Mio Infante's design process for the set of Peta's 'Rak of Aegis'

'Luha,' 'Basang Basa sa Ulan'-yes, it's a watery world for Peta's 'Rak of Aegis'
By Walter Ang
Dec. 28, 2013
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Mio Infante's set design perspectives
for "Rak of Aegis"
The music of the popular Filipino band "Aegis" will be featured in Philippine Educational Theater Association's (Peta) staging of its original jukebox musical "Rak of Aegis."

The rock-comedy musical will have songs such as "Halik," "Sinta," "Luha" and "Basang Basa sa Ulan," rearranged by musical director Myke Salomon.

The cast is led by Isay Alvarez-Seña, Robert Seña, Aicelle Santos ("Katy!"), and Poppert Bernadas ("Lorenzo"). Peta artistic director Maribel Legarda will direct.

Inspired by Tropical Storm "Ondoy" and the flooding that came with it, Liza Magtoto wrote a script set in the flooded barangay of Villa Venizia where its residents face compromising situations: natural disasters and broken hearts.

Bright idea
Legarda approached set designer Mio Infante to create the watery world for this production. His semi-arena set is envisioned to have "actual knee-high-deep water."

Infante's recent design credits (set and costumes) include Triumphant Peoples Evangelistic Theater Society's (Trumpets)' "The Bluebird of Happiness" and 9 Works Theatrical's "Grease" (where he also served as associate artistic director), though he's been designing for theater, dance, television and live concerts since the '90s.

"I was a young actor in Repertory Philippines   once upon a time, while juggling studies at the University of the Philippines' College of Architecture," he says. "One day, somebody had a bright idea of me assisting the then resident set designer at Rep by drawing design studies.

"After a couple of months, the designer had a big row with Tita Bibot [Amador] (then founding artistic director) and walked out during tech week. That was my baptism of fire.

"Good thing everyone at Rep was very encouraging and my professors at the college were more than willing to help give me tips. Before I knew it, I was designing all of eight plays and two small musicals in Rep's annual season."

After college, Infante also designed for Tanghalang Pilipino and Trumpets. He finished his Master of Arts in Scenography/Theatre Design at the Wimbledon School of Art in London in 1997.

In his maiden production for Peta, Infante found the technical challenges that the script called for "interesting."

"I have previously designed for black-box (theaters that are essentially "empty" spaces with no permanent seating nor stages) staging with the water element, but this is the first time I've had to incorporate the floodway as an ever-present scenic element, that the actors negotiate on throughout the play.

"We looked into how Filipinos adapted to unceasing flood conditions in their communities and the remarkable resilience of the Pinoy spirit."

Infante has designed several original productions for Trumpets, though his discography lists mainly foreign material that have been staged locally.

"I find that there is not much of a difference between designing a licensed Broadway material and  doing original productions," he says.

"First, I ask to know why the show is being staged, and for whom, and where it will be staged. The collaboration among the creative team (and playwrights, if original) takes on a very special route for each and every production.

"On arriving at a mise-en-scene for the show, it takes a lot of discussion with the creative team, a great deal of scenographic research while aligning expectations and managing realistic production budgets."

"Rak of Aegis" will showcase the Aegis band's chart-toppers such as "Luha," "Halik," "Sundot," "Christmas Bonus" and "Basang Basa sa Ulan," performed by--aside from the Seña couple, Santos and Bernadas--a cast that includes Joan Bugcat, Ro Alfonso, Jet Barrun, Kakai Bautista, Poppert Bernadas, Gimbey dela Cruz, Neomi Gonzales, Pepe Herrera, Carlon Matobato, Julienne Mendoza, John Moran, Jerald Napoles, Gie Onida, Phillip Palmos, Myke Salomon, Paeng Sudayan and Gold Villar.

"Rak of Aegis," says the Peta press statement announcing the show, "is a musical filled with visual spectacle showcasing the Pinoy's natural love for music and innate resilience in the face of calamity.

The musical is created by the same women behind Peta's hit comedy musical  "Care Divas," Peta artistic director Maribel Legarda and Palanca Award-winning writer Liza Magtoto, with musical arrangement and musical direction by actor-musician Myke Salomon.

"Rak of Aegis" has choreography by Gio Gahol, costume design by Carlo Pagunaling and lighting design by Jon Jon Villareal.

It runs Jan. 31, 2013-March 9, 2014 at Peta-Phinma Theater, Peta Theater Center, 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City (behind Quezon City Sports Club). Contact 7256244, 0917-5765400 or petatheater@gmail.com.

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REVIEW: 'Maxie The Musicale' – long and loud, but heartwarming

'Maxie The Musicale' – long and loud, but heartwarming
By Walter Ang
Dec. 7, 2013
Philippine Daily Inquirer

In Bit by Bit Company's "Maxie The Musicale," the irrepressibly ebullient Jayvhot Galang as Maxie and the impossibly handsome Jojo Riguerra as Victor, the policeman that Maxie has a crush on, cut striking, beautiful figures on stage.

Based on the 2005 film "Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros," written by Michiko Yamamoto and directed by Auraeus Solito, the adaptation by Nicolas Pichay follows protagonist Maximo Oliveros, a bubbly tween who knows what he wants and finds ways to get it.

Unfortunately, the musical he inhabits doesn't really quite know what it wants to be just yet. Like a hot mess of a tranny with too many feathers and ribbons, the self-indulgent staging is overly long and overly loud.

Too bad, because the musical is a loving, heartwarming coming-of-age tale that struggles to break out of a closet whose door is blocked by bells, whistles, smoke, mirrors and the proverbial kitchen sink.

Forever and ever
The production doesn't know if it wants to be a musical, a statement on low-income communities, a Sto. Niño procession, a gay beauty pageant, a funeral procession, or a repository for numbers seemingly inspired by foreign musicals like the pick-pocketing song from "Oliver!," the stripping security guards (showering policemen in this case) from "The Full Monty," the riot police (complete with the transparent shields) from "Billy Elliot," and the barricade scene from "Les Miserables."

To be fair, songs that don't really push the story along are par for the course in musicals (after all, the most famous song out of "Hello, Dolly" is a bunch of waiters welcoming their favorite patron to a club). Nonetheless, while the scenes listed above are clearly intended to add color and fun to the proceedings, they suffer from being overly directed (let's bring down the coffin from the second floor!) and overly featured (let's devote a whole 15 minutes for the pageant!).

Because of, or in spite of, having three composers (William Elvin Manzano, Janine Santos and JJ Pimpinio), and even with a variety of genres (ballad, rap, R&B, etc.) employed, the songs feel tiresome because there is no particularly striking melody. They all start to sound alike after a while, and each one seems to go on forever and ever.

Also, the faulty sound system (inexcusable on the second week of a production's run; of a musical, no less) blasts the live band's music, drowning out all of librettist Pichay's lyrics whenever the ensemble sings together.

Community as character
The musical opens promisingly enough, with Maxie's neighbors erupting into a boisterous introduction to the craziness of their milieu. The community's characters shine bright in Gino Gonzales's silverwashed, textured set design, illuminated subtly by lighting designer John Batalla.

This is a great way to tell us that Maxie's sense of self is intertwined with where he lives and who has been raising him. We're the Sampaloc community, we're loud and proud, get used to it.

But, boy, does director Dexter Santos want to make sure we really and truly get it. On top of the flawed sound system, he has all his actors sing and talk at the top of their lungs for every single song and every single scene.

When Greg de Leon sings as the antagonist police chief, his solid baritone bellows above everyone else's voices. Is everyone in the cast competing for the Philippines' Next Top Loudest Singer (or maybe they can't hear themselves over the sound system)?

Running at three hours, the production even has a recap of Acts 1 and 2. Clearly, it knows how long it's taking and is afraid it's lost the audience's attention along the way. Thankfully, despite the bloated length, the main plot is strong enough to withstand the extraneous devices.

Deft vocals
The sound system lets up during duets and solos, allowing audiences to hear Galang's deft vocal maneuverings. While he lacks technique for some songs requiring a falsetto, his trailing curlicues and soulful delivery are great, while his torch songs and finale anthem are highlights.

Riguerra's thoughtful characterization and Santos' staging sidesteps the movie's creepy, pedophilic camera gaze. The musical articulates Maxie's blossoming adoration of Victor in a clever nod to its provenance: A fun, fantasy explosion where he sings "kay ganda ng kulay ng pelikula," framing Victor as a movie hero.

How does a boy from a family of petty thieves and a policeman who's bent on clearing the streets forge a connection? Friends and family knock sense into Maxie as he turns difficult but crucial corners.

Aaron Ching stands out in Maxie's barkada-as-Greek-chorus. Maxie is also given a frenemy-turned-friend, though he's completely superfluous.

The strong performances and singing are the heart of the show. Roeder Camañag (Nazer Salcedo, alternate) as the father provides gravitas. As the brothers, Jay Gonzaga is funny and OJ Mariano (Al Gatmaitan, alternate) is tender.

It is in the intimate, vulnerable moments with his family that Maxie knows of true security and unconditional love. The four actors in this family express genuine affection for each other and anchor the show, allowing audiences to cheer for underpuppy Maxie through his trials as a brave tween, and his blossoming into a fabulous teenager.

"Maxie The Musicale" has remaining performances Saturday and Sunday at Peta-Phinma Theater, Peta Theater Center (behind Quezon City Sports Club), Quezon City. Call 0917-8427346 or 891-9999 Ticketworld)) or 470-2222 (SM Tickets).

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