Category Archives: Theater

The Normal Heart Manila Exposes the Elephant in the Room

Last Saturday, the Philippines was one with the world as it celebrated Pride Month through the Pride March. It’s been 21 years since our community has recognized the need to fight for love, equality, and freedom. The historical 21st Pride in Luneta gathered about 2,000 people. The Philippines also celebrated along with the US’ triumph over having same-sex marriage legalized in all 50 states.

MetroManilaPride IG (1)

Whatever successes or endeavors – no matter how little or grand – our countries have achieved altogether are proof of how far we have come and how farther we are willing to go. Yet the gap remains – some void that keeps us from understanding the basics of RESPECT. Marginalized members of the society remain pressured by the dictates of society, reducing them to confused individuals who are forced to become someone they’re not.

Haters troll across all forms of media. Every day, others have to live their lives being named faggot, immoral, etc. Some do not know how impactful words can be, most especially when aimed mindlessly at those who are already finding it difficult to be themselves. Our society finds it so daunting a task to openly talk about.

Sadly, there are people who think being gay is a disease. Let’s make the conversation even more uncomfortable by exposing the other elephant in the room. Let’s talk about HIV/AIDS.

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (22)
From January 1984 to April 2015: 24,936 HIV cases have been reported.

According World Health Organization (WHO), the HIV/AIDS statistics in the Philippines has significantly augmented from 1 (2008) to 22 (2015) newly diagnosed HIV cases per day in a span of just 7 years. The rise in HIV cases is now the fastest in Asia and among the fastest worldwide.

At the rate it’s going, the numbers could only increase in the next few years. But more than the rise in statistics, how much does our country know about this disease? Aren’t these numbers enough to scare the hell out us, of our government?

Actors’ Actor, Inc. and The Necessary Theatre as they boldly present The Normal Heart for the very first time in the Philippine shores. Dubbed as The Normal Heart Manila, I’m certain it’s bound to make waves.

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (2)
The death scene.

The Normal Heart is a critically acclaimed masterpiece of playwright and activist Larry Kramer, who initially wrote this as a result of his frustration over New York City’s indifference to the rise of a then unknown disease that was ravaging gay men in the 1980s. A straight play that is mainly autobiographical in nature, the plot takes us to New York City at a time HIV/AIDS was still a disease many ignorantly dismissed as “gay disease.”

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (10)
Bart Guingona as Ned Weeks and Topper Fabregas as Felix Turner.

The first minute into the story is highly contagious. So be warned. Kramer brilliantly engineered it to bring you to the edge of your seat. The Normal Heart revolves around an angry Jewish-American writer, gay activist, and loudmouth Ned Weeks (played by Bart Guingona, also the director) who – through the expertise of polio-stricken Dr. Emma Brookner (played Roselyn Perez) – learns about the outbreak and decides to form a crisis organization in an effort to stop the spread of the mysterious disease.

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (4)
Brotherly love. Ben (Richard Cunanan) and Ned (Guingona).

His lawyer brother Ben Weeks (played by Richard Cunanan) passively supports his brother’s advocacy but later on argues with him due to his unwillingness to understand. The story unfolds as Ned crosses paths with New York Times writer Felix Turner (Topper Fabregas). The two will fall in love.

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (13)
The conflict arises.

He also forms a volunteer organization with Bruce Niles (TJ Trinidad), Tommy Boatwright (Red Concepcion), Mickey Marcus (Nor Domingo), and Craig Donner [also Hiram Keebler and Grady] (Jef Flores) on board. But years would pass and more deaths plague the community; the illness was already spreading like wildfire, and their much-awaited meeting with Mayor Ed Koch has not seen the light of day…

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (19)
Ned comforting the dying Felix.

The piece to this day bleeds with so much insight that yearns to be heard and understood. The Normal Heart is unafraid to expose the ironies of reality, and it needed only eight cast members to get the message across effectively. Whatever the simple setup offered, the cast made up for it. But a material as rich as this did not need a grand stage in the first place.

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (14)
Nor Domingo as Mickey and Red Concepcion as Tommy.

Each of the characters was relatable and real. The major conflict areas were tucked in between the different relationships Ned had with the characters, which also means a tough acting challenge awaits Guingona. He takes on an energetic role of a gay activist and writer, brother, a lover, a leader, and a 24/7 loudmouth.

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (8)
Puzzled Ben.

Accept me as your healthy equal, your brother.

His relationship with his brother Ben, whom Cunanan played so effortlessly, revealed a brother’s refusal to accept Ned for who he is, thereby hindering him from understanding how strongly Ned feels about his advocacy. While Ben expresses some support in the beginning, t would later on be clearer that he is a homophobe himself.

His relationship, however, with the members of the volunteer crisis organization is more of antagonistic. Known as the bad cop of the organization, his tactless approach, though pure and thought-provoking, is greatly misunderstood, and the rest of the group seem to feel he oftentimes presses the wrong buttons.

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (15)
Good cop | bad cop.

Bruce Niles (TV actor TJ Trinidad) is the exact opposite of Ned Weeks. A closeted gay, his leadership decisions lack the conviction it needs to get the advocacy across. He continues to live in fear of prejudice and rejection. Tommy Boatwright, and Mickey Marcus had their fair share of unforgettable moments, too, as they struggled dealing with the always clashing Ned and Bruce. Also noteworthy is Jef Flores as he takes on three roles. Their intense arguments reveal how they confront the issue, given their different personalities and attitude.

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (17)
Roselyn Perez as Dr. Emma Brookner.

Ned’s relationship Dr. Emma Brookner was intellectual in nature. Both knew something had to be done. And they took it upon themselves to go beyond their call of duty. Perez as Brookner was instantly a favorite character of mine. Despite her physical limitations due to her disability, she ironically stands for what she believes in and speaks against the US government for their refusing to allocate resources for research on the disease.

But wait, there’s also an element of romance amidst the heavily infused plot. Topper Fabregas gives life to Ned Weeks’ lover Felix Turner, who works for the New York Times. They have cheesy moments and they would go on to share their dreams and plans. Ned and Felix’s banters were Kramer’s clever depiction of gays at that time.

Again, these rosy scenes wouldn’t last for long. As Felix falls ill, we witness the deterioration of his body, and the crumbling of his very spirit. Several noteworthy scenes between the two broke my heart. Especially when Felix shows how much he loves Ned ’til the very end. The ending was painful to watch.

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (5)

The pain was too sharp, and too deeply felt. And the insights were hard-hitting and that Kramer’s world in 1980s is very much real elsewhere in the world. History has repeated itself. Fast track to 2015, and this is still very much the reality in the Philippines.

Instant takeaways? Unsettled differences in attitude greatly impacts the accomplishment of a shared goal, no matter how noble it may be. Oftentimes, friends and families find it so difficult to understand and accept you. Sadly, even the more experienced, passionate doctors are not given the opportunity to put their expertise to use because of the lack of funding for research. Lastly, people have no access to the healthcare that they need.

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (21)
I do.

We don’t need to wait for another Ned Weeks to effect such change. If the story reveals a failure of a worthy cause, may this autobiographical account emphasize history is a lesson. The material gives it to you raw, with the intent to pierce your heart and soul. There’s a Ned Weeks in each and everyone of us, struggling to be heard every day. We cannot continue being indifferent about HIV/AIDS, about anything that concerns whether individually or collectively.

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (18)
Felix withering away.

Awareness is the first crucial step to achieving the understanding and acceptance that we so yearn for. While judgement, fear and abound, while there are dying AIDS victims who amid their dire, desperate situation cannot even convince the government to intensify efforts to combat the disease.

The Normal Heart Manila - Reverb Manila (11)
TJ Trinidad and Jef Flores.

This material deserves to be seen. But it will only run five shows. I hope they extend it so it reaches out to bigger audiences.

Because at the end of the day, our brothers and sisters who have fallen ill to this disease deserve to be understood and accepted. They deserve to be heard. They deserve to be healed. Above all, they deserve to be loved.

It’s a war where love wins.

Don’t miss its limited runs from July 3-5, 2015 (Friday, 8 P.M. | Saturday & Sunday, 3:30 P.M. And 8 P.M.) at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, 4th Floor, RCBC Plaza, Makati, Philippines. Tickets are available via Ticketworld:

Acknowledging the production team: Coco Anne and Baby Imperial (set design), Don Taduran, Mark Philipp Espina (video projections), Jethro Joaquin (sound design), Meliton Roxas (lighting design), and Dodo Lim (producer).


Best Philippine Theater Productions Gather for the 7th Gawad Buhay Awards

The recently concluded 7th PHILSTAGE (Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists Group) Awards for the Performing Arts or the Gawad Buhay Awards Night went from poignant to hilarious. From meaty punchlines and long, emotional acceptance speeches to graceful dance numbers and two bigwigs who have shaped Philippine theater, that night was of most importance for the theater community because, similar to the Tonys in the US, the Gawad Buhay is an annual event that gathers and recognizes the Philippines’ best theatrical performances throughout the season.

Let this entry walk you through the highlights of the 7th Gawad Buhay:

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (19)
Topper Fabregas of Red Turnip Theater gives life to the 7th Gawad Buhay Awards Night as the host. Fabregas, who would later go on and on with his inside jokes, summoned powerhouse actors Joaquin Valdez, Kim Molina, and Red Concepcion to join him on stage.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (18)
What followed was an intense attempt to outshine one another in an all-out vocal showcase.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (20)
Red Concepcion representing Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Full House)
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (21)
Nikki Gil and Steven Silva (9Works Theatrical) were the first pair of presenters.

Female Featured Performance in Classical Dance
Celina Dofitas, “Cinderella” (BP)
Edana Mae Labitoria, “Cinderella” (BP)
Rita Winder, “Cinderella” (BP)

Male Lead Performance in Classical Dance
Richardson Yadao, “Cinderella” (BP)
EARL JOHN ARISOLA, “Cinderella” (BP)

Female Lead Performance in Classical Dance
DENISE PARUNGAO, “Cinderella” (BP)
Monica Gana, “Cinderella” (BP)
Dawna Mangahas, “Nutkraker” (BM)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (25)
PHILSTAGE welcomes its newest member: The Philippine Ballet Theater
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (24)
Philstage welcomes its newest member: The Philippine Ballet Theater
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (23)
Is it possible that Topper is the new Tolits?
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (70)
Margie Moran-Floriendo, President of Ballet Philippines, is the next presenter.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (26)
Liza Magtoto receives the award for Outstanding Original Libretto (Rak of Aegis, PETA). She dedicates the award to her dad who she describes as her “Original Tolits.”
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (60)
Tanghalang Pilipino

Outstanding Translation or Adaptation
Virgilio Almario and José Lacaba, “Mga Ama, Mga Anak” (TP)
ROLANDO TINIO, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (71)
Topper changes into Ebenezer Scrooge and jokes about how the costume hasn’t probably been washed since the show.

Female Featured Performance in a Play

Pinky Amador, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
LIESL BATUCAN, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
Sheila Francisco, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
TAMI MONSOD, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
Madeleine Nicolas, “Mga Ama, Mga Anak” (TP)

Male Featured Performance in a Play
Richard Cunanan, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
Hans Eckstein, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
YUL SERVO, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)
Dido dela Paz, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)
Marco Viaña, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (72)
Bituin Escalante is 2014’s Outstanding Female Featured Performance in a Musical.

Female Featured Performance in a Musical
BITUIN ESCALANTE, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Full House)
Kalila Aguilos, “Rak of Aegis” (Peta)
Antoinette Taus, “Grease” (9WT)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (28)

Pepe Herrera who stars as Tolits in Rak of Aegis dedicates his award to his mother, who once told him to follow his heart.

Male Featured Performance in a Musical
PEPE HERRERA, “Rak of Aegis” (PETA)
Jerald Napoles, “Rak of Aegis” (PETA)
Myke Salomon, “Rak of Aegis” (PETA)
Juliene Mendoza, “Rak of Aegis” (PETA)
Micko Laurente, “Kleptomaniacs” (TP)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (31)
A scene from “Sinta” by Dulaang Sibol
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (32)
Onofre Pagsanghan receives the first of two Natatanging Gawad Buhay awards for his brainchild Dulaang Sibol. Photo shows Pagsi embracing Paul Dumol.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (33)
Onofre ‘Pagsi’ Pagsanghan
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (34)
Tanghalang Pilipino‘s Kleptomaniacs, with Nicco Manalo and the group.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (36)
Fabregas came out in what seemed like a loin cloth, from the nominated costume collection from the Ballet Philippines’ La Revolucion Filipina.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (39)
Carissa Adea of Ballet Philippines

Female Lead Performance in Modern Dance
Dawna Mangahas, “Shutter” from “Heart2Heart: Ballet & Ballads” (BM)
Monica Gana, “Duet” from “Art of Dance” (BP)
Kris-Belle Paclibar-Mamangun, “Salome” from “The Blue Moon Series” (BP)
CARISSA ADEA, “Songs of the Wayfarer” from “The Blue Moon Series” (BP)
Jessa Balote, “Sari’t Bahag” from “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika: An OPM Festival” (BM)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (40)
Richardson Yadao, Ballet Philippines

Male Lead Performance in Modern Dance
Elpidio Magat, “Shutter” from “Heart2Heart: Ballet & Ballads” (BM)
Earl John Arisola, “Duet” from “Art of Dance” (BP)
Rudy de Dios, “Aramica” from “Heart2Heart: Ballet & Ballads” (BM)
Jean Marc Cordero, “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)
RICHARDSON YADAO, “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)

Outstanding Choreography for a Dance Production
BAM DAMIAN, “Aramica” from “Heart2Heart: Ballet & Ballads” (BM)
Denisa Reyes, “Muybridge Frames” from “Art of Dance” (BP)
Bam Damian, “After Whom” from “The Blue Moon Series” (BP)
Alice Reyes, “Bungkos Suite” from “The Blue Moon Series” (BP)
Agnes Locsin, “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (41)
The cast of Gantimpala Theater Foundation‘s Kanser@35: The Musical features members of Viva Voce.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (42)
The cast of Gantimpala Theater Foundation’s Kanser@35: The Musical features members of Viva Voce.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (43)
The cast of Gantimpala Theater Foundation’s Kanser@35: The Musical features members of Viva Voce.

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (44)
Topper in Full Gallop! The production’s costumes were designed by Rajo Laurel.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (45)
Philippine Opera Company’s Karla Gutierrez belts out You’ll Never Walk Alone as accompaniment to the “In Memoriam” segment.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (46)
The PR gurus of Theater: Toots Tolentino and Leloi Arcete.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (47)
Winning Outstanding Sound Design are PETA’s Happy Constantino and Myke Salomon

Outstanding Sound Design
Jethro Joaquin, “Noises Off” (Rep)
Jethro Joaquin, “Wait Until Dark” (Rep)
Bart Guingona, “Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)
Ryan Cayabyab (remastered by David Theo), “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)

Outstanding Lighting Design
John Batalla, “Wait Until Dark” (Rep)
Katsch Catoy, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
Martin Esteva, “The Last 5 Years” (9WT)
Bart Guingona, “Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)
KATSCH CATOY, “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (48)
Ballet Philippines perform a dance excerpt from “After Whom.”
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (49)
Topper’s next costume represents Full House’s Priscilla, Queen of the Desert!
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (50)
Presenters Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and partner Robie Zialcita.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (56)
Red Concepcion probably had the most costume change that night. Apart from winning Male Lead Performance in a Musical, he also appears in excerpts from Priscilla Queen of the Desert and, in this photo, alongside Team Kayumanggilas in Kung Paano Ka Naging Leading Lady!

Male Lead Performance in a Musical
RED CONCEPCION, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Full House)
Joaquin Valdes, “The Last 5 Years” (9WT)
Nicco Manalo, “Kleptomaniacs” (TP)
Michael Williams, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Full House)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (16)
Kim Molina wins Outstanding Female Lead Performance in a Musical!

Female Lead Performance in a Musical
Aicelle Santos, “Rak of Aegis” (PETA)
Joan Bugcat, “Rak of Aegis” (PETA)
KIM MOLINA, “Rak of Aegis” (PETA)
Nikki Gil, “The Last 5 Years” (9WT)
Tippy Dos Santos, “Grease” (9WT)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (51)
Director Maribel Legarda for PETA.

Outstanding Stage Direction for a Musical
Jaime del Mundo, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Full House)
Robbie Guevara, “The Last 5 Years” (9WT)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (53)
Mio Infante, the man behind the infamous flooded set of Villa Venizia.

Outstanding Set Design

MIO INFANTE, “Rak of Aegis” (PETA)
Miguel Faustmann, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
Miguel Faustmann, “Noises Off” (Rep)
Mio Infante, “The Last 5 Years” (9WT)
Mio Infante, “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (54)
Carlo Pagunaling (PETA)

Outstanding Costume Design
Edgar San Diego, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (PETA)
Rajo Laurel, “Full Gallop” (My Own Mann Productions/AAI and The Necessary Theatre)
Victor Ursabia, “La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)
Valeen Vicente, “Scrooge” (Rep)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (59)
Fuersa Filipinas and Team Kayumanggilas showcase an exciting, must-see excerpt from Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (65)
Teatrong Mulat in a puppetry number.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (58)
Second Natatanging Gawad Buhay recipient was founder of Teatro Mulat, Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio. Joined by her former students Bibeth Orteza and Dennis Marasigan.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (69)
Joaquin Valdes and Nikki Gil deliver a moving excerpt from The Last Five Years.

Outstanding Stage Direction for a Play
CHRIS MILLADO, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
Miguel Faustmann, “Wait Until Dark” (Rep)
Bart Guingona, “Full Gallop” (My Own Mann/AAI)
Chris Millado, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)
Bart Guingona, “Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (66)
Gio Gahol (PETA) wins Outstanding Choreography for a Play or Musical.

Outstanding Choreography for a Play or Musical
Nancy Crowe, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Full House)
Gio Gahol, “Rak of Aegis” (PETA)
Nestee Mamaril Gamilla, “Kleptomaniacs” (TP)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (67)
Myke Salomon receives another win for PETA.

Outstanding Musical Direction
MYKE SALOMON, “Rak of Aegis” (PETA)
Inday Echevarria, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (Full House)
Joseph Tolentino, “The Last Five Years” (9WT)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (63)
Jon Santos, Michael Williams and Red Concepcion sing “True Colors.”

Jon Santos, Michael Williams and Red Concepcion sing Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.”

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (62)
Sandino Martin, Regina de Vera, and Bart Guingona
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (1)
Representing Cherie Gil, who won Outstanding Female Lead Performance in a Play

Female Lead Performance in a Play
Baby Barredo, “August: Osage County” (Rep)
CHERIE GIL, “Full Gallop”
Liesl Batucan, “Wait Until Dark” (Rep)
Jennifer Blair-Bianco, “Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)
Gina Pareño, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)

Male Lead Performance in a Play
Spanky Manikan, “Mga Ama, Mga Anak” (TP)
ROBERT AREVALO, “Mga Ama, Mga Anak” (TP)
Jonathan Tadioan, “Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)
David Bianco, “Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (3)
Champions Kim Molina and Pepe Herrera sing Mahal na Mahal Kita.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (2)
Aicelle Santos and Jerald Napoles
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (4)
Kalila Aguilos of Rak of Aegis.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (5)
Lorenz Martinez of Rak of Aegis.

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (7)
Antoinette Taus and Guji Lorenzana

Outstanding Ensemble Performance for Modern Dance

“ARAMICA” from “Heart2Heart: Ballet & Ballads” (BM)
“Muybridge Frames” from “Art of Dance” (BP)
“After Whom” from “The Blue Moon Series” (BP)
“Bungkos Suite” from “The Blue Moon Series” (BP)
“La Revolucion Filipina” (BP)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (8)
The ensemble of August Osage County, composed of Pinky Amador, Sheila Francisco, Richard Cunanan, director Chris Millado, Tami Monsod.

Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Play
“Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)
“Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (9)
The winning ensemble of RAK OF AEGIS jumps for joy!

Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Musical
“The Last 5 Years” (9WT)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (10)
Chris Millado and Audie Gemora thank the audience.
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (11)
Bibeth Orteza, Rafa Siguion Reyna and…
Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (12)
Jon Santos as Armida Siguion-Reyna

Outstanding Modern Dance Production
“Aramica” from “Heart2Heart: Ballet & Ballads” (BM)
“Muybridge Frames” from “Art of Dance” (BP)

Outstanding Production of Existing Material for a Play
“Full Gallop” (My Own Mann/AAI)
“Pahimakas sa Isang Ahente” (TP)
“Venus in Fur” (AAI/The Necessary Theatre)

Gawad Buhay 2014 x Reverb Manila (63)

Outstanding Production of Existing Material for a Musical
“The Last 5 Years” (9WT)

Outstanding Original Musical

Congratulations to all the winners! ‘Til the next Gawad Buhay!

Philstage is an organization of professional performing arts companies in the Philippines, namely: Ballet Manila, Ballet Philippines, Gantimpala Theater Foundation, Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit, PETA, Repertory Philippines, Tanghalang Pilipino, Trumpets, Actor’s Actors, 9 Works Theatrical and Philippine Opera Company. New among the roster of members are: Resorts World Manila’s Full House Theater Productions, Red Turnip Theater, and Philippine Ballet Theater.

Ginugunita Kita: Transforming Pain into Something Beautiful

Words by Helen de Castro | Photos by Reverb Manila

Gingunita-Kita-Reverb-Manila-9 Losing a loved one is heartbreaking. I once was told that the experience of losing a close relative to the unforgiving arms of death feels weird, surreal. But contemplating on words once spoken and reliving memories over and over again is heartwrenching. This was the feat bravely faced by artists close to Maningning Miclat, the multilingual poet and visual artist who passed away at the tender age of 28. Gingunita-Kita-Reverb-Manila-3 I could describe Ginugunita Kita as a close and intimate gathering at the Aldaba Hall in U.P. Diliman. A celebration of the short but meaningful life of Maningning that explored and internalized her literary works from the book Voice from the Underworld. The stage employed a simple set-up – a chair on the left that was occupied by the soulful cellist, Patrick Espanto; a piano on the right, whose keys were graced by the acclaimed composer, Jesse Lucas; and in the middle, a chair for singer-actor Banaue Miclat-Janssen, Maningning’s younger sister. Gingunita-Kita-Reverb-Manila-2 More than a concert, the setting reminded me of a warm family gathering where members would sit around the living room, exchanging stories on how Maningning has touched each of their lives. In between one of the songs, Banaue shared how people responded to her sister’s book Voice from the Underworld, with most of them interpreting it as if it were Maningning’s final messages. The younger sister took their remarks as they were, opened the book once and never read it again. It wasn’t until 15 years later, as she prepared for that night’s performance, had she been compelled to read it again. She realized that Ningning’s poems weren’t at all goodbyes, rather a recounting of her life journey. Gingunita-Kita-Reverb-Manila-10 Ginugunita Kita started when Jesse Lucas read Maningning’s book. Struck with inspiration, he sought permission from her family if he could put music to the poet’s words. Describing her works as visually rich, it was incredibly easy for him to connect with them. Gingunita-Kita-Reverb-Manila-1

Jesse Lucas: “The poems of Maningning Miclat is almost melodious that I can hear the music through the images used in poetry”.

One could not help but wonder about Banaue, the younger sister’s, journey in this whole creative process. The actress acknowledged director Roeder Camañag’s guidance. Gingunita-Kita-Reverb-Manila-7

Banaue Miclat-Janssen: From the beginning, I was scared that I might go to a dark place in the process of the journey, and he (Camañag) always guided me, showed me another way of looking at things na ‘oo nga no, it makes more sense.’

The performance featured a number of Maningning’s poems: Ginugunita Kita, Tawag, Kulay sa Bato, Ang Naliligaw, Duet (Rizal at Bracken) – where Banaue sang alongside singer-actor Al Gatmaitan; A Stare, which was elegantly interpreted by Delphine Buencamino through dance; Verses #2; and To Catch a Second and Turn it To Forever.


Of all the songs performed that night, Banaue said that it was Verses # 2 that made her see Maningning not only as an artist but as her sister. She shared that it reminded her of the day she passed away. Before she left for FEU that morning, Maningning kissed her and said, “I love you, Wei. Ok na ako.”

Banaue Miclat-Janssen: “With Verses, I will always, always see that. I understood what that meant with that song. Ok na talaga siya.”

There was not a single hint of tension during the whole performance. It was relaxing, comforting, nostalgic even. Ginugunita Kita is described as a healing process and a ‘rite of passage’ as each accepted that their loved one, who once graced this earth to impart so much wisdom even at a very young age, is now at peace. And they are left here to celebrate and keep her legacy alive. Gingunita-Kita-Reverb-Manila-5 Pain – whether caused by death, a heartbreak, or a seemingly impossible challenge – is processed differently by each individual. We all have unique styles of coping. Ultimately, it is how we respond to it. We have two choices when confronted with pain: To allow it to destroy us or to get up and create something worthwhile, fueled by that intense emotion. In Ginugunita Kita, we saw how Maningning’s family and friends chose the latter. Through the collaborative efforts of these renowned artists, they have created something beautiful out of it. Gingunita-Kita-Reverb-Manila-6 I was deeply moved by what I had witnessed that night. It was as if the whole theater was engulfed with so much love and fond memories. And though I have only encountered Maningning through poetry classes back in college or in conversations with friends, that night gave me the opportunity to experience the poet beyond her written words. She was no longer just a byline, or a Filipino painter, or the professor who taught in FEU. That night, she simply became a person. Relatable, real, someone who also went through the ordinary highs and lows of human emotions – it was her dedication to her life’s work that put her high up on a pedestal. I could not fully explain here the warmth and intimacy of that night’s experience. Even the photos stored in my phone could not give it justice. It is one of those performances that could not be described by words, but could only be truly enjoyed and appreciated if you are there. Gingunita-Kita-Reverb-Manila-4 It is not quite possible to relive that night’s experience. So in Maningning’s words, I conclude:

So grant me another second

I will catch up with it

I will lock it in my heart

And turn it to forever.

An excerpt from To Catch a Second and Turn it to Forever

There will be a rerun of the performance on July, which will feature more songs (including a Chinese poem), and we’re all hopeful that a CD compilation of the songs will be available by then.

Congratulations, Talent Factory, Inc. and Maningning Art Foundation!

Videos will be up soon. #ReverbManila

Hit Comedy Musical ‘Rak of Aegis’ Version 4.0 is Coming Your Way

Seventeen nominations at Philstage Gawad Buhay 2014 is not surprising for a hit comedy musical like Rak of Aegis. After achieving a record-breaking 135 shows in its three runs last year, PETA would be making a mistake not bringing the crazy gang from Villa Venizia back as it kicks off its 48th season. Rak of Aegis Version 4.0 promises to bring in a lot of elements to look forward to and more. Fans and first-timers are expected to flood the theater for this record-breaking hit that is set to open this month!

Breakout Kapuso star Aicelle Santos, and 2009 WCOPA Champion Kim Molina come back as Aileen; the promodizer with big dreams to raise her family from the knee-deep floods that have plagued their town for months. This all-Filipino, all-original musical features songs from the iconic band Aegis, with a star-studded ensemble on an award winning, must-see set. Reverb-Manila-Rak-of-Aegis-13

Rak of Aegis is considered a milestone for the theater company and indeed, for Philippine theater. In 2014 alone it has garnered over 16 citations for performance and technical categories including: Outstanding Original Musical, Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Musical, Stage Direction for a Musical (Maribel Legarda), Original Libretto (Liza Magtoto), Musical Direction (Myke Salomon), Choreography (Gio Gahol), Costume Design (Carlo Pagunaling), Sound Design (Salomon and Happy Constantino), Set Design (Mio Infante), Female Lead Performance in a Musical (Aicelle Santos and Joan Bugcat), Female Featured Performance in a Musical (Kalila Aguilos) and Male Featured Performance in a Musical (Myke Salomon, Pepe Herrera, Jerald Napoles and Juliene Mendoza)

The cast of Rak has also enjoyed several new projects in between runs: Poppert Bernadas who plays Aileen’s suitor Kenny was recently seen in The Voice Philippines, while Pepe Herrera (Tolits) enjoys a stint in the romcom TV series, Forevermore. Reverb-Manila-KPANLL-2 Singer Kim Molina also breaks into the theater scene with production after production, most recently in Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady by Dalanghita Productions. This run also welcomes many new neighbors to Barangay Venizia. Actor and singer Lorenz Martinez plays Aileen’s father Kiel, opposite Lani Ligot (Priscilla Queen of the Dessert; Broad Way, Narrow Way) who plays Mercy, Aileen’s mother; The Company’s Sweet Plantado also joins the cast as Mary Jane. The ensemble is joined by PETA artist-teacher Roi Calilong (D’ Wonder Twins of Boac, PAMANA), and Teetin Villanueva (MANHID, Maxie the Musical). Reverb-Manila-Rak-of-Aegis-9 The cast also sees the return of talented ensemble members made up of Stella Mendoza (Mary Jane), Kakai Bautista and Neomi Gonzales (Mercy), Jerald Napoles (Tolits), Myke Salomon (Kenny), Nor Domingo, Julienne Mendoza, and Gie Onida (Fernan), Phi Palmos, Ron Alfonso, and Jimmy Marquez (Jewel), Gimbey dela Cruz, Abi Sulit, Gab Pangilinan, Jet Barrun, Gio Gahol, Carlon Matobato, John Moran, Paeng Sudayan, and Kakki Teodoro (Ensemble). Rak of Aegis The play runs from June 17 to August 16, 2015, from Tuesdays to Fridays (8PM) and Saturdays to Sundays (3:00pm and 8:00pm) at the PETA Theater Center located at No. 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, QC. Tickets are available via, 891-9999. For more information contact PETA at 725-6244 or 0917-5765400, or visit

Ten Reasons Why ‘Sabel, Love and Passion’ is Not Your Average Musical

Sabel-ReverbManila-(6) Sabel, Love and Passion: A Musical Production is an original Filipino musical inspired by the life of National Artist for Visual Arts Benedicto ‘BenCab’ Cabrera‘s long-time muse, the crazy dancing lady named Sabel. Throughout his artistry, BenCab created numerous variations of Sabel. And the thought of a Sabel variation as a musical constantly challenged BBC journalist, art collector, BenCab’s friend, and brainchild of this project Rico Hizon since 2003.


Hizon, who graced the audience with a short introduction prior to the much-awaited showcase, candidly shared that everything started over a decade ago, when they saw in a coffee-table book a feature on dancers interpreting Sabel at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Sabel, a musical, he asked himself. He then turned to musical director and composer Louie Ocampo, who then went to Director Freddie Santos. The challenge was, indeed, accepted. However, amidst several talks of a production, the musical had not seen light until April of this year. Finally, last Thursday (April 30), thanks to the collaborative work pursued by Ocampo and Santos, and everyone behind BenCab’s 50 Creative Years, a sea of guests flocked to the Theater at Solaire to witness the successful World Premier Gala of Sabel, albeit the heavy traffic caused by the coinciding concert that evening.

So this just happened.. ❤️ #Sabel #BenCab

A post shared by 🌟 DREAM BIG 🌟 (@missizacalzado) on

Reverb Manila first found out about the production when Ms. Iza Calzado started posting tidbits about Sabel via her Instagram account over a month ago. And although only a few articles surfaced in the weeks that followed, we had to rely on the cast members to spoil us with updates regarding the progress via social media.

We knew instantly that Sabel, Love and Passion: A Musical Production was relevant.

For those who missed out, Reverb Manila gives you ten reasons why Sabel is not your average musical production.

10 | In a world where even visual art has gone digital, it’s quite hard to find avenues that strike a balance between modern and traditional visual art forms. However, the production had allowed its viewers to experience the best of both worlds, in fact even marrying other art forms imaginable – song, ballet, poem – which all came together as one grand production that is Sabel.


The stage employed a rather minimalist design, consisting of asymmetrical canvasses that were assembled to frame and add dimension to the stage. It was beautiful enough being simple. But wait until it drastically transforms through the help of strong imageries projected via LCDs, transporting us to different eras, unraveling the deepest emotions in the story. There was even a scene where the paintings projected on the panel would follow the young character Miguelin‘s hand as he painted on the canvass. It was refreshing to have witnessed such visual effects.

9 | It’s the only time you get to see all of BenCab’s works since most, if not all, of them now belong to somebody else.

Sabel-ReverbManila (3)
Lo and behold! The stage drastically transforms into a BenCab masterpiece. From simple asymmetrical shaped panels, these instantly turn into a collection that depicts the national artist’s numerous interpretations of Sabel.

8 | Iza Calzado makes a grand theater debut. In her Instagram account, Calzado said: “I am over the moon with joy because I’m finally doing my first theater/stage production! Though it is not exactly a straight play I think it’s a great start to doing stage work. Yes, I am still nervous but I hope my angels guide me so I can give a heartfelt performance on Thursday. Here with me in the photo is Bianca Trocino from the Philippine Ballet Theatre dancing as Sabel. She is amazing on stage. And so are Antoinette Taus and Aicelle Santos who will be the voice(s) of Sabel. Brilliant Women! Together I hope we get to bring Sabel to life! See you at Solaire at 8pm on Thursday.”

Iza Calzado clad in a flowy cape by Rajo Laurel.

She’s a mainstream success as a TV/Film actress, but the beautiful Calzado was such a delight even onstage. She delivered deeply moving narrations that made us shed a few tears here and then, and we’re pretty sure the audience, too, felt her joy, her pain, her longing through every word and movement. Iza’s angels had, indeed, guided her well throughout the night.

7 | The Power of Dance. It’s one of those few musicals that put the spotlight on dancers. 

The Philippine Ballet Theatre as amazon warriors during war.

We seldom get to see a musical that gives an amazing amount of credit to dancing since productions tend to focus more on the singing aspect to judge if a musical is good over all. It was great to see these ballet dancers dominate the stage. They were composed of very young and talented individuals who are part of the Philippine Ballet Theatre, by the way. They stood out on their own, without being overshadowed by the stellar voices behind each of the main characters.

Audie Gemora sings Look at Her for the first time.

6 | You’ve got a Triple A powering all-original compositions plus two balladeers to complete an outstanding vocal showcase.

Former child star Antoinette Taus lends her voice to the Young Sabel.

TRIPLE A. Theater veteran and Audie Gemora, Former child star Antoinette Taus, and Rak of Aegis’ Aicelle Santos exceeded expectations in their moving solo performances of Look at Her, In Love, and Smoke and Mirrors.  Balladeers theater veteran Bo Cerrudo and The Voice of the Philippines Season 1 contestant Timmy Pavino excellently lent their voices to the characters of Luis and Miguelin respectively, alongside Philippine Ballet Theatre’s Ian Ocampo and Matthew Davo.

The promising Timmy Pavino and Matthew Davo as Miguelin.

5 | Put two bigwigs in the live performance industry Mr. Freddie Santos and Mr. Louie Ocampo together as director and musical director and you get a production that’s no less than world-class.

Standing ovation. The cast with the Direk Freddie Santos, Musical Director Louie Ocampo, and BenCab.

Kudos to a masterfully written narrative poetry by Direk Freddie Santos and musical direction by lyricist and composer Mr. Louie Ocampo.

4 | The storyline screams Pinoy. It’s pretty simple yet it works.

Miguel and Consolacion

The plot is simple and realistic for anyone to understand and relate with. The audience didn’t need to rack their brains to understand what the story was about. The story has a certain teleserye twist to it. It would reveal how the motherless protagonist would lose her father in his sickness, fall in love and get her heart broken by a man who abandoned her. Her misfortune drives her mad, causing her to abandon her son. It would then take years for them to find each other. Oftentimes a family memento would help, which in this case, was in the form of a necklace. See, these elements make the material unmistakably and genuinely Pinoy. The values demonstrated by these characters are very much reflective of the Filipino culture, with emphasis on often abstracted concepts, such as: family, love, hope, and resilience.

3 | So we just mentioned that the story was simple; and yet, Sabel had to be portrayed by five characters.

It’s now all Smoke and Mirrors. Philippine Ballet Theatre’s Bianca Trocino and Rak of AegisAicelle Santos offered a harrowing performance of Sabel gradually losing her mind.

The material somewhat reminds you of Katy the Musical. If you would recall, Katy’s character was divided into three in order to define a particular stage in the character’s life. The intricate dimensions of Sabel’s character inevitably required that she be played by not just three but five characters (as narrating, dancing, and singing Sabels) to walk the audience through Sabel’s colorful journey from being a motherless child, losing her father, falling victim to war, to falling madly in love, and becoming a mother.

2 | The songs used in the production have the makings of a classic. The lyrics to each song was poetically written yet easily understandable. The songs had a lot of recall, thanks to their beautiful melodies. The emotions created were ripe; and the songs, undeniably heartfelt. Our personal favorites are Look at Her and Smoke and Mirrors.

The Finale. Pavino, Taus, Gemora, Santos and Cerrudo belting out the Reprise of Look At Her.

Sabel is born and raised by her father Miguel played by Philippine Ballet Theatre’s Lemuel Capa.

1 | We finally answer the question, Who is Sabel? Long before she became the crazy bag lady slash taong grasa, and the muse behind BenCab’s artistry, she was a woman who loved to dance. The story introduces a beautiful love story between Miguel and Consolacion, who would then give birth to Sabel. Since she was born at a critical time of Philippine history, we would experience with her the unfolding of several historical events. It was a difficult time for a lot of Filipinos, and Sabel was no exception.

The Dancing Sabel was played by two soloists, mainly by Philippine Ballet Theatre’s Bianca Trocino.

As Consolacion abandoned her and her father, Miguel was left to raise the helpless Sabel on his own. But the misfortune did not end there. Still very young and unaware of the dangers of the world, Sabel would lose her father after he suffered from a serious health condition, leaving poor Sabel to figure out her life through the next few decades, alone.

Sabel-ReverbManila- (8)
The world stopped. Young Sabel and Luis fell in love.

She would live through the World War II as a warrior, a comfort woman to the enemy soldiers, a nightclub headliner in the cabaret era, and a lover…

Darkness ensues. Sabel lets us into a world created by her despair.

We also  learn that even love can destroy you through and through. When Luis left her, both unaware that she was bearing his child – their child, her life began to fall apart. She had lost herself. A deranged woman would now take to the streets in search of scraps of plastic she finds and piece them together into something she could wrap around her body. It was a beautiful symbolism; Sabel wanders off to pick up the missing pieces of herself that was wasted away.

BenCab saw through her. She had many dimensions to her life. No wonder she’s come to be a recurring image in his works as a visual artist. Sabel-ReverbManila-(13)

We saw through her, too. We can no longer perceive Sabel as the deranged lady who wandered off to nowhere. Sabel was a courageous woman whose spirit may have been crushed due to several unfortunate, heartbreaking moments in her life, but what we need to remember is that, Sabel had loved passionately – even foolishly – with all her heart. Only, she’s lost so much in her life that she in turn lost herself. The story offers stark insights on the dangers of loving selflessly. We can lose ourselves. But life also teaches us that hope abounds – that anything lost can be found.


That’s why Sabel is a story of hopeSabel had the happy ending her heart truly deserved, as she reunited with a father she thought she had lost, and her son whom she had long abandoned.

And that, my fellow theater fans, is why Sabel, Love and Passion is not your average musical.

Tessa Prieto-Valdez joins the crazy-talented bunch.
National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose
Congratulations! Hizon, Ocampo, Santos and BenCab with the cast.

Sabel, Love and Passion: A Musical Production will hold its rerun at the Music Museum on June 26 and 27. And we dare all brave souls who have loved and lost to witness a compelling story you’ll forever remember. Get to know Sabel, and join Mr. Cabrera as he continues celebrating 50 remarkable years as visual artist.

Sabel-ReverbManila (2)

Catch it while you can! We can’t wait for you to share with us what you think.


Stay tuned for updates via!