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Francisco Baltazar’s “Orosman at Zafira” Musical (A Review)

25 February 2011

Francisco Baltazar’s “Orosman at Zafira” Musical (A Review)

Orosman at Zafira, directed and choreographed by Dexter Santos originally for the Komedya Fiesta in 2008 of Dulaang UP, is still currently being staged at the SM Mall of Asia Centerstage Theater for a limited time until February 26. It was a little too late for me to plug the show in 2008 because I only got to watch it on its last day. Bummer. I was, still am, and will probably remain forever in total awe of the play’s production value and wonderfully orchestrated modern-sounding-yet-local-in-ethnic-feel music coupled with top notch contemporary movement, showcasing yet again the essence of true Filipino talent.

The play is classified as a “komedya” and written by the revolutionary Francisco Balagtas. Most, like me for example, who are not really in the know of the lesser popular works of even our esteemed playwrights, may not give this production a second look. As nothing can stop awesomeness from spreading by word of mouth or in blogs and status updates, much to the disappointment of the growing fan base who can’t stand seeing the cast perform just once, each and every air date and time of the play in 2008 got sold out. On August of 2010, for Dulaang UP’s 35th Season, being a truly magnificent play to showcase, Orosman at Zafira was hand picked as the first of five plays to be restaged in “Return Engagement: Plays Deserving a Second Look.” It enjoyed the same “box office hit” status prompting the producers to extend with one more staging on the show’s last day. Orosman at Zafira has since been hailed as “a breakthrough production of the Baltazar classic.” In some circles, even, the play has been dubbed as the “300″ of local theater, where well sculpted 6-pack abs could well be the top casting requirement for the male actors (in this year’s run, however, all the abs have perished save for Orosman’s LOL).

Some enhancements got incorporated with this run of Orosman at Zafira at the SM MOA’s Centerstage Theater since the seating capacity and the stage got ridiculously bigger. Though the grasses got taller, scafoldings were made to good use in the chorepography, dancers started doing acrobatics as they are lowered onto the main stage from above with carabiners, and almost every one of the cast getting lapel mics, the production still managed to deliver the same quality of entertainment both old fans and first time audiences will surely enjoy.

I can still remember fondly how tired I’d be as a spectator right after a show owing to the movements on stage (seeing the landscape change before your eyes as part of the choreography) and the overwhelming beauty of the sound of both modern and native musical instruments (heard of the “gangsa, sarunay, tungatong, balimbing, kubing/kullibaw, and kullitong?” Exactly!) : a perfect fusion of modern and native elements (original, read ORIGINAL, music composition by Carol Bello) accompanying the actors’ sincerest vocal renditions conveying the right emotions at the right moments. It still gave me chills to witness the burial scenes and the dance styles during the war scenes, meticulously directed and choreographed to distinguish one tribe’s innate culture from another.

Maita Ponce’s Zafira and Jay Gonzaga’s Orosman, from my perspective, gave the strongest portrayals of their respective characters compared to other actors who have done the roles in the past. Not only do they have great vocals, they also easily project feelings with a dimension so raw and thick, one would have no trouble believing and empathizing as the drama of their lives and tribes unfold. So believable, in fact, that they’ve raised Orosman and Zafira as the hands-down lead characters of the play, unlike in the past when both seemed rather weak. Santos’ direction of Orosman at Zafira gives any one of the major actors the ability to steal the show depending on how feirce they become on set. There this Zelim character, for example, leader of the tribe Duquela (portrayed in the past by both JC Santos and JM De Guzman who gave fight scenes during the second run a complete turn around with his epic choreography), who may easily overshadow everyone on the stage with his characteristic strong moves and badass overall vibe.

Of course, Judith Javier’s Gulnara and Tao Aves’ Zelima are classics. They’ve both been very bankable in their roles since the first run in 2008 to the point that I probably can’t picture nor accept anybody else being Gulnara (Zafira’s mother in law) and Zelima (the narrator-slash-daughter of the Tedenst “pacha’s” right hand). Fanboy much? LOL

Three years from the first time Orosman at Zafira first graced the stage, it still hasn’t lost its magic. I won’t be writing down a synopsis because letting the plot unfold before your eyes and letting the production assault your senses as the scenes progress is, again as I saw it, part of the delight that is your own personal Orosman at Zafira experience (if you fear becoming lost in traslation with the language used in the play, go buy the souvenir program from the gate. It’s got the Acts written down in sizable bites and in English for your enjoyment).

Show Details:
OROSMAN AT ZAFIRA’s Playdates are Feb 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 25 and 26, 2011 at the SM Mall of Asia Centerstage Theater. OROSMAN AT ZAFIRA’s Friday and Saturday Gala Shows will be at 8:00 p.m. and the Saturday and Sunday Matinee Shows will be at 3:00 p.m. OROSMAN AT ZAFIRA tickets are now available at all SM Cinema Ticket Booths nationwide and all TicketWorld outlets in major National Bookstore branches, Robinsons Department Stores, and at Greenbelt 1, Glorietta 5 and Trinoma Cinema ticket booths. Call SM Tickets at (02) 470.2222 or TicketWorld at (02) 891.9999.
As a special treat to all students, here’s your chance to watch OROSMAN AT ZAFIRA for only P350.00 per ticket. This is applicable on all matinee performances on the following dates: February 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20, and 26.
For more information, call or text (0949) 434.5239 / (0917) 842.7346 or (0922) 842.7346 or log on to or like the official OROSMAN AT ZAFIRA Fan Page on Facebook.

Three runs of Orosman at Zafira evidenced by three souvenir programs

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Last Week of the Cats Musical Live in Manila (August 17-22)

17 August 2010

Last Week of the Cats Musical Live in Manila (August 17-22)

Before deciding to watch the Cats Musical in Manila run and after knowing how much the tickets went for (PHP7,210/PHP6,180 for seats closest to the stage, PHP5,150/4,635 for the next best seats, etc. For ticket prices and show schedules, visit ticketworld. They stage two shows, one each for the afternoon and night time Saturday and Sunday), several other considerations got me anxious. Having seen and written about several staged musicals in the last three years, I’ve no doubt in my mind that our home grown talents can act and sing the life into even the most challenging of characters. It’s the dancing that’s worrisome. Sure, local can dance, but the Cats requirement in this department will call for years of professional training in preparation. I thought the production run will cast locals for all the characters. I recently found out that the cast, save for Lea Salonga playing Grizabella, the producers, and director are from Australia and news has it that if this Manila leg does well, they will consider performing in other parts of Asia.

Back in the 80s, having two parents who found each other through music  (this I’m assuming since I remember one photo of my mom propped on a stool, on stage, playing a folk guitar, with long wavy hair covering the sides of her face, looking like Karen Carpenter with her bell bottom jeans and printed long sleeved shirt. My dad played the acoustic guitar. They probably knew each other from inter-collegiate music competitions as I’d like to assume because that’d be totally cool as a love story angle LOL. They both had an extensive album collection of The Carpenters and Beatles in vinyl back in the day), my earliest recollection of Cats the Musical primarily came from a cassette audio tape with two amber color eyes printed on the cover insert. I remember playing the tape every once in a while and being fond of several lines off some tracks. There’s the ever popular Memory sung by Elaine Paige (funny, I only remember the Act 2 version and I can’t remembering ever recalling another voice singing with the “lead” character), two ladies singing something about a “cavity” not being there (made perfect sense when I was little,  sue me),  “Up, up, up, past the Russell Hotel/ Up, up, up, up, to the Heaviside Layer,” the melody for “a cat so clever as magical Mr Mistoffelees,” and a faint idea of how the chorus for “Ad-Dressing of Cats” sounded. (OMG, I can only recall the last five tracks of Act 2, meaning, I just kept on rewinding that part of the tape! WTF?! So this is how it feels after you’ve discovered the meaning of a Rosetta Stone or something equally awesome!!!)

For the 20 years in between, I never thought I’d find the time get to see Cats either in New York or London. I’ve even somewhat forgotten about the cassette audio tape that I kept on rewinding. Two days before my scheduled screening date, I tried to watch the Cats DVD movie and the movement, acting, overall production finally gave those weird lyrics in my head context. That part where a shoe fell from the “heavens” and the cat chorus suddenly stopped what they were doing altogether, startled as cats would be in real life from a loud sound, sent me clutching my belly in a fit of laughter. The Jellicle Dance got me entranced. The “Naming of Cats” lent perspective to the reason why cats sometimes look as though they’re in a “profound meditation” state (turns out, as the story went, they’re busy trying to recall their third name: The name that no human research can discover/But the at himself knows, and will never confess). Yes, I came prepared for the live act and, I thought to myself,  this run better be at par with what I’ve seen.

To get an entire sense of Cats from the prose delivered on stage either in said verse,  lyrical chorus, or song coupled with dance or movement is expecting too much from this or any other Cats staging. The DVD movie version and reading the online transcription of lyrics afterwards helped me understand the story more. Seriously, the colors, costume, familiar melody, dance, props, and lighting would snatch my attention away so fast, I am in most times left filling plot gaps in my mind with dance and movements for context. Sometimes, I don’t even want to exert so much effort in following what the lyrics say anymore. What I thoroughly enjoyed seeing were the little things: cats stretching, clawing each other subtly, nudging another cat, gracefully moving from one point to another in the shadows, dance adlibs mimicking movements of real live cats, stuff like that. Seasoned and veterans to that ways of the cat, that’s what this Australian cast is.

Much anticipated is how Lea can perform Memory in Act 2. The entire of Act 1 and half of Act 2 was lined with plots and sub plots that will supposedly make this scene huge. The audience look forward to it as much as the characters do when finally a cat is chosen to be reborn to a different jellicle life. As everybody rejoices, in comes Grizabella, still despised by the community for probably having left them in the past (a popular take on the untold side of the story). The air is filled with tension and older cats keep the younger ones away from the slow walking, poor poised, “glamour cat.” And then, she sings. She sings of the past, how life has been for her, lonely, dreaming, of holding on at those moments when she was at her prime for strength, the cycle of days in solitude, and of hoping for a second chance at life in a weathered but beautiful voice that’s full of earnest longing. She does not force the message nor assert herself but the sincerity in her delivery can make even the toughest of cats believe that she of all deserves this break. Unanimously, they all do in the end. A half-baked delivery of the song and the scene will make the audience wonder what made the tramp deserve such a popular vote. Her standing up as the orchestra swells, ushering her plea to “touch me, it’s so easy to leave me…” should have left no doubt in everyone’s mind had it been sung with deep seeded self-resentment, penitence, and longing. Quite frankly, I was underwhelmed. Yes, there’s power in her voice. Words come out crystal clear and full with not even a hint of a single bum note anywhere. It’s the delivery of the emotion called for by the song and character’s situation that’s been compromised. Was I expecting too much, probably? Anybody would for premium priced seats.

For those who applauded the Filipino verse of Memory as sung solo by Sillabub (performed by Alyse Davies), the lines were translated by multi-awarded poet, Pete Lacaba. It goes as follows:

Liwanag, hanapin ang liwanag
Ang iyong ala-ala ang… gabay na sundin
Sa liwanag,, ligaya ay matatagpuan
Bagong buhay ay darating

Over all, the production value of Cats “Now and Forever” the Musical in Manila is top notch. Everything justifies the cost, really. Good thing they’ve extended up to the end of this week (August 22). For those on a budget, General Admission tickets go for P1,030/P772.5. There are very limited seats available, I heard. For screening schedules, ticket availability, and prices, visit the ticketworld website or call (+632) 891.9999 for details.

Here are some photos from the show.

Watch vids taken during the pre-gala at Gibbs Cadiz’s site here and his review of Cats here. Wala ka pa ring kupas, Mr Cadiz!

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Amateurs, Pure Innocence, and The Little Mermaid

25 May 2009

In the office, children of employees (from 4 to 18 years old) were given the exciting opportunity to make good of their summer by enrolling in a 30-hour voice, dance, and basic theater acting session supervised by Kids Acts Philippines Incorporated. The enrollees had to undergo a five week, twice weekly crash course that culminated with a musical staged last Saturday in the GSIS Theater. The final show incorporated elements of what a “real” musical theater program would commonly have: costume, mic lapels, movable stage props, underwater backdrop, lighting, a live band, choreography, and live singing. The classes were well participated with 31 children making it to the finals. It was a great initiative, leaps better than previous years’ usual arts and crafts theme.

The end product was a musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

The Cast, please click to view full sized image.

(Warning: this sentence is the part where I gloat some) I’m no stranger to watching theater productions, plays, or musicals produced by either Dulaang UP, Blue Repertory, Philippine Opera Company, PETA, Atlantis, and Repertory Philippines. (I told you there’d be gloating LOL) This time, however, I’ve no grand expectations for the children knowing full well that things can go wrong (voices on the mic heard from the cast in the back stage, children slipping, failed blocking, costumes falling off, audio fading, lines forgotten, no emotion conveyed in the lines and songs delivered, and dead air to name some) given the constraints but, overall, it turned out quite nice. I’ve never seen so much stage mothers running amok in a single venue LOL!

The thing that struck me with this particular musical is that they chose to present the original Hans Christian Andersen story where the mermaid died in the end. No matter how commonplace the musical’s story already is, watching the children do their darnedest to present the genuine article struck me hard. In the last scene, soon after the mermaid had decided to sacrifice her life instead of killing the prince, the music became so melancholy that when the mermaid was lying on the stage while one after another the little fishes, the king, and her sisters made their way to pay her tribute, I cried. Seriously, I did. I knew she was going to become foam in the end but watching kids enact the scene made it seem more tragic. Imagine an innocent choosing to do what she knows in her heart was right.

I overreacted, I know, and I realized it too late that I should have made a mental note that the mermaid in the original story is no 9 year old.

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Spelling Bee: A Musical Comedy and My Tragedy

23 March 2009

I first knew that spelling wasn’t my cup of tea when I mispelled b-i-c-y-c-l-e during a spelling bee competition at second grade. While seated and waiting for my turn, I can still recall how fervently I hoped to not get the word “bicycle.” FML, I know, as it just had to happen. (more…)

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La bohème Set in Modern Manila

4 October 2008

Instead of going to Bloggers’ Poker Night with the chance of beating Bim at the jackpot, I sort of worked some and then headed to the CCP to experience La bohème. I’m going to come clean this early on in the article by admitting that whenever I hear an aria being played anywhere, my eyeballs would suddenly shoot sideways without warning and stay there for a good 10 seconds minimum in protest. Opera just doesn’t feel alright to the ears, or at least MY ears.

When Lorna sent me an invite for a preview of La bohème, a classic written by Giacomo Puccini (who also composed Madama Butterfly) and first performed on stage in Italy back in February 1896, the same feeling of dread still weighed me down despite the week-long anticipation of finally getting to see my first ever real live opera. Once seated on the front row and center, I learned the hard way that my fears are indeed founded.

You see, I got bored. To tears. But let me elaborate.

First, the entire thing is in Italian. Sure, the set was easy on the eyes since the people behind the production made it look like the story they are telling happed in modern-day Manila but still, it’s in Italian. If I wasn’t taking videos, I’d take it as my cue to curl up on my seat and snore. But like a student who is about to take an exam, I should have come prepared. There are lots of resources everywhere in the Internet where I could have made an effort to read the lyrics and their corresponding translation in English but I didn’t bother. So yes, I’m partly to blame for this point.

Second, the opera singers’ eyeballs were very distracting. It would not have mattered, maybe, for people seated further away from the stage. I was less than 2 meters away from the conductor so when the opera singers would glance at her, I’d get very uneasy. It’s like seeing an orator fidget on stage for lack of confidence. I understand that the conductor dictates the flow and is thus in charge of the overall cohesion among the elements of the entire production so, yes, I know I must be fair in my judgement. She gives the cue, right. Ok, got that. And what we saw was a preview where they were ironing out the fine details of the show (OK, that part has already been explained to us by Lorna and I’m in a story-sharing mood so I wrote it down here for you to also experience).

Third, night after night, a different set of actors will perform the characters on stage. Mind you, though, that these are very talented/dedicated artists, as shown by their credentials. Director Floy Quintos shared that these actors were still rarin’ to do the role despite the need to learn the songs for four gruelling months just so they can perform for one night at the CCP. Having come from the theater, Director Quintos was humbled by this mind set shared by most young classical singers.

After the fourth act, I found myself easing up to the storyline. Could it be that my empathy found a way to transcend the language barrier? HUHLOLZ! I’d attribute my new-found satisfaction to the chemistry of the performers, director, orchestra, and the conductor. That plus probably the grandiose vibe of just being in the CCP and watching opera. Snooty much? Hellz yeah!

As repeatedly mentioned everywhere, the hit Broadway musical Rent was based on this classic. La boheme proudly earned the tagline “the greatest love story ever sang” and, as jokingly put by the director, the record-holder of the longest goodbye exchange between co-dependent lovers who can’t seem to live with nor be away from each other. That my dear friends is a classic right there with a plot that’s so current, you could smell, taste, and hump it!

The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra provides professional and point-precise scoring as conducted by Helen Quach, a very energetic/lively woman. You’ll see what I mean in the video that’ll follow. You’ll notice her hands sticking out of the orchestra pit at times while I was shooting.

So, would I recommend the play? See the preview below and decide for yourself.



For tickets, contact the Philippine Opera Company at 892-8786 or visit for more details. Tickets are also available at all TicketWorld outlets with trunkline number 891-9999.

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Manila Leg of the Altar Boyz World Tour Concert Reviewed

7 April 2008

Altar Boyz logoMost recent in the series of theater plays I have seen in the last six months (Avenue Q, Into The Woods, Hamlet, and Dulaang UP’s Orosman at Zafira before this) is Repertory Philippines‘ production of the award winning, off-Broadway musical comedy Altar Boyz. I enjoyed falling off the edge of my seat laughing at its OMGFTWBBQLOLCAT brilliance. And, quite literally, this is a re-view because I’ve already seen the show twice. Oh, look! A fluffy gazelle prancing behind a pink flamingo on a rainbow colored, diamond studded pavement! Also, lacey parasol!

Altar Boyz is about a boy band comprised of 5 devout Christians, 4 of them Catholics and the other, Jewish, performing the last night of the last leg of their world tour concert in Manila. They have one grand mission: to reduce and eventually bring down the number of troubled souls in their audience to zero. With a mixed genre of (up-tempo and ballad) pop, hiphop, and a hint of Latin here and there, the cast performs a total of 12 songs, all with catchy tunes and lyrics.

Being a musical comedy with a plot revolving around the sensitive topic of religion, it is reassuring to know that the show’s writer (Kevin Del Aguila) and composers (Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker) were keen on incorporating careful measures to ensure that fundamental doctrines and practices in Christianity were not satirized to the point of being subversive. Key to its effectiveness is how these ideas are conveyed.

Staford Arima, Director of the Altar Boyz show on Broadway (or off-Broadway – I’m a novice to theater jargon so pardon the ignorance) explains, “the creative team and myself made very clear kind of rules in how we dealt with the religious aspects of the show. And what basically the recipe was is the boys are true believers and so anything that they say and anything that they do comes from a place of genuine honesty and belief(transcribed form a video interview from Chari Arespacochaga had this premise down to pat with her able direction and in coming up with a most believable cast of very talented actors and creative team.

The Cast  of Altar Boyz

Eye-candy for the ladies: The cast (L to R) portraying Abraham, Luke, Matthew, Mark, and Juan

More than religion, the show touches on the more personal aspects like camaraderie, trust, acceptance, and belongingness. Its relevance pinches a soft spot moreso towards the end of this 90-minute, one-act production.

Don’t get me wrong. Altar Boyz is still a light musical comedy. The side-splitting instances in the show were mostly courtesy of the lyrics in some songs which led me to expect something nasty else, witty one-liners, in-character delivery, almost everything that Red Concepcion’s character (Mark) does, and the ridiculous lengths the boyz would willingly go through in order to ease the burden of all the souls in the audience. It’s surprising to see that the “ways of religion” everyone is too familiar with can be shamelessly expressed, professed, and imbibed in permutations of the unorthodox media that is pop music. This makes Altar Boyz both hilarious and ingenious.

PJ Valerio’s boyish good looks and high voice range makes him perfect for the role of Matthew, the leader of the pack. Reuben “Ryu” Uy gives Luke’s bad-boy character life with funky moves and soulful voice riffs. Red Concepcion, playing Mark, can out-do Tyler Maynard with the stuff he does on the sidelines (props for the outstanding “Epiphany” number). Reb Atadero makes a believably good Latino-loverboy impression (complete with wavy hair and tanned skin-color) as he plays the ladies in the audience every chance he gets in his role as Juan. Chevy Mercado’s flexible vocal chops and sincere song renditions can melt the most jaded soul to submission as he performs Abraham.

The dance moves may not best the country’s top street dancers but doing the routine together with singing and acting can be a stretch for anyone on stage. The boyz were required to dance about 80% of the time to add to the over-all concert vibe. I can just imagine how hard it was for Rep to screen and find the best fit.

Altar Boyz is one musical I’d want to see on Broadway. With the entire local production in it. I have that much faith in them. Did I just say “faith?

While waiting in line outside OnStage before the play started, I jokingly said that if Chevy Mercado could not pull off singing “I Believe” to the standards I expect it to be delivered, I’d be forced to write bad things about Altar Boyz.

I was only kidding, of course.

And, as expected, Chevy nailed it.

Preview from the Press Con: The Altar Boyz Musical Hits Manila This April


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Show Schedule
April 4-27, 2008
8:00 PM on Fridays & Saturdays
3:30 PM on Saturdays & Sundays

2/F Greenbelt 1, Ayala Center, Makati City

P 550.00 Orchestra Center
P 350.00 Orchestra Side
P 250.00 Balcony

Altar Boyz 26 April 3.30pm GOLD Tickets
To reserve Altar Boyz GOLD tickets for the 26 April Saturday 3.30pm show, please contact Lorna Lopez thru:
(Globe) 0917.9256505
(Sun) 0922.3875729
(email) cranegoddesscorp at gmail dot com

For tickets, reservations, and information call the Rep office at 8870710 or Ticketworld at 891999. You may also log on to or

Logo from Repertory Philippines. Rights reserved where due.


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