Little Women

Alcott classic closes Rep's 73rd Season
By Earl D.C. Bracamonte

Repertory Philippines presents the Broadway musical Little Women to close the curtains on its 73rd season. The 407th production of the company, this Alcott classic is just the right show to usher in the Yuletide with all the happy and bitter-sweet family memories it brings.
With themes of sorority and female empowerment providing an automatic connection to women of all ages, Louisa May Alcott's 1869 semi-autobiographical classic novel gets a musical makeover. A story that touches the hearts and minds of young and old alike, it is an inspiring tale of four siblings growing up during the American Civil War.
Little Women focuses on the four March maidens: feisty, tomboyish, aspiring author Jo (Caisa Borromeo), who maintains fierce loyalty and love for her family while refusing the constricting role laid out for women at that time; kind-hearted Beth (Cara Barredo); pretentious Amy (Kelly Lati); and romantic Meg (Lora Nicolas), with their beloved Marmee (Pinky Marquez), at home in Concord, Massachusetts while the family patriarch is away serving as Union Army chaplain on the war front.
Interwoven with the story are the vignettes in which the sisters' lives unfold through several recreations of the melodramatic short stories Jo writes in her attic studio.
After her brilliant directing debut in Stages' production of West Side Story, and playing Mrs. Lovett with flying colors in Repertory's production of Sweeney Todd, theater maven Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo returns to her Repertory roots, this time, by directing Alcott's well-loved classic. “I have been acting in Repertory productions since I was 15 years old. And now, 33 years later, I am directing my first musical. I could not have been given a better musical to direct - a beautiful story based on one of the most heart-warming stories ever written. Add to that a beautiful score and you have a show that will make you laugh, cry and leave the theater humming a tune. I have assembled a wonderful cast, a lot of them doing their first Repertory production. They are the future of Philippine theater.”
Of these Rep neophytes, Nicolas does a good job at playing Meg. But I single out newcomer Lati for giving a strong turn as Amy March. This could be her vehicle to a long theater career, should she maintain this good showing.
Borromeo's donning of a toupee, to approximate Winona Ryder's character Jo in the film version, is a brilliant touch. However, the comparison stops there. For while the brilliant Ryder immerses into the character with flawless ease, Borromeo's attack on the role is forced and too adrenalized; bringing to mind her portrayal of the tomboyish character Anybodys from West Side Story. It was like seeing her in the aforementioned role but in a different production. That she can hardly modulate her powerful voice to fit the theater's limited fly space worsens it all. The same can be said of Jaime Barcelon who plays Laurie Laurence's character by-the-number. Best efforts and all, including a not-so remarkable vocal range, the actor finds his voice straining to a falsetto in some of the high notes in his repertoire.
Yet, there is always a saving grace. And in this production, our hats go to the theater stalwarts .
As the spinster Aunt March, Joy Virata's essaying of the role is at once riveting and attention-grabbing. Her tireless dedication to the theater has spanned decades and her prowess as a thespian shines through in her impressive delivery. Her body of work, amassed from critically-acclaimed productions, are testaments to her elegance, vulnerability, wit and charm as a world-class stage disciple; ranking her among titans of Philippine theater.
Likewise, Miguel Faustmann's portrayal as the grumpy Mr. Laurence is hard to miss. Perfect in his cadence, timing and delivery, the actor has proven, time and again, that's he's one tough act to follow. Another remarkable turn comes from Mayen Bustamante-Cadd as boarding house mistress Mrs. Kirk. Her nuanced performance, albeit short, shows how a seasoned actress can breath life effortlessly into a role that would easily be forgotten in the hands of a less gifted performer. And so is Pinky Marquez's superb take on the Pollyanna-ish Marmee; whose beautiful voice enthralls the audience especially on her solos that she reads with panache.
After a splendid job in Sweeney Todd, conductor Gerard Salonga returns to true form in this production with FILharmoniKA. Like his sister Lea, he too has proven his mettle in his chosen craft.
Little Women runs until Dec 20 at the Onstage in Greenbelt 1. For more information, simply call 887-0710.

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