in the last two months of 2013, many theater productions had to compete with an audience that could only be preoccupied: typhoon Haiyan’s victims were in dire need, and one could only feel guilty about veering away from relief operations. “the show must go on” carried the weight of the tragedy outside of theater.
so here, a series of reviews that are happening later than expected, because real life took over. kicking it off with 9Works Theatrical‘s Grease.
there was no better reminder of how theater can be and might remain to be about escape, than Grease. with material as light as the Hollywood film, and with songs and characters made famous by the latter (think John Travolta), here was a production that had everything going for it. i, for one, was primed for some escapism. this was exactly the material for it.
which is not to say that there was much brilliance to be had here, or that i could get lost in this narrative like it were happening in the present. not at all. in truth, watching this story unfold made me think that the production consciously and deliberately worked with Grease as 1950s period material: there was no need to make it relatable, neither was there effort put into making it resonate for the present. it was great that there were no apologies.
so we were led into this spectacle, filled with songs that were familiar to any of us who grew up watching — and hearing — Grease on TV re-runs, or in some Travolta tribute or retrospective. it’s light and fluffy, it’s politically incorrect, but that was precisely why this was the escape i needed.
sadly the talent that was on that stage didn’t know to bring us to the point of spectacle. Gian Magdangal (who i have liked elsewhere), was just too one-dimensional for comfort. yes he can sing and dance like very few guys of his generation can, but he didn’t have sparkle in this production which would’ve made Zuko the laglag-panty character that he is. it was in this sense too that Rafa Siguion Reyna as Kenickie could out-perform Gian’s Zuko. where swagger was concerned, Siguion Reyna’s was en pointe and consistent, even when he fumbled his lines and went back to it to say it right. his “Grease Lightning” might not have brought the house down, but it sure was believable enough. sometimes swagger is all you need.
which is also to say that there wasn’t much of it in the rest of this production, dependent as it was on singing and dancing. period as it was, this production seemed even more distant without any of the performers actually giving characters more heart — yes, not even Francesca Farr’s Sandy could do it with the most heart-wrenching songs and the deepest crisis in this story. as with Magdangal, Farr seemed to be going through the motions of playing this country that there was nary a sparkle. the same might be said of Villana — who was nowhere near theatrical performance level.
it seemed like a waste of such wonderful work by scenographer Mio Infante and lighting design by John Batalla. that production — beyond those who were performing on stage — was in fact one of the better ones of the year. but alas, actors and actresses must be worthy of a show, too.
speaking of which: there was Ciara Sotto, for one brief moment, doing Cha-Cha like no one would be able to, swagger, dancing, comedic timing and all; and on the night that i watched? the Teen Angel who sings “Beauty School Dropout” was Michael de Mesa. he would be that night’s high point.
it is strange when the ones with the smallest roles, are those who do it larger than everybody else.
“Grease” was staged by 9Works Theatrical in November to December 2013, and was directed by Robbie Guevara.