Review: Morisette returns to theater in 'Chuva Choo Choo'

Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Sep 25 2015 07:59 PM | Updated as of Sep 26 2015 03:59 AM

Morisette Amon and Joanna Ampil play sisters in "Chuva Choo Choo." Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

MANILA – Morisette Amon returns to musical theater for the first time since her successful stint on “The Voice of the Philippines” in the original Filipino musical “Chuva Choo Choo,” which is having its previews this weekend ahead of its official run next January.

Before joining the first season of the ABS-CBN singing contest, Amon starred in Repertory Philippines’ 2012 production of “Camp Rock,” where she played the female lead Mitchie opposite another TV talent search alumnus Marki Stroem.

Read our review of ‘Camp Rock’ here.

In “Chuva Choo Choo,” Amon gets to flex her vocal and acting muscles opposite West End veteran Joanna Ampil. The two women play sisters Darla and Dina who perform as a singing duo in a town in Pangasinan. But when they witness a "murder," they flee to Manila, where they pretend to be gay men working as drag performers at a struggling gay bar.

The musical, written and directed by Palanca winner George de Jesus III, is inspired by the 2004 Hollywood movie, “Connie and Carla,” which pretty much has the same plot. But the main come-on of “Chuva Choo Choo” is that it is a jukebox musical that uses the songbook of veteran pop composer Vehnee Saturno, whose songs were recorded by the likes of Martin Nievera (“Be My Lady”), Ariel Rivera (“Sana Kahit Minsan”) and Sarah Geronimo (“Forever’s Not Enough”).

“Chuva Choo Choo” works best as a showcase for the work of Saturno. Indeed the biggest takeaway for the audience is a renewed admiration for the breadth of the composer’s music catalogue over the past 35 years.

Morisette Amon and Edward Benosa in a scene from "Chuva Choo Choo." Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

The musical is fashioned more like a cheesy variety show and given the different garish settings – a provincial singing contest, a cheap gay bar and a TV talent search – there is a deliberate attempt to make it camp. Tuxqs Rutaquio’s Rubik’s cube-inspired and the crazy, colorful patterns of the costumes by John Abul and Carlo Pagunaling punctuate the musical’s gaudy theme.

For the most part, it succeeds, thanks mainly to the assured performances of Juliene Mendoza, Ron Alfonso and Jay Marquez, as the three gay men running the Mr. Kupido bar; and former child star Via Antonio who plays eight characters to hilarious effect.

Jojo Riguerra as Ampil’s leading man also gamely embraced the musical’s silly premise, although Star Music artist Edward Benosa (as Amon’s leading man) has yet to relax in his theater debut.

Ampil and Amon, as expected, more than gave justice to Saturno’s songs, showing pop power and polished technique in ballads like “Forever’s Not Enough” and “Isang Lahi.” However, they have yet to fully imbibe the musical’s gay vibe. (They certainly wouldn’t pass as men in drag.)

(From left) Edward Benosa, Morisette Amon, Joanna Ampil and Jojo Riguerra lead the curtain call. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

The cast admitted that they only had two weeks of rehearsals for this weekend’s shows, which De Jesus likens to “tryouts.” Expect a more polished product when “Chuva Choo Choo” embarks on its full run in January.

“Chuva Choo Choo” will have shows on September 25, 26 (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and 27 (3 p.m.) at the newly opened Power Mac Center Spotlight, located at Circuit Makati.