24 September 2018

The moral of this tale

Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale is a haphazard collection of words passing for a children's musical title. Repeat it several times, however, and you'll hear an irresistible lilt with undertones of intrigue. Much like the popular princess name inspired by her mother's favorite salad ingredient.

Beyond the unpalatable, frankly absurd Brothers Grimm original (Surrender your child as payment for stolen vegetables? Come on!) and the often-called sanitized Disney version, there's Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman's theatrical translation of Rapunzel. In this retelling, the tandem has done two things well: (1) Let everyone's hair down and (2) put the music back in musical.

Repertory Philippines stages Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. The show, directed by Joy Virata, runs until January 27, 2019 at OnStage, Greenbelt, Makati City.

Repertory Philippines stages the Vogt and Friedman musical for their annual Rep's Theater for Young Audiences. I am curious as to what kids might cite as lessons they've learned after watching the show, given that it doesn't overtly teach any. But maybe that's the point. As with all kinds of entertainment — whether high- or low-brow, children's or strictly for adults only, or somewhere in between — the most important question has to be, "Did you enjoy it?"

My personal answer is absolutely.

Vogt and Friedman take us back to form. Their revision includes a character-narrator who reviews the basics of a fairy tale as he narrates his own, and in doing so creates a self-awareness in the play. Long-ago fairy tales as we know are written in historical periods with values that are far from what we uphold now. Rapunzel! acknowledges this without becoming stiflingly logical. Quite the contrary.

The artistic staff includes set designer Oliver Roxas-Green, costume designer Raven Ong, lighting designer John Batalla, and choreographer PJ Rebullida.

The entire production — from set to costume design, to choreography, acting and storyline — is charged with a playfulness that draws you in. They've gone into whimsy overdrive. Here's a world where you can witness a gypsy woman's thoughts dance, and accept that there are gentlemen who prefer hair styling school over knight training and battle evil aunts on the side if need be.

Each character charms. Kudos, I trust, are due to Joy Virata's direction and the cast who have fully inhabited their roles and carried the weight of expectation — not to mention Raven Ong's impossible costumes — being the pros that they are.

Like a thread that holds everything in place (and audiences captive), Rapunzel!'s music has an organic quality that I've been missing in many musicals. The lyrics — witty and crafted with a keenness to poetic sound devices — push the story forward, while melodic lines and themes recur to prompt a sense of continuity. And it's simply catchy.

Cara Barredo and Carla Guevera-Laforteza play the roles of Rapunzel and Lady Zaza, respectively.

Granted, I'm no longer a child. But if this show has fired up my imagination, then perhaps someone younger would see something onstage that's even more magical.

20 September 2018

In desperate need of love

Romuald Louverjon is a name I'm learning to spell. I have to because I will speak of him for years.

My introduction to the vocalist was courtesy of Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé (known together as Justice), who played The Paradise's In Love with You on radio. The title is the lyrics, which Romuald sings over and over with the sincerity of a teenage boy and the restraint of a gentleman.

Later on I heard the same voice again singing of love with the same sense of urgency. Again it was through the musical duo, but this time as part of a track in their newest album, "Woman". And this time, there's melancholy in the air. The song is called Love SOS. It is beautiful.

August 20th saw the anniversary of my first trip to Japan, more importantly, my first Justice concert. On the 24th, they released the live album of the tour. Now, I'm watching the video of my favorite song from the record.

In a couple of interviews, Xavier and Gaspard talk about their intention to be more powerful, albeit less aggressive as they go on. Listening to their discography, from their earliest works to the latest (especially the live recordings), you will hear that desire being realized. Meanwhile, the Love SOS music video reflects that potent, elegant simplicity of "Woman".

If not for Romuald, the song wouldn't be what it is. Wouldn't even exist. Imagine my delight in unwrapping this behind-the-scenes treat, where I discover that he is a compelling storyteller.

"While it can be read on a personal level, it also refers to a world in desperate need of love. In just a few hours ... I created what would become the vocals of Love SOS," shares the French singer. "The next day in [Justice's] studio I discovered the stressful siren with a heart-touching harmony. A mix that gives the track its double-meaning: the desperate and tender blood or the anger of a political engagement."

What strikes me most in the clip is how much he has influenced Xavier and Gaspard with so little. "Maybe he made, like, five or six songs in ten or fifteen years, but we all found them amazing," says the duo. In a way Justice is like that. When asked about my obsession with the band, I could only think of their three-studio-album output and how it has built a concentrated love in me. They've made, like, 30-something songs in ten years, almost — not gonna lie, I skip a couple of tracks sometimes — all of which I find amazing.

That's my dream. Carve a meaningful totem that can fit in someone's metaphorical pocket. Speaking of which, who else carry in theirs this one of Whitman's (which crosses my mind as I type these last paragraphs)?

Oh Me! Oh Life!
Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

19 September 2018

Bright pop

Pre-SNS, photos were nothing but record-keeping tools for me. Then came Instagram, which I (insta-)enjoyed the moment I signed up. And still do. Digital images continue to serve as pages of a diary. Yet like this public blog, however personal, they are kept with a degree of performance. Too many greys; looks dead.

The platform gets flak for various reasons you already know. I am particularly annoyed by the algorithm-based feed. But my response to the critique regarding FOMO and self-pity connected to the app is: follow strictly what you like. (Also, the universe is too big to miss-out; you are always missing out.)

To be fair, who would want to reminisce about tragedies? Of course we'll mostly post beautiful snaps capturing beautiful times. Bad news are exchanged over the phone or in person. And the moment you decide to be in front of the camera is already a moment dedicated to playing pretend.

I'm not being clever as well when I declare an appreciation for selfies — taking and staring at them. They are the ultimate status update. Your face paints a thousand words.


Friday night I found a fountain of youth: Dua Lipa Live in Manila. My friend, Mich, is a fan, and from experience, even if I only enjoy a couple of songs from an artist, I grab the chance to catch their concert because of their capacity to surprise me. So I volunteered to join her and boy what a good decision that was.

When social media does its job, it does it well. Or, okay, fine, it's how we use the medium. Though if not for said medium, another friend and Dua fan won't be able to hear about my upcoming adventure and recommend a song to listen to. Lost in your light. "She's amazing live," friend adds with heart eyes emoji.

I thought she meant grand productions. Because that's how it's been so far with pop stars. Quickly I learned that it was something else. I won't forget the energy in that arena. Maybe I was too far, yet not once did I suffer from the weight of starstruck admirers. Dua Lipa's entire performance was an unrelenting invitation to dance and sing along with her.

Don't watch me; have fun with me.

Outside, after the show, I overheard a young lady. "Seems like it was barely an hour-and-a-half long, but it was so tiring!" Agreed. We felt spent in the best possible way.


Needless to say, I have the highlight reel of that little party on my IG. While primarily for my viewing pleasure, please do take a gander.

Before, when I see myself in old photographs, I think, "I wasn't as bad as I thought." Now I am changed, and charmed by myself more and more each day.

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