MANILA -- "Jesus Christ said his balls are freezing in the snow," my daughter, barely out of grade school, told me a few months ago.
A bit worried though amused, I asked her in God's name where, how and when? Must be the "Dork Diaries" series she's reading. She got her cell phone and pointed me to the online profile of theater actor Jef Flores, who my daughter saw in the musical "Godspell" two years ago. She's only 10 at the time and Flores played Jesus.
For some reasons behind my back, she sought Jesus via social media and has been a follower eversince.
"OK, Jesus could be referring to baseball, softball or basketball. Jesus loves sports," I told my daughter back then. She said OK, with prolonged emphasis in the letter "o" and nodded the way kids' attention would shift to another topic before you could finish your sentence. She knew I was lying.
A bit of recall, Jesus was the role Flores did before playing lead in 9 Works Theatricals' "Tick, Tick...Boom," for which he won his second Gaward Buhay Award.
The first was for "This Is Our Youth" for Red Turnip and it was that drug-dealing role where I got personally hooked on Flores's career path. This guy's the real deal, I thought then. This review, among others, agreed with me.
Now, "Jesus" has created his own group, Barefoot Theatre, and his first musical titled "Flashcard Tangle" has characters who are supposedly 10-year-old kids.
Flores is the all-seeing writer, composer and director. Described "like-like not love story," the musical runs only for one weekend, January 12 to 13, both at 3 p.m. at the Power Mac Center Spotlight in Makati City and tickets are running out. Only two shows, we read it right.
We asked Flores to give us a brief backgrounder about his creation. In summary, he said, "Matthew [Turner] is in love with Tina and he’s too scared to tell her, so he lies about it. A white lie. It spirals out of control. All hell breaks loose."
Matthew, we learned from a post by Trumpets Playshop, will be played by one of its alumni, Martti Franca. Matthew, it added, is Franca's first role in a professional theater. Matthew is described a boy with a high IQ but has problems with his social dealings. Sounds like a nerd?
"No, he's not," Flores said in protest. "He's just special. But for a strange reason."
Flores added: "The actors are mostly first-timers. Trumpets Playshoppers, a Metta fresh-grad, a Benildean and a few free-agents who haven’t quite snagged a professional gig. Most of them I casted through an open audition. They wanted it. They wanted to take the leap into the hardest kind of theater: a full-mounted original. So I went with the young ones. They have this brightness about them that the show would fail without."
There are four professional actors -- Tory Cortez, Kiara Dario, Chino Veguillas and Gab Pangilinan.
The motivation, Flores explained, came to him after seeing "Come From Away" on Broadway. It is a musical based on the true story of passengers of 38 planes diverted into a small town in Canada following the tragic 9/11 Twin Tower attacks and how they were taken cared of by the townfolks. Flores said he was "taken by the way it tells a story."
"Very straightforward, but smooth and constantly flowing, and before you know it -- poof! It’s over. And I walked out of 'Come From Away' changed, only slightly, but forever. I wanted to make something like that -- fun and cute. And I’m afraid people will fault me for trying to be cute -- for not trying to change the world or the social landscape or shatter your soul. I want to entertain my audience and have them say, 'well that was nice,'" he added.
"And maybe they’ll leave the theater humming a song. And maybe they’ll encounter a problem in their life and they’ll remember a line from the show. And that would be a success. Knowing that a moment from the show moved them, slightly but forever. That it haunted them in a nice way. Like a friendly ghost," Flores said.
"Flashcard Tangle" is a collaboration with set designer Ed Lacson Jr., lighting designer Joseph Matheu, projectionist Joee Mejias and sound designer Aji Manalo.
"I’m directing under supervision of a few men who ask to not be named. But if you guess hard enough you’ll know who they are," Flores said.
"And I have four different choreographers -- Paul Fausto, Jourdan Bartolome, Gia Gequinto, and PJ Rebullida. As well as myself. And the cast makes their own choreo as well. It’s communism.
"I couldn’t be happier with my cast. These kids are going places. And it’s gotta be hard for young actors to crack the industry with the Bibos (Bibo Reyes) and the Nels (Nelcito Gomez) and the Gabs (Gab Pangilinan) and the Maronnes (Maronne Cruz), and all my peers who are really starting to find their light. Well I found some new actors. They’re damn talented. And Joseph Matheu is going to light the hell out of them," he added.
Jesus got balls
There's no doubt that Flores is one of the best actors around but beyond that, there's the musician-composer brimming with ideas. "Flashcard Tangle" is his first full-length original but there have been precursors.
The last time we had a long conversation with him, it was at the lobby of School of Design and Arts (SDA) theater at Dela Salle College of St. Benilde in mid-May last year for the re-staging for Chris Millado's dance musical "Ding! Ang Bato!"
Flores told us he contributed music and sound, in collaboration with musical director Ejay Yatco. Incidentally, Yatco was also musical director of "Godspell."
"With 'Ding! Ang Bato!' I feel like I've finally started to scrape the surface. I want to write songs for dancers, songs for shows, songs for singers, and maybe a few plays. I can't say I know exactly what I'm doing, but give me a flashlight and I'll walk down the rabbit hole," Flores told us.
And he did walk the talk.
Even prior to "Ding," we are also aware of his original songs on his YouTube channel.
"Oh yeah, my YouTube channel. I write songs, and I’ve always looked for a way to share that. As an actor, my songwriting faded into the background. Thats why 'Tick, Tick... Boom!' with 9 Works was the role of a lifetime. Because there’s no acting required. I want more than anything to be remembered as a person who wrote beautiful music," he said.
Pure coincidence but "Tick, Tick...Boom!" is an autobiographical musical by the late, great Jonathan Larson, who won Pulitzer and Tony awards for his second and more popular work, "Rent."
"Tick, Tick...Boom" is about a 29-year-old composer named Jon who is having all the anxiety and uncertainty of advanced mid-life crisis before he turns 30. Larson, with all his brilliance, wrote only those two and never got to see the success of his works. He died on the morning of "Rent's" premiere run at age 36.
"It’s a little vain, and angsty, and childish, but that’s how composers are. Ask anybody. So when I did 'TTB' and played Jonathan Larson, Jon’s heavy feeling of resentment always lingered. So I took a break from acting and made a push to write more. Here we are at the brink of my 'Superbia', fun fact: I’m also 29. I guess life imitates art," he said.
While many aspire to go abroad, Flores is here to stay and hoping to write more originals.
"The Philippines has the highest talent-density in the world bar none. That’s why I’m here. There isn’t a university in the world that could have taught me performance the way I know it now. This is my homebase. I've been given the opportunity to be a player in the renaissance of Philippine theater. I’m not going anywhere," he said.
But on second thought, he added, "Unless I get 'Hamilton' or something then peace out, I’ll see you guys later."
And anywhere he goes, one thing is for sure, this Jesus has the balls to survive the coldest winter and make it on top.