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USD $1 ₱ 58.29 -0.3270 May 30, 2024
May 29, 2024
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REVIEW: ‘Bar Boys: A New Musical’ is a triumph of a show, no objections

There’s so much more I want to say but I’ll keep it as simple as this. This show needs a re-run. No objections.

It has been a while since I’ve seen an original Filipino production that really moved me in the magical way that a good theater show really does. That ones that do are usually revivals (so you know that these are new, creative restaging of tried and tested works) or they are new jukebox musicals, in which case, they are hampered down in terms of concept and narrative structure because of the parameters of the existing songs. While based on a film by Kip Oebanda, ‘Bar Boys: A New Musical’ has such vibrant energy that is rooted in its wonderful cast and an excellent book that any of its weaknesses are overshadowed by all the play’s strengths that I found myself laughing loud, crying in certain scenes, and leaving the theater energized and inspired.

Directed by Pat Valera and Mikko Angeles, with book by Pat Valera and all new songs and music by Myke Solomon, ‘Bar Boys: A New Musical’ is an exciting new production that manages to capture the idealism and verve of the youth while also navigating this revolutionary spirit through the harsh realities of the world. 

The play is, afterall, about four young friends who enter law school. Erik, Chris, Torran, and Josh come from very different backgrounds, but they all have the best of intentions in becoming lawyers. In fact, right before they enter law school, they are part of rally for their presidential pick – and based on the colors and the sentiments that are ingrained in the song, you know who they are voting for – and we see their hopes and dreams in full view. And then we see it struck down by the realisation that their beliefs are not shared by the rest of the country and the other candidate wins instead. They are now more galvanized than ever to enter law school to change the world.

Bar Boys set | Photo by Kyle Venturillo

The play’s first act then goes through the highs and lows of the four law students as they face various challenges and harsh realities: demanding teachers, fraternities, the demands of law school, and their own interpersonal relationships begin to suffer. Each one is also defined by their own backstory. Erik comes from a humble background, with his single father working as a security guard for a factory. Torran is a legacy child, whose loving mom can be a bit overbearing in her hopes that her son can also become a lawyer and carry the family tradition. Josh is filled with the youthful enthusiasm to change the world – he’s an environmentalist with hopes of using his law degree to make significant changes to the injustice of the world. Chris is the wealthiest of the four, and the most hard-working with the most go-getter attitude of the bunch. But Chris and Torran have secrets that will add another layer of challenges for them to deal with as the play unfolds further.

The first act is both funny and harrowing – detailing the difficult life of law students and how much they have to sacrifice to be able to meet their dreams. The worst part is the cold hard reality of how unjust this world is starts to bear down on them while still in school. It’s just a taste for what’s to come for all these characters.

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The four leads are all terrific actors. Omar Uddin is extremely charismatic as Josh. Uddin keeps Josh from becoming the typical probinsyano stereotype. He incredibly shifts from Bisaya to English to Filipino, code switching when needed, showing off his dynamic skill sets but when reality rears its ugly head, Uddin manages to show Josh’s fragility in such a manner that makes you care for him as well as invest in his sudden transformation. Jerom Canlas is solid as Torran. He’s not as flashy as a performer at the other leads but when Torran’s secret is discovered halfway through Act One, the added nuance to his character allows him to really show off his acting chops. Alex Diaz infuses Chris with so much earnestness that he propels the show forward. It’s Chris’ idealism that serves as the fulcrum that allows the play to really test the limits of justice. Diaz has an innocence that never gets cloying. He makes Chris believable without making him annoying or corny, an incredible feat on his own. But it’s Benedix Ramos who really steals the show. If Alex Diaz fuels the play, Ramos is the show’s beating heart. His Erik is not rich, but he manages to instill such dignity in the character that it becomes the play’s center. All this talk of justice and goodness and righteousness only means something because Ramos has made Erik so symbolic of this and every interaction, he has with Juliene Mendoza (who plays Erik’s dad ‘Paping’) or Shiela Francisco (who plays Justice Hernandez, one of their mentors) the soul of this production.

Alex Diaz plays Chris Carlson, Nor Domingo plays Atty. Maurice Carlson | Photo by Kyle Venturillo
Sheila Francisco plays Justice Hernandez | Photo by Kyle Venturillo

We see the struggles of these kids as they must grow up so quickly in front of our eyes. There’s a wonderful directorial and production design decision that the four years that transpires in act one is marked by the upgrading of the clothes that characters wear. It’s such a small, tiny thing but it helps create the feeling of the passage of time that adds depth to the play’s story.

The four leads are also very fortunate to have an incredible supporting cast to prop them up. Mendoza and Francisco are incredible (both their scenes near the end are the reason why you must bring tissue to this production) as well as Gimbey Dela Cruz, who plays several characters as well as Torran’s mother. Topper Fabregas is excellent as Victor Cruz, an attorney who also ends up teaching the boys in one class. Rounding up the cast are Nor Domingo, Kakki Teodoro, and Carlon Motabato.

Alex Diaz plays Chris Carlson, Jerom Canlas plays Torran Garcia | Photo by Kyle Venturillo

But I’d really like to take this opportunity to point out what an excellent ensemble this show has. Diego Aranda, Joshua Ade Valenzona, Edrei Tan, Jannah Baniasia, Anne Cortez, Uzziel Delamide, and Meg Ruiz form the world that this play exists in. They are a protean bunch who, in one moment are part of the crowd in the rally or help transition scenes from each other by becoming people riding the MRT but they also end up filling up the classrooms of the law school sequences were they play particular students who have their own personalities. For that one or two lines that they have, they take the spotlight and elicit their own reactions from the audience and then they quickly disappear and become part of the crowd all over again. They are singing, dancing, filling up the spaces, and helping this play feel big and believable. It’s one of the best ensembles I’ve seen in a long time.

The play, though, is not perfect. While a lot of the original songs of Myke Solomon are great, there are some songs that don’t end with any finality – so sometimes the audience doesn’t know how to react; do they clap? Is it over? – while others tend to come off a literal or may be better spoken rather than sung. My biggest gripe comes from the choreography which I find a strange mix of contemporary movements and urban, and street movements. The movements don’t feel natural to the play. The play is so bound in reality, and contemporary themes and language and the choreography feels so classical and old school. There’s also so much of it like in one song, early in Act One, Chris sings about what his dreams are – for a place he can call home – and suddenly, the ensemble comes in and starts dancing around them. It felt so intrusive because this was a tender moment for Chris and his friends. A full-on dance number wasn’t needed at this point in time. There are a lot of moments like this when there’s just too much choreography in the show.

Also, the PowerMac Spotlight doesn’t have the best acoustics or technical components when it comes to sound. So the voices of all the actors are distorted by the microphones and speakers of the venue. It’s such a shame because the play is so rooted in that human element.

But it’s a small gripe when you consider the fact that this show manages to tackle so many different important themes without sacrificing any of the fun of a theater show. It’s very funny but it is also very relevant. And when you talk about justice and youthful idealism, I feel that this play can be quite timeless because the issues that are brought out as case studies for the young lawyers-to-be are morality issues that will be discusses over and over again through time.

And as the play talks about the harsh realities of the world and the cracks and loopholes of the justice system, it still manages to keep the stories very human and relatable. This is best shown in a showstopping number when Josh narrates a big song number about waiting for the results of the bar exams. The fantastic ensemble is on stage and Uddin conducts their emotions and it’s such a powerful, stirring scene that even I got goosebumps in this moment. It was so relatable because the whole first act showed us how hard it was for these people to get to that point.

It’s the way that the book of ‘Bar Boys: A New Musical’ is structured that all the emotional payoffs hit all the right notes. 

I would love to see this show again and bring more people onboard. I’m so happy it is doing well because this is a show that really is in synch with the Filipino sense of joy and hard work. It speaks about our hopes and dreams and while it does not shy away from the harsh realities of life, it manages to find an answer to the pervasive question of why we should keep fighting when injustice makes it so difficult for the good people to win. 

There’s so much more I want to say but I’ll keep it as simple as this. This show needs a re-run. No objections.

My Rating:

5 stars - Don't Look Up review


Bar Boys: A New Musical is currently running at Power Mac Center Blackbox Theater until May 19. Tickets are available via Ticket2Me (bit.ly/barboystickets) and show buyers.

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