BWW Review: Ateneo Blue Repertory's 'Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady'
Manila, Philippines--Ateneo Blue Repertory's take on "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" is downright engaging: a no-dull-moment rollick of riot and fun. Where most comedy musicals fail, this two-hour comedy does not lollygag in its intent to entertain nonstop, and we have the millennials' boundless energy and raw talent to thank for. Not to mention playwright Carlo Vergara's campy wit that packs in the tummy cramp.
"Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" is the tongue-in-cheek story of Mely, a lowly labandera, and her young and wild sister, Viva, who set on two polar missions to "save the world."
This world--Vergara's world, of course--is littered with comic book superheroes/heroines, out-of-this-world villains, and fantabulous costumes, tiaras, and capes. Vergara's storyline may be sabaw in premise, but make no fashion faux pas about it--it reels in genuine tears when it decides so.
Social Commentary in Cosplay
Vergara's "Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah ze Muzikal" may have been a bigger hit, but "Leading Lady" has a more serious cape to flaunt. It bemoans special preference for foreign superheroes/heroines with white skin and well-educated barako men.
Mely and Viva's rise from the laundry room woes to super-heroine shoutout status is, clearly now, not merely a matter of coincidence. Vergara seems to be pushing to the max that underdog status that local singing contests have now banked on, and in the process gives hope to those, who may not be as privileged as the young actors that play the show, to persist despite the odds. The China swipe may have earned instantaneous guffaws in the small theater, but we all knew it was belted out on a serious note, pardon the pun.
When asked at the lobby by a pair of amiable student ushers, I candidly stated that I was looking for some fresh and raw energy that night. The great Bibot Amador once said that if there's one thing that saved a bad show, it's great energy.
With the opening delayed by almost an hour, I was in fact poised for a bad show. Thankfully, I got what I hoped for (not the bad show fear) in an overwhelming dose-the company's energy was dynamically progressive from start to finish. Scene after scene, I was on the verge of falling off my seat, laughing my guts out and impressed at the impeccable comedic timing and smooth scene transitions.
When the lights finally went out, I was sapped of my energy, no thanks to these wonderful performers who led the cast:
Natasha Cabrera as Mely is perfectly cast. Her unmistakable Pinay looks and flawless singing voice (I was thinking Lea Salonga in comedy the whole night!), that does not falter a single bit, are all leading lady stamps. She has the flair for both the comedic and the dramatic, singing her character through every note with laudable conviction.
Not to be outsmarted, Ashe Uy as Viva exudes the chutzpah necessary to play alongside Cabrera's Mely, but hers has more skies to cover, and she exploits them with wit, humor, and campy epicness.
Jerome Fugoso as Senyor Blangko steals the show and owns every moment he has on stage. His antics will surely floor you, and given his talent for textured singing and portrayal, he has a lot of room to grow in the show.
Arianna Norton as Madre de Dios demands equal attention. Whatever she lacked in vocal strength that night, she did make up for with sheer commanding presence, and a lot of poise.
Hans Braga's Leading Man has that puny speaking voice and boyish good looks in perfect contrast to his well-chiseled pecs and washboard abs, making him the perfect apprentice among the league of superheroes.
Much of the success, credit goes to the wonderful ensemble of young actors, who steered the show in the right energy, focus, and direction.
Direction, Music, Choreography, Sets and Lights
Issa Manalo Lopez's direction is one that is seamless and employs the right amount of drama without losing the show's comedic focus. As a result, you have a show that is ridiculously hilarious and subliminally painful, without trying hard to be so.
"Leading Lady's" original music (Vincent De Jesus) and new music (Kevin Maske) meld well in their intent to deliver solid comedic jabs and occasional reflective uppercuts complemented by Delphine Buencamino's flamboyant-yet-no-nonsense choreography that brings out the millennial character in the material.
The ergonomic sets (Benjamin Padero, Carlo Tabije) pave the way for the director's intent for smooth scene transitions making them an important part of the show that moves with the show. Joseph Matheu's light design also deserves an honorable mention.
The Verdict: "Leading Lady" is a musical on Red Bull with a lot of superpowers and poise; you'll forget the real world even for just two hours.
"Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" runs from April 22 until May 1, 2017, at Rizal Mini Theater, Faber Hall, Ateneo de Manila University. For ticket inquiries, contact Stephanie Escuadro at 0956 8452030.
Photos: Chong Alarde, Jeff Pascual