(Chino Roque, 2nd from left, on the set of Bandila with, L-R, Julius Babao, Karen Davila and Boy Abunda.  Photo credit: @iamkarendavila on Instagram)

I spoke with soon-to-be astronaut Chino Roque a few minutes before his guesting on Bandila’s Ikaw Na! segment and asked him if he’s nervous (I was referring to the space mission) and he said he’s more nervous about fumbling his answers and lines during his live TV news interview.  If I were in his space suit, I’d be more concerned about reentering the earth’s orbit.  Indeed Chino is charming, not in an out-of-this-world manner, but in a down to earth sort of way. 

Obviously, Chino has not yet been bitten by the celebrity bug.  Between now and his space launch over a year from now, he will have to focus on training for this endeavor.  I asked him if he watched Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s space blockbuster flick “Gravity” and he said yes.  What happened in that disaster movie is highly possible, Chino said.    

He and 23 other astronauts from different countries, selected from a competition, will train intensively at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  They will each get a chance to board a 2-seater reusable space shuttle with a trained pilot, but they will not just be passive passengers because, as Chino says, they also have to learn “which buttons to push.”  They also need to prepare for the physical rigors of space flight.

Veteran astronauts have lectured to them and they were told that one of the hardest things to do in space is going (as in doing your toilet business).  Imagine doing it in zero gravity (they better have good aim because you don’t want stuff floating around in an enclosed space).  Another challenge is reentry into the earth’s orbit because the pressure shocks the body and causes muscle atrophy.

Our talk was cut short when the live newscast started.  Chino sat with Boy Abunda for the interview and carried himself well despite the nerves.  Boy asked him if he has a girlfriend and Chino admitted he’s courting someone.  He was asked, given the choice to take a showbiz personality to space, who would that be?  He paused, was obviously at a loss for words, then finally said he really had not thought about it.  Evidently, hindi pa siya showbiz (and hopefully he’ll stay that way).

Boy asked a different question.  “If you saw the face of God when you fly to space, what would you tell Him?”  Chino answered that he wants to be able to give back as much as he could from that experience.  He says he will tell God, “I am down on both knees even if it is zero gravity.”  It’s been said that being in space is an encounter with God.  We have the right man for the job.





(How to make a Broadway flop. Topper Fabregas, G Toengi and Robbie Zialcita in Repertory Philippines’ The Producers. Photo credit: Repertory Philippines)

This is one musical that has all the spicy, juicy, even sleazy elements of Broadway’s inner workings.  Behind the glitz, the lights and dazzling marquees, there are scumbag producers, eccentric directors and playwrights, actors and actresses who will stop at nothing to land a role, plus all the drama, sex and comedy of errors.  No, I’m not talking about Smash starring Katherine McPhee, Megan Hilty and Debra Messing.  I’m talking about Repertory Philippines’ riotous musical comedy The Producers.

The film adaptation starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and Uma Thurman may be iconic and hilarious to the hilt, but this Rep production lives up to the story and is one entertaining and comic piece of musical theater.

Robbie Zialcita and Topper Fabregas essay the roles of has-been Broadway big shot Max Bialystock (Carlo Orosa alternates) and accountant and producer-wannabe Leo Bloom, respectively.  They discover that producing a broadway flop can make them more money than a smash hit!  The key is to raise tons of money from investors, produce a low-budget show that will run for barely a week, keep the rest of money for themselves, then escape to Rio and live in the lap of luxury!

The most hilarious scenes are when Max and Leo try to find that right play that will be a sure-fire flop. They come across the perfect one that will not only stink at the box office, but offend audiences everywhere… a play called Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden (there’s a song in the musical of the same title which will surely give you LSS).


(Nazis on stage, happy and gay.  Springtime for Hitler scene.)

You have to brace yourselves for the over-the-top and hyperventilating antics of Zialcita and Fabregas, but Fabregas does lend the role an endearing, even child-like quality and Zialcita is always a committed performer.  For me, the supporting cast truly shines and gives this show a true ensemble flair and flourish.

G Toengi plays the role of Ulla, a Swedish bombshell, who auditions for a role in the musical and doubles-up as secretary to Max and Leo. She’s also Leo’s love interest.  Toengi lends the role a va va voom quality and is a sight to behold during her dance audition routine, certified to make you smile.

Veteran actor Noel Trinidad and Noel Rayos are fantastic as eccentric gay director Roger de Bris and his “common-law assistant” Carmen Ghia, respectively.  Just seeing Trinidad in a glittery gown, heels, wig and headdress makes it worth trooping to the Onstage Theater.  What can you expect from a veteran comedian like Trinidad but perfect timing and full control of his character without becoming garish (Audie Gemora alternates in the role of de Bris).  Rayos is a perfect foil with his all-out loud, flamboyant characterization and multiple pirouettes that will keep you in stitches.

Special mention to Joel Trinidad, Noel’s equally talented son, who plays the role of ex-Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind. Watch him dance Hitler-style and you’ll find out why.

(The Producers runs until Dec. 15 at Onstage, Greenbelt directed by Jaime del Mundo.)



(Prima ballerina Liza Macuja takes a bow. Photo credit: Jimmy S. Villanueva)

With tearful eyes, Philippine prima ballerina Lisa Macuja knelt before the appreciative audience as they honored her with multiple standing ovations and heartfelt applause for her performance in The Nutcracker.  That afternoon at the Aliw Theater, the audience clapped, cried and cheered for Lisa, not only for what is perhaps her last run as the Sugar Plum Fairy, but also for the thirty years that she has been performing this classic ballet.

As Lisa recounts, it was a journey that began all the way in Russia in December 1982 when, as a ballet student, she became a Snowflake in her school’s annual production of The Nutcracker.  So gifted and driven was she that two years later, she would be given the lead role of Masha, which was never before given to a foreign student.  No less than her teacher defended Lisa for the role, and when she debuted as Masha in 1984 the Leningrad audience was no less than enthralled.

Three decades later, Lisa says she has come full circle.  As she dances the role of Sugar Plum Fairy for the nth and final time for the Philippine audience as part of her Swan Song Series, she shares the stage with her daughter Missy who now dances the role of Masha.

It is a delight to see Lisa and dancing partner Rudy de Dios as Nutcracker Prince, her hopping variations still a sight to behold to Tchaikovsky’s music as performed by the Manila Symphony Orchestra.  Plus, it is always a fun Christmas tradition for the family to reconnect with the story of The Nutcracker, a moment in time when we believe that toys could come alive, a prince and princess could fly to a kingdom of endless wonder, and dreams come true.  And in Lisa’s words, from Snowflake to Sugar Plum Fairy, dreams do come true.

As she retires from dancing, Lisa can be confident that her legacy will continue with the new generation of dancers she has taught and nurtured.

(The Nutcracker will have 2 more performances, Dec. 7 & 8, 3:00pm at the Aliw Theater, CCP Complex.)