Seeing the film ‘Pare, Mahal Mo raw Ako’, written and directed by Joven Tan for the second time around during its premiere night—it gave me more appreciation of the movie, which was lifted from the hit song of the same title that was sung by one of the stars—Michael Pangilinan. Edgar Allan Guzman is Mark and fell in love with Pangilinan, who played Red, the guy best friend.
There were flaws in the storytelling, which I agree with my fellow writer-friend Arnel, but I just had to point on the good points of the film. First, it didn’t present struggles of how to accept gay people in a heavy drama. Yes, there were emotional scenes, but those were needed to highlight the emotions and the tensions between Mark and Red and so as Mark’s mother portrayed by Nora Aunor.
Second, Guzman could very well claim that this is one of his most natural and best performances ever. He was able to prove that acting needed not to be acted out. He has that depth and could deliver certain emotions even with hackneyed dialogues. His subtle actuations and the nuances of a ‘paminta’ gay were greatly displayed. In his scenes with more seasoned actresses—La Aunor and Ana Capri—he didn’t lag behind. While for a newcomer, Panglinan proved that he has potentials to have more chances of getting film projects.
Lastly, it has successfully concluded the film without any tragedy. It means that there really is a great hope for gay people to be happy in this world as long as people (especially between friends) would embrace and accept for who they are and for what they are capable of—to love without any boundaries. The line—‘sa pag-ibig walang forever, pero sana sa pag-ibig walang gender’—is witty and one quotable quote.
The film is set to open on Wednesday, June 8 in cinemas and is distributed by Viva Films.
When Resorts World Manila revealed its mounting of the musical ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’, based from the 1994 film—‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’—it did excite me. Having seen some scenes from other productions abroad via online, I was looking forward to a spectacle, which the Newport Performing Arts Theater is known for.
To compare the Philippine production with the foreign ones is maybe unfair, but I just can’t help it.
Not all that Glitters, Flatters!
Given the theme of the musical is about gay power, pride, and celebration—it is expected that there’ll be glitzy wardrobes presentations, which makes the experience complete. Outfits inspired from Charlie’s Angels, Cher, and Diana Ross were brilliantly incorporated. But providing these types of costumes, particularly here in the Philippine setting, it is no longer fascinating; it is rather unpalatable and predictable. I remember that the chief costume designer claimed that the designs were mostly of the actor-friendly, but why are the actors wearing such seemed uneasy and having difficulty with their moves? Or is it just Leo Tavarro Valdez having a hard time with his costumes when I saw him on opening night?
Some concepts and designs weren’t festive, but ineffective since it created chaos onstage. The costume emphasis took away one of the highlights of the show—the pink bus named ‘Priscilla’ where deeper relationships got forged; making friendship and discovering second chances of loving as well as accepting one’s sexual preferences and all. When the bus was onstage, it felt rather funny.
Flamboyant shouldn’t be limited to ‘extraordinary headdresses’. The pink bus wasn’t sparkling but rather boring. The bus is the centerpiece and that’s there the three lead characters draw their strengths, their confidence, their cores—it should have been aptly projected on the bus.
A Case of Miscast?
Getting the right actors to breathe into the characters that Stephen Elliot and Allan Scott must have envisioned it; weren’t totally justified in this local production.
When the three leads were revealed—Red Concepcion was [for me] the one who fit the role and he just did it very well as he owned the stage and stole scenes from his co-actors—Valdez and Jon Santos.
Though I was imagining the character of Bernadette as old as I based it on the 1994 Australian comedy-drama film, which had Terence Stamp as Bernadette, then Santos couldn’t be considered since I found him a bit younger. But because of Santos’s impeccable performance, he was able to erase my reservations and impressed me with how he tackled his role as the aging transgender diva. But if the role was given to a more senior actor, then Miguel Faustmann could very well fit into the character. Nonetheless, Santos just breezed through his first-ever fictitious character onstage after all those successful real-life impersonations he did in the past.
If Bernadette is Jon Santos, perhaps, she also deserves a more ‘commercial-looking’ and not too mature Bob. Are we having scarcity of fine actors? I have nothing against Henry Strzalkowski since he is one good performer, but it could have been more ‘romantic’ to have capitalized the romantic angle of Bernadette and Bob. If Santos was given a partner that would tickle the audience fancies of Bernadette finding an almost-perfect man for her, it could have been a lot better. It’s just my thought.
The most critical role was Mitzi’s. What were the considerations for Valdez to take on the character who has been trying to hide his real sexuality to his only son to Marion, played by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo? Is it because he’s bald which is close to the actor Wade McCollum who did Mitzi in its US Tour or the semi-bald Antonello Angiolillo of the Italian cast? But unfortunately, Valdez is just too over-the-top or I must say—he just doesn’t fit the bill. Joel Trinidad could be the likely candidate and could have probably given a more appealing Mitzi onstage. If we talk about voice range, maybe Robert Seña is apt for it, too. The problem with Valdez is simply his facial expressions. When he sang his songs, he forgot he has audiences (including me) to convey a message, an emotion that he failed to come across. There are scenes that just need nuances and subtleties and need not any superlative acting. He must have forgotten that there’s a video camera that magnified his face on the side screens of the theater.
Bituin Escalante is already a ‘given’ that she would stand out from the two other divas. If Escalante could have starred with May Bayot and Lani Misalucha, then maybe the Divas, themselves could have more equal footing. But I always love Escalante, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if she upstaged the two other female performers.
OJ Mariano did a stirring performance as Farrah. Though short, it was remarkable. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo never failed to give justice to any role assigned to her. Michael Williams also stole some moments as Miss Understanding (I love his parts); though mainstream performers like Vice Ganda and Jimmy Marquez could have also given their unique interpretations of the character.
Off Moments and LED Disasters!
Newport Performing Arts Theater do take pride in having the largest LED screen in Asia, but for crying out loud—enough of it. I have seen how the theater have maximized the three Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals—‘The Sound of Music’, ‘The King and I’, and ‘Cinderella’ were all enthralling, but repeating it in this production especially the opening scene where the song ‘It’s Raining Men’ was performed—a makeshift bridge could be perfect than use the LED screen to create the needed illusion. The Madrid and the Buenos Aires productions were spectacular in presenting that bridge. This is where real sets create wonders and leave lasting impacts in telling a story. Whether the purpose is to give a cinematic effect, a LED backdrop cannot substitute that experience,
There were two disappointing scenes that really bothered me. First, was the telephone conversation between Mitzi and Marion. Did the director Jaime Del Mundo realize that making Marion move around defeats the purpose of painting the idea that they were miles apart? Lauchengco-Yulo kept on covering Valdez, who was making his ‘inappropriate’ and ‘too conscious’ facial expressions onscreen. Why didn’t the director just make Marion stay in one place and a spotlight focused on her as opposed to making her going around Valdez? Such movement could have worked if there wasn’t any camera focused on the actors and projected on the side screens. Attention to detail is necessary, but this one escaped the director’s eye.
The pink bus that was supposed to be a delight to the audience eyes—it became an eyesore instead. When it moves sideways, the highway is incongruous with how the bus is moving. Since the production capitalizes on that LED as a backdrop, then using it well and realistically is something that could have made the scene more appealing made it rather disgusting.
In its future production, the use of the LED screen as a dominant backdrop should be limited. Less is more. It’s already an ‘abuse’ and it’s sickening to have it.
“Priscilla’ in its entirety is entertaining, but here’s hoping that when it goes on tour—some scenes should be tightened. Despite some off-scenes, choices of costume concepts (even if they tried to have a Filipino tone in it); if its sole purpose is to show how festive the show is—then they have succeeded, somehow. Out of five stars; I’d give it a two-star rating. And consider taking away that doesn’t contribute in making the story move forward. Start in replacing one of its leads.
The show closes today, July 13. For more information, visit its site.
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines’ first one-stop, non-stop entertainment and tourism destination opened its production of ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ in May and is soon to close its run tomorrow, Sunday, July 13. The musical is an adaptation of Australian film director-writer Stephan Elliott and screenwriter-playwright Allan Scott’s 1994 film—‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’. The said play tells the story of two drag queens and a transsexual, who are contracted to perform a drag show at a resort in Alice Springs, a resort town in the remote Australian desert. Along with the spectacular costumes and set designs; the musical features men who dressed in drag queen costumes and part of the ensemble.
Indeed, with its first musical song number that opens the show ‘It’s Raining Men’, ‘Priscilla’ takes pride in bringing together straight actors playing gay roles or be identified in a show that is dominated by gay-inclined characters.
Noel Rayos as Jimmy. Rayos is an accomplished performer for stage and radio, with experience in television and film, drama instruction/ education, all over the Asia- Pacific region. He has been part of HARANA Vocal Octet under the Philippine Opera Company, 2008-10, and 2012 onwards. Recently, he was with Repertory Philippines’ ‘August Osage County’ as Little Charles and did a gay role in the same company in ‘The Producers’ as Carmen Ghia.
Then Mako Alonzo plays Frank. His first professional production was the first staging of ‘Rivalry: The Ateneo-La Salle Musical’ as lead Tommy Basilio, which had a re-run in January 2013. He also joined Atlantis Productions’ ‘Carrie the Musical’ as Billy Nolan, in ‘Piaf’ as Yves Montand/Raymond Asso/German Soldier/Jean, in ‘Tarzan the Musical’, he played the Ape and the Lizard, while he was part of the ensemble in ‘Aladdin the Musical’ and the ‘Addams Family’, respectively. Alonzo is also an understudy for the role of Mitzi.
OJ Mariano on the other hand, is Farrah. He is an Awit Awards’ (The Philippines’ version of The Grammy’s) Best New Male Recording Artist. He has appeared in various television programs and performed for shows and events both in the Philippines and overseas. He also has several albums under his name with Star Records and recorded tracks for a number of collaborative records. He recorded several theme songs of ABS-CBN Channel 2’s soaps. He was also a regular house singer for the hit-game show ‘The Singing Bee’ prior to venturing into theater. He portrayed the role of Tom Collins for 9works Theatrical’s three-run for the musical ‘RENT’ for which he won a Philippine Broadwayworld.com Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. He was also Rama in Ballet Philippines’ critically-acclaimed hit season ender ‘Rama Hari’ opposite Kalila Aguilos as Sita, and will be part of another musical from Philippine Educational Theater Association’s (PETA) re-run as Kiel in ‘Rak of Aegis’. He was also Kuya Boy in BitByBit’s hit production ‘Maxie the Musicale’.
Part of the ensemble is Victor Bernardino Sy. He is a former member of the UST Salinggawi Dance Troupe where he performed in several dance concerts and competed in the UAAP Cheering Competitions. He’s trained under Douglas Nierras Powerdance contemporary jazz group in 2002, became a member of Airdance and had contemporary dance and aerial silk training in 2006-2008 where he performed for their contemporary dance season, Body Politics, with shows such as Malakas at Maganda, Vital Statistics, Deus Ex Machina, and Carmen de la Cruz. Worked with Hong Kong Disneyland as a parade dancer from 2008-2009, he then went on to perform for Universal Studios Singapore doing power skips and parade from 2009-2012 along with Rayos. After moving back to the Philippines, Sy became one of the 69 Cosmo Bachelors in 2013. In 2013, he became an ensemble for Cinderella Manila 2013 and Marco Polo: An Untold Love Story 2014. Like Rayos, Sy was also in ‘Miss Saigon’ final list when it had its auditions in 2012.
Lastly, there’s Jeffrey Flores, who is new to the scene but appeared in ‘Cinderella’ and as well as Repertory Philippines’ ‘Disney’s Camp Rock: The Musical’ as one of the Gray brothers, Jason. When he is not doing theater, Flores is also a voice and commercial actor.
So apart from the powerhouse cast led by Leo Tavarro Valdez as Tick/Mitzi; Jon Santos as Bernadette; Red Concepcion as Adam/Felicia; Michael Williams as Miss Understanding; the Divas Bituin Escalante, Lani Ligot, and Timmy Canlas; Pinky Marquez as Shirley; and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo as Marion—these men have the ‘force’ to attract theater and non-theater followers.
‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ is directed by Jaime del Mundo. For more information and ticket purchases, visit it site or call (632) 908-8833.