Theater review: Inspired casting banners new 'Zsazsa Zaturnnah'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Mar 19 2023 01:06 PM

Kim Molina as Zsazsa Zaturnnah with the ensemble. Kyle Venturillo
Kim Molina as Zsazsa Zaturnnah with the ensemble. Kyle Venturillo

Ada (Phi Palmos, Adrian Lindayag, Shaun Ocrisma) was a serious gay guy who lived in a small province town. He earned a living by running his own beauty salon. His loyal best friend was his very gay, very gregarious assistant Didi (Almond Bolante, Joshua Cabiladas, Robert Bradley Hao). The two friends were used to being the butt of jokes in their community but they boldly charge on being themselves. Ada's crush was the strapping guy at the vulcanizing shop, Dodong (Juan Carlos Galano, Jude Matthew Servilla, Elian Dominguez).

One night, a glowing pink rock fell into the bathroom where Ada was taking a bath. Didi convinced Ada to go ahead and swallow it to gain superpowers. When Ada shouted the word "Zaturnnah" which was written on the rock, he was transformed into a sexy woman with red hair and a healthy bosom, whom they would christen Zsazsa Zaturnnah (Kim Molina). They would soon discover that while Zsazsa possessed powers of super-strength and super-speed, she did not possess Ada's skills for cutting hair and doing makeup.

This comic homage to Filipino super-heroine Darna originated from the pages of a 2002 graphic novel written by Carlo Vergara. In 2006, Tanghalang Pilipino staged an adaptation of this cult-favorite into a musical with book by Chris Martinez, music by Vincent de Jesus and direction by Chris Millado. The original cast was led by Eula Valdez as the titular heroine, with Tuxqs Rutaquio as Ada, Ricci Chan as Didi and Arnold Reyes as Dodong. This show had seven runs up to 2011, TP's longest-running musical show. 

Kim Molina as Zsazsa Zaturnnah, Juan Carlos Galano as Dodong and Phi Palmos as Ada. Kyle Venturillo
Kim Molina as Zsazsa Zaturnnah, Juan Carlos Galano as Dodong and Phi Palmos as Ada. Kyle Venturillo

In this press show, all the lead actors had powerful belting singing voices which matched de Jesus's soulful arrangements perfectly. Body-wise and voice-wise, Kim Molina, much missed on the musical stage after memorable lead roles in "Rak of Aegis" and "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady," is a perfect choice to play Zsazsa. 

Phi Palmos has been playing all the major gay characters in recent musicals like "Ang Huling El Bimbo" and "Mula sa Buwan," making his casting as Ada an inspired choice as well. 

The role of Didi was written for an effortless scene-stealer. The actor who played him needed a strong stage presence, precise comic timing and Jennifer Hudson-like vocals -- and fortunately, they were able to find this rare combination of talent in the incredible Almond Bolante. 

Kim Molina as Zsazsa Zaturnnah, and Almond Bolante as Didi. Jaypee Martistaza
Kim Molina as Zsazsa Zaturnnah, and Almond Bolante as Didi. Jaypee Martistaza

Juan Carlos Galano had the handsome face and chiseled body to play the neighborhood dreamboat Dodong. The vocal demands of his first song may have been a bit beyond his range, but by his final song, he has proved his worth as singer as well. 

Kakki Teodoro seemed born to play the silver-clad and formidable alien dominatrix, Queen Femina Suarestellar Baroux. Her excellent command of complex English dialogue and fluidly dynamic speaking and singing voice more than made up for her diminutive stature. 

Her four minions, the Amazonistas, were hilarious parodies of local movie queens, Nora A, Sharon C, Dina B and Vilma S. During their featured song number, Carlin Maximo, Jelena Evangelista, Dani Tan, and Heart Romeo all showed off their remarkably distinctive vocals.

This latest revival, presented by Rizal Library, co-presented by Aret√© Ateneo, and #Ateneo Blue Repertory, had updated the original script with various pop references of events and trends which had transpired since the last staging and the present. Some story elements about how badly gays are treated may seem dated at first. However, after a while, you'd eventually realize that, SOGIE Bill and all, perhaps not much had actually changed and they still feel persecuted, not only by society, but also within their families. 

Kim Molina as Zsassa Zaturnnah, Kakki Teodoro as Queen Femina, Almond Bolante as Didi with the ensemble. Kyle Venturillo
Kim Molina as Zsassa Zaturnnah, Kakki Teodoro as Queen Femina, Almond Bolante as Didi with the ensemble. Kyle Venturillo

I was seated in one of the two mosh pits on both sides of the catwalk. While they give a very close-up view of the actors, it was not easy for me to keep track of everything happening on different parts of the stage, especially the end of the catwalk which was behind me. I imagine it might actually be better to sit in the bleachers at the back in order to see the whole stage. During press night, there were sound and mic glitches, damaged props and a number of gags which did not fly -- nothing too serious that can't be corrected in the next shows. 

Director Missy Maramara had a talented team working with her, with musical director Vincent de Jesus, lighting designer D Cortezano and sound engineer John Robert “Ago” Yam. The most challenging technicals should be the production and costume designs by Tata Tuviera. He had to create the illusion of the giant frog attacking the town and how to show that Zsazsa could uproot a big tree and throw it into the sky. His eye-catching costumes for Zsazsa, Femina, the Amazonistas, as well as the zombies, all deserve commendation. 

"ZSA ZSA ZATURNNAH THE MUSICAL...'YUN LAN !!!!" plays from March 17 to April 2, 2023 at the Doreen Fernandez Black Box Theater, Arete, Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."