Is it Jasmine or Mulan?

I don’t think there could be enough earthly description for the kind of impact Lea Salonga and her music has on me. Broadway Superstar and Singing Voice of the two Disney Princesses mentioned in the title, Lea made her fabulous and fierce debut at the Sydney Opera House, Friday night, February 3rd, along with her brother, the magnificent Maestro Gerard Salonga who conducted the astonishing Sydney Symphony Orchestra (That is like too many good things combined already!).

Heads up: there will be no performance snapshots displayed on this blogpost because I simply was not able to take any. Basically, I couldn’t bring my camera (a mirrorless one) out without the security guys assuming that I was recording the performance, as video recordings were not allowed at all. And so I just didn’t bother sneaking it out, not even taking a single photo.  Moreover, I do happen to know of Lea’s strong distaste for mobile devices being in use during a performance, whether in a theatre environment or a concert event (especially camera flashes). And this time, I was sitting right in front of the freakin’ stage! First row, ladies and gents! I thought I didn’t wanna ruin someone’s night. So, yep. No phones. But it turns out to be the rightest decision I’ve ever made in a concert setting.

Lea’s performance as always is brilliant and flawless. Her calibre has not ever languished. Her inimitable ability to connect with her audience through song and stories, and her scintillating wit just makes her audience love her more. Her pitch―just impeccable. Her voice―let’s just say that it has the power and the colour that you will never get enough of.

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She had a fantastic repertoire, which spans from musical theatre favourites, her Disney classics, of course; and some newly fashioned pop tunes, that once you hear them you’d probably utter, “I never thought that song could sound like that!” She always does this. Last time, she brought Bruno Mars some new flavour. This time, she took a tune from One Direction and a Cyndi Lauper classic, and plainly made them hers.

One of my favourites would be “Another Hundred People” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.” Her phrasing and intonation were fastidiously on point as she moves through a very complex melodic trajectory.  And man, this was a good opener for a SOH concert, I tell you that.

“I Enjoy Being A Girl” from Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song” is something I’ve always dreamed of hearing live. I have always adored her rendition ever since I saw it on the Broadway Concert DVD. Lots of fun. This song is simply hers.

Her Disney classics have also never failed to grace any occasion. She sang “Reflection” from Mulan, and of course “A Whole New World” from Aladdin, with a very lucky audience member (unfortunately, it wasn’t me). Lea said that she’s oftentimes asked, “Are you more like Princess Jasmine or Fa Mulan?” to which the answer is seemingly obvious according to her. I remember her funny commentaries a few years back in one of her shows I got to see on YouTube somewhere about Mulan’s character identity and bravery, and the fact that she doesn’t need to “have big boobs to save China.”

“Miss Saigon” would never be MIA. She brought her impassioned rendition of “I’d Give My Life For You” and “Too Much For One Heart.” This was shortly followed by a medley of Michel Legrand’s renowned classics, which was ended with “A Piece of Sky” from “Yentl.” It was breathtaking!

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Photo by Robert Catto

One of the “new” songs I heard from her (“new” because I’ve actually never heard this piece before, nor have I heard her do it) was “Burn” from Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” This has left me dumbfounded. She gave the song and the character who sings it, Eliza, a bit of a background at the beginning, which was pretty dark and dangerous. Then, in a flick, she threw me into that dimension and I was hardly breathing. And I promised myself I’m watching Hamilton after this night!

“Send in the Clowns” did not need any introduction. The mini melodic riff was enough to preface the melody, and emancipate the poignant spirit of the piece. Needless to say, it was a very moving rendition.

Furthermore, her iconic Les Miz pieces would always show up and show out. “I Dreamed A Dream” and “On My Own” sounded as though she was merely breathing through it, but certainly without losing the weight of their respective characterisation. Absolutely phenomenal.

A couple more hits from musicals got the audience euphoric and singing nonstop such as her supposed finale number “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked”, and the unstoppable-unrelenting-unsinkable “Let It Go” from Frozen. She made some funny comments on how parents go through the horror of their kids’ perpetual fondness of this song. Apparently, a lot of people could relate.

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Photo by Robert Catto

What I am very happy to witness upfront with my eyes barely blinking, was the way Lea would transform into the different characters each song belongs to, from head to toe. Man, she does it in seconds. And there is so much honesty, so much rawness, so much truthfulness in each one. Aaand she would do it one after the other. How do you become 5 different women on the same stage, in one succession, in one go, with no take twos, in front of an Opera House-sized crowd? Explain that to me.

I mean, she’s all experienced and a master of it by this time, I’m sure. But I still see it as simply “supernatural.” I really got no more to say about that. And I’m sure it’s only one of the many special reasons why she’s considered phenomenal in the world stage.

Also, may I just note that the two overtures were just tremendously remarkable. Kudos to the genius musical arrangements of Maestro Gerard Salonga. Plus, the SSO was truly world-class. I’ve not much more to say, really. So much power. So much artistry.

I also got a list of some songs I was really wishing she would have done (again):

  • “Still Hurting” from “The Last Five Years”
  • “He Touched Me” from “Drat! The Cat”
  • “Nothing” from “A Chorus Line”
  • “Someone Else’s Story” from “Chess”
  • “Someone Like You” from “Jekyll and Hyde”
  • “Two Words”
  • “The Journey”

The show was nothing short of exceptional. No performance photos or recordings were taken for me. But it made me immerse myself in the whole experience, the Lea Salonga experience. No audio recording or video file could ever capture or duplicate the magic and the brilliance one gets to encounter in her shows. I was fortunate to take it all home, one hundred per cent.

She continues to inspire me to nurture my love for musical theatre. She continues to make me proud to be of Filipino descent. She continues to prove that excellence can be truly achieved with hard work, resilience and consistency, and that longevity in this industry she’s chosen is something you really work hard for and commit to.

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Photo at the Intimate M&G after the show.

Photo courtesy: Robert Catto, Theatre People, Limelight Magazine

13 Filipino Artists You Need to Listen and Re-Listen to

Filipino music is very much alive today. It is here to stay. It ain’t going anywhere. And just like any other type of music and/or culture, it evolves. It matures. It expands. It diversifies. It reflects the phases of growth and progression that the Filipino culture undergoes, as well as the vagaries and proclivities of Filipinos’ creative minds.

OPM (Original Pilipino Music) or now also coined “Pinoy Pop” has come a long, vigorous way. And our Filipino artists are better and braver than ever. They are the unwavering stalwarts of our creative heritage. They define OPM. They fuel OPM. They take it to different heights. And now, they continue to bring forth immensely significant contributions for this generation and the next generations of artists and music lovers.

So here’s a short list of Filipino artists that I believe deserve our listening ears, and whose musical works are undisputed  and world-class. Make sure that you listen to them to know and understand why they’re top-notch.

1) KYLA

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-10-54-38-pmShe is dubbed as the Philippines’ Queen of R&B. And she absolutely lives by this title. Kyla is an artist of high reputation whose voice, I believe, does not sound like any other! She has everything a vocalist would ever dream of: (1) a wide pitch range, (2) a sweet, breathy and velvety vocal tone (for her low to mid register), which can switch up to a lusty and dynamic timbre (for her high register); (3) perfect pitch—her runs are always on point and constantly carries a high degree of complexity; lastly, (4) improvisation skills—she can turn any song into her own either by embellishing or refashioning a simple melodic line into something quite interesting. Just listen to her tasteful rendition of a Filipino favourite, “On the Wings of Love” that basically put her back on the charts.

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2) YENG CONSTANTINO

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Dubbed formerly as the Pop Rock Princess, and now Pop Rock Superstar, the multi-awarded Yeng Constantino has absolutely blown audiences away in different parts of the world in the last ten years with her stylistic prowess, undeniable talent and distinctive artistry. Yeng’s remarkable contribution to the OPM domain as a singer and songwriter has been incredibly significant and can never be discounted in history. She is a strong and living force in the industry. Her music has set a whole new standard for the Pop Rock genre, producing smashing hits like “Jeepney Love Story”, “Salamat“, “Lapit“, “Ikaw“, and the all time favourite, “Hawak Kamay“. Recently, a musical was successfully written and staged featuring a range of her most notable hits.

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3) JASON DY

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Known primarily for being a winner of the Filipino edition of The Voice, Jason is another R&B whizz whose musicality combines a very contemporary mode of singing (from the enunciation to his musical trajectory), and an ardent, soulful delivery. His runs are always daring and gutsy. He is in significant ways a trendsetter because of his flexibility in singing a range of different styles such as ballads, funky tunes, and even dance hits, without sacrificing his vocal identity. That defines a modern artist in a way—flexibility, agility, innovation and responsiveness to change. See how he infused an R&B flare onto this original ballad piece.

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4) MORISSETTE AMON

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This woman is a musical firecracker and an extraordinary performer. Morissette is one of the few Filipino singers (if not, the only one) who use the whistle register very effortlessly on a regular basis. In terms of abilities and artistic achievements, she has accomplished exceedingly much at a very young age.  Her technique is strong and sturdy that allows her to become flexible in using all her singing registers. And her high notes—all smooth and easy. She’s known to also ‘break’ her voice on purpose, which is a technique popularised by Mariah Carey during her prime years. Listen to one of her original hits that embody the novelty and colour of her vocal style.

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5) KZ TANDINGAN

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The “Soul Supreme”. KZ just keeps getting better. Everything about her is still evolving—her style, her sound, her looks, her intensity. She has only been around for a few years but her impact in the industry and with her audience is expanding incrementally with great force. She defines soul and passion. She has already contributed important and monumental songs for her generation like the award-winning “Mahal Ko O Mahal Ako“, “Scared to Death”, and her superb rendition of “Wag Ka Nang Umiyak” by Ebe Dancel. She knows how to reshape a song and give it a brand new fashion. Her warm and raspy vocal timbre sings more than just the story of the music—it penetrates your soul and messes with it every once in a while, so don’t get surprised when tears just start rolling down your eyes. She is that artist that you always want to watch and listen to live because of her enormous effect on you.

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6) JOHNOY DANAO

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How do you even begin to describe Johnoy Danao? Maybe the folks who have watched him in his sold-out gigs could explain better. He has been called the modern troubadour for his unexplainable ability to tear your heart up alive with his beauteous poetry and splendid vocals. He is an extraordinary acoustic artist whose music embodies absolute sentimentalism. His music is the touch of warmth that does not take away the pain, but soothes it very sensitively. I can still remember my initial reaction when I first heard his “Ikaw At Ako“. I was just pierced to the bones, wide-eyed, thunderstruck. It’s like it did something in me that is hard to explain. And that’s how you know you’re listening to music that is beyond just the music, but also speaks to the intangible soul.

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7) UP DHARMA DOWN

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Well now, I’ve not a lot of words to say about this group. They have proven quite enough, really, and earned their stripes over the years. They are an icon in the Filipino music realm and have carved their artistic niche very well even internationally. And their music is proven to be timeless and relevant. I believe their music is actually ahead of its time. That is why more and more people have learned to recognise and appreciate their multifaceted style, poetry and artistic language. The eclecticism and urbanity of their approach are just some of the things that make them unique. Who has listened “Tadhana” and not has his or her heart miss a beat?

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8) SARAH GERONIMO

12496461_10153207952346750_8854062340252040429_o“Sarah G” has already been hailed as an OPM royalty who has flexibly showcased outstanding versatility, and several aspects and attributes of her artistic identity in the past decade. Breaking free from being a traditional “biritera” (female belter), she has now emerged yet with a brand new element that redefines what it is to be a “pop star” in the Philippines today. Her style and sound have transformed drastically, and have diversified from mainly diva ballads into a more eclectic mix of R&B, soul, dance, alternative, even rap. She has ventured more on contemporary singing, highly enmeshed with dance, delivered with vehement attitude and intensity. All of these make her the hot-blooded, walking-talking, triple threat that she is today. She always has something new and interesting to offer so never miss a tune from her. Here is one of the hits that signify her transition era.

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9) MARK CARPIO

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Mark Carpio seems to be a new name in the OPM scene, but it will be hard to bypass the kind of musicality he offers. This guy is a balladeer with a strong vocal resonance, an advantageous pitch range, and substantial flexibility to shift between different registers and dynamics. His love songs are quite evocative and could probably be classified as “#hugot” songs (songs that draw out deep-seated emotions) because of the height and depth of emotions they portray. Some of these powerful, moving songs have now been used as soundtracks for film and TV such as “Hiling” and “Kay Tagal“. We expect to hear a lot more from Mark in the coming years.

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10) JONA

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You gotta admire this woman for her staunch pipes that can withstand any excruciating octave or any musical whirlwind. If you ever get lost around the C6-G6 area, you’ll find her there. Jonalyn Viray, now popular as Jona is one of the strongest and most dynamic Filipina vocalists in the whole of Asia who has enough flexibility to sing a wide array of styles–from pop ballads to billboard toppers. She is an ambitious vocalist, and knows how to accomplish all that she envisions, one by one. Her vocal range is sweeping; her higher register is cogent and compact. She is phenomenal. She is another example of a modern-day artist who knows how to innovate and redesign music, and proves to us that creativity always wins. In her recent solo concert, she has demonstrated that her set of pipes is indeed indefatigable and that she has earned and truly deserves her spot in the show business today because of her hard work, her excellence and consistency.

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11) EDWARD BENOSA

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This good looking dude knows how to capture the real essence of ballads—passion, vulnerability, romanticism. And surely, he is beyond his riveting looks. His voice carries a heavy deal of poignance in his hits like “‘Di Man Lang Nagpaalam” and “Why Did You Stay”. He lays his fragile soul bare with his powerful voice and unfeigned delivery. No wonder at the early stage of his career, this promising neophyte has won Best New Male Recording Artist in the prestigious Star Awards for Music of the Philippine Movie Press Club (PMPC). Definitely looking forward to more of his soul-stirring performances and thrilling vocal exhibitions.

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12) MOIRA DELA TORRE

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Moira is an artist to watch out for. She may be called a trendsetter for being one of the first few artists to introduce a singing style more prominent in Western contemporary scene today: a technique that includes singing with a twang, fluctuating dynamics, and consistent breathiness. Last time I checked, there isn’t a name or term for this vocal style yet. Some people call it the “indie” vocals because it is mostly used by indie artists—the likes of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Nataly Dawn. More and more singers of all races attempt to sound like that these days, but they just sound ridiculous. (Seriously, just stop.)  Thankfully, we have one that sounds pretty “legit” and actually intoxicatingly mellifluous, and that is Moira. She has merged this sweet-toned singing style and the Filipino musical flavour, producing a very wholesome outcome.

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13) DARYL ONG

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Exceptional and edgy—these are the words I believe that best describe Daryl Ong. These are the qualities that made him fit in and belong to the new breed of Filipino singers. (Or should we call them revolutionists?) Daryl is an R&B powerhouse with a voice so slick and refined. He is not a typical R&B artist that casually copies modal runs from established icons. He demonstrates cleverness and precision in utilising melisma and playful melodic variations just in the right amount and blend, and only as needed in the new flavour of the song. This is what makes his song revivals powerful and compelling. He retools any music with command and authority. And he makes the Filipino audience fall in love and appreciate Filipino-bred R&B. Listen to his tasteful rendition of “Stay”, originally performed and written by my OPM hero, Carol Banawa.

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(All embedded images and videos are owned by their rightful owners. The images are hyperlinked to their main sources.)

Face to face with Brandy

This is honestly the most significant 30 seconds of my life so far. And I wish I had more than that.

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30 seconds with Brandy. Photo taken by the theatre staff. We weren’t allowed to take photos with our devices during this time, which I find ridiculous and annoying because primarily they said we could. But anyway.

I did not intend to write a “concert review” or a tell-all anymore because my words would not do justice to how it really felt on the inside. It’s a struggle to put into words. The encounter is almost divine. Pretty elusive. (I should also say that having no photos taken during the show because my camera was considered a professional type somewhat discouraged me to recount things and events in detail like what I’d always do.)

I guess I should keep this experience in the list of things I’d prefer to store in my massive vault of unspeakable treasures. All I know is I’m thankful that I got to watch her perform live, and to witness with my own eyes and ears the brilliance, magnificence, and soul extraordinaire of Brandy. That is just more than enough.

I could absolutely say that this is just one of the best birthday gifts I have gifted to myself. You just gotta spoil yourself every once in a while, you know!

I also almost hyperventilated after she gave me a super tight, sincere hug during the short Meet and Greet. She emanated joy and gratitude. The feeling was indescribable almost. She was just so dang kind! It’s like all the sass and pizzazz she would display each time she performs were stripped away, and she was just an ordinary person humbly thanking her fans for coming out to see her show, which she verbalised in the most profound, soft-spoken fashion.

13465929_10206788204199109_5197471545758489570_nThis experience made me appreciate her more; her artistry, her personality, her appreciation for her fans; especially her receptivity and equanimity because I understand how tired she must have been after the show, but she managed to welcome her fans with open arms and with the sweetest smile.

Hands down, she still reigns in her realm. And this encounter will always be special and treasured in my mind and heart

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R.

X is for Dangerous

This is just breathtaking. Two vocal powerhouses from different generations have met on The Voice. But Christina, AKA Queen Xtina or Legendtina (and all that) just knocked me off my feet. Jump onto the second song “Dangerous Woman” to see what I’m talking about.

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Original image from Daily Mail Australia

This is Christina’s organic style and feel, the 6/8. This is hers ever since the Stripped era. It took me back to the times when she was singing ‘Walkaway’ and ‘Impossible’ (with Alicia Keys) from that album.

This is her sound. This is when her soul is at its most bare and raw and real. I can’t get over this one.

I’m happy that Christina manages to infuse her vocal prowess and formidable style into this brand new song. Nothing’s changed. She’s still IT.

And by the way, props to the Queen and her team for finally winning in this latest season of the voice! Congratulations to the new winner, Alisan Porter!

Watch the duet here.

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Brandy this June!

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Imma put it down, fellas! Brandy is coming to Australia this June! Yes, Brandy! Moesha Brandy, Cinderella Brandy, The Boy is Mine Brandy! Brandy, Brandy, Brandy!

I got all frisky and hysterical when I learned about her Australia and New Zealand tour this 2016. My sister could attest to this. It was a delirium. I was just over the big, round moon.

She is my R&B icon. One of the biggest stars of the 90s and early 21st century. She is also dubbed the “Vocal Bible” by soul fanatics because of her undeniably exceptional vocal prowess and formidable artistry. And her runs—raving mad.

Her music never gets old. Her style and sound are just timeless. It’s the quintessential R&B flavour. She’s like the eccentric spice you need to achieve an exquisite savour. Her voice is the embodiment of a divine, elusive soul. And she delivers all these with vigorous sass and panache.

Of course, I already purchased my ticket. Got it on the very first day of the pre-sale on the first week of May. I cannot and will not miss this for the world! According to the organisers, the pre-sale tickets were sold out! And the Platinum & Gold tickets are nearly gone!

There is also a Meet-and-Greet after the show, which is limited only to 50 people. I’m happy to say I’m one of the 50 to meet her an take photos with her. It’s surely not cheap, but given that this could only be once in a lifetime, I just gotta do it! I’m making this my birthday gift to myself for this year, and as a reward for all my hard work and toiling the past year. Gosh, am I worthy.

For more and current info about the concert, visit the production’s Facebook page.

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Spent this day listening to this incredible woman. Happy birthday to my first love and first musical inspiration, Carol Banawa! I can’t even begin to explain how much this artist means to me, but what I’m absolutely sure of is that I wouldn’t have this much passion for what I do today if not for her pristine voice and divine music.

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R.

Les Mis at the Capitol

What a weekend! The Australian production of Les Misérables was simply phenomenal. I mean, how do you even start to describe the remarkable experience, the amazing production, the brilliant music, and just the magnificent performance of the Aussie cast. It is really “Les Mis like you’ve never seen it before.

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I’ve always believed that amongst the enormous conglomeration of musicals on and off Broadway, and in different parts of the world, Les Mis has the one of the most beautifully written music that is perfectly tied up with its poignant, strident libretto. I don’t know the complete history of how it’s formed and all that. But gosh, the music has outlived its time, and has remained just as dynamic and powerful as it’s always been.

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It was last Saturday when I went to see a matinee of Les Mis. It was hard to describe how I felt hearing the iconic songs live for the very first time! “Look Down”, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “One Day More” surely sent chills down my spine. “Lovely Ladies” was just so raw and honest. “Castle on a Cloud” was so much more moving as I expected. “Master of the House” was an absolute shivoo. The big diva solos, “I Dreamed a Dream” and “On My Own” took me to an astonishing journey. It was all tasteful. It was all stirring.

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Because this is just mandatory.

This is not a review of the play because honestly, I don’t know how to properly write one for stage plays as breathtaking as that! But I just really need to note a few things:

  • Brilliant production. And this entails everything visual pretty much—stage, overall design, digital technologies, lighting, props, costumes. It just all worked so beautifully together. What an efficient and impressive use of the theatre space. One of the many highlights was Javert’s suicide scene, where the LED screen basically worked the magic there, and made him look like he’s falling into a huge body of water until it ate him up. What they did took me by surprise. You gotta see it for yourself!
  • Amazing music and sound properties. Acoustics were great in that theatre. Cues were “on point”. The overall sound was satisfying. I wish I was able to sit near the orchestra pit (or any spot where the muso’s were more visible), so I could just watch them in awe. Also, the war sound effects were pretty good and actually realistic—it would give me a sudden jolt a few times.
  • The cast members were exceptional. They did not disappoint!
  • Simon Gleeson (playing Jean Valjean) was just redoubtable. Geez, this guy. His character was so alive and true from the very start. He was the cornerstone of this show. 24601 was solid.
  • Hayden Tee (playing Javert) was just so dang scary—he embodies the word “sinister.” His presence was imperative, and he was able to masterfully display authority and eminence the character requires.
  • Zoe Gertz (playing Fantine) is to be admired by the authenticity of her character and her amazing vocal prowess. She was just 100%. The tragedy in Fantine’s grief-stricken life, the desperation, as well as the change she had to experience were well conveyed all throughout the first act.
  • I felt so privileged to watch Trevor Ashley and Lara Mulcahy (playing Monsieur Thénardier and Madame Thénardier). They were perhaps the “life of the party.” They gave a sturdy and effective comic relief from the tragic nature of the story. They embodied dynamism and spontaneity from the start until the end.
  • And of course Chloe Zuel (playing Eponine), Emily Langridge (playing Cosette), Euan Doidge (playing Marius), Zoy Frangos (playing Enjolras) who played such iconic roles were just fantastic! I particularly liked Euan’s vocal timbre that cautiously depicts the subdued innocence in Marius’ character; and Chloe’s soulful take on Eponine. Importantly, the Barricade people were plain awesome!

I wish I could comment on every single cast member. More importantly, I seriously wish that I was better at describing or evaluating things. I’ll make a real theatre review once I’ve learned how to write one up. Nevertheless, this is truly a blockbuster theatrical production! Go see it if you haven’t! It closes this October. Get your tickets here.

Here are some more photos I took home that day. No photography and/or video recording were allowed during the show as expected.

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Rie Manaloto

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It is essential for avid theatre goers to actually purchase the souvenir program especially if it’s the big-aff productions.

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One with the Barricade folks!

One with the Barricade folks!

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This is Jordan from Capitol. He thought we'd fancy a selfie. He's a really cool guy.

This is Jordan from Capitol. He thought we’d fancy a selfie. He’s a really cool guy.

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Again, this is mandatory.

Again, this is mandatory.

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Rie Manaloto

Rie Manaloto

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R.

#SalongaDownUnder2015


All right.
 I know. I get it. It might be a little too late to be posting about this momentous event. The past couple of weeks have been really busy and demanding on my end. But I thought I’d do it anyway. No dramas.

So, Lea Salonga was in Sydney. (Now I’m thinking I should’ve ended that with an exclamation point). I find it hard to put into words how amazing this encounter was with the ineffable international Broadway star.

I mean, she’s world-renowned and all that. Everybody knows her, and only has the best things to say about her. But seriously, it feels like the right words have not been invented yet to adequately and justifiably describe her artistry and musicality. And I’m not exaggerating.

Hence, I can already tell that this entry will not look like my usual concert “reflections” (not reviews) I normally post on the Artiste.

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Basically, it is one of my biggest dream come true. Her singing has always had an enormous impact on me, which up to this day I still struggle to explain.

Her formidable presence, overpowering charisma, and divine vocal prowess just got me. She has knocked me dead in all her glory. If one had ever experienced “eargasm” (or if that were possible in this life and time), I’d say that it’s similar to what I went through during her concert a couple of Saturday’s ago at Sydney Town Hall.

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I won’t go into detail anymore. But in essence, the place was packed. She had a live band (of course) headed by Larry Yurman—this guy’s incredible. I should also commend his band for doing a marvellous job (The double bass is the blue frosting on the cake for me!). Lea dubbed them as his “most handsome” musical crew in the progression of her tour.

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Lea had a very rich and generous repertoire that includes her gravity-defying renditions of:
  • Broadway stunners (“I’d Give My Life For You” from Miss Saigon, “Wondering” from The Bridges of Madison County, “Still Hurting” from The Last Five Years, “For Good” from Wicked, “Back to Before” from RagtimeLes Miz hits, which are mentioned later in the blogpost)
  • Disney classics (“Reflection” from Mulan, “A Whole New World” from Aladdin)
  • Filipino hits (“Nais Ko” by Ryan Cayabyab, “Hahanapin Ko” by Jose Mari Chan)
  • Tasteful jazz tunes (they’re all mentioned later in the blogpost)
  • Historically significant piece, “Greatest Love Of All” by Whitney Houston
  • Riveting renditions of Bruno Mars smashers (“Grenade” and “Locked Out of Heaven”)

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To some degree, it was a jazz-infused night. Lea started with an old Broadway hit that had also been popularised by Nina Simone, “Feeling Good”,  followed by another jazz hit, “You and the Night and the Music”. Lea also did a Nat King Cole classic, “On the Street Where You Live” to start Act 2. My favourite of them all was “He Touched Me”, which I believe is a Barbra Streisand original. That one was just intoxicating.

Now, I am in awe of Lea’s ability to turn a typical jazz song into something extraspecial. Her musical theatre sound and stylistic expression (dynamics, articulation, etc) blend so well with the rudiments of the jazz ensemble, not to mention the proper dose of theatricality. Thus, a colourful and flavourful emulsion of styles and sounds.

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The highlights of the night was when she sang two of her Les Miz pieces (yes, she owns them), “On My Own” and “I Dreamed A Dream” by which she gained a thundering ovation from the audience. The characters that convey the two songs (Éponine and Fantine) were relived during that night. It was crazy.

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Went with my awesome friend, Gerielle. Photo by Darryl O'Brien

Went with my awesome friend, Gerielle. Photo by Darryl O’Brien

I did say I wouldn’t go into so much detail, but what the heck. It was hard to keep in line. But here’s a mini gallery of my shots. It sucks that camera flash was not allowed in the concert, and my camera takes better shots in that particular setting when the flash is activated. I tried my best to still get good ones.

 

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I’ll conclude by reposting my actual Facebook status on the night of the concert which I posted during the interlude:

Lea Salonga. I can’t even. I just. She’s a freaking. Monster. A beautiful. Monster.

R.

Martin brings 3D: Tatlong Dekada to Sydney!

At long last, I’m back writing. The past week’s been pretty busy, and I was caught up in, what I’d like to say the fecundity of the early stages of my teaching career.

I was getting all frolicky wanting to tell everybody about how the previous weekend went; how another Filipino artist flew in and knocked me dead, now in the flesh. Not that my blogging matters to anybody or in any way. But I just feel the thriving urge to share how amazing the experience’s been!

The Philippines’ Concert King, OPM royalty and balladeer extraordinaire, Martin Nievera has once again visited us down under, this time to bring us “3D (Tatlong Dekada)” in celebration of his 30th year in the industry. I believe this was a ‘reproduction’ or repackaging of the original sold-out 3D concert that was successfully staged twice at the Big Dome back in 2013.

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Martin has proven to this generation that even after 30 prolific years, he still is the undisputed Concert King whose artistic passion remains unbridled, and whose musical excellence stays unparalleled.

His powerful vocal pipes, his infectious charisma, his boisterousness and unique sense of humour, and his gift of music and pure, absolute entertainment. All these were never on the wane. All these gave Martin his formidable identity, and made him a true world-class icon.

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The musical direction was ensconced in the genius of premier musical director, Louie Ocampo, who Martin proudly calls his best friend of several years; and who is perhaps a significant and permanent fixture in his shows and concerts. The musical arrangements were phenomenal as expected. I wish I could articulate how.

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Martin kicked off the show with his superb rendition of the international Aussie hit, “Geronimo” by Sheppard. Not quite sure if they did that on purpose as a salute to the land of kangaroos and koalas. But hey, what a clever move!

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Martin probably poking fun at an audience member. I like that his humour is pretty clean and decent, often smart and self-deprecating.

Then began a rhapsody of pop classics, chart-toppers, most-requested’s and all-time favourite’s that really have left the audience either gawking or rollicking on and off their seats; maybe highly emotional (like my Mom), or perhaps tickled pink.

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Now, I can’t remember clearly how each one of the songs was packaged—if it’s sung individually or weaved in a medley. But I’m gonna try to enumerate the ones I felt so privileged to hear live.

Early in the show, Martin introduced his twin sister, Vicki Nievera. She is a lovely lady. She’s got a honey-sweet voice that complemented Martin’s rich, sonorous tone in their duets. The twins got to perform a medley of some popular hits by The Stylistics, The Temptations and The Supremes. They make an amazing duo. Twin Power all the way!

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Twin power!

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Of course, the show couldn’t continue rolling without singing his best-loved classics like my personal favourite’s. “Please Don’t Throw My Love Away” and “How Can I”. I also remember hearing his trademark songs like “Be My Lady”, and “Say That You Love Me”.

Martin shared the backstory of how one of his songs was composed. This favourite of mine, which he co-composed with Louie simply tells about his love for his children as a father. He said he penned the lyrics while he watched his two boys (who are all grown up now) sleep. He owns the words, Louie concocts the melody and the musical components. And this collaboration gave birth to the beautiful piece entitled, “I’ll Be There”.

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Just one of his funny faces I captured on camera.

The Concert King also sang some of his popular Tagalog hits that all happened to be very sentimental and emotional, while a few of his ballads are actually a bit too schmaltzy (at least for me). But well, who cares? Filipinos love schmaltzy ballads! And Martin has wrapped all these songs in his beautiful musicality and powerful interpretation. He really is nonpareil in this area.

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Martin singing to Nanay Consuelo, an avid Martin fan who we’ve discovered to be a cancer patient.

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I admire how Martin loved on this lovely lola, and serenaded her with his most popular Tagalog songs. He was brave and caring to give her some words of encouragement saying our hope is not in men nor medicine, but in God for He is in control (paraphrased).

He graciously rendered some of the teleserye theme songs Filipinos loved through the years like “Ikaw Ang Pangrap” (from Lobo), and “Ikaw” (from Dahil May Isang Ikaw). He also sang “After All” (from A Beautiful Affair) with his siter, Vicki. I was honestly waiting for “Magpahanggang Wakas” (from Vietnam Rose), “Ikaw Lamang” (from Nasaan Ka Elisa?), and “Times of Your Life” (from Lorenzo’s Time), which I already loved long before it accompanied the series. Now, I hope I didn’t miss a song.

I also remember him doing “Ikaw Lang Ang Mamahalin”, which is another Ocampo-crafted piece. And certainly, there’s the mandatory “Kahit Isang Saglit”, the most heartwrenching of them all. Oh, that song wins.

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I don’t understand how he still manages to look good despite all the facial contortion that comes with the high bits!

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Men at Work. I love this photo!

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This I believe is the Concert King stance.

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A lot of his original songs and hits (many of them written by Louie Ocampo) have been iconic and like what many people say, have become the soundtrack of their lives. And seriously, how ever he sounded on the record is almost similar to how he sounds live! Plain awesome!

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Martin sang his smashing renditions of Broadway hits like “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera, “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin’, “Somewhere” from West Side Story and “This is the Moment” from Jekyll and Hyde. Oh, this part was just breathtaking.

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I might’ve failed to recall all the other songs he did. But the song that has capped off the night was everybody’s favourite, “You Are My Song”. The feeling’s unexplainable when you’ve just heard it live! And as a rule, Martin encored with another popular hit, “You’re On The Right Track” and ended the night on a high note.

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What I really admire Martin for is his lasting energy and unwavering enthusiasm from start to finish. He is 100%. His singing is just full of vim and vigour. He didn’t need to be literally dancing and prancing to make his audience groove. His vibrant aura and his striking wit brought a great guffaw from his audience. All these are the hallmark of a true concert royalty.

Martin is an incredible artist. His music is timeless. The concert seemed like a microcosm of Martin’s 30 fruitful years in the entertainment industry. His memorable songs have led us back to the essence of the Martin Nievera—the balladeer, the hitmaker. The peals of laughter and fun emanating from the room also made clear why he was and still is the Concert King.

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Just a few moments before he exited the stage. My camera was being hostile so I failed to capture his bows. (GGRRR!!!)

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Some photos before and after the show:

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Some of the support artists!

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With the lovely Ms Tina Bangel

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Singing a jazz/big bang piece

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He’s very kind to everyone! Especially to his fans. No wonder he is still well loved and supported by many.

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And so my Mom was so happy she got to kiss Martin. My family loves and adores him and his music. My sister and I think he looks a bit like Elvis P!

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Follow Martin on Twitter @4eversinging4u, and on Instagram @martinnievera.

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R.

The Sissums in Sydney!

Please tell me that was a clever title. I’ve learned that ‘sissum’ (pronounced as /siz-‘uhm/, which means “sister”) is what they’d call each other often, and what their fans also regard them as i.e., “the sissums”.

But anyway, two of my most favourite Filipino artists visited their fans down under! They did a couple of shows over the weekend, one in Blacktown (the one I attended), and one in Mt Pritchard. And even after two shows and two M&G sessions, it seems like we still can’t get enough of these two lovely hotshots.

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Fresh from the success of her 15th anniversary concert titled “Celestine” last year at the MOA Arena, Toni Gonzaga, who is dubbed as the Philippines’ Ultimate Multimedia Star has graced the Australian concert stage for the second time since her last visit, which was apparently more or less than eight years ago (now, I’m not very sure if I got the number right). And this time around, she’s brought her amazing sister with her—star on the rise, Alex Gonzaga, who has also been having a prolific career after wrapping up a very successful TV series last year; publishing a bestseller book, then releasing a studio album recently. Now she’s set to conquer the concert scene as she stages her very first major one at the Big Dome this April entitled “AG from the East: The Unexpected Concert.” She also stars in a TV remake of the iconic “Inday Bote.” Wow, this girl ain’t busy.

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I’ve always known and loved Toni even before she moved to Kapamilya. I’ve always admired Alex ever since she was Alex on “Let’s Go!” back in 2006. They’re not only talented artists, they’re also faith-driven, practicing Christians who have always stood behind their values and principles, and have not compromised their faith for the sake of work. This is just admirable.

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I swear, I just die every time Toni flicks her hair. And oh, the Ari pose by Alex.

I was just flippin’ excited when I first heard the news about their show. I probably was one of the first people to purchase tickets, which I booked mid last year. All I can say really is what an amazing experience! I just love them heaps. They’re probably the only celebrities I look out for on TFC. I’m always on the qui vive for their shows, TV appearances and what not. It was hard to believe that I was gonna see their faces in person.

It was July last year when I posted this mini article about Alex called “My Sassy Señorita.” I wrote in that blogpost how much I admire her and how much I want to meet her and stuff. Who knew that in the less than year, I actually would meet her even if it’s just merely for 30 seconds? Or probably more.

The sisters opened the show with a showstopping song, which I believe is called “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea (featuring Chari XCX). Look, I’m not even sure if that’s actually correct because I do not really know the song and I do not listen to a lot of rap music to be honest. I might have actually confused it with “Black Widow” (featuring Rita Ora), which they performed as well.

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Alex becomes a completely different person every time she raps. Her moves are ostentatious, her hands and hips are everywhere.

One of the best parts of the show was during the gaps, when they basically just talked with each other on stage. They have a funny and interesting relationship, and it shows when they chat and make fun of each other. I just loved and enjoyed the mini banters happening here and there. They’d slag each other off from time to time while everybody would have a good laugh about it.

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I have found the chit-chat’s in between songs very special because you just realise that they’re just right there, that they’re real!

What really astonished me was Alex’ sui generis persona—her highly diverting nature that incredibly blends singing and uproarious comedy. She is a cogent mix of charm, charisma, and chaos (Wow, dang that alliteration. LOL). Her voice has a lot of promise—she’s got the tone and the range. My Mum was bemused to know and hear that Alex can actually sing as she’s normally used to seeing Alex trifling with a microphone in the karaoke segment on ASAP every Sunday on TFC. Well, I’ve always known that she’s had it all along.

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Her humour knocks the stuffing out of me. My laugh was uncontrollable, and my friends know how I laugh—it’s pretty diaphragmatic. I laughed even at her lamest jokes. She blows my mind. She knows how to put up a good and lively show without even trying.

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Alex singing “Break Free” by Ariana Grande. Wow, she CAN sing Ariana stuff! I am well convinced.

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This is AG from the East channelling AG from Hollywood.

Alex got to perform a couple of her tracks from her first record called “I Am Alex G.” such as “Panaginip Lang”, and “‘Di Ko Akalain”. They’re very tasteful tunes. Also, I must say that both songs showed her sweet side and that she does have vocal abilities.

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Getting into the belting parts!

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With some guy from the audience. If only I were fast enough.

With some guy from the audience. If only I were fast enough.

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Transitions.

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The punas-pawis scene. Ate Toni being an Ate to her bunso. What a beautiful and amusing sight!

The punas-pawis scene. Ate Toni being an Ate to her bunso. What a beautiful and amusing sight!

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The sisters singing "Put It in a Love Song" by Alicia Keys (featuring Beyoncé). I was waiting for this!

The sisters singing “Put It in a Love Song” by Alicia Keys (featuring Beyoncé). I was waiting for this!

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I remember this conversation. It's Alex warning her Ate to keep the energy up as she started it skyrocket high.

I remember this conversation. It’s Alex warning her Ate to keep the energy up as she started it skyrocket high.

Oh, Toni Gonzaga. Her presence overawed the crap in me. She has a formidable aura that gently scuffles with her ravishing, angelic face. In other words, she is drop-dead gorgeous! She has a delightful personality that everybody loves. Her voice is sensational. It has that deep and warm resonance, and a sweet, silver-toned quality that her fans have loved ever since. Like all other singers, she sounds so much better live.

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Simply stunning.

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“We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky…”

She performed some of her best-loved hits including her very first single, “We Belong” (which just got me nuts!!!), “Catch Me I’m Falling” (this would have to be my fav), and my sister’s favourite, “Kasalan Ko Ba?” These have really thrilled the audience and got them wanting for more. I was a little sad that she didn’t perform her latest tracks from her album “Celestine” like “This Love is Like”, and her original composition, “Awit ni Ginny.” I’ll hear them live one day. She also performed her rendition of “Starting Over Again” (originally by Natalie Cole), which was the theme song of her hit movie with the same title.

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Finally got to witness her awesome singing prowess. I’ve always been a fan of her vocals and style.

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Is there ever a female counterpart for a “balladeer/balladist”? Because if there’s one, then that’s Toni.

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For a fleeting moment, Toni flashed her engagement ring leading up to singing “Diamonds” by Rihanna. A little heartbroken and devastated, I do know and believe that she deserves the joy and happiness that this engagement is giving her right now, plus, the excitement of her forthcoming wedding with his betrothed. Toni also mentioned that it was probably her last big show or concert as a single woman, as she and Paul Soriano are finally tying the knot later this year.

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At some point, I was waiting for them to sing their popular rendition of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” by Celine Dion, which they had already done in the past. Again, maybe someday.

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More funny conversations.

The sister capped off the show with Katy Perry’s “Roar”. But because the audience have clamoured for one more song, they sang “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift (They obviously garnered more cheers after the audience realised it’s a Swiftie song). And then finally, they took their last bow.

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Oh, this number.

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For someone who has poor eyesight like me, they would look like twins!

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I failed to capture what Alex was exactly trying to do here. But she was trying to creep through her Ate’s legs. You just can never know enough what she is capable of.

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Certainly working that pose.

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My last photo of the sissums on stage on my camera.

I could keep writing about how I admire these two women and how I have enjoyed and appreciated their live performance here in Sydney. I really wish that they’d come back to do another show soon. It was genuinely fun. My smile was just indefatigable. I wish the sissums all the best for their future endeavours, future projects and milestones.

Autograph signing! I got all flustered when as I came closer to them.

Autograph signing! I got all flustered as I came closer to them. Why are these people so pretty? Seriously, what do they eat?

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A glimpse of super short encounter with them. They were very kind to even write my name on the stuff!

A glimpse of my super short encounter with them. They were very kind to even write my name on the stuff! Also, I remember telling Toni, “Gosh, you smell so good!” She freaking does though!

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Probably the only decent photo we have with them. I don't understand why people always fail to take decent photos every time it's needed regardless of the kind of camera in use. But I guess this photo's good enough.

Taken from my iPhone by a friend. Probably the only decent photo we have with them. My dad had the good camera but failed to capture a good one. I still don’t understand why he didn’t manage to capture this on the DSLR.

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I literally squealed when I saw this in the captured photos!

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Boo-yah! Finally! This has been sitting in my collection for months.

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Again, boo-yah! Wow, I’m still head over heels for this woman.

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Follow them on Instagram @celestinegonzaga @cathygonzaga. And on Twitter @PBBToniG @Mscathygonzaga

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R.