Theater review: One-man musical looks back at the '90s

Totel V. de Jesus

Posted at Feb 20 2018 05:56 PM | Updated as of Feb 20 2018 06:48 PM

Phillipe Salvador “Phi” Palmos plays four characters in the musical 'Nobenta Nostalgia.' Phot by author 

MANILA -- Remember the delightful gay anti-hero character Steve Carpio played by multi-platform actor Bernardo Bernardo in the hugely popular sitcom “Home Along Da Riles” on ABS-CBN? 

How about the educational children’s show “Sineskwela” that reigned supreme also on ABS-CBN and later on TFC for decades? 

And there’s Dennis the monster from the Japanese anime “Ghostfighter,” adapted in Filipino and shown late afternoon in another channel. 

If you’re a kid in the 1990s like playwright Eljay Castro Deldoc, actor-performer Phillipe Salvador “Phi” Palmos, actor-director Marco Viana, and actor-musician Nar Cabico, then coming up with a hilarious and engaging play like “Nobenta Nostalgia: A Monomusical” is fate. 

As the title implies, the 70-minute long “Nobenta Nostalgia” is a trip down memory lane for those whose idea of passing time was watching television before going to and after attending school. 

Here, Deldoc explores the innocence of their generation through the character of Tao, played by Palmos. Tao is your typical burned-out, depressed, workaholic gay guy in his early 30s trying to make sense of it all. 

It is a few days after Valentine’s Day and he is used to not having a date, or not caring at all because there’s too much work ahead. Sounds familiar?

Deldoc brings us to a studio of a video production company and here comes Tao. He is alone and reminisces about his happy years. But since there’s no one in the room, he talks to a video camera. Tao goes back to the 1990s. We are introduced to Kulitsap from “Sineskwela,” Dennis the monster or Shuichi Minamino from “Ghostfighter” and Steve from “Home Along Da Riles.”

These three monologues within a longer monologue have original songs composed by Deldoc, Cabico and Mike Ona, with musical direction by Obel Alalong. We hear elements of new wave and OPM and they’re the hummable, danceable kinds that easily cling to memory. 

“This also is the first time that Nar (Cabico) is composing songs for a musical,” said Palmos. 

We all know Phi Palmos as Joel or Jewel, the gay fashion designer with a vocal prowess of an Aegis band member in PETA’s smash hit “Rak of Aegis,” Since then, from PETA Theater Center Palmos has ventured into the Cultural Center of the Philippines and acted various roles for many of Tanghalang Pilipino’s plays. 

In 2016 and early last year, he was part of two jampacked concerts at the CCP Main Theater where he jammed with the Aegis band accompanied by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. He also conquered the bar scene in Malate, performing solo or in group shows from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. during weekends. 

“I think those bar shows prepared me also for this musical monologue,” Palmos told us in hindsight with a giggle. Just last December, he took part in the “Love Gala” and performed with Morisette Amon and Regine Velasquez. 

Full show

“Nobenta Nostalgia” is intended to be a full show with “sophisticated props and lighting.”

Last Sunday, we saw its “world premiere” at the cozy former jazz bar now turned performance venue at the newly revitalized art space, Pineapple Lab, on Palma Street, Barangay Poblacion, Makati City. Pineapple Lab is the nucleus of the ongoing Fringe Manila 2018.

“We did it here in Fringe just for the sole purpose of testing the material and looking if we have something that we can further develop,” said Palmos. 

The musical is specifically written for Palmos. Two years ago, there was a get-together-thanksgiving party in his house. There was "white elephant" gift exchange and Deldoc didn't bring a gift. 

Phi Palmos as Dennis the monster in 'Nobenta Nostalgia.' Photo by author

“So he took out his handkerchief, tapos sabi niya, ‘Eto ang gift ko. Ang makakakuha nito, gagawan ko ng play.’ Tapos ayun, ako ang nakakuha,” Palmos recalled.

“Though prior to that, when he watched ‘Rak’ for the first time, gusto na niyang gawan ng spin-off 'yung Jewel character. May title na nga siya, ‘Maem Jewel: A Monomusical.’ That's also the first time he came up with that idea na gumawa ako ng monomusical,” he added. 

Deldoc’s prodigious output includes four plays (with three included in Revisited set) in the annual highly competitive Virgin Labfest at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. He also wrote last year’s pre-Christmas offering, “Lukot-lukot, Bilog-bilog” of Tanghalang Pilipino. 

Viana, a long-time member of TP’s Actors Company, also did the production design of TP’s ongoing play, “Nang Dalawin ng Pag-Ibig si Juan Tamad.” In “Nobenta Nostalgia,” Viana, besides agreeing to direct it, also lent his talent in set design.

“Suwerte ako kasi si Marco was able to guide me through the character so malinaw sa akin ang intention at objective no’ng character. I think sincerity ang nagho-hold sa audience to pay attention. Kung words lang kasi at theatrics, wala, you will lose them. Pero if you are sincere, then they will never leave the palm of your hands,” said Palmos.

Palmos defining moment

Palmos said he felt more pressure than pleasure in doing this monologue.

“Mas nakakakaba. Kasi una, ikaw lang sa stage. All eyes on you agad. Unlike when I did Jewel, wala akong scene na ako lang, I was never alone in a scene. May kabatuhan ako sa eksena. But with this, sarili ko ang kabatuhan ko. At kailangan 'yung maintindihan ng audience. Doble ang kaba, pero doble din ang fulfillment pagkatapos,” he said.

In this 70-minute trip down memory lane, we get to savor the most challenging performance of one of the most talented actor-singers in the local performing arts scene. 

Phi Palmos at curtain call with director Marco Viana and playwright Eljay Deldoc behind him (right side). Photo by author

As proof, right after the first show last Sunday, Palmos said in hindsight, “This is the first time that my chest voice was in full use.”

Holding the audience attention for more than an hour doing a monologue is a challenge only few theater actors have delved into in the past few years. We remember Cherie Gil as the magnificent Diana Vreeland in “Full Gallop,” Joel Trinidad in the hilarious “Defending the Caveman,” coincidentally both productions done in the first half of 2014, and just last year, Mae “Juana Change” Paner with “Tao Po.” 

Playing four characters in 70 minutes is no mean Diana Vreeland feat but Palmos could give Cherie Gil a run for her millions.

His friends and fans were one in saying that from being the “Jewel of New Manila” to “Jewel of Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City,” Palmos might be the “Missing Piece of the Performing Arts Pie” in the ever-vibrant Poblacion scene.

(“Nobenta Nostalgia” has two remaining shows, tonight, February 20 and on Sunday, February 25, both at 8 p.m. in the new Pineapple Lab, located at 6053, R. Palma Street, Barangay Poblacion, Makati.)