we bought the live recording from the 25th anniversary, and played it on the drive back home, and watched the movie (for the nth time) last night. And I still want to watch the musical again. I still have two weeks. That’s how good it was (I’m a fan, obviously, but you should really see it).
*Cast photos grabbed from the net. 

Theater: The Sound of Music

Who has not fallen in love with The Sound of Music when they were kids? Practically all of us have grown up listening to the songs from this musical and have watched the movie (or even the animated version shown over ABS CBN many years ago). Well, Ipe and I are huge fans; in fact, the hubby has even kept tabs on the stars well into adulthood. Needless to say, when we heard about the production being shown at the Newport Performing Arts Theater, we knew we had to watch.
Hubby was lucky enough to get three front row seats, right smack in the middle where you can see even the tiniest beads of sweat or the quiver of a lip of the performer.
The Story
For those unfamiliar with the Story of Music (I must ask you though, under what rock are you living under?), it’s actually the tale of how Maria Rainer, a postulant at the Nonnberg Abbey, was sent by the Mother Abbess to be a governess to the seven children of widowed baron, Captain Georg Von Trapp, during the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany.
A decorated naval officer, the Captain’s household is run with military precision, with all members of the household, his children include, responding to a whistle and their daily exercise consisting of coordinated marches. After the death of his wife, the Captain spent less and less time at their estate in Austria, and forbid music in their home. As a result, the children grew up not knowing him, and would always get rid of their governess since they knew that without one, their father would be forced to come home to hire a new one.
Maria, being the rule breaker that she is and with the best of intentions, brings out the children’s inborn love for music and teaches them how to sing in the Captain’s absence, and in the process forges a genuine caring relationship with the children.
By the time Captain Von Trapp returns home with his soon-to-be-fiancee, the Baroness Elsa Shraeder, the children have all undergone a great change in their demeanor, even learning to wear play clothes as opposed to the uniforms the Captain makes them wear. Needless to say, Maria and the Captain soon discover they are falling for the other, or rather, the people around them discover it.
Maria runs back to the convent, afraid that falling in love with the Captain is against her chosen vocation until the Mother Abbess convinces her that “just because you love the Captain, doesn’t mean you love God any less.” The two eventually get married and with the threat of the Captain being forced to lead a naval fleet as part of the German contingent (forcing him to choose whether to side with Germany for his family’s safety or keep true to his patriotic nature and refuse), must figure out how to survive while keeping their family intact.
There are subtle differences between the musical and the movie versions such as how the Captain and the Baroness broke up because of political differences (in the movie, the Baroness broke up with him because she realized he was in love with Maria), and how the Postman let them escape (again, in the movie, he wasn’t as nice; he actually alerted the Nazi of the Von Trapp’s plan and whereabouts); am not sure why, but either version works well with me.

Of course, there are also differences between the theatrical version and the real-life story of the von Trapp family but on the whole, remains true to the main story. 

The Production
Honestly, I have not watched many stage productions, and so my cannot compare it with much. Given this, I must say the production exceeded my expectations – from the set, to the costume, to the orchestra, to the actors.
Every scene is rendered vividly with the aid of a LED screen occupying the entire wall of the stage, reportedly one of the biggest in a theatre in Asia, further enhanced by backdrops that are so far one of the most elaborately prepared sets I have seen in the country. In fact, the props alone made me think that I was getting way more out of the deal than what I have paid for – it was quite obvious that no expense was spared for the production to be as faithful to the story’s setting as possible.
The transition from each act/scene was also seamless – each change of backdrop perfectly timed and coordinated and I didn’t feel or hear any scrambling going on onstage, even though I was seated just a few feet from the edge.
And for the ticket price (VIP tickets cost Php 2,000), I wasn’t really expecting a live orchestra to play but there they were! Being an accountant, I got quite preoccupied estimating the musical’s expenses, which I am expecting, is stratospheric compared to its revenues, even though they were performing for a full house (and I heard tickets are almost all sold out). Geeky ole me.
The Actors
Of course, the gems of any stage production are the actors. Really, you can get over an ugly set but will never get satisfied by a mediocre performance. I was looking forward to seeing Joanna Ampil who I have yet to see onstage but Cris Villonco was playing Maria last Saturday. I remember her from her days as an aspiring recording singer and while her voice was clear and  had depth, she never really reached full stardom, perhaps because of her too wholesome image, and the fact that her the songs she recorded were not really that memorable. So, I was initially less than thrilled that I would be watching her.
But to my pleasant surprise, she gave a powerful performance and really impressed me that night. I love, love, love her voice, how she effortlessly switched between notes and jumped octaves and conveyed her emotions through her voice. She brought me to tears several times (also, I was seated right in front of her that I could see her tears glistening onstage), especially when she realized she had fallen in love with the captain and that he was going to marry the Baroness, and in that scene when the Nazi’s were after them and she was telling the captain that his decision (whether to side with the Germans or escape) will also be her decision. I know some feminists will not like this part, arguing that she should have her own opinions, and while I agree with this view, there are some things wherein you will really have to respect your man’s decision.
The Captain was portrayed perfectly by Audie Gemora, no doubt my favourite Filipino stage actor. I was a fan of his even when I was younger and I must say the quality of his voice has not changed. He makes singing look so easy and I could feel the tension he was feeling as the Von Trapp family was performing at the Festival, with the Nazi waiting to take him away right after their performance. Really, I cannot say anything more other than he was damn good.
I must say though, I didn’t initially feel the attraction between the Captain and Maria, until well into the second act. And I found it quite amusing that Cris probably used to play his daughter in one musical or another but now plays his wife, though of course, we know that the love story of the captain and the novice was really a May-December affair.
And I must not forget to mention Pinky Amador’s performance as the Baroness and Sheila Francisco as the Mother Abbess, which were stellar. Marvin Ong as Rolf Gruber was also brilliant – I think he was my second favourite singer in the production, next of course to Audie.
Perhaps one of the best surprises of the night was seeing Debraliz as Frau Schmidt. It was a non-singing part but Debraliz was so hilarious and you could tell the audience was looking forward to her scenes as some of them give tiny whoops of delight whenever she was onstage. Indeed, she got one of the loudest claps at the curtain call.
There are some weak links in the line-up though, mostly on the actors playing the seven Von Trapp kids. Tanya Manalang as eldest daughter Liesl was okay but she should practice her breathing technique as I could hear every catch in her breath when she sings and there were instances when I was almost fearful that her voice would break. Paolo Ocampo, as eldest son Friedrich, was probably the wost singer in the bunch, and possibly the worst actor as well, given that, well, he couldn’t do either. But since the character doesn’t really have a solo number and just limited one-liners, this was not a big problem.
Oh, and a little bit of trivia: Aga Muhlach and Charlene Gonzales’ baby girl Atasha plays Brigitta, the third youngest kid. I must say this kid has a bright future – she’s pretty and from the looks of it, inherited Aga’s acting chops as well.
The Final Say
I couldn’t sum up how good the production was but to repeat what I said above, I felt like Newport charged too less, considering the caliber and quality of the musical. And what better affirmation can I give you that it was good, other than that and to mention that all throughout the three-hour long musical, Joey sat still on his seat, occassionally even swinging his legs to the beat?
Souvenir program “Sazburg Gazette” showing current events in 1938; inside are primers about the production
Production runs until December 11 so hurry and get your tickets at Resorts World or at TicketWorld.

Rent The Musical

I learned a lot from watching the Rent press screening last night at Rockwell:
a) Viva Hot Babe Sheree can sing AND dance live, even songs that would have knocked the breath out of lesser performers
b) Gian Magdangal (Sheree’s real-life baby daddy) is a really good singer
c) There are a lot of better songs in the musical than Seasons of Love
The Story
Rent, written by Jonathan Larson back in the 90’s, is an adaptation of Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme about a group of bohemian artists living in poverty and coping with AIDS in New York. Much of the story draws parallels from the 19th century work, modernized to depict the 90s: New York replaces Paris, AIDS replaces Tuberculosis, and musicians/performers replace the painters and poets of Puccini’s work. 
It tells the intertwined tales of survival of Roger, a musician who longs to write one last song before he dies; Mimi, a 19-year old dancer who lives one floor down from Roger; Mark, Roger’s independent filmmaker roommate who has yet to get over his ex-girlfriend dumping him for another woman; Maureen, the aspiring performer and Mark’s ex; Collins, a computer genius and Roger’s other roommate; and Angel, a drag queen with whom Collins fell in love with after he (she) rescues him after a mugging; Joanne, Maureen’s Harvard-educated lawyer-girlfriend; and Benny, the trio’s former roommate who now owns the building after he marries a rich woman.
Details from Larson’s own life are incorporated in the plot elements as well, making him almost the unseen main character: his own girlfriend left him for another woman, he lived in impoverished conditions in NY, details of which are depicted clearly in the production – no heater, broken buzzer which means his guests have to call him on the payphone so he could drop the keys to the ground to let them in.

The Cast
Most of the cast reprise their roles from the February 2010 run – led by Gian Magdangal as Roger, but there are surprise additions such as Sheree as Mimi and last-minute replacement Mian Dimacali as Maureen. Known stage actor Lorenz Martinez also joins as Benny.

The show started off on rather shaky ground as I remember thinking some high school and college productions look and sound much better and looking at my watch at the same time, but after the initial awkwardness and off-key songs, I found myself enjoying and didn’t bother checking the time anymore.

Almost the entire cast gave solid acting and singing but I would have to hand down the best and most consistent performance to Job Bautista (Angel) and OJ Mariano (Tom Collins) who played gay lovers with realistic sweetness. I have to admit I rarely cry during live performances but the scene when Angel was dying in the background while Mimi and Roger sing a duet in the foreground got me teary-eyed even though the two of them had no lines or song numbers for that scene. They were the best couple and performers of the production, no doubt.

There were a lot of good duets given last night though, and I thoroughly enjoyed Joanne and Maureen’s confrontation scene singing Take Me or Leave and Mimi and Roger’s Without You and I Should Tell You.This is even more commendable when I learned that the actress playing Maureen, Mian Dimacali, was a newcomer – she could have fooled me!

Maureen’s one-woman act of a story about a cow and a bulldog was my favorite performance of the night – she owned it with the way she moo’ed and coo’ed her way on stage, and providing the sound effects for her act.

Sheree (Mimi) started off sounding off-key in her first solo song – Out Tonight – and I almost feared she would lose her voice any minute as it was so raspy but she more than made up for it with fiery and powerful vocals in the next set. And I must admit her portrayal of Mimi was quite charming and I could almost feel her desperation and longing to be loved. I had very low expectations from her, thinking that she’s nothing but a Viva Hot Babe and FHM cover girl but she surprised me.

Gian though, left much to be desired. While I must admit his singing kept me awake and interested, I find his face devoid of any emotion (or maybe I was seated way too far on the 12th row; but then, I could the others’ facial expressions). He just doesn’t strike me as someone hopelessly in love with a dying person.

But probably the weakest link is Fredison Lo, who plays Mark Cohen. He not only is a bad actor, but sings like he is in his sleep. He seems nice enough but probably the reason the musical started off on lousy footing was because it started with him. He just wasn’t as engaging as the rest of the cast and his scenes were the least enjoyable.

The Set

A cinema seems a rather odd choice to have this musical as the lighting and stage is not much suited to a live performance but in the end, I think it worked well as the audience had a more intimate view and the sound is more focused.

And I loved the simple two-storey set as it didn’t distract from the actual stars of the production – the actors.

The Verdict

I’ve heard some negative press about the Manila production from last February, and given that most of the cast were retained, I was expecting to waste three hours of my time. But all else said, it was still an enjoyable show and I would recommend it to my friends and family.

Rent is on for a limited run of eight performances at Cinema 2 of the Power Plant Mall from December 8 – 12 so better get your tickets as soon as you can.

Cats in Manila

I have to hand it to Lea Salonga – she is really a great singer. She doesn’t have the biggest voice or hits the highest notes but she gave me goosebumps and made me cry the entire time she was singing . 
Got to watch Cats last Friday (orchestra tickets part of hubby’s birthday gift to me). It runs till mid of August so I recommend that you guys try to catch it if tickets are still available.