Lessons from Mr. Peabody, Sherman and Mr. Banks

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A boy and his dog father. A scene from “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” Photo capture from Youtube movie trailer.

“I’m a dog, too!”  And with those words, the young boy Sherman, who has been ridiculed incessantly by his classmates, came to terms with the fact that his father is… a dog, Mr. Peabody.

Who knew an animation movie like “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” could teach kids and adults alike so many things about acceptance?

Let’s admit it.  No childhood is perfect, even if you are born in a palace.  Many people carry those buried resentments and frustrations from their growing up years all the way to adulthood.

Why am I so messed up because of my parents?  Why can’t they accept who I am?  Why don’t they have faith in me?  Why did they bring me up that way?  Why do they keep on treating me like a child?  Why don’t they just let me be happy and free?  The list goes on and on.

Ah, childhood baggage.  The issue popped into my head as I watched all in one week two movies and a play which all toyed with aspects of the theme.

In “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” although Sherman loves and adores his adoptive father Mr. Peabody (a brilliant scientist and industrialist) very much, the little boy was nursing a secret shame at the unconventional set up.  How can his dad be a dog?  In one school lunch scene, a bratty classmate threw Sherman’s sandwich on the floor and shouted, “Fetch!”

In another scene, the same bratty girl tells Sherman to show her Mr. Peabody’s time machine.  Sherman refuses saying his father forbade him to.  “Do you always obey Mr. Peabody’s orders?” the girl asks.  “You know what that makes you?  A dog,” she says.

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The jolly Hollywood impresario meets the feisty author. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in a scene from “Saving Mr. Banks.” Photo capture from Youtube movie trailer.

The other movie is the Tom Hanks-Emma Thompson Disney starrer “Saving Mr. Banks.”

The film is about feisty “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers (played by Thomspon) and her contentious professional relationship with jolly ol’ Walt Disney (played by Hanks).  Disney has been trying to buy the rights to her book for the past 20 years and make it into a movie.

Travers hates the whimsy of Disney films, and puts her foot down on everything presented to her – from script, music, lyrics, set design, costume to choice of actor.  The film cleverly flashbacks to key moments in Travers’ childhood, particularly her relationship with her father.

Travers adored her father very much.  He was actually a drunkard who got fired in every job, but treated her daughter with so much love and tenderness.  He taught her how to dream, imagine and think freely.  But for all the faith that she had in her father, Travers also experienced disappointment when her father died early on, broken and with no wealth, and not even his dreams could save him.

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A scene from the play “Games People Play.” Photo from the production’s Facebook page.

And finally, the play I watched was “Games People Play,” the Palanca Award-winning piece by Glenn Sevilla Mas, staged by Ateneo Fine Arts at the Blackbox Theater, starring Abner Delina, Thea Yrastorza and Kalil Almonte, directed by Ed Lacson, Jr.

The play opens with the three characters, Diego, Julio and Luna talking to the audience about fairy tales and fables, but the stories are a bit warped.  Snow White is a boy.  Prince Charming is nowhere in sight to kiss Sleeping Beauty awake.  And there’s something lewd in the story of the lion and the mouse.

Among the two movies and the play, it is the play that is most disturbing in its exploration of the brokenness of its characters.

Diego suffered neglect from an emotionally distant mother and abandonment issues from his father.  Luna associated sex with feelings of shame because of abuse and her mother’s brand of religiosity.  Julio grappled with homosexual tendencies while trying to win the approval of his mother.

There is humor in the way the play approached many scenes (there are only three actors playing the kids so they do multiple roles including their parents).  The intimate scene between Luna’s drunk father and ultra-religious mother (played by the two male actors) is riotous.

But such laughs only serve as a foil to the drama as the characters come full circle into adulthood.  Luna becomes a nun. Diego is a family man.  Julio has come out of the closet.  And yet they are all still broken.

Why the play decides to beat the characters up for their psychosexual conflicts (think Freud and the idea of shame and morality in a child’s latency period) is both interesting and disturbing to me.  Is it a universal or culture-specific thing?  Is psychosexual conflict the single, strongest, overriding conflict in the characters’ psyche?  These are subjects worthy of discussion.

So what can we learn about getting over childhood baggage?

In the film, P.L. Travers had the opportunity to purge herself of her childhood baggage through her writing.  But it is also because of her childhood resentments that “Mary Poppins” almost didn’t make it to Hollywood.  She was ashamed, cynical, afraid.  How will Mr. Banks (depicted in the film as drawn from the image of P.L. Travers’ father) be depicted in Disney’s Hollywood movie?

Eventually, the book made it to film, but we all know not everybody gets a Hollywood do-over.

For young boy Sherman, letting go of baggage is a decision.  He decided to stop punishing himself for what other people think.  So his father is a dog.  So what!  Sherman realized that no amount of bias from other people can equal the love and sacrifice of Mr. Peabody to raise him the best way he knew how.  So Sherman decides that if that makes him a dog, then so be it. Indeed, a boy with a loving dog for a dad is infinitely better than someone with no love at all.

True, not everyone gets a Hollywood redemption.  But we all have the power to write the story of our lives when we forgive our past, accept the present, decide to love ourselves and carry on.

Provocative play “Cock” pulsates with emotion

Topper Fabregas and Niccolo Manahan in a scene from “Cock.” Handout photo by Raul Victor Montesa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MANILA — I can think of so many puns to spin the title of this play by British playwright Mike Bartlett. It’s really hard not to run crazy with the title “Cock.” Although the title stimulated my curiosity, it was the story that got me quivering with excitement to watch Red Turnip theater company’s latest production.

Here’s the lowdown: John (played by Topper Fabregas) is in a longtime relationship. They hit a rocky patch. They break up.

John meets someone new and quickly falls in love. But John gets scared and has second thoughts. He must decide: Does he wants to get back together with his longtime partner or move forward with this new relationship?

So goes the basic plot of this Olivier award-winning play. Heard this tale before? Not quite.

Here’s the thing: John is gay. As gay as butterflies, rainbows and Cher. John has a boyfriend of seven years (played by Niccolo Manahan), but he’s unhappy. They decide to cool off.

A casual encounter with a woman (played by Jenny Jamora) leads John towards unchartered territory. The friendship turns into something intimate. Scary at first, then, to John’s surprise, intoxicatingly wonderful.

John’s boyfriend is flabbergasted, and the whole messy affair blows up in one awkward dinner where all three of them meet to slug it out and force John to make a choice.

It’s a brave, modern and witty play, and a good choice for Red Turnip, a young local company, to gamble on. The play examines the labels that we ascribe to people with respect to who they choose to love. On the surface, the conflict is about going gay or straight, choosing gay lover or female lover.

The play is performed on a big, bare circle on the floor, with the audience surrounding the actors, as it was staged by The Royal Court Theater in London. It is discomfiting to see the faces of audience members across you, a nod to the voyeuristic nature of watching the lives of the characters.

Rem Zamora, in his directorial debut, put together a talented cast of actors.

Topper Fabregas, Niccolo Manahan and Jenny Jamora in a scene from “Cock.” Handout photo by Raul Victor Montesa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fabregas is good in the role of John (it is interesting to note that John is the only character with a name in the play), who is the younger of the two male lovers. He does have a tendency to play his doe-eyed but tortured character to the hilt oftentimes, but he is worthy of empathy as he tries to extricate himself out of this conflict.

Jamora as “W” brings a breezy quality to the role. But what appears as fragility, at first, is replaced by a feisty woman who thirsts for love and will fight for her man.

Manahan captivates the audience with his thoughtful portrayal of “M.” Though a bit pompous with his characterization at times, Manahan is a strong, polished actor with a velvety voice, and his “M” is a delicate balance between endearing and vulnerable, on one hand, and domineering and condescending, on the other.

Audie Gemora. Handout photo by Raul Victor Montesa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a fourth character, “F,” the father of M (played by veteran actor Audie Gemora) who joins the uneasy dinner to make a case for his son. Even without the bold, at times excessive gesticulations of his younger co-actors, Gemora hooks the audience with his solid, nuanced portrayal of a father who has come to accept, even support, his son’s life choices.

While the title of play is risqué, the delicate scenes are stylized innovatively. There are sex scenes but absolutely no nudity. This allows the viewer to focus more on the playwright’s intent, and the most that you would see is two guys in a tender kiss.

When you take away the labels we ascribe to people, the play explores the dynamics of any relationship, gay or straight.

Ultimately, the conflict is something that most people will relate to: What is one’s measure of happiness in a relationship? Does one go for something unsettlingly familiar, or gamble on something frighteningly uncertain?

“Cock” runs until April 6 at Whitespace in Makati City.

(This article was originally published on abs-cbnnews.com: http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/lifestyle/03/03/14/review-cock-pulsates-emotion )

DULAANG UP’S ‘ANG NAWALANG KAPATID:’ BREATHLESS FROM START TO END

A scene from “Ang Nawalang Kapatid.” Photo by Vlad Gonzales

MANILA — How does one recreate the great Indian epic “Mahabharata,” described as the longest epic poem ever written, into a two-act stage musical in Filipino? How does one capture the layers and complexities of Indian tradition without being contrived?

And how does one fuse all of the epic’s philosophical musings on love, war, family, duty, divinity and spirituality into a tight and cohesive piece?

Throw in the fact that Dulaang UP’s staging of “Ang Nawalang Kapatid,” based on the “Mahabharata,” features an all-student cast and crew, and you have a recipe for one big pseudo-Bollywood hot mess.

Thankfully, playwright and lyricist Floy Quintos, director Dexter Santos and composer Ceejay Javier acquitted themselves and came up with an elegant and regal Filipino adaptation.

Quintos distilled the epic poem and focused on themes that Filipino audiences can easily connect with: the warring saga between the royal clans of the Pandavas and Khauravas, and the moral dilemma of the “lost brother” Karna if he will uphold family ties and blood lines or his obligations to self and state.

Highlight other elements such as kings and queens consumed by vanity and punished by gods; and children born out of “mysterious” circumstances, given away and then found again after several years, and you have one gripping teleserye-like tale.

In this adaptation, Karna — born as a curse to his mother Queen Kunti for having slighted a goddess — is thrown away as a baby. He grows up to be a good warrior under the care of monkey king Hanuman.

When he comes of age, he travels to a distant kingdom. Because of his fighting skills, Karna is taken in as a brother by Kaurava prince, Duryodhana, who in turn is in a bitter battle against his cousin, Yudhisthira of the Pandava clan over the love of princess Draupadi.

Because of madness and lust, the battle over love escalates into a full-blown war over the kingdom. It is in the thick of war that Karna discovers that his enemies, the Pandava brothers, are his brothers, too.

A scene from “Ang Nawalang Kapatid.” Photo by Vlad Gonzales

Santos’ breathless direction from start to finish was a daring move. The pace is kept tight and gripping, with nary a dull moment. The opening number, “Dakilang Kasaysayan ng Sangkatauhan,” which establishes the entire back story of the birth of the royal cousins in one big sweep, is a feat in itself.

It took five choreographers (Santos, Jeffrey Hernandez, Albernard Garcia, Vincent Kevin Pajara and Stephen Vinas) to stage the numbers, and I can understand why. The long numbers are a test of stamina for any performer, and the styles run the gamut from tribal to Asian, from graceful to acrobatic. Even the scenes with spoken dialogue are imbued with courtly, balletic gestures.

The show is rife with vivid imagery. Among them, the birthing scenes of Queens Kunti and Ghandari, and the “disrobing” scene of princess Draupadi where god Krishna intervenes and spares her from shame by weaving an endless trail of cloth.

But the most stellar visuals in the show come from the climactic battle scene where blood, earth and rain create an intense tapestry of violence and death.

Javier’s music is not your expected Indian cliche. The sitar is used sparingly, mainly to punctuate spoken lines, but the rest of the songs have that world music, pop rock, tribal Filipino feel. But with all the heavy panting in the show, it’s the ballads such as “Lukso ng Dugo” which give audiences (and the actors) the breathing space.

The ladies in the show shine with their presence and voices, namely Teetin Villanueva as Draupadi and Ronah Adiel Rostata as Reyna Kunti (though Rostata needs to hone her technique. Performing with a hoarse voice in Act 2 could damage her vocal chords.)

The gentlemen in the show are balls of energy. There’s a propensity, though, for most of the male actors to equate urgency of dialogue with speed and volume, much to the detriment of clarity and nuance. They will grow into more refined performers with more training and technique. Still, there were good moments from Jules dela Paz as Vyasa, Ross Pesigan as Karna, Jon Abella as Yudhisthira, Vincent Kevin Pajara sa Duryodhana, Mark Dalacat as Haring Pandu, Marvin Olaes as Dritarastra, John Paul Basco as Krishna, and the rest of the male cast.

“Ang Nawalang Kapatid” is on its final weekend at the Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero Theater at the University of the Philippines.

(The above post was originally published on abs-cbnnews.com: http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/lifestyle/02/20/14/review-dulaang-musical-breathless-start-end )

WHY PEOPLE CAN RELATE TO ‘STARTING OVER AGAIN’

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Toni Gonzaga as Ginny and Piolo Pascual as Marco in a scene from ‘Starting Over Again.’ Screen capture from movie trailer.

“Do we still have a second chance?  Naniniwala ka rin ba na (do you also believe) our love story deserves a better ending?”  And with that, Ginny (portrayed by Toni Gonzaga) turns the world of her ex-boyfriend Marco (Piolo Pascual) askew in the box-office hit movie ‘Starting Over Again.’

After four years, Ginny returns to Manila from Barcelona, and discovers that Marco has moved on.  He’s in a wonderful relationship with Patty (Iza Calzado).  To make the blows harsher, Patty turns out to be kind, smart, successful and, yes, “kamukha ni (looks like) Mama Mary.”  Life is indeed unfair.

Do we still have a second chance?  It’s a line, perhaps, that has been replayed many times in your mind when you think of your ex.  You might even have said it out loud to that person.  It’s hard to let go of someone you love, someone who has touched your heart so deeply, that’s why you hold on to every last shred of hope.

This romantic film directed by Olivia Lamasan does not spare audiences from the depths of anguish, even if it is frighteningly painful.  Many people accept the fact that perfect endings are hard to come by.  I would have stormed out of the theater had this film chosen a different ending.

Why do many people relate so personally to the film?  Let me count the ways:

1. It’s not always love at first sight.  Sometimes, it’s love after irritation.

How many times have you found someone annoying, even obnoxious, only to fall crazy in love with that person? Indeed, thin is the line between love and hate.  It’s just like Marco who admits in his email to Ginny that he disliked her initially.

Sometimes, irritation is just a defense mechanism.  Often we are attracted to someone who mirrors our own qualities, the good and bad.  We can’t help it.  It’s part of our narcissistic nature.  And sometimes, if we’re lucky, the person we detested but have fallen for turns out to be a great person beneath the hard surface.

2.  Everything is perfect, until fear sets in and you run away.

Things were going rosy for Marco and Ginny.  They started making plans for a lifetime of togetherness, until familiarity set in.  Ginny saw too much of her failure-of-a-father in Marco that she had to escape.  As a friend once said, many would rather go for the easy way out, rather than the uncertainty of hard choices but with the potential to makes us truly happy.

When things fail, we beat ourselves up and realize how cowardly we were.  Toni was brilliant in her breakdown-in-bed scene.

3.  When you miss someone you love, every little thing can be a reminder of that person.

The smallest thing can trigger the deepest memories with that person: a scent, a word, a place, a time of day, a season, a food or drink, a color, a sound, a laugh, a smile, a gaze, a look.

Ginny learned from Marco that tastes and flavors of food evoke sensual memories of a person.  For Marco, a picture, a sketch on a paper that’s yellowing with age can open the floodgates of memories.

4.  Dealing with a break-up is indeed like grieving over the loss of a loved one.

When you break-up with a partner, the void is palpable, like a gaping hole in the heart. “I almost died,” Marco cried out to Ginny in their confrontation scene.  And no matter how hard you try, no matter how much love and support you get from family and friends, no matter how hard you count your blessings, nothing can seem to fill that empty space.

And you do go through the stages of grief, albeit unconsciously: denial, anger, depression, and if all proceeds well, you reach acceptance.  But before you reach acceptance…

5.  You will bargain, plead, even settle for scraps,  just to reclaim that person and win him/her back into your life.

What an amazing kitchen confrontation scene between Ginny and Patty.  My eyes almost popped out of their sockets and my ears couldn’t believe what they were hearing as Ginny tried to mess with Patty’s mind, break her confidence in Marco and eventually driver her to give Marco up.

Many people have those embarrassing moments when pride goes flying out the window, and you sink to the lowest depths to get your ex to love you again.  It doesn’t always work out, but somehow, you think it’s better to do it and fail, than wonder what could have been and have regrets later on.

6.  Just when you think you’ve moved on, life plays a trick on you.

There’s a chance encounter; a text, call or email out of the blue.  Often, this tests your resolve and you start seeing signs (or signs you want to see):  Why did we have to meet each other again?  Maybe we’re meant to get back together…

Ginny asked herself that question over and over again.  You convince yourself that you’ve gotten over a person, but seeing him/her with someone else makes your chest feel like it’s going to explode.

You pretend you’re cool, but you’re a ball of nerves when you see each other again.  You dress your best, you try to look more gorgeous and successful to make the other person regret breaking-up with you, but secretly you want him/her back.  You just have to test the water if there’s still spark or magic between you two.

7.  You’ll know when it’s time to give up, lick your wounds and move on.

Often you just want closure, for not everyone can deal with open-ended questions and unfinished business.  Ginny and Marco had the benefit of closure.  What a bittersweet hospital scene that was.

But not everyone is as fortunate as to have that opportunity to settle score.  What to do?  When do you stop trying and finally let go?  You realize eventually that you set your own limits.  You’ll know when you’ve given as much as you could, and tried as hard as you can.

When you’ve done all you could, hopefully you can pick up the pieces, get back on your feet, cherish the good memories, look back without regrets, and gaze into the future, if not with hope, then at least with the knowledge that you will soon be okay.

You will eventually learn to love yourself, and be your own best friend.  And if you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone special again.

(Follow the author on twitter @Paulhenson and instagram @heaveninawildflower)

LISA MACUJA’S FINAL ‘THE NUTCRACKER’; REPERTORY PHILIPPINES’ ‘THE PRODUCERS’

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(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).

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(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.)

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(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.)

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IN LOVE WITH THE GHOULISH CHARMS OF THE ADDAMS FAMILY

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(Eula Valdez as Morticia and Arnell Ignacio as Gomez in Addams Family)

The show opens with ghoulish creeps and dead people, set in a dark and dreary graveyard estate in Central Park, New York… and, boy, does it turn out to be one endearing, love-filled musical!

I was charmed right from the opening musical number, When You’re An Addams.  It’s a catchy number that will get you smiling and hooked from the get-go, with the eccentric moves of Addams family patriarch Gomez (Arnell Ignacio) and the sensuous grooves of matriarch Morticia (Eula Valdez), complete with dance sequences in various genres – tango, line dance and rigor mortis (you have to watch to see what this looks like).

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(The cast in the opening number When You’re an Addams)

There’s a twist in this broadway musical adaptation of Addam’s Family involving daughter Wednesday (K-la Rivera); a twist that will get the whole clan (including ancestors from the grave) all riled-up and turning upside down.  Sure, Wednesday is still dark and brooding and still wields a crossbow, but she’s no longer a girl.  She’s now a lady, and she’s fallen in love… with a boy, a normal boy, Lucas, who’s from a nice, conservative, traditional family in the Midwest (a swing state!, says Gomez).  But Wednesday and Lucas aren’t just in love.  They want to get married, and only Gomez is in on the secret… with much agony.  Morticia is kept in the dark and she’s getting suspicious.

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(The dark princess and the normal boy in love.  K-La Rivera as Wednesday and Ryan Gallagher as Lucas Beineke)

The most riotous scenes in the musical are those involving Gomez, Morticia and Wednesday as they plan a special dinner with Lucas’ family.  Wednesday’s only request is for the family to act normal, but how could they when you have a 100-year old grandmother who’s into potions, a younger brother who’s into torture and smoking (to relieve stress), a bald uncle who talks to the dead and is in love with the moon, and a butler of Frankenstein-esque qualities.

Surprisingly for all its eccentricities, the musical draws its most charming qualities in how it approaches the issue of love.  It’s very human (as opposed to very undead).  It recognizes that love starts out pure, uncomplicated, thrilling and exciting.  But it loses its magic along the way because of fears, over-cautiousness, work, secrets, unsaid feelings and unexpressed emotions that pile up over the years.  As Morticia tells her son Pugsley, “Life is a tightrope, and on the other side is your coffin.”  It takes risk and trust to make love work.

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Eula Valdez is perfectly cast in her role as Morticia.  She has a lovely alto voice and amazing stage presence, and even with a full cast on stage you can’t help but keep your eyes glued on her.  Arnell Ignacio is endearing in his portrayal of Gomez.  He has the right mixture of pompousness and soft-heartedness when it comes to his love for his family.  K-La Rivera as Wednesday acquits herself in the company of veteran performers with her clear, powerful singing voice and convincing portrayal.  Special mention to Carla Guevara-Laforteza as Alice Beineke, mother of Lucas.  She’s a scene stealer during the dinner sequence as she transforms from sunshiny Midwestern mom to frustrated wife on the verge of a breakdown.

I must give props to the show’s set designer, Faust Peneyra, and lighting designer, Dong Calingacion.  Their executions were spot-on and lent perfectly and evocatively to the feel of the entire musical.   

The show is directed by Bobby Garcia for Atlantis Productions and runs until December 1 at the Meralco Theater.

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(Photo credits: Atlantis Productions, Inc.)