Thursday, 27 June 2013

Inauguration of Valenzuela City Museum

Valenzuela City Museum

The Valenzuela City Museum is the city's newest museum and the city's second (after the Museo Valenzuela).  Guest of honor at its opening ceremonies was former 1964 Ms. International and DOT Secretary Ms. Gemma Cruz-Araneta, a descendant  of National Hero Jose P. Rizal (her paternal great grandmother is Maria Mercado, Rizal's sister) whom Dr. Pio Valenzuela (after whom the city was named) met during his exile in Dapitan (Zamboanga del Norte) on June 15, 1896.  

After speeches by historian and museum curator Mr. Jonathan C. Balsamo, outgoing city mayor and now congressman Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian (who wanted to provide an alternative learning experience for students and the general public about the city’s history via this museum) and Ms. Araneta, the museum was formally opened via the ceremonial cutting of the ribbon done by Gemma and author (Dr. Pio Valenzuela and the Katipunan) and Pio grandson Arch. Arturo E. Valenzuela, Jr..

Museum curator Jonathan C. Balsamo
Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian
Ms. Gemma Cruz-Araneta

Guests then joined the two as they toured the museum exhibits, with Mr. Balsamo leading and narrating along the way. The museum is divided into a number of exhibits.
Valenzuela City Museum: G/F, City Hall, MacArthur Highway, Valenzuela City, Metro Manila.  Open from Mondays to Fridays, 8 AM-5 PM. Admission: free.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Concert Review: Rex Smith in Concert (Widus Resort & Casino, Clark Field, Pampanga)

1980s heartthrob Rex Smith

Kyle Vincent singing "Beautiful Girl"
The concert, at the 550-pax Widus Convention Hall, started with a front act by the equally talented American singer and songwriter Kyle Vincent, also the favorite opening act of international superstar balladeer Barry Manilow, who was once labeled as the "Crown Prince of Soft Pop" by Goldmine Magazine.  

He did a rendition of "Beautiful Girl," a song composed and popularized by our very own Jose Mari Chan.  
Members of the audience join in
Rex Smith took the stage with the upbeat son “Buttercup,” then followed it up, with his soulful voice, with his timeless hits “Don’t Give Up On Us,” “Forever,” “Speechless” and “Everlasting Love” (a 1981 Top 40 hit).  All throughout, he was backed up by the all-Filipino Decadas band and 2 female and a male backup vocalist. 

This was followed by a whirlwind journey of Broadway songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber, starting with “Phantom of the Opera,” “Music of the Night” and “All I Ask of You,” all backed by his 2 female vocalists (one performing a very high pitch note) Lara Cuevas and Donna Ricafrente alternating as Christine, the Phantom’s lady love.  

Rex then followed this up with the Grease staples “Grease Lightning,” “Summer Days,” “You’re The One That I Want” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and ended the Broadway tour with the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Sound of Music hits “Edelweiss” and “Do-Re-Mi,” the latter accompanied with 4 handpicked guests (including our media colleague Paolo M. Abellanosa) from the crowd reprising the Von Trapp kids.

Rex and Kyle with their backup singers singing "Twist and Shout"

The beat was increased a little when Rex sang “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” a 1985 hit song popularized by the British band Tears for Fears, and then lowered it down a notch with his soulful rendition of the Christopher Cross’ 1980 No. 1 hit “Sailing” plus his signature “Simply Jessie,” a song featured in a 1979 NBC TV movie Sooner or Later.  

The latter song was supposed to end the show, but the crowd still wanted more of Rex and he obliged, returning to performed his hit “You Take My Breath Away,” then followed it up with the 1983 hit “True,” a song by another British band Spandau Ballet, then really got the crowd going with his final song, the Beatle’s hit “Twist and Shout” which he performed with Kyle Vincent, Lara and Donna. 

Widus Resort & Casino: 5400 Manuel A. Roxas Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga 2023. Tel: (045) 499-1000. Fax: (045) 499-0979.  Manila booking office: 2311 Cityland Herrera Tower, 98 V.A. Rufino corner Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati City. Tel: (02) 840-1430. Fax: (02) 840-1429.  Website:

Interview: 1970s Heartthrob Rex Smith (Widus Resort & Casino, Clark Field, Pampanga)

Tete-a-tete with Rex

The Widus Convention Center prior to the concert
The highlight of our visit to Widus Resort & Casino was the concert, produced by Steve O'Neal Productions, of American film and Broadway actor, singer and frequent Manila visitor (this is his 8th visit) Rex Smith, part of his “Simply Rex” Asian Tour.  

Fresh from a concert at cool Baguio City, Jandy and I and the rest of the media group caught up with him at the Widus Convention Center just as he was in the thick of preparations for his evening concert.  He was casually dressed in a T-shirt and shorts.

Visibly tired from jetlag and his hectic schedule, the ever-gracious and friendly Rex still made time for a media interview, requesting that we just give him time to make himself more presentable to the media by changing to a long-sleeved shirt.  However, the shorts remained.  Rex is obviously fond of and has a soft spot in his heart for this country, narrating how surprised he was when our airport staff serenaded him with their own rendition of Rex’s 1979 Billboard Hot 100 hit “You Take My Breath Away.”  Rex also told us that he is dedicating his 1979 hit song “Simply Jessie” to the late, much loved DILG Secretary Jesse M. Robredo
Rex practicing with his band
Not many people know that Rex also invaded the world of Broadway musicals, playing Danny Zuko in Grease (John Travolta played the role in the movie version); Jesus Christ in Jesus Christ Superstar; Tony in West Side Story; Frederic in Pirates of Penzance (he won the 1981 Theater World Award for his role), playing opposite Linda Ronstadt (as Mabel) and Kevin Kline (as the Pirate King); Captain Von Trapp in Sound of Music; the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera and a host of other Broadway musicals. 

In fact, no other Broadway actor has performed as many lead roles as Rex has.  A number of songs from these Broadway plays will be sung by Rex during the concert. 

Though not mentioned in his short interview with us, worth mentioning is this incident that happened in Canada in 1997. After performing in the Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway musical Sunset Boulevard, where he got the usual nightly standing ovation, he was greeted by a male fan who told him “Hello Rex, I’d like to have your autograph and pose for a picture with you. My name is Brandon, 21 years of age, and I’m a big fan. By the way, I’m also the son you never met.” 
The author with Rex and Jandy

Rex Smith’s jaws dropped and, after a moment of silence, Rex recovered from the initial shock as he stared at Brandon and realized he was like looking at a mirror image of himself. 

There was no doubt in his mind that this kid was his son.  Brandon, who was born in 1980, was a product of a weekend affair Rex had with Karen Lakey, a record-company representative. Brandon joined Rex in his 2006 concert tour in the Philippines.  

He is now married to a half-Filipina beauty queen from Vancouver, Canada and they have a son named Duchanan, Rex's first grandson.  Another reason why Rex loves this country.  He has also gone on vacation here, visiting Misibis Bay in Cagraray Island in Bacacay, Camarnes Norte, with his wife Tracy who enjoyed jetskiing there. 

Widus Resort & Casino: 5400 Manuel A. Roxas Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga 2023. Tel: (045) 499-1000. Fax: (045) 499-0979.  

Manila booking office: 2311 Cityland Herrera Tower, 98 V.A. Rufino corner Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati City. Tel: (02) 840-1430. Fax: (02) 840-1429.  Website:

Media Tour: Widus Resort & Casino (Clark Field, Pampanga)

Widus Resort & Casino

The postcard-pretty exterior
I recently received an invitation from Ms. Victoria “Tori” T. Vicente, Marketing & Communications Manager of Widus Resort & Casino, to join a media familiarization tour of the hotel which is located within the Clark Freeport Zone.  

Its Convention Center will also be the venue of the concert, produced by Steve O’Neal Productions, of American 1980’s heartthrob singer and Broadway actor Rex Smith.  I brought along my son Jandy as my photographer and we all met up with Tori plus media colleagues Mr. Buddy Recio (with wife Divine Recio and staff member Paolo M. Abellanosa)) of Travel Update, Ms. Denise Roco of People Asia Magazine, Mr. JC De Leon of GMA Online and Ms. Denise O. Calnea (with friend Ms. Jane de la Cruz) of Business World, at Starbucks in Greenbelt 1, Makati City. 
Widus Casino
We all left (11 AM) for Clark on a Sunday, so traffic was light even along the usually traffic-infested EDSA.  Along the way, we picked Ms. Marianne C. Carandang of Travel Trade. Traffic was almost non-existent as we traversed the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), arriving at the hotel’s Southeast Asian-inspired and naturally lit lobby by 1 PM, in time for sumptuous lunch at the Salt Resto, the hotel’s main dining outlet.  

This wouldn’t be my first visit to this hotel, having visited it 3 times (twice in 2008, the year of its opening, and once in 2009) when it was still called Hotel Vida and managed by Fuego Hotels.  

During this tour, many things have changed since my last visit.   Aside from a name (the hotel’s new name, Widus, is actually a play on the term “With Us”) and management (it is now operated by Widus International Leisure Inc.) change, there are now new facilities.   Salt Resto is now expanded and newly-renovated.  

There is also an upscale, well-stocked and sophisticated bar (Prism Lounge); another coffee shop (Widus Coffee Shop), a small gym with modern equipment; a sundry shop; a business center and a spa (Aisia).  The hotel is also now accredited as a Deluxe Class Hotel by the Department of Tourism, the first such hotel in Pampanga, and was awarded as Travelers’ Choice Top 13 Luxury Hotel and Top 25 Hotel in the Philippines by 

Widus Coffee Shop and Prism Lounge

Aisia Spa
We were toured around the other new facilities by the new (since early May) Gen. Manager Alfred M. Reyes, formerly connected with the Four Seasons Hotel in Taipei (Taiwan).  

Now opposite the main building is the 24-hour Casino Widus which has 420 sq. ft. of gaming space and features 150 gaming machines and 27 table and poker games (2 for poker). Also within the casino is the Malt Bar and Coffee Shop. 

From the main building, we all walked, across the parking lot, to the Widus Convention Center.  This building, with the same modern, cutting edge design as the main building, has state-of-the-art facilities for up to 400 guests with 2 ballrooms – the 454.73 sq. m. Vegas Hall and the smaller 188.52 sq. m. Macau Hall.  The former ballroom was to be the venue for the “Simply Rex” concert.  Both versatile ballrooms can be converted into 5 convention rooms ideal for business meetings, training seminars and functions.
The Widus Convention Center

The Vegas Ballroom 

Sitting on 1.9 hectares of land, the hotel has 119 luxuriously appointed guest rooms - 47 Deluxe Rooms ( with twin or queen beds) and 40 Family Suites and 15 studio-type  Junior Suites, 16 One Bedroom Suites (with king beds) and 1 Presidential Suite.  Tori toured us around each room type. 

The Presidential Suite

Jacuzzi at the Presidential Suite
All rooms are equipped with state-of the-art amenities such as electronic entry lock; IDD/NDD phone; wi-fi access, in-room safety box; a spacious living room area with trundle bed, a kitchen and bar with 6 cu. ft. personal refrigerator, coffee-making facility and a microwave oven; a balcony, toilet & bath with bathtub and 8” ceiling-mounted shower head; and a flat screen LCD cable TV (sizes ranging from 29” to  32,” 50” for presidential suite) with DVD player. 

The presidential suite also has 2 bedrooms (one with king bed and the other with 2 single beds), a dining area and a jacuzzi. 

Our Family Suite (3503)

The swimming pool.  Behind is the 114-room 
annex being constructed
Most rooms have wonderful views of the adjacent golf course; the swimming pool or the serene, verdant and well-manicured landscape crowned with palms and a plethora of majestic, century-old acacia trees. Across the pool is a new building being constructed.  

According to Mr. Reyes, this new wing, with 114 additional rooms, is expected to be completed by October in time for the start of the Emirates’ non-stop daily flights between Dubai and Clark.  

Aside from the two airlines and the low-cost carriers (Air Asia Berhad of Malaysia, Air Asia Philippines, Asiana Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, Dragonair, Jin Air, PAL Express and Seair-Tiger) already operating, he also cited the interest of Qatar Airways to launch flights at Clark. 
Wooden bridge over the pool
After the hotel tour, we all checked into our Family Suites (Jandy and I stayed at Suite 3503 at the fifth floor), each with the same simple yet elegant Asian-inspired theme I was used to. 

Prior to checking in, we each made an appointment for a blissful massage, either within the Asian-themed spa or in the privacy of their rooms, after the evening “Simply Rex” concert (where we were each given complimentary, front-row tickets) or the next day. 

I took my pampering the next day while Jandy opted to go swimming at the large, beautiful, free-form swimming pool (adult and kiddie, with floating bar and water slide). 

Check out "Concert Review: Rex Smith in Concert"

Members of media at  the newly-renovated Salt Resto
Posing at the entrance of the casino

Widus Resort & Casino: 5400 Manuel A. Roxas Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga 2023. Tel: (045) 499-1000. Fax: (045) 499-0979.  Manila booking office: 2311 Cityland Herrera Tower, 98 V.A. Rufino corner Valero St., Salcedo Village, Makati City. Tel: (02) 840-1430. Fax: (02) 840-1429.  Website: