Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera in Manila!

It's been 14 months since the last time we came to the Cultural Center of the Philippines to watch The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber Concert and it's finally time to come back to see one of our most awaited musical plays - The Phantom of the Opera. I still remember last year when my wife said as we were leaving the CCP Theater that she hopes to see The Phantom of the Opera the next time she comes back here. Perhaps it is the answer of the Law of Attraction that we are now indeed coming back after a year to see Christine Daaé and the Phantom. Our third visit to the CCP Theater since 2010 with Cats which featured Lea Salonga as Grizabella, and on 2011 with The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber Concert, this year is very special because The Phantom of the Opera is both my wife and I's favorite, next to Les Misérables and Miss Saigon, which we hope to see next in the USA if our migration can push through in the next few months.

We left the house at past 5pm hoping to beat the rush hour in Makati en route to Pasay so we can reach CCP Main Building before 7pm. To set the mood, I played the Original London Cast Recording of The Phantom of the Opera while I drove our way to Roxas Boulevard. Hearing Sarah Brightman's original versions is very enchanting although I'm not really a big fan of her. I still prefer Sierra Boggess' current rendition in the 25th Anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall (or Luzia Nistler's of the Original Vienna Cast Recording albeit not understanding their Dutch-translated songs). I have high expectations that Claire Lyon, who will play Christine Daaé in this Manila Tour will be at par with either of the two or could be better than all who played the role.

Reaching CCP Main Building at 6pm is unexpected despite the heavy traffic in Makati and our earliest arrival time in 3 years. We took time to take pictures of ourselves first at the side entrance of the building with the Phantom backdrop and deposited my DSLR at the concierge. As expected, we'll take pictures using my iPhone instead since it is the only allowed gadget inside the theater.

We were surprised that as early as 6pm, there were already a lot of people waiting at the hallways for the 8pm show so we proceeded to the Main Theater Lobby to purchase souvenir items, preferably the program booklet and shirts, for the both of us. Much to our surprise, there are no available merchandise to be sold that day. We were told that it might have been late because of the hard rain (which we think is a lame excuse) and they hope that the items will arrive before Act 2. Since there are no merchandise that we can buy, we entertained ourselves in taking pictures instead. We toured the whole Theater Gallery to view all the Phantom of the Opera exhibits available along with other guests who are also anxious about not being to able to buy any souvenir items for the show. At exactly 7:30pm (man, they're always on time here), the usherettes started signalling everyone to get to their seats as the show will start in a little while. My wife and I were ushered to Upper Box 8 where we were led to Seats 3 and 4, though not a difficult place to find because it is just the opposite of where we were during the Andrew Lloyd Webber Concert last year.

Since we still have 30 more minutes to wait before the start of the show and we don't have the souvenir book to look at, we took time to take pictures again inside the theater hall instead, making sure that the flash is off. The couple in front of our seats were just reminded a couple of minutes ago and I don't want anyone catching my attention because of something wrong that I just did (which obviously I should know now because this is already our third). While we were inside, memories of the two shows we saw in 2010 and 2011 all came back to us and my wife and I started reminiscing how we started loving the beauty of the theater and the musical plays, not to mention that I was a member of the theater group in highschool where this love of theater all started.

At the main stage (which is still dark at that time) you will see the 1911 Stage of the Paris Opera House, with old curtains and dusty linen covering the items for auction, obviously all set for the opening scene. In the middle of the floor is a cylindrical object covered in dark cloth with prints "Lot 666" which is of course the chandelier, that I visualized to be hoisted at the overture part. Everything is dark an the center stage but shadows started moving which could be a signal that the show is about to start.

I looked around at a minute before 8pm and I noticed that the theater hall is not full yet, and the sea of people are still coming in. Usually, at 5 minutes before the start of the show, everyone's already settled with only a number of people coming in. This time though, maybe everyone got stuck in the traffic or maybe everyone's still on their way in the main lobby, everyone's still cramming up, busy finding their way to their respective seats. Finally, at exactly 8pm (they never missed the dot), everyone was requested to rise for the Philippine National Anthem. The signal of the start of the show...

Act 1.

(Prologue) The lights started to lit at the center stage revealing an auction scene of all the valuable items inside the old Stage of the Paris Opera House. You get to feel the old year 1911 as Parisians gathered for the auction and an old man Raoul, seated in a wheel chair, bidding for the items that has connections during their glory days in the Opera House with his wife, Christine Daaé. Everything around the stage is old, rusty, dilapidated, archaic and ancient. Alas, the auctioneer started calling to illuminate the chandelier and everything started to fall 50 years back in time. (Overture) The scene was magical as I held my breath witnessing in awe how the stage transformed from an old 1911 ruins to a majestic Paris Opera House in 1881 with all its golden pillars shining gloriously as the chandelier sparks and slowly coming back to life as it is being hoisted at the center of the theater. The show has just started but the only thing that I was able to say to my wife is "this is worth all the cents that we paid for this show!" and she agreed.

The stage is now in its present year 1881 revealing The Dress Rehearsal of Hannibal with one of my favorite characters in the play, Carlotta, in the center stage, played by Andrea Crighton. I love her voice but I still preferred Wendy Ferguson, whom I think the best actress who played the role. Carlotta's line "For the past three years, these things do happen! And did you stop them from happening? No! And you two - you're as bad as him! These things do happen! Until you stop these things from happening, this thing does not happen!" is one of my favorite acts in the musical play but I was a bit disappointed in this one because my expectation failed. Andrea Crighton's rendition of "Think of Me" is, for me, at par compared to all others who have portrayed this and this somehow recovered my failed expectation to a passing rate. (Think of Me) Finally, Claire Lyon's first song as Christine Daaé came into the air with her rendition of Think of Me, as Mdm Giry pressed her to take the place of La Carlotta after the walkout scene. I must admit that my baseline for comparison is Sierra Boggess' rendition at the 25th Anniversary in the Royal Albert Hall and this is quite a critical contrast. Claire Lyon is a better actress but Sierra Boggess is a better singer. Likewise, they're both beautiful. What I didn't like is the portrayal of Meg Giry by Cat Lane because of her voice's shortness of breath. Her character is supposed to scream "He's there, The Phantom of the Operaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa..." but she does it like "He's there, the Phantom of the Operaaa..." and she suddenly cuts it like she's quite out of breath. Cat Lane is still fantastic because she dances really good.

(Angel of Music) The scene transformed to a backstage showing the ballet girls rehearsing as they dance to the rhythm of the conversations inside Christine's Room. (Little Lotte/The Mirror) There came Raoul, the Vicomte de Shagny, played by Anthony Downing, who has a better voice than Hadley Fraser who recently did the role. (The Phantom of the Opera) And my favorite scene at last, where the Phantom showed up behind the mirror of Christine and the whole stage was suddenly covered with smoke screen eating up Christine's room and revealing a bridge above it where she was dragged by the Phantom to his lair. Holding up my breath again, making sure I will not make a sound, the stage suddenly transformed to an underground lake with flickering candles emerging from everywhere (I don't know where the candles are coming from and you just see them floating and sprouting suddenly in the dark. Man, this really is a magnificent production and I realized suddenly why the tickets are VERY expensive, but all worth it). Everything happened so fast that I didn't notice I was already seeing the Phantom and Christine on a boat from behind an underground bridge and there she was, on top of her voice, being forced by the Phantom to sing... at the highest note! And she did it with grace. It was a hair-raising scene. Claire Lyon is marvelous! The people can't help but to applause. (The Music of the Night) The moment is on for the Phantom's first solo, played by the youngest actor to have played this role so far, is Jonathan Roxmouth. I think his is the only voice that I liked most in this cast if I compare it to the 25th Anniversary actors, not maybe because he is the best Phantom of all but perhaps I just don't like Ramin Karimloo's whiny voice. His voice is as soothing as John Owen-Jones in a Phantom role but his acting is quite a bit raw, in my opinion.

(I Remember/Stranger Than You Dreamt It) Lights faded while audience applauds in one of the loudest in the night's performance and as the stage lights went back, Christine is already seen sleeping at a make-shift bed while the Phantom is shown to be composing a new opera. I don't feel like I am being convinced that the Phantom is really good at what he is doing as how Jonathan Roxmouth portrayed it but before I could utter a word to my wife, Christine suddenly started singing and it broke the silence. Claire Lyon is really an angel of music with her voice. That... is convincing. (Notes/Prima Donna) Back at the Opera House; Firmin, André, Raoul, Carlotta, Madame Giry, Meg and Piangi all came up and exchanged notes (literally, notes and vocals). I loved all scenes where Carlotta is on it. She is the spice girl of the show and without her, it would've been boring (man, I hate love stories, my wife knows that). (Il Muto: Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh) The scene transformed again into the Il Muto play where Carlotta played as Countess with Christine on a non-singing part. I loved how Andrea Crighton did the Poor fool, he makes me laugh! Ah ha ha ha haaaaaa... as expected for a soprano voice like her. Expectations met. Two thumbs up. The ballet performance after the Phantom transformed Carlotta's voice into a toady, croaking one is quite like one of the best dances shown in the play, not just because it's a filler, but because the ballet dancers really are amazing. (Why Have You Brought Us Here?/Raoul, I've Been There/All I Ask of You) The stage suddenly became a rooftop showing Christine and Raoul meeting up planning to escape is also one of the great transformations of the stage that is notable in this play. The chemistry between Claire Lyon and Anthony Downing is evident and their kiss has convinced the audience that they really like each other (Swoon. Swoon. I suddenly start to wonder how many times they will kiss each other on these two months daily show and on rehearsals. I'd like to take this role if I happened to be a musical stage actor). Their rendition of All I Ask of You is very powerful, romantic and inviting although you only hear Claire Lyon on their duets at times, I would even forget that Anthony Downing supposedly has a line on that part. (Finale) What was surprising is when the Phantom magically emerged from one of the angel golden carvings in the middle of the stage and you wouldn't think he was there for the longest time, hanging on a hoisted vessel. His rendition of I Gave You My Music is quite heartbreaking and tear-jerking as you feel his sorrow and thwart on what he saw in the rooftop. He then disappeared in the dark and with his devilish laugh, the chandelier, in its glorious view at the middle of the theater suddenly came falling fast at the center of the stage, sparkling and crashing, and the lights went out. I was still holding my breath and I didn't realize that it's already the end of Act 1.

The curtains fell and the lights came up again. I started to gasp for air...

As expected, there was a 20-minute intermission, enough for the theater-goers and guests to take a leak, make emergency calls, feed their hungry stomachs and other what-nots. I went out searching for the nearest restroom and I overheard from the usher and usherettes that souvenir items are already on-sale down at the Main Theater Lobby. I hurriedly went downstairs to grab POTP shirts but everyone else must have overheard the same conversation that they were all there, jamming the flow of the sea of people that you can't even see the display rack and the sales ladies anymore. Another voice is heard at the center of the lobby showing souvenir booklets being sold for P500. I turned my back at the souvenir shop and went straight to the booth instead and grabbed one of the POTP souvenir booklets. I ran back to my seat the Upper Box to show the souvenir booklet to my wife. We were both amazed and awed at its contents like how the musical play stole our breaths. We spent the remaining of the 20 minutes browsing through the booklet, instead.

Suddenly, the chandelier came back to life. And it was moving again, going back to its original position at the center of the stage, signalling the start of Act 2. I looked at my watch and it is indeed time for the next scene. The lights went out and the magic continued...

Act 2.

(Masquerade/Why So Silent?) The curtains were raised at last, with only a few lights on, revealing the entrance of André and Firmin, in their masquerade costumes, exchanging notes. Suddenly, the lights all went up showing a red-carpeted staircase with the full Company singing one of my favorite tracks in the soundtrack - Masquerade! It was a grand scene, seeing all the theater actors in their fabulous costumes and masks paired up with a jaw-dropping production dance. One can gauge that this number could be the most rehearsed of all, seeing all the actors moving in synchronicity and singing in all their glorious notes. One thing I noticed is that everyone can dance, I mean, should dance... in this musical play. Even Raoul and Mdm Giry, whom you expect to have serious, non-dancing roles in the play, are seen waltzing in this production number (it's a masquerade, of course, it's a party!). T'was an unforgettable number. It was the Phantom who ruined it all when he suddenly showed up, spoiling the party, and commanding everyone to take part in his new play Don Juan Triumphant, where he wants Christine, who else but her, to take the lead. The masquerade was dispersed and in a blink of an eye (it was really hard to notice), that the stage suddenly transformed into a backstage leaving only Mdm Giry and Raoul, where the revelation was made. (Notes/Twisted Every Way) When the backstage curtains suddenly unfurled, it was a different scene again. It was so magical that the large staircase that almost covered the whole stage has disappeared in a matter of minutes and the center stage is now showing the manager's office where André and Firmin are shown to have received another set of... notes!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Becoming a Superhero

Yesterday, in the midst of the whole Christendom's observance of Black Saturday, I thought of rummaging in my pile of DVD collections on what to watch to beat my weekend boredom. I was expecting to see movies perfect for the Holy Week. I was eyeing for Passion of the Christ, or Jesus Christ Superstar, or The Ten Commandments, or the like (though I was also tempted to check out Da Vinci Code, or Stigmata, or The Last Temptation of Christ, but I don't want to suffer condemnation... just yet). The lower shelf of our DVD rack has mostly suspense-horror flicks so what I am looking for may not be in there. The upper shelf, however, is mostly doomsday movies and action-packed films so they musn't be in there as well. When I checked the middle shelf, what caught my attention though are the superhero films which are my most treasured collections. I pulled up the DVD cases one by one. Everyone greeted me like as if they were just waiting for me to check them out - Halle Berry came out to wave hello first in her skimpy catsuit, Christian Bale nodded from the dark batcave, Tobey Maguire cleaned up his spider cobwebs in the ceiling to make way for me, Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh both unfurled their red capes which served as carpets on my way inside, and everyone else waved and greeted and nodded. Suddenly, I was a superhero again... just like how I dreamt to be one when I was a kid...

I switched my laptop on and started collecting thoughts. The first thing that came to my head is to replace my Facebook's cover photo to showcase my friends... uhrm, yes that what I call them... my superfriends. I downloaded individual pictures of them and piled them up in one 850x315 photo and uploaded to my Facebook wall right away. I liked the result.

Memories of my childhood suddenly came rushing to my head. I remember the DC and Marvel comics that I collected when I was a kid. I buy the ones I only liked - Aquaman, Batgirl, Batman, Captain America, Catwoman, Daredevil, Elektra, Flash Gordon, the Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Hawkeye, Hulk, Invisible Woman of Fantastic Four, Ironman, Robin, Spiderman, Storm, Superman, Thor, Wolverine and Wonder Woman. The problem is, I don't read them. I mentioned "collection," not reading materials. Once I have these newly-bought comics in my hand, wrapped securely in their plastic covers, I put them in a box I called my "sanctuary." I just look at the covers, letting myself drowned in awe on the strength and powers of each superhero, dreaming to be one of them... or one like them.

Since I got attached to superheroes, Superman's letter "S" got branded in my chest 'til I grew old. I am him. He is me. Of all the superheroes created, his powers are the most invincible and indestructible. On the other hand, I wanted me, a superhero, who was born and raised on earth. Not elsewhere. My personal favorite then was Robin. He was, to me, the most good-looking of all superheroes. My opinion is that the world's crime-buster shouldn't be just powerful and highly-skilled, he should also be handsome. But Robin is just a Boy Wonder in the comics, that's it. A sidekick, a second-rate hero, just Batman's shadow. I then preferred Green Lantern. Among my comics collection, his covers are always glowing. Along with Arrow, their covers are stand-out because of the shiny, neon green that emanates from the glossy paper enhanced by the light that strikes within the plastic covers that wrapped it. But my comics confuse me. I think Green Lantern has multiple personalities. In one of the covers he was Alan Scott, but he was Hal Jordan in another and he was Kyle Rayner in one of my newest copies. I started to dislike him. I went back to being a Superman and this time, I thought it would be so lonely to become a superhero without a girlfriend. I chose Wonder Woman as my partner in life, but I find it weird that she wouldn't want to fly with me because she has an invisible jet. This damned flying thing of hers should be given to Invisible Woman of Fantastic Four. It matches her better than Wonder Woman. But nothing in my comics has this story. So I had to live up with it...

I have to see my comics once again. I opened sanctuary in my mind and started browsing to my collections once again...

And my comics became movies...

My cousins used to have a video rental shop where I chance upon seeing a free movie after school and during weekends if my playmates are not available to play with or if the weather doesn't allow us to play outdoors. And yes, these videos being rented are not VHS tapes but, uhrm... Betamax tapes. Being a Superman fan, I saw all four movies of Clark Kent's, from Superman (1978), to Superman II (1980), to Superman III (1983), up to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). Although I preferred the handsome Robin, I was also a follower of the Batman movies, from Michael Keaton's Batman (1989), to Batman Returns (1992) up to Val Kilmer's Batman Forever (1995). Matt Salinger as Captain America (1990) wasn't a big hit in the movie houses and in my cousin's video rental shop, so it was shelved in my memory and I honestly don't remember any significant scenes to that movie. Flash Gordon was also a movie in 1980 which I remember seeing with my cousins but it wasn't as striking as the other superhero movies created to amuse children. John Wesley Shipp was the only The Flash I remember seeing in the screen in 1990. Ironically, it wasn't Flash who I remember most in the movie but Mark Hamill who played The Trickster. I hated him in this movie because I only wanted him to be just Luke Skywalker in the movies, and nothing else.

Back in the 80s, the TV programs were infested with superhero series which I always look forward to after a long wait watching the most famous newscaster Harry Gasser from RPN 9 during those times. Although there was no Wonder Woman ever made to hit the movies, I remember seeing Lynda Carter's TV series to be one of the most-sought TV programs when I was a kid alongside Lou Ferrigno's Incredible Hulk, which I remember it to be more of a horror program not to be seen by kids. I also remember watching the reruns of Captain America in the afternoons, usually after Flying House and Superbook, as played by Reb Brown. Though I didn't like Captain America personally when I was a kid, he was one of the superheroes I liked to draw because his costume was like the star-spangled banner wrapped in the man's skins and its colors are very vibrant.

More and more superhero movies sprouted in the big screen in the 90s and 2000s. Brandon Routh took over the red cape of Superman. George Clooney and Christian Bale both wore the rubber suits in the batcave. Alicia Silverstone and Chris O'Donnell popularized Batgirl and Robin, respectively, during their times. All X-Men movies were big hit, with perfect casting that stars Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden and Anna Paquin, among others, who have all immortalized the characters. Newer Avengers evolved who gave justice to their characterizations of the Earth's Mightiest Heroes, as played by Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Scarlet Johansson as Black Widow, and Mark Ruffalo as Hulk who was acclaimed to be the better portrayal compared to Eric Bana and Edward Norton who played the character earlier. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield both wore the webbed unitard costume of Spider-Man. Ryan Reynolds seemed to be the most-liked superhero by the movie producers appearing as in multiple characterizations of superheroes like Green Lantern, Hannibal King, Deadpool of the X-Men and was also rumored to be remaking the newest The Flash. Catwoman was played by three beautiful models who had the best catwalks in their catsuits - Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry and Anne Hathaway. Daredevil and Elektra were played by Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, respectively.

And of course, from the long list of superheroes, Superman will again be revived and the red cape will once again be worn by Henry Cavill.

Behold... the superheroes of the world...