Saturday, 24 September 2016

Musical Review: The Jersey Boys

The Jersey Boys: L-R - Christian Bautista, Nyoy Volante, Markki Stroem and Nino Alejandro

(Excerpt from my article featured in 
www.pep.ph)
The award-winning musical “Jersey Boys,” the bio­­graphical musical based on the story of the 40-year-friendship of the legendary, world-famous Frankie Valli-led American doo-wop boy band The Four Seasons, had its Philippine premiere last September 24, with an all-Filipino cast of acoustic-pop royalty, swoon-worthy romantic balladeers as well as a powerhouse rock musician whose kin are among OPM legends. It will run for a limited 15 shows only, on the weekends from September 23 until October 16, at the Meralco Theater in Ortigas, Pasig City.
This brand new version of the musical, the 40th production of the theater group Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group (ATEG), which recently presented the newly re-imagined production of the disco marathon "Saturday Night Fever: The Musical" (an award-winning and long-running Broadway production based on jukebox hits), featured scenic design and staging to the lights design and costumes that are unique to this production. In the last 14 years, ATEG has brought to Manila stage the best of Broadway via Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar, Dream Girls, Avenue Q, The Addams Family and Rock of Ages, among many others.
All four cast members have had a history working with Atlantis - acoustic balladeer  Nyoy Volante (as lead vocalist Frankie Valli) in “Rock of Ages” and “In the Heights;” Asian pop superstar  Christian Bautista (as singer-songwriter, keyboardist and quiet genius Bob Gaudio) in “Ghost The Musical;” singer-actor Markki Stroem (as the hot-headed lead guitarist and arrogant gambler Tommy DeVito) in “Next to Normal” and “Carrie: The Musical;” and The Voice finalist Nino Alejandro (as the hilarious bass player Nick Massi, a founding member of the band) in “The Bridges of Madison County.”
As solo music artists, all four stellar cast members come from different music genres but these intelligent and great musicians truly can understand musical styles from different eras, succeeding in replicating the voices, high-pitched harmonies (especially Frankie Valli’s trademark three-octave range and incredible falsetto pitch) and distinctive doo-wop sound and style of singing of each member of The Four Seasons, getting both the correct signature four-part harmonies and also the proper dramatic impact their roles required.
Their ability to morph into the respective characters they played also made them good theater actors. They obviously did research on who their respective characters (going as are far back as the characters’ birth), but they also did “put a little bit of themselves” into their characters to avoid coming across as too mechanical or robotic in their performances.
The direct and honest Nyoy, with his small stature but crazy, laser clear high falsetto (perfect for the role of Frankie Valli), intensely believes in his character. He convincingly mutates from the unlucky but hopeful teenager to the regretful fallen idol, channeling the happy and angry feelings in his life as he sings.
Christian’s superbly polished performance convincingly portrayed the confident bravado that Bob had and mirrored the precise and calculating nature of his character. Nino’s occasional comic outbursts added to the overall energy of the show. Markki, in his glitter jacket, is as suave as any of the smoothest crooners. Individually, all four were solid performers but they were also tight as a group.
Prior to the premiere of this musical, little was known by the public about the group's history because the magazines of the era didn't write much about them. It showed how the Four Seasons got together, and on to their meteoric rise and descent (truly a classic American story of “rags to riches and back to rags”), all told from different, and often contrasting, points of view of the band members who each gives his own perspective on its history and music directly to the audience (a little distracting at first), via the four symbolic seasons.
Spring, by DeVito, explains how the band forms and Frankie’s coming of age story. Summer, by Gaudio, begins the superstar rise of the Four Seasons. Fall, told by Massi, showcases the band’s succumbing to their newfound Fame. Finally, winter, by Valli, wraps up the show and the band’s story.  The storyline and subplots had a lot of comedic character moments.
The Jersey Boys’ music, by Four Season band member Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe, the Four Seasons' real-life record producer, was set to a generation of iconic and unforgettable hits that continue to be played and covered up to now.  Some 33 songs were featured in the show, including 5 No. 1 hits and 11 songs that made the Billboard’s Top 10.  However, 19 hit songs by the Four Seasons or Frankie Valli didn’t make it into the show, including four Top 10 hits.
The show started out slow as the dramatized account of the stage production made it more of a biopic rather than a musical and the audience had to wait for some time before Frankie made our feet tap to the show’s first real track - "Sherry," followed by “Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like A Man, the three songs that propelled them to stardom. Thanks to Bobby's songs, Frankie continued to have success as a solo artist, hitting the jackpot with “C’mon Marianne,” the almost-never-released “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You" (which Bobby fights to get airplay for) and “Working My Way Back to You."
During the show, other songs were sung during momentous and tragic moments in their lives - "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)" when a tense Bob chalks up a personal first by losing his virginity in a Chicago hotel room at Christmas; the tear-jerking "My Eyes Adored You" when Frankie and Mary divorce due to constant touring strains; “Big Man in Town” when things strain between Tommy and Bob; “Stay/Let’s Hang On!” when Nick declares that he's tired of everything and wants out; “Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby, Goodbye)”  when Frankie breaks up with girlfriend Lorraine; "Fallen Angel" when Francine, Frankie’s daughter with Mary, dies from a drug overdose; and “Rag Doll”  when the original four members reunite on stage one last time during their 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  
Near the end of the show, they sang “Who Loves You” as each member, in turn, took a moment to address the audience, explaining his pride at having been with the band and briefly noting what he did afterwards. The show ended with a standing ovation from the truly appreciative crowd. 
Jamie Esteva Wilson, Bibo Reyes, Nelsito Gomez, Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante (wife of Nyoy), Yanah Laurel, Giannina Ocampo-Van Hoven, Altair Alonso, Steven Conde, Rhenwyn Gabalonzo, Emeline Carmela Guinid, Kendrick Ibasco, Gab Medina and Timmy Pavino round out the cast.
The 2-level, gray and drab and surprisingly non-descript set (which included a metal catwalk), designed by Faust Peneyra, captured the industrial grittiness and appeal of the Four Seasons’ New Jersey, a reminder of the boys’ working class backgrounds. Placed toward the back of the stage, it served as a concert stage, a recording studio, nightclub, jail cell and hotel room.  It allowed plenty of space for props, items for scene changes (such as a recording booth that was constantly wheeled or shoved into the center stage), choreography being performed and instruments to be placed.  A projection screen is displayed to signal time and scene change.
The choreography (mostly shoulder and leg thrusts), by Cecile Martinez, was simple and uncomplicated but very effective, sexy and cool. The costumes, designed by Erwin Tan, included some vintage suits, ties and dresses, all fun to wear and accurate for the period.
The musical was fast and furious as the scenes were so quick. Members of the truly first-rate ensemble had to play multiple roles, with nearly 80 characters for the women alone, meaning dozen of costume changes and they had to be quick. The colorful lighting, by Driscoll Otto, washed the stage with a Liberace-style essence.
Directed by seasoned stage director and ATEG co-founder Bobby Garcia (he pulled it off seamlessly), the show’s libretto was penned by book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, sound design by Justin Stasiw, musical direction by Ceejay Javier, vocal coaching by Manman Angsico, and hair & makeup design by Johann Dela Fuente.
“Jersey Boys,” truly a piece of theater with a timeless story and a well-crafted biographical musical, is a celebration of the unforgettable music of The Four Seasons and is, at the same time, a gritty but heartfelt true-to-life tale, told with dramatic clarity, of friendship, love, family, stardom, following your dream and dealing with the realities that that brings, creating  a new awareness about The Four Seasons, especially with younger people.  
Aside from bringing their fantastic story to life, this musical also honored the legends who created the music that defined the boomer generation who took drugs, sex, rebellion and  rock and roll to a whole new level. The songs, played with an energy to them that was amazing to hear, lifted us higher and higher and made us leave the theater feeling so good. The show was pure genius.
This 2.5-hour (including a 15-min. intermission) musical is only recommended for ages 12+ as the show contains smoke, gun shots, strobe lights, drug references, sexual situations and authentic “profane Jersey language” (including a lot of f__k bombs).
The Four Seasons who, alongside the Beach Boys, Motown and Memphis soul, fought their way to the top of the music charts even during the phenomenal "Beatlemania," The Rolling Stones and British Invasion in the mid-1960s (the “Golden Era of Music,” specifically the birth of what is now Rock and Roll). These four sons of Italian immigrants went, from singing on street corners in the various housing projects in Newark, northern New Jersey (the title refers to the fact that the band members were all from here), to singing on national television as their songs charted 24 Top-30 hits from 1962 to 1968.  They wrote their own songs, invented their own sound and sold 175 million records worldwide, all before they were 30 years old.
Now in its 11th year on Broadway (it officially opened on November 6, 2oo5 at the August Wilson Theatre), the show won 55 major awards including the 2006 Tony Award for “Best Musical,” “Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical” (John Lloyd Young), “Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical” (Christian Hoff) and “Best Lighting Design of a Musical” (Howell Binkley). At the 2007 Grammy Awards, it won as the “Best Musical Show Album” and, at the 2008 Laurence Olivier Awards in London, it also won as “Best New Musical.”  After setting a record of at least 4,093 performances as of September 22, 2015, “Jersey Boys” has surpassed "Miss Saigon" as the 12th longest running show in Broadway history.
To date, this show has been seen by more than 23 million people worldwide and is currently playing in New York, Las Vegas, London, and in numerous cities across North America and the U.K.  In Asia, from November 2012 to April 2014, an international touring production, starring an all-South African cast, played Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Concert Review: KC and the Sunshine Band in Manila

KC and the Sunshine Band

(Excerpt from my article featured in www.pep.ph)
The still widely popular KC and the Sunshine Band, one of the most progressive bands of the 1970’s (the era where people bought records), is credited with changing the sound of modern pop music. Still as high energy as they were when they first danced into the music scene over 40 years ago, they have sold over 100 million records (in the ranks with artists like Britney Spears, Bon Jovi, Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen) and have garnered nine Grammy nominations, three Grammy Awards (including Album of the Year) and an American Music Award (for Best R&B Artist).
The American musical group took its name from songwriter, keyboardist and lead vocalist Harry Wayne Casey’s last name ("KC") and the "Sunshine Band" from Casey’s home state of sunny Florida, the Sunshine State, where the band was founded in 1973 (in Hialeah). KC wrote some of the biggest and most enduring songs of the disco era. These songs have been featured in over 200 motion pictures and, in 2013, their album “Boogie Shoes” was selected for preservation by the U.S. Library of Congress for its cultural significance. In 2002, KC “cemented” his role in show business with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He also penned songs for Betty Wright and Jimmy “Bo” Horne and, throughout the years, has influenced countless artists and continues to do so today.
Harry Wayne Casey

In a one-night only concert sponsored by Ovation Productions, KC and the Sunshine Band took over the Smart Araneta Coliseum, bringing their impressive musical resume to the stage as they performed songs with a unique fusion of disco, R&B and funk, and a hint of a Latin percussion groove, an audio rainbow of many roots that has stood the test of time. This would be the first time I would see them live, but I have listened to them countless times on the radio, TV and cassettes, when bell bottoms was in fashion, and now in CDs, MP3 and Spotify.
The show started promptly at 9 PM. Prior to KC’s arrival, Fermin Goytisolo (percussions, an original band member), Steve Lashley (bass), David Simmons (drums), Chris Cadenhead (keyboards), Robert E. Lee (keyboards), Jeffery Reeves (lead guitar), Miles Fielder (trombone), John Reid (trumpet), Fernando Diez (saxophone) and Francisco Dimas (trumpet) entered the stage followed by backing vocals Maria De Crescenzo and Anika Ellis-Mungin; and stunning dancers Janell Burgess and Kennetha Morris who grooved as the band performed “Shake, Shake, Shake (Shake Your Booty).”
A couple of verses into this first song, KC finally emerged from the right to the center of the stage and started pounding away at the keyboard. Doing what he does best – entertaining, KC also danced with the ladies from one side of the stage to the other in a theatrical display of dance moves that he created back in the 1970’s. However, by the time he started into the playfully suggestive “Boogie Shoes”(part of the 1977 “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack), his second song, the 65 year old KC already was already catching his breath and sweating profusely.
At the end of this second song, the “Boogie Man” acknowledged that he gained weight and how much older he was (he also had shorter hair, a receding hairline and sported a beard), using the catch phrase “What the hell happened?”referring to how much time had elapsed since he started the band 43 years ago. He also tried to educate all the younger Filipinos in the audience as to who he was, jokingly saying “For you young people, you’re probably wondering who I am. I was your mother’s NSYNC.”Further on, he warned them that this is how Justin Timberlake would look like in thirty years.
Next, he said he wanted to play a few slow songs, however  promising that the remainder of the show would remain upbeat. He then proceeded to play “It Happens Every Night,” “Are You Ready?”and “Please Don’t Go,” before picking up the tempo with the dance-party-inducing “I’m Your Boogie Man,” “Keep It Coming Love,” “Do You Wanna Go Party,” “Rock Your Baby” (George McCrae’s 1974 No. 1 hit), “It's The Same Old Song” (originally a 1965 hit single recorded by the Four Tops), “Give It Up” (No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1984), “Play That Funky Music” (a song written by Rob Parissi and originally recorded by the band Wild Cherry), “That’s the Way (I Like It)” (the band's second No. 1 hit in the Billboard Hot 100) and their first No. 1 hit in the Billboard Hot 100, the eponymous “Get Down Tonight,” with its fast tempo and repeating lyrics. 
In between a costume change, David Simmons performed an energetic drum solo. The band also performed a take on "Stand By Me," a song by Ben E. King, and “We Belong Together” and “Why Don't We Get Together,” two of their latest tracks.
Even after an impressive string of hits and having been in the entertainment industry for over four decades, this “Founder of the Dance Revolution”  still knows how to put on a great, spectacular, high-energy show. Though his singing voice was nowhere near what it used to be in the 1970s, he more than made up for it by plenty of razzle in his dazzle, his sheer energy, great music and by surrounding himself with a talented ensemble of horn players, backup singers and dancers. Add lots of great lighting, glittering production, colorful costumes and cool choreography, then there’s definitely a party going on, with fans mostly spending the entire feel-good concert on their feet, dancing and shaking their booty. Truly, when we hear the upbeat, optimistic songs of these “Kings of Disco,” we get down tonight.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Hotel and Inn Review: Times Hotel (Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei)

Date of Stay: September 10-12, 2016
RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: *******
Rooms: *******
Condition and Cleanliness: *******
Staff Performance: *******
Room Comfort: *******
Food and Beverage: *****
Other Amenities: *****
Value for Money: ******


Hotel Entrance
Times Square Mall
The 112-room Times Hotel, located within the Times Square  Mall, is a very convenient 5-minute drive from Brunei International Airport. It is also located 2 kms. from the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium, 5.2 kms. from the Royal Regalia Museum, 5.6 kms. from the  Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, 6.5 kms. from the Water Village and 11.6 kms. from Jerudong Park.



The  sleek and luxurious, elegantly furnished airconditioned rooms (standard, superior, deluxe and executive deluxe) with electronic key lock; private bathrooms complete with a rainshower head and hair dryer; minibar, flat-screen LCD cable TV (with just 10 satellite channels  including HBO movie channel, National Geographic Channel, a sport channel but  no international news coverage), coffee/tea making facility, work desk and in-room safe. 

There is no DVD player so your entertainment options are limited. They charge for additional pillows or towels.  Even if some rooms have balconies, don’t expect any view from there and from the windows. There's only one outlet within the room, plus another in the bathroom, which you can use for charging your cellular phones, laptops, cameras and other electronic gadgets.

Front Desk
Swimming Pool
Facilities include a small outdoor swimming pool with sun loungers where you can sit and relax; a 24-hour Front Desk, meeting room and a 32-pax coffee shop (Times Cafe). Wi-fi internet is available in all rooms (spotty) and public areas. They offer room service, shuttle service (surcharge), valet parking, laundry, concierge and airport transfers.
Times Cafe

Times Square food court
Breakfast was good but with limited choices (fried/steamed rice, noodles, cereals, toast, milk, coffee/tea, chicken nuggets and chicken sausage). The hotel was clean and the staff  were pleasant and very helpful.  

There are many dining options at the ground level (for Filipino cuisine, try Cocina de Lola) and at the relatively nice Times Square food court. There’s also a multiplex cinema on Level 4, a pharmacy, a full-service supermarket on the ground floor and a bowling alley is a 5 min walk away. There are no international brand name stores at this small mall, but it is still a good place to buy souvenirs.   
Times Square Mall shopping area

It is also a 10-min. drive from the Gadong and Kiulap commercial area. However, it is far from the center (about 20 mins. away) and taxis are difficult to get and very expensive (about 20-30 Brunei dollars just to go to the city center). You can pre-book a taxi via the hotel but it is not always guaranteed they will find one available.
The hotel lobby

Times Hotel: 2/F, Times Square Shopping Center, Simpang 13-29, Jalan Berakas, Kampong Jaya Setia, Mukim Berakas ‘A’, BS2713 Negara Brunei Darussalam. Tel: 673-233-7878. Email: reservation@timeshotelbrunei.com. Website: www.timeshotelbrunei.com.