Review: 'Maxie' stands out in busy theater year

By Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Nov 27 2013 08:20 PM | Updated as of Nov 28 2013 04:20 AM

Review: 'Maxie' stands out in busy theater year 1 Maxie (Jayvhot Galang) meets Victor (Jojo Riguerra) as his playmates watch in this scene from "Maxie the Musical." Photo by Juliene Mendoza

MANILA -- It is but fitting that one of the most prolific years for local theater should end with "Maxie the Musical," the stage adaptation of the acclaimed indie film "Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros."

It is also heart-warming to note that this original musical, mounted by the relatively new group Bit by Bit Company, proved to be much more satisfying compared to the big Broadway extravaganzas being mounted at the same time by more established theater groups.

In fact, it is already safe to declare that "Maxie the Musical" is definitely among the year's best, particularly in terms of book, music, direction and even set design and lighting.

This shouldn't come as a surprise since its source material, the 2005 film written by Michiki Yamamoto and directed by Aureus Solito, was excellent to begin with -- a heartwarming coming-of-age story of a 12-year-old gay boy who falls in love with an honest cop, much to the dismay of his father and brothers who work as petty thieves.

"Maxie the Musical" successfully took this simple tale of puppy love to the stage, while incorporating some big bombastic numbers at the same time. Those who expect outlandish scenes and bawdy humor given the musical's gay theme will have their fill of comedy-bar jokes and even displays of male flesh. There's a musical shower scene ("Tabo-tabo") with cops in jock straps taking a bath; a fantasy sequence about love in the movies ("Pelikula"); and a 15-minute gay beauty pageant number ("Beaucon"), complete with a talent contest and a question-and-answer portion.

Such crowd-pleasing numbers are sure to leave audiences in stitches but one of the funniest and most creative numbers in the show happens after the intermission, when Maxie's three friends retell the entire first part, taking on various roles.

Ode to Sampaloc

But there are also those who love the movie for its simple drama and positive message of family and acceptance. Fortunately, amid the colorful mayhem of this three-act musical, one can still find those moving, quiet moments . In fact, "Maxie the Musical" is more effective when it delves on family and community.

Review: 'Maxie' stands out in busy theater year 2 The multi-level set suggests a crowded slum area.Photo by Juliene Mendoza

In fact, the story's setting is much more prominent in the musical. To start, production designer Gino Gonzales practically transformed the PETA Theater into the blue-collar Sampaloc neighborhood with clothes hanging on lines throughout the theater ceiling. The multi-level stage suggests the crowded slums with families living on top of each other.

But amid the squalor there is also that sense of belonging, a loving place where kids like Maxie and his friends can thrive. Despite the flamboyant numbers, the ones that truly matter are the evocative opening "Gising Gising," the festive "Munting Nino/Viva Santo Nino Rap" and the musical's centerpiece, "Perdido Eden," as a new chief of police launches a massive assault on the criminality in the area.

And when one talks about love, "Kupal," sung to a broken-hearted Maxie by his older brothers, goes straight to the heart ("Isang araw magigising na lang ang iyong pusong nasugatan/mauubos din ang luha at sakit/at di na magtatanong kung bakit").

The composers, William Elvin Manzano, JJ Pimpinio and Janine Santos, also took their musical cues from Sampaloc, resulting in a wild mix of OPM styles from kanto rock and rap to Regine Velasquez-inspired ballads. The shower sequence was obviously a parody of novelty acts like Masculados. The music of "Maxie the Musical" is appropriate for the stage and radio-friendly at the same time, theatrical but authentic -- a rare feat for local musicals.

Playwright Nicolas Pichay and director Dexter Santos were able to fashion a musical that celebrates and embraces its gayness, while painting a larger picture about the complexities of Philippine society and the importance of family among Filipinos. "Maxie the Musical" may at times feel like two very different musicals yet, like the neighborhood it depicts, these two story lines do not have to be at odds with each other.

Much of this co-existence has to do with Jayvhot Galang's performance in the title role. Discovered on YouTube by the musical's creators, the high school student proved to be an energetic yet lovable performer. Although his voice sometimes didn't match the music (his falsetto is weak even if he can belt out high notes), he was indefatigable, particularly in the many comic scenes with his friends, played with so much glee by Aaron Ching, Teetin Villanueva and Nomer Limatog Jr.

Jojo Riguerra as Maxie's love interest Victor exudes a kind yet charismatic presence but it is the trio of Nazer Salcedo, Al Gatmaitan and especially Jay Gonzaga as Maxie's macho family that really provides the heart of the musical.

"Maxie the Musical" is not just about entertainment even if it works hard to please its primary audience. There is a depth of emotion behind it that ultimately inspires and gives hope. In short, it has everything that one wants to experience in a stage musical.

"Maxie the Musical" runs until December 8 at the PETA Theater Center, New Manila, Quezon City.