Sunday, September 18, 2011

My coverage of SayAwit

Lea Salonga tribute highlights SayAwit
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated September 19, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

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Primitive chanting in SayAwit’s first act| Zoom
MANILA, Philippines - They opened the show with a chant and everyone inside the Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood hills was held in complete awe; the audience was enthralled by the unique sound emanating from the stage. The primitive ritual performed by the critically-acclaimed Los Angeles-based choir Philippine Chamber Singers evoked the creation of man based on the Filipino folklore of Si Malakas at si Maganda. It was a fitting start to a show that promised to showcase the best of Filipino songs and dances.

The lush scenery of the outdoor venue — with the late summer breeze providing a soft hum in the background — was the perfect stage for the opening tribute to Mother Nature. Music is not a modern-day discovery. Music, like every other form of art, traces its roots to our natural environment. Those primitive chanting are our ancestors’ way of imitating the sounds they hear from the rushing rivers, flapping leaves and howling winds; it was their way to commune with the gods. The shrieking, the high-pitched sound, was impeccably captured by the choir and for a few minutes the audience was transported back in time.

It was a difficult first act. It was more of a performance act than a musical act, but it was a welcome respite from the flashy and catchy pop tunes churned out every week for today’s teens noted for their short attention span. The experience was totally new for the audience that didn’t seem to know how to respond in the beginning. It was the ethnic portion of the show billed as SayAwit, a play on the Tagalog words for Dance (Sayaw) and Song (Awit). It was a great start — challenging and different but definitely interesting. Too bad, the production wasn’t able to sustain it.

After the promising start, the show became a mishmash of various musical forms and dances and a seemingly misplaced stand-upcomedy act in-between musical sets by noted thespian Bernardo Bernardo, who also served as the show’s writer and director.

Lea Salonga is honored as the ‘greatest Filipino musical talent ever’ – Photos by Dondi Quema
For a show that promised to showcase classic and contemporary Philippine choral music infused with excerpts from Filipino stage musicals, last weekend’s presentation did all that and so much more — so much more that, to my disappointment, it ended up becoming too overwhelming, a little bit jarring and just less memorable.

The outstanding first act included regional songs sung in various Filipino dialects and was capped by a prayer to the Virgin Mary. The Philippine Chamber Singers displayed the full array of talent that has already won them applause from all over Southern California. They were so great that I nearly forgot that the choir is composed of remarkable individuals who have their respective day jobs to attend to and it is only their passion for singing and incredible time management skills that keep the choir alive.

The second part of the show had more movement on stage but it was a rather standard, if not routine, musical show. “Kung hindi dumating ang mga Kastila sa Pilipinas malamang kamukha tayo lahat ni Nora Aunor,” was how Bernardo introduced the second act — and it set the tone for the rest of the show. He was undeniably funny but those jokes would have worked better in another show.

If I didn’t make any notes during the second act, I wouldn’t have remembered the beautiful tribute to the Filipino Sarsuwela by guest soloist Djoanna Garcia, who has retained her incredible voice, or LA’s top stand-up comic Joseph Gelito’s knockout performance in the naughty act that played on his manliness, or lack thereof.
Joseph Gelito with the Philippine Chamber Singers

And, if not for my notes, I would have still been thinking that the entire show was a tribute to Lea Salonga, who is, according to the show, the greatest Filipino musical talent ever. The Tony-winning singer made a surprise appearance after the confusing Broadway portion of the second act. It was baffling how songs from Miss Saigon and The King & I ended up in a show that was supposed to showcase the best in Filipino music.

My complaints aside, I must say it was still a solid show. Maybe less memorable but still an entertaining show. The first act, though it felt weird initially, was, interestingly enough, the best part of the show. The show had so many guest soloists during the second act that I nearly missed the Philippine Chamber Singers. Perhaps, next time, they will be on a show all their own. They deserve it.

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