Saturday, October 04, 2014

Insane. Lea’s still got it. One of the local articles about her performance said “walang kupas”.

You’ve got to be so proud though of how many Filipinos can make it on the global stage. I wish we had directors and theater companies as strong locally to bring this level of talent out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Smash: Under Pressure

I loved this scene from Smash, Season 2. There's nobody else around, and it has a backstage vibe to it. I also love this song and I'm a sucker for scenes that get the whole cast together. They're walking around the Broadway streets early in the morning as they head to the theater for the Tony's.

Walking around in that row of streets between Times Square and Hell's Kitchen is so electrifying, theater after theater, posters and actors' names on marquees. That there are dozens of amazing shows you could walk into on any week night is one of the reasons I love New York.

Smash was by no means an amazing show but I was always drawn to it because of the peek it gives into the creative processes of writing, casting and producing a show. I love that they cast so many real theater performers, including my favorite Will Chase!. I never got to see Jeremy Jordan in Newsies but I got to meet him in Smash. I super hate his character but love his voice, and I absolutely can't wait to see him in Last 5 Years. I'd love to see Megan Hilty live, she's such a bombshell. The show didn't make a McPheever fan out of me and she was probably my least favorite on the show; her voice is unfortunately also the thinnest compared to her formidable Broadway-trained co-stars. But that's ok, she gets the poppier tunes and I  a lot of them (especially hers and Jeremy's songs) are on loop on my iPod.

It was a delectable guilty  pleasure and with two full seasons it would make for fantastic binge watching. And when I want to see the beautiful theater streets again... cue video.

Monday, August 18, 2014


The one and only play I saw in Shanghai.

This was ok. Really just ok. Nothing remarkable to say... except that it was my first time to see a play with running subtitles.

RED: What do you see?

Red will always be special to me because it is the first play I ever saw. It was so well-reviewed and I love art and have always liked Rothko.

I remember sitting in the mezzanine instead of in the orchestra because tickets were so expensive. But that worked out - I got a glorious view of the set, Rothko's workshop. The whole play took place in one room, but the dialogue was so intense and riveting. I kept trying to mentally note lines of the play, so many thoughts and remarks about the meaning of art and finding purpose and struggling with selling out. It was a very dorky art trip, with Rothko's commentary on an important time in the American art scene, the movement from impressionism to abstract expressionism to pop art. Rothko's generation had been detested by the more classical painters, but he in turn despised Warhol & co. He verbally abuses and bullies Ken, an aspiring painter and his assistant who certainly identifies with the new blood, Rothko's sparring partner for the entire show.

When I got to travel to London two years later I couldn't wait to get to the Tate and sit for a moment in front of Rothko's Seagram murals, the contentious set of portraits that are the focus of the play. The lights are dimmer in the room where they're displayed, prbabbly set to the brightness (or dimness) Rothko obsessed about.

When I heard that they were doing a Manila production of the play I was excited to possibly see it again, but also a little afraid. You never know what liberties a new creative team will take, or what a new cast will bring (or not) to a piece of work. And this is such a tough one to pull off.

I didn't get to see their original run, or on one of the many succeeding runs they had soon after. I finally got to catch it on a much later run this year.

The performance was going to be held at the CCP's Little Theater. We walked in and found we could sit right on stage level, seats arranged on the three sides of the stage. Rothko's workshop was all set up, pieces hanging around the theater, benches, tables, chairs, scattered around.

Rothko walked in and we were drawn into his room. I felt like we never left until the very end of the show.

The same questions were asked and this time, I was ready! I had a little notepad and a pen to jot down the lines and parts that I wanted to remember. (I ended up with mostly illegible scribbles.) But all the important questions were asked, the same fears about trying to create something new and fear of losing respect. Bart Guingona's fingers were covered in paint, even red tint under his fingernails. Joaquin put together a blank canvas, almost from scratch. They had a working sink on stage, and a gritty pink-red floor. They had pots of red pigment on the table and bottles of alcohol poured whiskey from. They mixed paint live, all fascinating art workshop stuff as they probed, discussed and debated.

Red asks important questions that every artist and creative person probably faces. It's all talk, which could get boring if not delivered compellingly. The actors need to keep the audience involved in what is essentially a nintey-minute conversation. Unlike other shows that are require performers to bring their whole hearts, I think this one is about intention. From set and stage to delivery and interaction, I was completely enthralled in the whole production.

My favorite scene is when, in a fit of artistic passion, Rothko and Ken paint a whole canvas red. No more dialogue, just movement.

(P.S. I put the video because it shows that exact scene, but for the record I think this is a terrible trailer especially given that it was such an amazing production! I think they could use some marketing skills... Then the show might have been more packed! It was so sad, I'd say only 30% of the theater was filled when I watched.)

London Road

London Road was definitely the most avant garde work of theater I've ever seen, something truly groundbreaking.

While Bill and I were visiting Mikey in London in 2012, this work was so positively reviewed by everyone from The Guardian to Time Out London. Experimental but not alienating, they promised.

It showed in the National's Cottsloe theater, one of the smaller stages, which worked extremely well. There were only a couple of rows around three sides of the stage. Being so close to the action and gave me sharp, vivid mental memories of the play. As the play started a very normal-looking guy shuffled around the stage, reaching out to audience members to shake their hands and leading in to the "Good evening, welcome" opening number.

The subject is grizzly and more serious than I'd ever normally watch — how a community reacted to and dealt with the aftermath of the discovery of three dead prostitutes in their neighborhood. Mistrust, fear, paranoia, and then their response and how they tried to move forward. "I'm interested in not necessarily the eye of the storm, but more the ripples that it creates around the side. The media and the neighborhood.... there was a whole other world that was affected." (Alecky Blythe, playwright)

It's a piece of verbatim theater, which uses actual interview footage as source material. Writers don't just paraphrase or write additional material, they essentially edit the verbatims into one narrative and set it to music. Cast members have to mimic exactly how the dialogue was originally spoken. My sister, who was taking her masters in English at the time, told us that movies and especially books can't depict authentic speech and conversation because we don't speak in sentences or organized paragraphs. Real speeach is full of "um"s, pauses, run-ons, laughter, incomplete sentences. Verbatim theater uses not just the exact lines, but the exact pronunciation used by subjects interviewed.

"Everyone is very, very nervous, um, and very unsure of everything, basically."

The style was definitely new and won't be to everyone's liking. Lines run in sometimes awkward, uncrafted speech. It was a little odd at first but it drew me in and I enjoyed the flow of action, even the music - which I remembered but struggled to sing along to after the show! They don't craft the lines like "No day but today" or "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" that stick with you.

I also find it pretty cool that London Road was borne out of a National Theater initiative. They have a development workshop where they invite playwrights and musicians to pair up and collaborate. That an organization could engineer something this and orchestrate this level of creativity is amazing.

They had a second run last year in a bigger theater, though I think the original was perfect.

Interview with the creative team, about the style and genre —

It has already been made into a film, scheduled to be released in 2015. Several cast members are in the movie, and the same director from the musical is leading the production, so hopefully it will be good.

The Heiress

Matthew Crawley!!!! + 100000 points

Another fine play. When Dan Stevens walked out all the girls gasped and started clapping, yes, of course, including me. At the intermission the ladies in the row behind me were speculating about whether he was still on the show (they hadn't shown his - Spoiler! - death yet in America) and I couldn't resist turning around and shaking my head. One lady said I'd just given them a spoiler to which I replied that if I hadn't watched ahead I would have been spoiled by their mention of - Spoiler! - Sybil's death. They apologized and I apologized and we all started laughing and promptly shut up because the second act was about to start! Hi again Matthew!

It was February and freezing; New York was in fact going to be hit by a blizzard in a couple of days. But I sped out of my seat and to the theater door line. It's so awkward to be there by yourself because who is supposed to take your photo?? Sure, you have the front-facing selfie camera on your phone but the resolution is never good. I've been beside girls before who flat out say they're too busy to take my photo with X celebrity but guys oblige. And the lovely man beside me, begrudgingly maybe, obliged. Dan out the theater door and was in front of me -- I came to watch you all the way from Manila!, I gushed. A slight exaggeration, sure, but he flashed me a gorgeous smile and I handed my phone to the contracted-guy-next-to-me for the photo. Except, damn! It was on camera! Omg, I'm so sorry Matthew Crawley! I told him to move on to the next person while I fixed the setting (ughhhh jahe) but reminded him to come back to me! And he did. Haha what a guy.

Oh the play! Yes, it was alright. Jessica was charming and I liked that the source material, despite being written in 1947!, didn't stand for his gold digging. Charming night at the theater.

Bye then, Matthew.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

A family friend was taking me around NY the last time I was there and he and his partner had been dying to see Ms. Johansson back on Broadway. They were also gushing about a scene where leading man Benjamin Walker wears only a towel. All in all, Tennessee Williams isn't my usual cup of tea but I didn't mind the idea of seeing either of those things in person.

I didn't have any strong feelings about the show, good or bad. As I said, just not my cup of tea. Scarlett was good and I enjoyed seeing Ciaran Hinds live. Hi, Julis Caesar / Mance Rayder! The plot was of course interesting but for some reason it didn't grab me. The sets were gorgeous, bright, airy and lush despite being humid and Southern. All good.

Book of Mormon

January 2013

Put this on my list when it first came out finally got to see it last year! This was the first ticket I booked when I found out I was going to New York. I didn't reach the original cast but I was so excited to find out that the new Elder Price was none other than Mattchior, Matt Doyle who I saw in Spring and got the nickname after he played Melchior one night.

This show was so ridiculous and didn't take itself too seriously at all. I mean, "I have maggots in my scrotum"?! Come on! "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" was so serious and funny at the same time. And the baptism scene written like a love scene. Come annnnn. To end Act One was "Man Up", time for Elder Cunningham to step up! That song really made me cry. I loved this show so much.