Tuesday, June 26, 2012

REVIEW: Rock of Ages (Manila) by Atlantis Productions


Carlos P. Romulo Theatre (Manila), Saturday June 23


Atlantis Productions’ Rock of Ages is better than the Broadway production. There, I have said it. I can’t believe that there will come a day that I will find a Philippine production better than the Broadway one. Oh, I know that Filipinos are vey talented, but one has to admit that Broadway do attract and put out very good stuff. With the money and the talent pool (on and behind the stage) available, the statistics just work for Broadway. Last year, I saw the Broadway production of Rock of Ages (see my review) and totally disliked it. I am not so sure whether because in comparison to the other 9 shows I saw during that trip, it paled or it was just a simple case of mediocre performance.

The amazing part about my experiences is the fact that they are polarized. I hate the Broadway production and love the Manila production. I concluded that a major factor has to be the performers. In my review of the Broadway production, I stated that, “It was plain raw and cheap... and the actors know it... every now and then, glimpses of utter embarrassment of what they were doing with their talents were apparent.” In contrast, the performers in the Manila production lapped it up. Aside from the fact that I believe that the humor of the musical is so akin to the Filipino humor (just watch the noontime TV shows in the Philippines), every single performer embraced it and camped it up.

For some reason, the story presented in this production was more effective and I believe that it has a lot to do with the casting. In the fashion of a good romantic comedy (think There’s Something About Mary), the male character is not your typical leading man stereo-type (think Ben Stiller), and that’s where Nyoy Volante’s Drew Boley comes in. Volante is not particularly tall or handsome (as I have said in my review of In the Heights), BUT he infused his Drew with a huge amount of talent, humor and sincerity that is not only attractive in romantic comedies, but also in real life… Well, in real life being tall and handsome like Dan Momenech (who I saw as Drew in Broadway) and at the same time talented, humorous and sincere is of course not bad at all, but that’s for Cinderella and The Little Mermaid.


It was not only with Drew that the production got it right, it was the whole cast. It was a PERFECT cast from leads to chorus. Needless to say, Mig Ayesa as Stacee Jaxx was as stunning as his performance in Broadway. Jett Pangan’s Lonny Barnett (narrator) was all-out positively corny and camp. The biggest surprise of the performance however was Vina Morales as Sherrie Christian. I am not so sure whether she was very good or the role just fitted her faultlessly, BUT the reality was that the performance was flawless dramatically and vocally. I was even more surprised to find out that she’s 36 years old and was making her musical theatre debut! She ought to do more musicals! I can go on and on about why each member of the cast was right for the role, but the true honor should go to director Chari Arespacochaga for her attention to details and capacity to milk dry the potential of the material. BRAVA!

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Friday, June 22, 2012

REVIEW: Annie presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions


APA Lyric Theatre, Tuesday June 19

I have seen so many amateur dramatic (amdram) productions of Annie that I thought I ought to see a professional one to see whether my bias against it might change or not. I have seen both the film (1982 with Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Ann Reinking, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters and Aileen Quinnas) and the television (1999 with Victor Garber, Kathy Bates, Audra McDonald, Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth and Alicia Morton) adaptation, with unbelievably fabulous cast and performances. They definitely benefited from editing and camera works where the children’s singing and dancing were perfected and highlighted. On stage however, especially with amdrams, the kids tend to sing off-key and forget their choreography… cute but not quite charming. It is then left to the adults to supply the artistic value.

Annie, a family musical with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and the book by Thomas Meehan, is based on the then popular Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie. The original Broadway production opened in 1977 and ran for nearly six years, setting a record for the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre). For its 35th anniversary, this “direct from UK tour” by the Playhouse Productions Ltd. comes ahead of the Broadway revival which will open on November of 2012. This boasts a cast including Su Pollard as Miss Hannigan and David McAlister as Daddy Warbucks, and they are both supposed to be quite popular in UK. To be very honest, I don’t know them… no… I think I have seen Su Pollard before… oh yes, I was in UK last Christmas and the weather was horrible; thus I ended up staying home and watched BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing; and that is were I saw her!

Overall, this production directed and choreographed by Roger Hannah and set design by Alan Miller-Bunford was a fine production, but definitely not up to the standards of West End and never mind Broadway. The main culprit was the sound design (Steven Brierley). Most of the time, the performers were drowned out by the orchestra, not because the orchestra was loud, but because the microphones for the actors were either misplaced or just simply low in volume. The other guilty party was the chorus. Yes, the theatre was not full (actually, half empty), but do they really need to look so bored? The chorus actually makes a huge difference in such musicals as it has the sole responsibility to provide the razzle-dazzle, the breaks from those soppy ballads and most importantly, to legitimize the family musical format.


As for the principals, all did well. Su Pollard, as Miss Hannigan, was vocally strong and her comedic timing was impeccable. Though with her bad hair and make-up, Su did look ridiculously old, especially when put side-by-side with her spunky brother Rooster Hannigan played by Michael Watson. David McAlister gave a splendid and energetic portrayal of Daddy Warbucks, too bad that most of the times, it was difficult to hear him. Perfect for the role was Simone Craddock as Grace Farrell. Vocally and dramatically superb, how I wish the sound was better. Curiously and seriously tanned was Emily Trebicki playing Lily St. Regis. She stuck out like a sore thumb even from the start where she was one of the homeless people. Finally, Ella Crossland as Annie was wonderful. Though a bit bland at the start, she quickly progressed into a confident and believable Annie.
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ANNIE

Hong Kong, Lyric Theatre, 31 May - 24 June





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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

REVIEW: Johannes Moser with HKPO


Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday June 16

Another HKPO concert and I was ready to not enjoy it. For those who were not following my blog, I was in some kind of indifference recently with the HKPO concerts (Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Garrick Ohlsson). I was not sure (and still am... I believe) whether the problem was my state of mind (been very busy recently) or the programs, the soloists or the orchestra… I was didn’t enjoy them. The fact that an HKPO (member of the orchestra) friend of mine, who I met just before this concert started, warned me that the program was “boring” did perhaps bring down my expectation.

Maestro Oleg Caetani, replacing Alexander Vedernikov, cut a handsome figure on stage. Yes, I can’t help but notice that in comparison to the different conductors that walked onto the concert hall stage, Caetani must be one of the fittest for his age! As for the music, the HKPO played throughout Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet Overture with a vigorous attack and rhythmic energy that was most suitable to the music. It was a full-on performance that for a while reminded me of Rozhdestvensky.

The highlight of the evening came after the opening piece with cellist Johannes Moser playing Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations. Moser also cut a handsome figure on and off stage (I know because he sat beside me across the aisle during the second half)! As for the music, Moser was absolutely stunning! While technically secure in managing tempo and intonation, Moser played with great warmth and awe-inspiring passion. His cello sang with great clarity and bite; sophistication ruled and Moser played the Andante sostenuto and Andante in such a way to melt one’s heart. Caetani and HKPO responded with the same intensity and sentiment. Moser was gracious enough to provide two encores: Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile and Bach’s Solo Suite No. 1 Sarabande.

After Moser, I was in very good mood! I was ready for Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite and gladly, the Caetani and the HKPO didn’t disappoint… in most part. For this performance, the HKPO compiled a mixture of 9 pieces from the complete ballet, suite 1 and 2; and the result was interestingly balanced. In general, it was a satisfying performance and in particular, the swagger of the Montagues and Capulets, the cheerfulness of the Dance and the gravity of Tybalt’s Death was beautifully captured.

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Splendour of Russia
Russian Shakespeare: When Tchaikovsky Meets Moser
15&16-6-2012 Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Programme
TCHAIKOVSKY: Hamlet Overture
TCHAIKOVSKY: Rococo Variations
PROKOFIEV: Romeo and Juliet Suite

Oleg Caetani, conductor
Johannes Moser, cello

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Monday, June 18, 2012

REVIEW: TRIPTYCH by the City Contemporary Dance Company of Hong Kong


Kwai Tsing Theatre Auditorium, Friday June 15

Deliberately, I didn’t read through the program beforehand. All I know is that it has something to do with the CCDC and as the title suggested, I expected to see 3 dance pieces. Little did I know that in fact, the evening was composed of three distinct pieces by three different dance companies from three different cities. The evening started off with Liu Qi’s Voice After. Thinking that I was looking at CCDC, my first impression was that the company was distinctively younger and has improved technically. It was only during intermission that I realized that it was the Guangdong Modern Dance Company that I have just saw. With music of Paul Dresher, Voice After started with much of the choreography done very close to the floor; and with the silver/gray costume and turquoise side lighting, created some of the best imagery of the evening. While there was a clear display of symmetry and asymmetry, engagement and disengagement; and individualism and collectivism, the language was undeniably Chinese. Aside from a few short moments where the Company was not in one with the music, this piece proves to be the best in the evening.

The second piece was the piece that prompted me to check out the program immediately. The language and style were very un-CCDC; and true enough, it was the BeijingDance/LDTX. Having said that, Li Hanzhong & Ma Bo’s First Ritual with easily recognized music of Tan Dun’s Orchestral Theatre II: Re (not very different from the style of Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera), actually reminded me of Villain Hitting (Da Siu Yan or 打小人), Villain Hitting is a popular folk sorcery practice in Hong Kong where older ladies are hired to curse one’s enemies. It must be because of the several cardboard mannequins on stage that the dancers manipulate all throughout the work. Dancers also made use of big bowls of water (once again reminiscent of Ghost Opera) to wash off the paints that they have ritually smeared on the mannequins. Visually, the choreography slid in and out of being dramatic and melo-dramatic, pretty much what one expects from a Beijing dance company.

Finally, it made sense. The third piece was Mui Cheuk-yin’s The Tale of Miles, a distinctively CCDC piece which I will say tends to be rich in concept but less rich in execution. The music of Steve Reich provided a colorful palette for a monochromatic dance. The use of luggage trolley of different sizes was beautiful except that it was not used more creatively. Most of the time, I feel that the luggage were hampering the piece rather than enhancing it. Some of the finer moments were the kaleidoscopes of dancers coming in and out riding their luggage. Less successful was the ceremonious piling up of the luggage just to be later on ceremoniously removed… it totally reminded me of some of the most pretentious and self-absorbed performance art I have seen.

Overall, the total sum was bigger than its part. The evening provided a true triptych glimpse of three companies from three different cities striving to find a distinct voice in modern dance.

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TRIPTYCH

A Trilogy of Modern Dance with three acclaimed modern dance companies led by Willy Tsao
15-16.6.2012 (Fri-Sat) 8pm
Kwai Tsing Theatre Auditorium
$250 / $180 / $140

Guangdong Modern Dance Company
Voice After
Choreography: Liu Qi
Music: Paul Dresher
Set & Lighting: Alexander V. Nichols

BeijingDance/LDTX
First Ritual
Choreography: Li Hanzhong & Ma Bo
Music: Tan Dun Orchestral Theatre II: Re
Lighting: Godzilla Tan
Costumes: Jun, Patti, Frank of Beijing Xinlingxiu Costume Design Studio

City Contemporary Dance Company
The Tale of Miles
Choreography: Mui Cheuk-yin
Music: Kung Chi-shing
Set and Costumes: Charfi Hung
Video: Adrian Yeung

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Friday, June 15, 2012

REVIEW: Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know by The Hong Kong Singers


HK Rep Black Box Theatre, Sunday June 10 (matinee)


Secrets Every SMART THEATRE-GOER Should Know

Theatre Secret # 8
Don’t go to the opening night; especially with amateur dramatics (amdram) productions. With rising talent and theatre rental fees, even the professional ones are cutting back on rehearsals. In the case of amdram, opening night means dress rehearsal. This is why I went to the second to the last performance of this musical… oh, this doesn’t mean that the opening night of THIS production was not good by the way.

Theatre Secret # 15
Don’t go to amdram that are trying to pull off big musicals. My experience tells me that these productions tend to think that they have the right to be mediocre because they are amdram. They tend to spend their money on orchestras and costumes to compensate for the lack of talented massive cast and rehearsal time. Instead, go to revues like this, Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know or the one before (also by The Hong Kong Singers) I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Yes, revues are not the highest form of musical, but it also doesn’t require the highest form of financial and manpower investment. With that, community theatres can focus on getting the smaller, but the right talents and arrange ample time to prepare for it. This latest HK Singers production was right on. It was small, gorgeously polished and most entertaining! As the saying goes, “It is not the size of the ship but the motion of the ocean” Though I personally prefer size and motion…

Theatre Secret # 18
Be wary of directorial debuts, unless the directors are Mandy Patinkin or Mandy Petty. Mandy Petty showed all the great signs of a good director in this show; she brought the magic out of the performers rather than forced the magic into the performers. Be it the allocation of songs and lines or the switch of a song (or two) originally sang by a male to female, all were done in the spirit of exploiting the gift of the performers in balance with the total outcome of the production. Being a dancer and choreographer herself, it must be most tempting to truly jazz up the blocking and dance steps, but she didn’t. Instead, she focused on simplicity, elegance and class; making her performers look comfortable, confident and focus on the very essence of performing. BRAVA!

Theatre Secret# 37
Check out who are performing. While it is exciting to gamble and discover the new sensational actor, nothing else beats good value for money than tried and tested actors. It is true that practice makes perfect, the more the actors hone their craft, the better they get. In this performance, the cast was very good, but Moe Moss did stand out. Moe Moss was the only one in the cast that was able to truly delineate and differentiate her characters vertically (from one character to the other) and horizontally (from her character to the other characters in a scene); therefore underscoring the beauty and potency of the revue format.

Theatre Secret #39
Beware of revues. Yes, I did recommend going to revues in Secret# 15, but I thought that you should also know that revues happen to offer the easiest way to cut numbers. So, instead of getting the full revue, some amdrams (for various reasons) will cut a number or two. The good news is that the cut numbers (unlike in a Sondheim musical) will most probably not affect your comprehension of the story because… there’s no story in revues, but instead just an overriding theme. In the case of this show, The HK Singers opted to cut the numbers “Customs” (song a man complains in lofty contempt why he is being questioned by the customs) and “Paradise Found” (song detailing the limited pleasures found in vacationing in Uzbekistan). It is most pitiful though that it was these two sophisticated and funny numbers that were cut! I would rather they didn’t or if they really needed to cut two songs, I wish it was “Hertz” and “Aging Planes”.

Theatre Secret #44
Location, location, location. The success of this performance is also due to the fact that the production fit beautifully with the venue. A good production either choose the right venue or design around the venue. It was definitely the cherry on the icing on the cake.

*By the way, the above Secrets were chosen based on Mark 6 result of the date of this performance.

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Secrets every Smart Traveler Should Know
A Musical Comedy Revue
The Hong Kong Singers production
June 6th – 10th 2012

HK Rep Black Box Theatre
8/F Sheung Wan Civic Centre

Production Team:
Director: Mandy Petty
Music Director: Scott Gibson
Producer: Vanessa Lee

Cast include:
Matthew Gillespie
Paul Hay
Shareen Sing
Jaime Ignacio
Moe Moss
Talia Ritz
Micha Sparrow

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

REVIEW: Jean-Yves Thibaudet with HKPO


Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Friday June 8

There was something quite wrong. I am not so sure whether I was starting to get sick and tired of classical music or I was too tired to enjoy the music or because I have changed my ticket from my usual Saturday night to Friday night which meant that I was not in my usual seat or the performance was just plain or was it just the repertoire. In my previous HKPO review (Garrick Ohlsson), I was also not quite enthusiastic; and with this, I am not sure whether whose problem is it.

Half-German/half-Japanese conductor, Jun Märkl, led the HKPO in an evening of half-French/half-Spanish and even half-Egytian/half-Indo-China! The evening started with DEBUSSY’s Khamma (orchestrated by KOECHLIN). Khamma, for me, has to be one of Debussy’s least known works. While I find Debussy’s Jeux ballet score tends to be full of inventive and intriguing musical incidences on tonality, Khamma tends to be… hmmm… melo-dramatic, full of gesticulation and illustration. Märkl and the HKPO bravely course through the score and making the most out of it. In particular, the initial section wherein different musical lines were sliding in and out in curiously intertwining approach was beautifully handled by Märkl.

Listening to Thibaudet’s Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No.5 Egyptian confirmed that, for me, it is one of the less appealing one of Saint-Saens’ piano concertos. I mean, if Thibaudet can’t make it work for me, I don’t think anybody can. Thibaudet’s innate musicality was most apparent in the piece. There was not a single moment that he allowed his performance to lack neatness and clarity, while ensuring that vitality and emotions were intrinsic.

The second half of the concert was composed of three Ravels, both the Alborada del Gracioso and the Rhapsodie Espagnole was executed with accuracy. The Bolero came in the same mold, which was not exactly pleasant. Ravel and critics have always been very particular with the tempo and duration of Bolero; and in this situation, Märkl and HKPO did very well. Personally, I am not very particular with it, especially since I have heard this piece too many times. Those times that I truly enjoyed Bolero was when the conductor actually managed to keep the machine-like pace yet allow the first and second melody to contrast each other and slowly develop them into an obsessive manic intensity as if the they were trying to break free! A little lilt and inflection would be nice. No, I didn’t get that… I just got a well-executed standard Bolero.

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Great Performers: L’Exotique
Thibaudet & Märkl Boléro
8&9-6-2012 Fri &Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Programme
DEBUSSY (orch. KOECHLIN): Khamma
SAINT-SAËNS: Piano Concerto No.5 Egyptian
RAVEL: Alborada del Gracioso
RAVEL: Rhapsodie Espagnole
RAVEL Boléro

Artists
Jun Märkl, conductor
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

REVIEW: Garrick Ohlsson with HKPO


Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday May 19

If it is not that I will be going to two performances this coming weekend (Thibaudet with HKPO and Hong Kong Singers’ Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know), I will most probably procrastinate and not write this review. There are several reasons why this review took so long to be realized: 1) same as my April 21 and May 5 reviews on HKPO, this is a victim of my very busy work schedule. Yes, there’s no money in blogging and yes, I have a “real” job that affords me to buy tickets to different performances in Hong Kong and if I am lucky, in other parts of the world also, 2) it is not easy to churn out a review of HKPO’s performances, because its inherent quality is usually high thus I need to listen more deliberately and dig deeper in concluding my “assessment” of the performances; and 3) I was not disappointed with this particular concert, BUT I was just simply not excited about it…

I have to put a huge part of my lukewarm feeling to the fact that I don’t really care for Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 and I feel that Garrick Ohlsson presence was wasted on this piece. Standing 6’4” with enormous hands, it was a sight to see Ohlsson manage some of Brahms’ impossible chords and figuration with ease and flair. Ohlsson is a natural sculptor in sound, unfortunately, the material lacks the right density for Ohlsson to hack and shave with his immense musicality. With Johannes Wildner conducting, the balance was… uninterestingly balanced… it was almost “tidy” and as if the warmth and emotion was replaced with precision and expression. Overall, I enjoyed the performance. After all, Ohlsson is the only North American winner of the International Chopin Piano Competition!

Brahms came after the interval, what was before the interval was Britten’s Peter Grimes: Four Sea Interludes and Debussy’s La Mer. The beauty of the 1st part was the programming. The juxtaposition of two works about the overwhelming mystery of the water with differing intent and result was brilliant. With Peter Grimes, Wildner’s emphasis with its gloomy undercurrent truly highlighted the keenly-etched orchestration; while with La Mer, Wildner was able to switch gear and steer the orchestra into a realm of suggestion and nuance showcasing the unusual impressionistic orchestration. It was like transitioning from sea to ocean. So, was it good? Yes. So why am I lukewarm about the evening? Truthfully, I am not so sure…

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Spirit of the Sea: Ohlsson Plays Brahms
18&19-5-2012 Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Programme
BRITTEN: Peter Grimes –Four Sea Interludes
DEBUSSY: La Mer
BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No.1

Johannes Wildner, conductor
Garrick Ohlsson, piano

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