Tuesday, June 3, 2014

REVIEW: Priscilla Queen of the Desert - The Musical

Newport Performing Arts Theater, Saturday May 31

I saw this musical when it celebrated its second year anniversary and returned to Sydney at the Star City Hotel and Casino in 2008; and I have seen a lot of musicals in Manila. These two experiences put together and with my experiences in seeing musicals in New York and London, I know one thing for sure, Manila is neither Broadway nor West End! And that is totally fine until the stupid producer in the Manila production of Priscilla decided to post a video of some dork exalting and insinuating that the production is comparable to Broadway and West End right before the show starts! Major mistake for the producer for setting such high expectation (I am sure that some Manila people must have seen musicals in Broadway or West End); and major mistake for me to actually wish it is true.

Needless to say, the biggest disappointment in the Manila production was the costume. It was nowhere near the outlandish sophistication that the original production had. Instead, the costumes look like they were borrowed, mixed and matched from some Ati-Atihan (a Philippine festival in honor of Santo Nino – Baby Jesus) troupe. Gone was any creativity or trace of the award winning costume design of Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner from the original stage production and movie.

Another disappointment was the sound design which made enunciation difficult and singing impossible. This shortcoming underscored the miscast of Leo Valdez as Tick. With no accent or dramatic skills to boast, his beautiful voice was muffled out by the poor sound. Red Concepcion as Adam did his best and was vocally and dramatically effective despite looking more like a fabulous aboriginal Australian gone rogue (hmmm… actually not a bad idea… but…). Jon Santos as Bernadette was almost perfect except he can’t sing (at least based from whatever came through the sound system) to save his life. The big question at this point is why didn’t the production cast Michael Williams as Tick and OJ Mariano as Adam? At least with Williams and Mariano, they would have looked more credible and fabulous on stage!

As for the Australian accent, only Henry Strzalkowski as Bob tried and succeeded. In fact, it was only Strzalkowski’s Bob that gave the production some sense of reality and authenticity; and prevented it into full-blown drag carnival. Some other outstanding performances came from Bituin Escalante as Diva, Michael Williams as Miss Understanding and OJ Mariano as Farrah.

At the end of the day, however, is whether I actually enjoyed the evening. And the answer to that is yes, but only after I readjusted my standard back to the Manila level. It was good fun and entertainment in the cultural desert of Manila.



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