Monday, April 18, 2011


No photo
The fix
CHASING TOFF By Christopher De Venecia (The Philippine Star) Updated April 18, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

Photo is loading...
From castles to corporate companies: Daniel Radcliff stars in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying| Zoom
Broadway, to me, is the Center of the Universe. Over a slew of annual trips to the Big Apple, I have become, what you can say, accustomed and preternaturally betrothed to the ins and outs of the enchanted city. Imagine the skyscrapers, the marquees, the playbills, the enormous billboards, the city lights, and the street singers melding together to paint the perfect scenery that can absolutely vivify and penetrate through one’s core existence. Broadway is definitely the Mecca of theater aficionados such as myself. And despite Spider-man the Musical making the utmost mockery of the industry through its failed multi-million dollar attempt at giving Peter Parker some acting chops, all roads definitely lead to 42nd street and the ever-exciting and evolving Great White Way.

While our local theater counterpart seems very much alive and resplendent in 2011 with muscle-packed shows like RentNext to NormalJoy Luck Club39 Steps, and Shakespeare Goes to Hollywood (currently playing at the On-Stage Greenbelt Theater via Repertory Philippines), I can’t help but allow my mind to wander off to the place where it all started, where truth to tell, my love affair with theater thoroughly began. Browsing on-line in preparation for my upcoming New York trip, here are this season’s hottest new shows and musicals that are making, or will be making waves in the Big Apple once this Philippine Broadway eagle has landed.
‘Stars’ Spreading the news
Coming from his successful Broadway debut in Equus, Daniel Radcliffe, who is best known for his stint in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, tries his hand at a full-blown musical revival of the Frank Loesser classic, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The piece, having won seven Tony Awards when it first opened in 1962 with a revival in 1995 starring Matthew Broderick, centers on a young window-cleaner who works his way up the corporate ladder to become an advertising executive in the World-Wide Wicket Company. Personally, I am thrilled to see Radcliffe sing and dance his way through this highly effervescent musical which promises an Old Broadway feel to it — something I’ve been craving for since my last experience at the Lincoln Center with South Pacific.

Strawberry field: Freckleface Strawberry is an enjoyable straight play about a girl covered in freckles.
Similarly, yet another Hollywood bigwig returns to the Big Apple for 2011 but offstage and behind-the-scenes via a musical adaptation of her autobiographical picture book Freckleface Strawberry. This actress is none other than award-winning Julianne Moore. I saw her perform several years ago in The Vertical Hour and while I usually get an A.D.D. attack watching straight plays, save for the recent tour-de-force performance of the Tony Award-winning RED starring Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne, I actually quite enjoyed myself on this one. The story centers on Strawberry, a seven-year-old redhead who is covered in freckles and is teased a lot in school. How she overcomes her insecurities, told through a storybook point-of-view and some feel-good Charlie Brown-esque melodies is the tensile strength of this children’s musical.

Not only are movie stars invading Broadway for 2011 but 42nd street seems to be going Hollywood-centric this year with a slew of film-to-stage adaptations. And no, they’re not necessarily movie musicals. Case in point. Catch Me If You Can. Yes, you heard it right — a stage musical adaptation of the hit Hollywood film which starred Leonardo DiCaprio. The show chases after Frank Abagnale Jr., a world-class con artist who jet sets, diagnoses, defends, and prosecutes his way to millions of dollars, all before he turns 19. But what happens when love ultimately catches up to him? The musical stars Broadway’s “it” leading man Aaron Tveit of Next to Normal fame, and features music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the hit-makers of Hairspray.

Next up: a wildly contagious hit musical based on one of the most successful Australian movies of all time. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert flies to the Great WhiteWay and packs one hell of a laugh while summoning utmost nostalgia. The musical centers on drag queen Mitzi del Bra, aka Tick, who hails from the distant town of Alice Springs in Australia and his journey with pals Bernadette and Adam in a large tour bus called “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.” They are on a quest to find friendship and true love — a tried and tested premise that proves parsimony is key to material perfection. The show has a Mamma Mia feel to it, featuring popular jukebox songs such as What’s Love Got to Do With It? I Say A Little Prayer, I Love the Nightlife, Girls Just Wanna have Fun, and Boogie Wonderland.

And finally, from Australia to the West End, another movie musical has made its way to Broadway. Give it up for disco diva and headliner Deloris Van Cartier as she dons the habit in Sister Act. This was the show I was looking forward to the most since I’m a huge fan of the movie; unfortunately, a lot of the songs, including I Will Follow Him have been excluded from this version. I’m not quite sure how this will work but I’m optimistic. The musical follows the story of Deloris who becomes an accidental witness to a murder and she is thus placed under the protective custody of the one place she is sure not to be found: a convent.

Great expectations
There sure are a lot of great shows debuting on Broadway this year. Let’s not forget: the Sutton Foster starrer and revival of Anything Goes, Wonderland, a modern-day take on the classic Alice in Wonderland story set in New York City, American Idiot featuring the songs of Green Day, and the return of Rent. With its overseas counterpart looking mighty fierce in 2011, no wonder our local theater scene is hot on its tails. Yowza!

* * *

Follow me on Twitter: imcalledtoffee. Or e-mail me at


Charity’s case: The dance hall hostess (Nikki Gil), falls for regular Joe Oscar (Kris Lawrence) in the musical Sweet Charity.
Dynamic duo 
CHASING TOFF By Christopher De Venecia The Philippine Star Updated April 15, 2011 12:00 AM

When you’re rapping about the business of show business, you’re probably reeling off on three kinds of individuals: the movie star, the TV personality, and the thespian. But due to the varying techniques, disciplines, and sometimes, even years of training that each one entails, for practitioners, it’s hardly ever an either-or.

Once in a blue moon, however, you encounter artists like Nikki Gil and Kris Lawrence who are willing to train and engage in a series of out-of-body experiences, all in pursuit of holistic, 360-degree artistic expression.

It must be all the Daniel Radcliffes, Christina Applegates, and Hugh Jackmans of this world all heading down the mountain of tinsel town and flying east to conquer the stage, and ultimately, the Great White Way. Such that when Nicholas Cage claims, “To be a good actor, you have to be something like a criminal, to be willing to break the rules to strive for something new,” you can’t help but wonder if he’s actually gabbing about the worthy endeavors of these two.

From preparations to sweet escapes, and for one of ‘em, what it’s like to share the stage and possibly a stage kiss with his best friend’s gal, Young Star gets up-close and personal with the stars of 9 Works Theatrical’s forthcoming musical extravaganza, the Bob Fosse dance comedy musical, Sweet Charity.

YOUNG STAR: What role do you play in the show?
Nikki Gil: I play Charity Hope Valentine, a genuinely “nice” individual who wanted nothing more than to be loved. She works as a dance hall hostess and easily falls for any guy who would give her the slightest bit of attention.
Kris Lawrence: I play Oscar, Sweet Charity’s love interest. He’s a regular Joe Shmoe that somehow catches Charity’s attention with his boyish charm.

You were last seen as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde the Musical. How would you compare the two roles?
Nikki: Elle’s journey revolved around getting Warner to love her. Charity’s journey revolves around getting anyone to love her. Charity is more na├»ve and more easily manipulated, which is why many take advantage of her kindness. Elle is more gutsy and feisty and knew what she had to do to get what she wanted. Both characters are easy to love and they are both fun.

This is the first time you’re venturing into the world of musical theater. What made you decide to take the leap? 
KrisI’ve always been a fan of musicals, and my sister played Kim in Miss Saigon for six years… So, I thought I’d give it a shot and try something new.

You’re playing a role that was popularized by Christina Applegate in a recent Broadway revival. Any pressure coming into this?
Nikki: As soon as I am handed the responsibility of a role, the pressure begins. This is positive pressure, however. Christina Applegate did a fantastic job as Charity. Shirley MacLaine did an amazing job in the movie version. I believe the challenge is in creating my own version of Charity which, of course, would only be possible with the help of direk Robbie and a wonderful cast.

How does it feel to be Nikki’s love interest? Do you have some sort of gentleman’s agreement with Billy?
KrisYou know what… one of the first questions I asked was if there’s going to be a kissing scene kasi she’s the girlfriend of one my best friends. When me and Billy were hangin’ out one night, he said, “Dude…that kiss better be a staged kiss, ayt?”(laughs) I think it’ll be fun actually.

Sweet Charity is known to be a heavy dance musical. I mean, it’s from the iconic Bob Fosse, creator of the musicalChicago. What kind of preparations are you doing for the role?
Nikki: Bob Fosse’s style is very distinct. It’s the small details that separate this kind of dancing from other genres. I am definitely getting help from a professional and will be going through dance classes for this one.

People know you to be the smooth R&B crooner. What kind of Kris Lawrence can people expect from this show?
Kris: Actually I’m kind of excited to see what different side of me it’ll bring out! This is the opposite of what I do. If R&B was night, this is day. If R&B is yin, this is yang. When I auditioned for the part, they asked me if I was willing to change the way I sang for this project. I laughed in my head ‘cause I pictured a Chris Brown image with a Josh Groban voice. I think it’s going to be an interesting fusion.

Any fears or challenges coming into this?
Nikki: Anything Bob Fosse is intimidating! But I believe with hard work, a fabulous cast and a fantastic director, we will be able to come up with a version of Sweet Charity unlike any other.
Kris: Jumping into something new always brings out the heebie-jeebies in people. I feel like I’m jumping into an ice-cold swimming pool butt-naked! But at the end of the day, it’s a performance and I’m very anxious to see what kind of performance God will course through me this time.

What’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever done for someone?
Nikki: My boyfriend’s family lives in the US. And for his birthday, he wanted nothing more than to be surrounded by family. So for his birthday dinner, I “lent” him my family and threw him a surprise party.
Kris: The sweetest thing I’ve ever done for someone was send them on a Scavenger Hunt with clues and at every stop was a nice gift for them to enjoy.

Describe your sweetest escape.
Nikki: I have always wanted to go to Paris.
Kris: For me and a special someone (whoever that may be) ... to spend a couple of days in Amanpulo. Every night, we’ll have dinner under the stars, just us two. Every morning, breakfast on the beach, and just great conversation all throughout.

What’s your sweetest indulgence?
Nikki: Anyone close to me will tell you that candy plays a major role in my diet. It is part of my food groups.
Kris: I’m such a sucker for chocolates! Can’t say no to them, especially Patchi and White Chocolate Royce!

Finally, why should we see go see this musical?
Nikki: Sweet Charity is a classic! The music is beautiful and the choreography exciting!
Kris: It’s definitely gonna be a huge production. The female cast is an all-star line-up… And you’ll laugh a lot, that’s for sure. Great show-stopping numbers and you’ll see Nikki Gil at her best and me in a totally different element. And come on…9 Works is doing it!
* * *
Sweet Charity, the Bob Fosse dance-musical-comedy, will open in August at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, directed by Robbie Guevara. For show buying and fundraising opportunities, call 557-5860 or 0917-5545560, or visit You may also log on to for more info about the show and the rest of the cast.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I've been going around a lot of lies lately - I'm finding myself facing a huge crossroad. Where do I go?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Circus, Circus

Circus, circus
CHASING TOFF By Christopher De Venecia (The Philippine Star) Updated March 14, 2011 12:00 AM

There’s a certain feeling of romanticism evoked by the circus. The performing acts, the stunts, the costumes, the clowns, the incredulous set pieces, the eerie sort of enchanting music that accompanies each one are all part and parcel of the magnificent three hundred sixty-degree live experience of every circus spectator. Whether young or young at heart, audiences are moved and fundamentally captivated, all the while being kept on the edge of their seats.

Juggling. Photo by Rick Diamond. Costume by Eiko Ishioka.

Over the years, the circus has been able to entertain scores of audiences worldwide. But for one particular circus troupe, it has been able to go beyond the realms of unadulterated entertainment, making possible the impossible and informing audiences in as much as they are able to inspire and ignite their passion, sensitivities, and imagination. The group is quite possibly the foremost authority on anything ‘circus’-related as the word has grown synonymous and fantastically betrothed to the group’s existence. They are none other than Cirque du Soleil and they’re finally coming to Manila.

Flight of the Icarus. PHOTO by Benoit Camirand. Costume by Eiko Ishioka.

Cirque du Soleil literally means “Circus of the Sun.” Founded in 1984 by Canadian Guy Laliberte, the show was meant to carry out the festivities across the province of Quebec to commemorate the 450th anniversary of Canada’s discovery. Since the show had garnered considerable success during that time, it continued on, and has remained to this day, vibrant, indefatigable, and constantly in the making, performing to over hundreds of millions of spectators around the globe.

With over 5,000 employees worldwide, Cirque has also enabled thousands of artists of various cultural diversities to showcase their unique talents whether onstage or offstage. At present, the group is performing a total of 19 different shows, including Quidam, DralionCorteoMystere and Zumanity, to name a few, all in lieu of their mission to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses, and evoke the emotions of people around the globe.

Georgian Dance. PHOTO by Rick Diamond. Costume by Eiko Ishioka.

My first Cirque-xperience happened in 1998 when I first caught O at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The show, whose name is pronounced aseau, like “water” in the French vernacular, featured a gamut of water-themed acts over a stage that rose and fell to accommodate synchronized swimming, death drops, contortionists, trapeze, and quite possibly the most stunning imagery that accompanied each one. The hydraulics of the underwater stage lift made moments where the performers seem like they were dancing on top of the water possible and quite possibly, gave me the most breathtaking, albeit expensive, cirque-xperience of my life.
Years later, I was able to catch The Beatles’ Love, a Cirque show that channeled the youthful energy of the British underground, underscored by aerial performances, extreme sports, and freestyle dance to the musical legacy of The Beatles. Of course by then, I was old enough to drink so I was able to enhance my viewing experience with a huge mug of frozen pina colada that made moments like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, incredibly trippy. It’s Vegas, baby! But watching Cirque substantiate and convey the essence of the Beatles through the conventions of the circus, I was reminded about Cirque du Soleil’s immense beauty and how a show that doesn’t necessarily follow the tell-all machinations of theater can still captivate audiences and give them the full breadth and depth of a relatable show.

The Betrothed. PHOTO by Eric Piche. Costume by Eiko Ishioka.

Varekai Comes To Manila
Alas, as many others I assume, I am quite possibly a fan boy of Cirque du Soleil. Recollections of O and The Beatles’ Love to this day can still exact goose bumps usually brought about by powerful Broadway material; such that when I was invited to attend the media launch of Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai last Thursday at the prestigious Manila Hotel, I was floored and at the same time, titillated with the idea that my Cirque-xperiences would be recreated on Philippine soil.

The word Varekai means “wherever” in the Romany language of the gypsies — the universal wanderers. Written and directed by Dominic Champagne, the show pays tribute to the nomadic soul, to the spirit and art of the circus tradition, and to those who quest with infinite passion along the path that leads to Varekai.

Paying tribute to the ancient and rare circus traditions of Icarian games, Water Meteors, and the Georgian dance, the show promises an explosive fusion of drama and acrobatics, displaying skill and power set against innovative music and otherworldly sets, interwoven with choreography that speaks to all in the universal language of movement.

Russian Swings. PHOTO by Patrick Bernath. Costume by Eiko Ishioka.

Varekai will premiere on June 21 for a limited engagement under the blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) located at the Luneta, across Quirino Grandstand. Tickets are on sale at or For inquiries, call 775-0939, 881-0947, 0919-4508125 and 0917-4436463. The show is co-presented by The Mania Hotel.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Existential Crisis: Action Vs. Self

I Kinda need to be leaving in a bit for the matinee show of Rent today.

But lately, I've been thinking a lot about where I am at this point of my life, and where exactly I wanna go.

I've left SM already and I'm now full-time with 9 Works Theatrical. The ride has been hella fun, and hella stressful given that I am now PR and Marketing Director for the company - a lot of responsibility for someone my age. Thankfully, I'm able to keep up with the demands of the job, though I'm thoroughly understaffed. Not the point. Point is: the nature of the business is that you're busy as far as before the show opens (in the pre-production stages), but once it does, it's like all of a sudden, I have all this time on my hands. Time. Something I'm not entirely comfortable with.

Too much time on my hands makes me uneasy. It's like now, I don't know what do anymore coz I wake up everyday and there's less and less things-to-do on my planner. I always say that man is the sum of all his actions. You are essentially what you do. But if I'm not doing anything, then who am I? I'm a workhorse, a slave to my work - but when there's nothing for me to do at the moment, it's like I have no anchor... Unlike when I was in SM, it was always work, work, work. What do I do?

Monday, January 24, 2011

CHASING TOFF: Give Us a Break

No photoGive us a break
CHASING TOFF By Christopher De Venecia (The Philippine Star) Updated January 24, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

Photo is loading...
The cast of Breakups and Breakdowns — Carla Guevara-Laforteza (Nina), Reuben Uy (Derek), Joel Trinidad (Mark), and Emerita Alcid (Sandy)| Zoom
It was August 1998 or 1999 when actor-comedian, SPIT (Silly People’s Improv Theater) founding member, and Awit-Award nominee Joel Trinidad had a meeting with a guy who was running 30 minutes late. Unfortunately, Joel couldn’t just “up” and leave so he decided to “Up” — start his own theater company called “Up”-start Productions.” Okay, that was a pathetic attempt to match Joel’s wit and humor — a guy I’ve known through the years as someone who always has something fascinating to say.

(Quick anecdote: I remember backstage in a play we did together for Rep. He mentioned to me the term “le mot juste” which means “finding the appropriate word or expression” for what you mean because things don’t always have to boil down to being “good” or “cool.” It’s one of those random things that Joel tended to blurt out but something that stuck with me over the years. Anyway…)
That’s not exactly how you connect the dots between Joel Trinidad and Manila’s newest theater company, Upstart Productions. But barreling through the wait, Joel decided to write a song, tap the musical director of Hong Kong Disneyland, and the rest, they say, is history. (Okay, more on Rony Fortich later, yes, the guy who composed the songs to the show).

“The first song I wrote was about a relationship. And once you start writing about relationships, you realize there’s just so much material to work with,” shares Joel Trinidad who is a 20-year (sometimes 20-year-old) veteran of the stage, having appeared in numerous productions such as The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Avenue Q, The Rocky Horror Show, and the Asian premiere of Rent. He adds, “You’ve got your funny anecdotes, your dates from hell, your broken heart — it’s universal. There’s no end to it.”

But beyond the countless productions and the esteem that an actor of his caliber can pride under his belt, nothing, to this writer, trumps the fact that Joel is probably the only actor in town who can manage to write his own piece of material, produce it, direct it, and take the liberties of starring in it — all in one blow. And it’s a musical for crying out loud — a segment of the performing arts which employs of its practitioners some serious, not-to-be-underestimated triple threat skills. The material? Breakups and Breakdowns.

Mark (Joel Trinidad), a young playwright, is putting the finishing touches to a play about finding that one perfect girl. Derek (Reuben Uy), Mark’s roommate and best friend, thinks that Mark would be better off actually meeting women instead of just writing about them. Derek, a notorious playboy, meets gorgeous and flirtatious Sandy (Emerita Alcid Trinidad) who seems to be the female version of Derek and puts the former in distress. What he doesn’t know is that Sandy is only feigning aloofness to keep Derek interested, as she was too needy, earnest and available in a past relationship. One stormy night, Nina (Carla Guevara-Laforteza) knocks on her ex-boyfriend Mark’s door and the two soon realize that there may be something still going on between them. And then Derek and Sandy arrive unexpectedly which to everyone’s amazement, reacquaints Mark with someone he used to call by another name, back when the latter was a little too needy, a little too earnest, and a little too available.
Reuben Uy, who plays Derek, reveals, “The script is basically Joel’s life. It’s been through a lot of changes but it’s still very current because it’s about everyone’s favorite topic — love.” As you know, there’s no better way to stir the love bug and put the finishing touches to a witty piece of material than to employ some fabulous, well-crafted counterpoints. Enter: Rony Fortich, the brilliant musical director of Hong Kong Disneyland.

Emerita Alcid Trinidad, Joel’s real-life sweetheart who plays Sandy, shares, “Rony did such a wonderful job putting everything together and composing. Joel and Rony really talked about how they wanted their songs to be. It’s a great team.” Rony wrote Breakups and Breakdowns with Joel in 2005 before moving to Hong Kong. The former also wrote the music to Stages’ recent hit, N.O.A.H (No Ordinary Aquatic Habitat).

Carla Guevara-Laforteza, who pays Nina, ends, “It’s a comedy and romantic musical. We all love a little laugh and my God, Joel Trinidad breaking into song, wouldn’t want to look forward to that, right?” (No Carla, it’s not “Right!” It’s “Up!” You know, like “Upstart!” No? I give up. There can only be one Joel Trinidad).

* * *

Breakups and Breakdowns will be showing at Teatrino, The Promenade, Greenhills on the following dates and times: Feb. 18, 19, 25 and 26, March 4, 5, 11 & 12 at 8 p.m.; Feb. 19 and 26, March 5 and 12 at 3 p.m. For ticket inquiries, contact or visit