The very concept of this modern ballet is very interesting indeed -- combining the grace of ballet with the dance music by the timeless Filipino 70s disco band, VST & Co. The advanced promotions for the show were well-concocted making this show one of the most intriguing and most irresistible shows ever produced by Ballet Philippines.
The story opens set in the present, with two elderly people on opposite sides of the stage. Old Victor was a cripple, while old Teresa was bedridden. Then the scene flashed back into the 70s, during the dark Martial Law era in Manila. There was construction worker Victor and his rich colegiala love Teresa, who was also desired by the haughty rich fellow Gabby, who was desired by Lita,
Teresa's friend. Victor's best friend Arturo also longed for Teresa, but soon fell for the earthy charms of Ester, an older "lady of the night" who in turn longed for Victor's attention. Victor's pre-teen brother Lito, who also had a serious crush on Teresa, rebuffed the attention given him by Betty, a sweet young girl of his age.
With such a synopsis of intersecting love interests (written by Bibeth Orteza), it was not too easy keeping up with the events happening on the stage, especially when there was hardly any dialogue. We had to be astute enough to pick up the relationships as they are presented in dance and songs. I admit that if not for the synopsis in the souvenir program, I honestly would not have known who was who, nor understood what was going on.
One cause of confusion for me was the casting of BP company member Garry Corpuz in the lead role of Victor. While the dancing skills of the tall and lanky Corpuz was undeniable and strong, he felt miscast. There was a part in the beginning when Corpuz was dressed up in a wig and girl's uniform, I thought he would be the comic relief of the show, like he was in other BP shows I had seen before. Then it turned out that he was actually playing the romantic lead vis a vis the lovely Denise Parungao dancing Teresa. I felt no chemistry between them. (The alternate cast with Jean Marc Cordero and Rita Winder sounds like a more promising pairing.)
From the opening scene, I was disappointed that I would not be seeing local ballet royalty (and real-life husband and wife) Nonoy Froilan and Edna Vida as old Victor and Teresa. In Act 2 though, Butch Esperanza and especially ballroom specialist Ednah Ledesma would also charm us with their dance moves. Seeing their sweet scenes together, I felt that the Froilan-Vida pairing should definitely be a more romantically thrilling event to witness.
Among the singers, there was also a sense of miscasting. Karylle was so vivacious and vital in the role of Ester, a character who was supposed to be an old fading beauty. Vocally, Karylle was the strongest performer with a stellar rendition of the ballad "Ikaw ang Aking Mahal," followed by the showstopping "Kiss Kiss" number with Michael Pangilinan (as Arturo), which brought the house down at the end of Act 1. (Cookie Chua alternates as Ester, which is interesting knowing their disparity in singing styles.)
Michael Pangilinan sang the title song right at the start of the show as Arturo, setting the lively pace of the show. He gets to sing lead in most of the big hits, smoothly hitting all those falsettos. He also got to sing a dramatic solo "Ikaw ang Aking Pasko" in Act 2. (Sandino Martin alternates as Arturo, and I am sure the acting intensity would be different.)
Unfortunately throughout the show, the singing was affected by the less than perfect sound system. The starting notes of practically all the songs were not heard well from where I was. This was most evident with the voice of Kyle Echarri in the role of Lito. His notes were dropping, it felt like he was forgetting his lyrics. Echarri looked good on that stage, but I never really got to hear his singing voice too well. (Noel Comia alternates as Lito.)
Markki Stroem attacks his antagonist role as Gabby with over-the-top glee. He was so hammy in his portrayal in all three aspects of singing, dancing and acting, he was actually coming across as delightful and funny, the most entertaining performer on that stage. His most memorable number was the opening song of Act 2, "Rock Baby Rock" where Stroem was sporting short hugging shorts. He did not look as trim as his Leading Man character this time, so it looked really amusing, and he camped it up all the way. (Jef Flores alternates in this role, and it would be interesting to see how differently he'd attack this showy role.)
The vocal group Viva Voce gave a powerful performance as the chorus, in songs like "Ipagpatawad Mo" and "Swing". They never had mic issues it seemed, so their vocals sounded strong and flawless. Members Glenda Liao and Anna Dinnah Migallos were also given the opportunity to do some acting as the mothers of Victor and Teresa, respectively. I wished they had spot solos to sing too.
The ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Gerard Salonga was faultless in their live accompaniment of the whole show. Those VST & Co. songs were iconic to begin with, and we can really hear why they were hits back then and why their appeal endures up to the present day.
Frankly, it was very surprising to see and hear the anti-Marcos sentiments the show fearlessly professed. There were posters and banners declaring Marcos's sins. There were scenes of the Metrocom cops being harsh, violent and even lethal during activist demonstrations and rallies. There was a strong sense of irony about this whole scenario, since this show was being staged in the Main Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, a legacy of the Marcos regime. If there were any pro-Marcos members of the audience last night, they were polite. No one walked out, or anything.
Since I watched this show on opening night, I felt there were still a lot of issues that they need to settle down. Not only the sound issues as I mentioned earlier, but there seemed to be a some issues with the blocking of the dancers. There were scenes where the multitude of dancers looked messy, seemingly getting into each other's way on stage, at least from the angle where I was seated. However, when the dancers hit it right and all dancing neatly in precise simultaneity in numbers like "Kiss Kiss" and "Rock Baby Rock" (both choreographed by PJ Rebullida), the scene was truly an amazing vision to watch.
All in all though, opening night glitches, curious casting and complex story line aside, the energetic dancing and the catchy music are a cheerful joy to immerse in.
"Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko" is currently running in the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, from Dec. 2 to 11, 2016, with 8 pm shows on Fridays, and 2pm and 6pm shows on Saturdays and Sunday. Ticket prices range from P 3,090.00 (Price Zone 1) and P 1,545.00 (Price Zone 2) to P 515.00 (Price Zone 6) and P 309.00 (Price Zone 7) through Ticketworld or at the CCP Box Office.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."