Monday, November 1, 2010

A Little Night Music (Atlantis Productions)

♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

The musical begins with a young man pretending to play the cello (You are awesome in everything you do Felix Rivera, but it is obvious that the sound is coming from the orchestra. Is it?) followed by a marvelous combination of voices provided by a quintet. Their shtick quickly becomes repetitive after butting in the scene for the nth time, but come on! With such a smooth blending of voices, could one really complain? This five-man chorus also makes up for the many limitations of the simple set design. If the rest of the cast is the preterit, this group of singers is the imperfect. They provide an aural representation of the visual background that you just do not see. And it is really music to one's ears.

Acting-wise the cast is brilliant. The director could not have found a better ensemble of such talented actors. The weakest link would have to be the kid who portrays the role of Desiree's daughter. It is just that her accent is inconsistent in some scenes, but with that blunder aside she really is not that weak a link.

It is a bit strange to see an evidently younger woman such as Dawn Zulueta (and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the Broadway revival) play the role of a has-been actress craving for the same attention she once enjoyed. It gets weirder when you find out that other actresses such as Elizabeth Taylor and THE Judi Dench also played the part once in their very long careers. This makes the age disparity more noticeable. But then, such a small detail is easily forgotten when the actress in question delivers a fantastic performance that will always be remembered. This is what Dawn Zulueta does. The role of Desiree Armfeldt is replete with dry wit and sarcasm, and Zulueta gives you both, with a little extra charm. It is not that difficult to imagine Zeta-Jones doing the same thing. The role seems tailor-made for her, and the Tonys agree. Zulueta should also win an award for this, and should do more work in theater because her presence onstage is just perfect.

Supposed to be the pièce de résistance of the play, Dawn's Send in the Clowns is a bit disappointing. It is just lacking in intensity. Perhaps this could be attributed to her comic yet classy portrayal of the character, thanks to her repertoire of convincing mannerisms and quirks. The comedic inertia built up might have been too much to guarantee a swift shift to a dramatic mood. But other than that, Dawn Zulueta is perfect for the role. No doubt about it.

Good performance from the rest of the cast, but special recognition should be given to the following: Cris Villonco, who as Anne Egerman is naivété personified, outshines the others with her perkiness and crisp accent, and never has a dull moment onstage; Jay Valencia Glorioso as Madame Armfeldt, who has both effortless comic timing and the credibility of having the wisdom of an old woman (she is not THAT old in real life, is she?); Jenny Jamora who delivers an utterly convincing performance as the insufferably wisecracking desperate housewife Countess Charlotte Malcolme; and Alys Serdenia as Petra who steals every scene she is in.

The men give justice to their respective roles but the women easily steal the limelight here. Perhaps it is because of the characterization. The men in this play seem to be the feeble ones, while the women clearly have stronger personalities. This is not obvious in the surface, in fact in a more superficial point of view it is actually the other way around. However, after some analysis of the characters, one gets to see that beyond the surface, the women are the more empowered gender in this musical.

It really pays to see the final performance of a theater piece. The actors are already comfortable with their respective roles, and it is said that they give a performance with more gusto given that they consider it as their last hurrah. Not to mention, it is raining stars in the audience (Lea Salonga!)

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