Monday, October 3, 2016

Ako Si Josephine (PETA)

In a fictional place called Allegra, social conduct and behavior are dictated by a principle referred to as Musiconomy. Banning every other musical genre, despotic leader Monotomia (Ricci Chan) controls everyone through constant streaming of HYP music, whose repetitive beats turn the citizenry into lifeless drones who live to work and serve the current social system in place. Josephine (Via Antonio) aids Chinito (Joaquin Valdes) in the production such trance music, directly contributing to the perverse status quo. In her heart, though, she jives to a different kind of rhythm, that of diverse musical styles from a past that now lives only in their memory. As she yearns for both romantic love and liberty from the twisted regime, her compositions become an avenue for rebellion and revolution, much to her friends’ reluctance, in fear of getting exiled on Isla Sintonados where all insurgents are shipped, never to return.

Featuring the hits of Yeng Constantino, not reading the synopsis gives you the false impression that this would be an autobiographical account of her life narrated through her music. While she has contributed a lot in keeping Tagalog pop rock alive, a tribute this early in her career just doesn’t feel merited. This is why it’s a good surprise once you find out that it is just her songs that are used in the musical. The main premise is actually quite innovative, not to mention timely, in different kind of ways.

The set is minimal but effectively maximized. The wall doubles as a way of establishing scene settings by virtue of comic-like captions, as well as a medium for displaying flashbacks, communication with Konduktor, and making Allegra different from the metro we all know by painting a more futuristic cityscape. The treadmill at the middle of the stage also proves to be really useful in many scenes. In any case, the set does not distract much from the main storyline. In effect, it’s the many ad libs and updated cultural references that really catch you off-guard. Perhaps, that is the strength of Filipino theater productions. They can rely on improv without it coming off as forced.

Chan has always been a reliable theater actor, delivering what is needed of him and always adding a little something extra. It’s good to see him get promoted to a main antagonist role. As a homosexual AI who takes over an entire nation, he is as fierce as he is vulnerable, as sinister as he is hilarious. His conviction makes his line delivery even funnier than they already are. And of course, that entire sequence with the gospel choir was hilarity at its finest, an opportune moment to break the fourth wall and involve the audience in the action, just when the primary love story is beginning to drag.

Antonio and Valdes make a cute couple, and they both can sing really well too, which is why their duets really resonate onstage. The template of their love story is rather predictable, though, and it hijacks the second act. Nevertheless, their interactions never failed to elicit ooohs and awws from an audience that was obviously asking for that kind of teenybopper love story. While the two do shine together onstage, it’s when they interact with the other members of the ensemble that they achieve full comedic effect.

Whether the social commentary is intentional or not, the use of music as a tool for subjugation is a creative jab at the way society works. While music has been used time and again to promote certain social movements, its role here is more pronounced in that it is the main weapon wielded by the oppressors to whip the oppressed. In return, music is also the first line of defense and proves to be essential for the counter attack of the opposition. The result is a vibrant musical indulging you with a danceable concert rife with social relevance at its core. And isn’t it a real treat when a theater piece is enjoyable and thought-provoking at the same time?

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