Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Last night, my daughter and I were lucky enough to acquire tickets to a special preview of "Hairspray" staged by Atlantis Production at the Star Theater in the CCP Complex. Since the feel-good Broadway musical was just so recently given the Hollywood treatment again in the 2007 film with John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and Zac Efron, the characters, story and songs are still quite fresh in my mind. And the thought of seeing these songs come alive on stage was very exciting.

The show opened a bit awkwardly with plus-sized teenager Tracy Turnblad (played by Ateneo junior Madel Ching in her major stage debut) in bed singing "Good Morning Baltimore." There were still microphone glitches at that point as Ching's lyrics could hardly be heard, but the energy and sincerity of her performance carried her through. However, starting with the second scene set at the Corny Collins (Leo Rayos) tv show, everything picked up more steam and this high level was sustained through the whole show.

The first thing you would see and admire are the vibrant costumes and very colorful set pieces. Everything was in multicolored polka dots or plaid or some psychedelic designs of the era. They should fix Amber's wig though as her hair was not neat and not most fab out there (considering that she was running for Miss Hairspray). There was no questioning why this is a Broadway hit, since the songs are very catchy and the choreography was very energetic. Of course, needless to say, the star-studded cast was so consistently exuberant!

I honestly could not imagine Michael de Mesa as Edna Turnblad (Tracy's mom) at first. But after the initial shock of seeing him in a fat suit and dowdy housedress, Mr. de Mesa definitely got into the groove of performing in drag. He is a scene stealer every time he appears on stage, and was especially funny with his various voice inflections. You really have to see it to believe it. My favorite was his very charming duet song and dance number with Leo Rialp (as Edna's husband Wilbur Turnblad) "You're Timeless to Me."

Ms. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo was so effectively glamourous yet sinister as the villainess Velma von Tussle, as expected. Nyoy Volante's acting was so smooth and really grooved so fluidly as Seaweed J. Stubbs. I never thought he could dance very well. Dulce played Motormouth Maybelle with that right combination of sass and dignity. Her rendition of the power ballad "I Know Where I've Been" was a definite show-stopper. Ok, that may have been expected, but Ms. Dulce's funky outift and dancing was pleasantly not expected at all. It was so rad (to use an expression of that era).

It was really enjoyable seeing every single "teenager" on that stage, from the leads to the chorus, all projecting undeniable energy.

It was also very remarkable that the lead roles of Link Larkin and Tracy Turnblad both went to newcomers to the world of theater. Tim Espinosa had great stage presence, and a grand time flashing that constant smile and making all the girls swoon as the teen heartthrob Link. He was also effective in the more serious moments with Tracy. His rendition of "Ladies' Choice" may only be ok vocally, but hey, the attitude and moves were all there, and this was only their first public performance! I think this signals the arrival of another leading man for the stage.

As the heart and soul of the play, Madel Ching clearly loves her character Tracy and lives her spirit. She was obviously nervous at the beginning as her movements were tentative but lyrics were not too well enunciated. However with every subsequent song and dance number, you feel her confidence was building up to that of a seasoned pro. She possesses the requisite charm and friendliness of all the other Tracys before her, very cute!

I also liked how they staged "Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now" (not in the 2007 film, featuring the three moms and daughters Tracy, Amber and Penny). And of course, who would not enjoy and even feel like dancing along to the finale number, "You Can't Stop the Beat"?

There were many young kids in the audience last night, including my 8 year old daughter. But there were some definite rated PG scenes, like grabbing of some body parts (by Ms. Enchang Kaimo no less!). But these were hilarious and all done in the spirit of clean fun!

Overall, the Atlantis production of "Hairspray" definitely retains its reputation as a pure feel-good crowd pleaser. It is really fun to watch! The color, glitz and energy of the whole production made it rise above the rather low key venue of the Star Theater, or the difficulty of portraying US racial issues using an all-Filipino cast. Congratulations to director Mr. Bobby Garcia and the rest of the cast and crew for a job very well done!


Hairspray is directed by Bobby Garcia, choreography by Cecile Martinez, sets and costumes by Gino Gonzales, lighting design by Shoko Matsumoto and Musical Director Archie Castillo conducts FILharmoniKA. It runs from Nov. 14 to Dec. 7 at the Star Theatre, CCP Complex. Tickets are on sale now by calling Atlantis Productions at 892-7078, 840-1187 or Ticketworld at 891-9999.
Lower Orchestra Php 1,200 (Rows A-I)Upper Orchestra Php 1,000 (Rows J-S)Loge Php 800 (Rows T-X)Balcony Php 600 (Rows Y-Z)


Philippine Daily Inquirer: November 09, 2008

'Hairspray' : new musical theater stars

By Chari ArespacochagaPhilippine Daily InquirerFirst Posted 23:59:00 11/09/2008

MANILA, Philippines - We all saw how the most recent “Hairspray” movie found its adorable Tracy in the person of the very adorable Nikki Blonsky. She was said to have screamed with delight in her barista uniform when she found out she was to play the lead role in the movie. Needless to say, a star was born.

When “Hairspray” debuted on Broadway in 2002, in the cast with the powerhouses were young and upcoming performers Laura Bell Bundy as Amber, Kerri Butler as Penny and Matthew Morrison as Link.

The show went on to win numerous Tony awards, and the young performers went on to become Broadway stars in their own right.

Bundy created the role of Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.” Butler donned an Australian accent and some leg warmers—much to to the audience’s delight—in “Xanadu.”

Morrison has become one of Broadway’s favorite romantic leads with acclaimed back-to-back turns in “Light in the Piazza” and last year’s Tony-winning revival of “South Pacific.”

Young pack
As Atlantis Productions’ highly anticipated “Hairspray” draws closer and closer to its Manila premiere, one can’t help but wonder at the future some theater newcomers will face after they begin their professional careers with this show.

Until then, they will be busy dancing and singing to the delightful music of “Hairspray.”
Leading the young pack are Madel Ching and Tim Espinosa playing Tracy Turnblad and Link Larkin, respectively.

Madel was a discovery from Ateneo Blue Repertory, where she played the hip-hopping nerd in “High School Musical.” When she auditioned for the role, it was clear that, with her ebullience and cheer and constant state of joy, she was perfect for Tracy.

Tim was one of the members of Star Magic Batch 15 at ABS-CBN, after coming home to the Philippines from the US. Before this, he was training as a dancer and actor with various community groups in California.

Giving strong support to Madel and Tim are the rest of the Baltimore kids: Criena House, Mark Tayag, Christine Allado, Lee Villoria, Erika Cedilla, Michael Odoemene and Karla Reyes.
Largely products of summer workshops and school theater and music organizations, they are brought together by their love for Broadway and affinity for the show. After all, how many shows are there for young performers to be able to perform in and play their own ages?

Madel recalls: “I’ve known ‘Hairspray’ since I was in high school. I fell in love with it, mostly because I identified with Tracy and everything that she stood for. She was a girl who, like me, just wanted to dance, sing and perform for people. So when I heard Atlantis was going to do it in Manila, I knew I couldn’t let the chance pass.”

Now that they are all past the audition jitters and are in the thick of rehearsals for the show, the challenges and expectations have grown.

Lee, who plays Little Inez, shares: “Rehearsing for ‘Hairspray’ is wonderful! It’s an honor for me to be working with some of the hardcore theater people of our country.”

The theater stalwarts he’s referring to include Michael de Mesa, Leo Rialp, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Noel Rayos, Enchang Kaimo and Dulce.

Mark says: “Tito Leo once told me, ‘You have to give three times what you’re giving now so your story can reach the very back of the theater.’ And I try to always bear that in mind.”

They also recall the day when Dulce belted her way in and out of her songs and they were just stunned into silence (an unusual occurrence in a room of hyper kids).

Says Tim: “I am learning so much from all of them and not just about performing but more about the values that give performers longevity—perseverance, hard work, discipline and time management.”

All rehearsals, of course, must end with a show. And, at this prospect, their excitement is palpable.
Christine says: “All of the elements of musical theater are hyped up and exaggerated to the highest level in ‘Hairspray.’ The singing is intense, the dancing is extreme, the acting is exaggerated (in a good way), the sets are fabulous, the costumes are adorable, and the story is just perfect, really. We promise, at the end of everything, you’ll find yourself giddy and at the edge of your seat because of the euphoria that ‘Hairspray’ brings!”

Acclaimed director Mike Nichols, while teaching an acting class, once said: “The actor’s job is to say his lines for the first time. Each time.”

And if the fine rapture of that first time is what counts, then these young ones are all a good reason to come and watch “Hairspray.”

“Hairspray” runs Nov. 14-Dec. 7 at the Star Theater, CCP Complex. For tickets, call Atlantis Productions at 8927078, 8401187 or Ticketworld at 8919999.