Thursday, December 27, 2012

LES MISERABLES: At the Core of It is Exposition of Christian Virtues

Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) in Tom Hooper's
film adaptation of the mega-musical "Les Miserables" (photo c/o Newsdesk)
by Oliver Oliveros,

"To love another person is to see the face of God."

 Colm Wilkinson's Bishop Myriel of Digne and Anne Hathaway's Fantine, together with Hugh Jackman's Jean Valjean, sung those arguably the most indelible lyrics by tail end in the Tom Hooper-helmed musical motion picture, "Les Miserables," a faithful film adaptation based on the 1987 Tony Award-winning musical, written by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, and Herbert Kretzmer, which in turn was inspired by the French historical novel of the same name, published in 1862, by Victor Hugo, a well-known French Romantic poet and novelist who had evident antipathy toward the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church; but, interestingly, had high regard for the Church's doctrines.

Hooper's non-intrusive camerawork, which amounts to grandiose wide shots, especially during the sweeping melodic instrumental music played prior to or in between the sung parts, and medium close up shots, mostly one long takes filmed at least two minutes to capture the emotions of show-stopping solo numbers such as Valjean's "Soliloquy," Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream," and Marius' (Eddie Redmayne) "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," aided the telling of the story, which at the core of it was the frequent exposition of Christian virtues of faith, hope, charity, mercy, and forgiveness.

Valjean, once imprisoned for 19 years at the infamous Bagne of Toulon in France for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, broke parole - previously given by parole officer Javert (Russell Crowe) - to start a new life after a merciful bishop, from whom Valjean stole precious silverware, lied before several policemen to save the ex-convict from another arrest. The bishop subsequently told Valjean to use those silverware to live a life of an honest man, which the latter took to heart.

Nearly a decade later, Valjean had assumed a new identity as Monsieur Madeleine, an appointed mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer and a factory owner, whose former factory worker Fantine fell into the trap of prostitution in order to pay debt to the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter), corrupt inn keepers who had Fantine's illegitimate child, Cosette (Isabelle Allen), left in their care.

With complete sympathy for the almost dying Fantine, Valjean pulled out all the stops to recover Cosette from the cunning, scheming Thenardiers, and to see Cosette grow into a fine young lady (Amanda Seyfried); while Javert continued his obsessive quest to bring Valjean back to prison.

More than 60 million people around the world have seen at least one production of the stage musical, produced by British theater impresario Cameron Mackintosh, that could translate to a captured audience that would buy a movie ticket and check out Jackman, Crowe, Hathaway, Cohen, Carter et. al's highly publicized live singing (by the way, Crowe lacks the vocal chops and wears a poker face to be taken seriously as the antagonist Javert) and these A-list actors' take on Hugo's well-drawn characters; or would probably revisit the musical's most endearing show tunes, "I Dreamed a Dream," "On My Own," and "Do You Hear the People Sing?" among others.

Jackman and Hathaway's Golden Globe-worthy nominated performances would pull the viewers' heartstrings. However, integral to those emotionally-charged performances, including Redmayne and Samantha Barks' (Eponine, daughter of the Thenardiers), were, again, more Christian themes such as love in various forms (spiritual, maternal, and paternal, among others), morality, and salvation that would touch even the non-believers, no less; but would much more resonate among the religious individuals in the audience.

On the surface, "Les Miserables" can move one to tears because of its characters' intertwined melodramatic destinies, poignant songs with ear-shattering crescendos, and bittersweet denouement.

On a deeper level, the film can also be deemed a Christian movie in disguise, which may come off as too preachy and tacky to some.

Working Title/Cameron Mackintosh's movie adaptation of the mega-musical "Les Miserables" opens across the Philippines on Wednesday, January 16.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Photo Coverage: MiG Ayesa's Solo Rock Concert in Queens

MiG Ayesa and Jon Skibic (photo by Rex Romero)
by Oliver Oliveros,

New York, December 17, 2012 - The night started off with original compositions ("High," "Summer Feeling," and "Nothing You Do," among others) and a few show tunes from two smash Broadway shows ("Burn the Floor," "Rock of Ages"): MiG Ayesa, "Rock Star: INXS" finalist-turned-bona fide Broadway rock star, dishing out hard rock, soulful vocals while playing the keyboard; Jon Skibic, "Rock of Ages" guitarist, strumming his electric guitar while listening closely to Ayesa - both perfectly played in sync.

However, during halftime at Ayesa's concert at Perlas bar and restaurant in Woodside, Queens Saturday night, the crowd went wilder. Filipino-American rock band Kayumanggi joined Ayesa on stage, which unarguably raised the roof and drove the audience to stand up and dance to popular pop rock songs such as "Hey, Soul Sister," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," and "Last Christmas."

As an additional treat for the audience, some came from as far as Hamilton in Canada and Berkeley in Ohio, Ayesa, who was born in the Philippines and raised in Australia, delivered a well-received premiere of his cover version of Filipino rock anthem "Salamat" (Thank you) by The Dawn, the Philippines' most popular rock band in the '80s.

Fresh off his stints at the Manila premiere of "Rock of Ages," where he reprised his Broadway role as Stacee Jaxx, and in the West End's "Thriller Live," a tribute concert to the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, Ayesa is now warming up for his next major gig: Queen and Ben Elton's jukebox musical "We Will Rock You" 10th Anniversary World Arena Tour, which kicks off in Turku, Finland in February 2013.

Performances at arenas in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Holland, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Turkey, Bulgaria, Ireland, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, are being laid out for "We Will Rock You" world tour, where Ayesa will reprise his role as Galileo Figaro, alongside Kevin Kennedy as Pop and Brenda Edwards as Killer Queen.

Ayesa made his Broadway debut in the dance musical "Burn the Floor" two years ago; he graced the Broadway stage anew when he played the infamous role of Stacee Jaxx in "Rock of Ages" return engagement on Broadway last year.

For more photos, click HERE.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Breaking News: Confirmed! Cameron Mackintosh to Restage MISS SAIGON in 2014

by Oliver Oliveros,

New York, December 8, 2012 — Theater producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh has just confirmed with The Philippine Star entertainment editor and columnist, Ricky Lo, that plans for the highly anticipated revival of mega-musical “Miss Saigon” are underway for 2014. Lo was able to interview Mackintosh at the Tokyo premiere of “Les Miserables” movie, where the writer mentioned the recent auditions held in Manila to the British producer.

“Speaking of ‘Miss Saigon,’ there were auditions in Manila just three weeks ago and six [seven] actresses were chosen as ‘finalists.’ Are you really restaging the musical?” Lo asked Mackintosh.

“Yes, I’m going to restage ‘Miss Saigon’ in London as soon as I find the theater. In fact, yes, you’re right…we have started preliminary auditions. When we did the show in London 25 years ago, we spent over a year looking for the cast. I hope that in the next 18 months it would be back in London. The new version has just opened here in Japan and it’s a phenomenal success. It’s going to be a different production but still the same great 'Miss Saigon,'” Mackintosh told Lo.

Read the transcript of the interview with Mackintosh HERE.

On a separate occasion, Hollywood Foreign Press Association chairman, Ruben Nepales, has also confirmed with, through regional editor Oliver Oliveros, that Mackintosh was indeed pleased with the outcome of the auditions in Manila. Nepales bumped into Mackintosh at one of the press junkets for “Les Miserables” movie in Manhattan last Monday.

The first international auditions for the London revival production of “Miss Saigon,” which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2014, were held at the Philippine Opera Company’s headquarters in Manila on November 19 to 22. More than 1,000 aspirants showed up; and at least seven female auditionees were shortlisted: local celebrities Rachelle Ann Go (Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”), Frencheska Farr (“Emir”), and Aicelle Santos (“Party Pilipinas”), and thespians Tanya Manalang (“The King and I”) and Apple Chiu (“The King and I”), among a few others, made it to the final round of auditions.

Male auditionees Bran Vargas, Khaya Maseko, Albert Job Bautista ("Rent"), Topper Fabregas ("Sweet Charity"), Noel Rayos ("Walang Sugat"), Eden Ang (“Spring Awakening"), Red Concepcion ("Equus"), Richardson Yadao, Lorenz Martinez ("The King and I"), Carlon Matobato (“William”), and Victor Sy, among others, also made the shortlist.

“We’re potentially looking for a lot of people because Cameron Mackintosh has a lot of different projects. For instance, ‘Miss Saigon’ would need to have three Kims in it (because of vacation schedules): We’re looking for the main actor, also the first understudy, and the second understudy. The same applies to all the lead characters. We’ll see,” music supervisor Stephen Brooker, one of the audition panelists, told Philippines.

“We’ve seen nearly over a thousand people in four days; and at various levels, everybody can sing. I’ve never known a country that has so many good singers. Obviously, there's a wonderful culture of singing here in the Philippines. It’s wonderful to see that amount of commitment, and how much love there is for music,” Brooker added.

No final casting choices were announced after the auditions.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

BWW Interviews: Tony Winner David Gallo Talks What's Appealing About Doing Theater in the Philippines

Tony Award-winning scenic designer David Gallo as photographed by Oliver Oliveros
By Oliver Oliveros,

Every person that I’ve dealt with in the Philippines has been wonderful. The desire to get it right there is very strong. – David Gallo

New York, December 4, 2012 — Prolific Manila-based theater company Atlantis Productions’ (Disney’s “Aladdin,” “In the Heights”) much-lauded production of Maury Yeston’s Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Nine” had cast some of local tinseltown’s brightest, biggest stars — from show biz royalty Cherie Gil to TV soap opera star Eula Valdez to you-name-it. However, prior to these stars’ descent on stage, unarguably, another colossal “star” was already preset on that stage at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater, and had caught Manila theatergoers by surprise; that “star” of the show belonged to Tony Award-winning scenic designer David Gallo’s (“Drowsy Chaperone,” “Memphis”) larger-than-life, multi-step, and geometric Asian spa-inspired set design for “Nine.”

Gallo, whose imposing set for “Nine” has been nominated for Best Set Design at the 2012 BroadwayWorld Philippines Awards, and whose works on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and in many international theater productions are known for their physical largeness, has been wanting to do “Nine.”

“The show’s completely different from your normal song-and-dance musical: It has dream-like quality; it has a great score; it’s a very cerebral musical; and it also puts these incredibly beautiful women on display. Who wouldn’t want to do that?” Gallo told in an exclusive interview at his design studio in Midtown Manhattan.

Probably unknown to many, Gallo’s stint with “Nine” was his second in the Philippines; the first was with Broadway Asia’s international touring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” which premiered at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2008, starring Tony winner Lea Salonga, and directed by Bobby Garcia, “Nine’s” director as well.

“I worked on ‘Cinderella’ for several weeks. There was a tremendous amount of prop work that had to be done; there was a lot of craft that had to be accomplished. So I brought over Pete Sarafin, who’s one of my main prop people, as my assistant. We spent a huge amount of time exploring all of the markets, small stores, and downtown alleyways. It was just an incredible experience of completely sinking into the daily life in Manila,” he said.

“Whereas for ‘Nine,’ I only spent 10 days [Gallo oversaw the previews, opening night prior to traveling to Hong Kong for another project]. I had associates at Atlantis Productions: Lex Marcos, a great designer in his own right, and Lawyn Cruz. Those two took care of everything for me. The set was already standing on stage when I got there.”

Was His Set for “Nine” Expensive? 

“It was a pretty elaborate set for what they usually do in that theater. And yes, that set was expensive,” revealed Gallo.

“However, working with Bobby [Garcia] is very different because he’s a director/producer and a family friend. His understanding of the budget and the necessity of sticking to what works within the context of Atlantis is very important to him. I think the budget for ‘Nine’ was handled very well. No one ever came to me and said that ‘you have to make this kind of cut’ or ‘we can’t afford this and that.’ They pretty much accepted the design as it came off my table,” he added. 

What Attracts Him to Working in the Philippines? 

As of this writing, Gallo is fresh off a vacation at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida with his wife, Sarah, and their two children; and without missing a beat, Gallo and his wife, who also functions as his business/studio manager, are also all set for their next overseas work: this time for Dreamworks’ “Madagascar Live!” tours in nine cities in the United Kingdom.

However, Gallo’s fondness to do more work in the Philippines in the near future remains intact.

“I’m currently in talks for a ‘top secret’ project in the Philippines,” said Gallo.

“I love working in the Philippines because every person that I’ve dealt with there has been wonderful. The desire to get it right there is very strong. Everybody has the same kind of ‘theater spark’ that I think we all started off with. You kind of get jaded throughout the years. The gloss starts to sort of rub off on you inevitably. But all the people there, no matter how long they’ve been in the business, they all have that incredible energy and enthusiasm for what they’re doing — in every person: from the director to the choreographer to the stage manager (even the person in charge of support services). It’s just great to be around people that really care so much.”

As a scenic designer, Gallo’s basic job is to help tell the story, and provide a physical environment for the play to take place.  His set for “Nine” was conceived in order to tell that story.

“My set was nothing; it was just an inanimate object. The work that Bobby did, the cast did, and the choreographers and the lighting people did — they all told a really clear story. My gratitude is really for the people who helped me tell the story, and the audience members who got the story,” he said.

“I wish that the show could have had a longer run; I wish more people would get to see the work,” he sighed.

For more information on Gallo, visit his official website at

To vote for his design at the 2012 BroadwayWorld Philippines Awards, click HERE.