Nov 28, 2013

[Theater] Maxie The Musicale: Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros (Bit by Bit Company)

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros was certainly a unique LGBT movie experience - one that didn't focus on the usual tropes of the party circuit or living with HIV but instead on a rather innocent story of a boy first falling in love. The only quirk was that it was a gay boy falling in love with a police officer, but otherwise it was a classic first love sort of story. I enjoyed the movie a lot and I should probably take the time to write a new review for it given I had watched the movie before this blog was created.

When the news broke that Bit by Bit Company was adapting the movie into a stage musical, I have to admit that I was quite pleasantly surprised. The movie was already great and I was certainly curious to see how anyone would try to adapt it for the stage. And given how local queer musicals do have a flair for camp and comedy, I had a pretty good feeling about things in general.

This past Sunday, Tobie and I finally got to watch the play at the PETA Theater and it was even better than I had expected - and this is already given rather positive reviews from critics and friends alike. The show was pretty amazing and I hope my review captures even just a part of what made it such a great show for me.

Synopsis: Maxie The Musical: Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros is an original Filipino stage musical adapted from the award-winning movie Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros. The play was directed by Dexter M. Santos with book and lyrics by Nicolas B. Pichay and music composed by William Elvin Manzano, Janine Santos, and J.J. Pimpino. The show was staged at the PETA Theater by Bit by Bit Company from November 9, 2013 to December 8, 2013.

In Sampaloc Manila, we are introduced to the residents of the community and ultimately our young protagonist Maxie (Jayvhot Galang) and his friends Nar (Aaron Ching), Leslie (Nomer Limatog, Jr.), and Monique (Teetin Villanueva). Maxie is only 12 years old and already and is fully embracing his being gay with his pink outfits, hair clips and headbands. He's the youngest son of Paco (Roeder Camanag / Nazer Salcedo), who runs a small cellphone snatching operation with his older songs Boy (OJ Mariano / Al Gatmaitan) and Bogs (Jay Gonzaga). Maxie is loved by many given his kind nature and how he helps out pretty much everyone in his own small way from cooking meals for his family to running errands for different people in the community.

Things change when a new police officer, Victor Perez (Jojo Riguerra), is assigned to the area. Victor is doing his best to be an honest cop in an area where the police are known for corruption of all sorts. Victor eventually encounters Maxie being accosted by local thugs. He manages to drive the attackers off and takes Maxie home with the boy now smitten by his rescuer. Maxie then starts building a friendship with the policeman as other events are set in motion that may complicate things.

Like the movie before it, the play tries to tackle a number of different concepts and themes over the course of the play. At the center of things, of course, is the story of Maxie's first love in the form of "Kuya Victor". But there's also the bigger effort to paint a generally realistic picture of the Sampolic community as centered around the criminal activities of Maxie's family. And lastly there are those fantasy escape moments when we just enjoy the childish pursuits of Maxie and his friends, albeit an queer childhood filled with beauty contests and complex dance routines. And the play was pretty much able to capture all three aspects quite well with the some indulgence taken with the fantasy scenes - which is only natural for musical theater.

The play includes an amazing set of talent - especially for the cast that we watched last Sunday. Beyond the main actors Jayvhot Galang and Jojo Riguerra, the play features a very dynamic cast with notable performances by theater veteran OJ Mariano (from plays like Sweet Charity and Forbidden Broadway), everyone in the cast was quite committed to their roles - and I suppose that's to be expected given the many folks with Dulaang UP background. And thus I enjoyed the really big group scenes not just during the big dance numbers but when everyone just happened to be busy with something else. The blocking for big ensemble scenes like that can be pretty maddening and it's great how everyone was committed to their various roles in the scene.

Special mention has be given to the set design and the lighting work done for this entire production. There was a lot of thought that went into recreating Sampaloc in the theater ranging from the choice in materials used to build the set down to the laundry lines hanging all throughout the theater. Choosing to have the entire set painted silver at first seemed odd but made a heck of a lot more sense once the play began. and given the unusual design of the stage, both Tobie and I were very, very impressed with the lighting. We've seen productions by companies like Atlantis Productions that features amazing grand sets but failed when it came to lighting. For Maxie they made sure to provide a variety of lighting moods in the various parts of the shade with a diverse range of lights and shadows that the actors could use to maximum effect.

The production numbers were pretty amazing and I can't imagine how much work everyone had to put into learning the different dance routines. With the size of the cast and the many, many songs worked into the play, rehearsals must have been grueling. But everything certainly came together come showtime and I'm was more than impressed with the final results. I certainly wasn't expecting numbers so complex and diverse and my hats go off for the entire team behind the play.

I guess the only hiccup was the decision to expand the Sampaloc storyline to include this weird bit about a potential demotion. Sure, they way they choreographed the big demolition scene and the riot police was impressive, but I'm just not sure how well it fit into the narrative. The scenes had value on their own but felt like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the story.

Beyond that, Maxie The Musicale: Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros is an amazing play and I strongly encourage you geeky readers to catch it while you can. This is a play that show just what the local theater community is capable of outside of staging the usual Broadway shows that have become popular somewhere else. And I'd be more than happy to see this show get a chance to tour the country or even the world some time, given enough support. This first run of the musical gets a full 5 crazy exchanges spearheaded by Nars out of a possible 5.
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