15 Best Theater Performances of 2017


Top 15 Theater Performances
L-R: Lea Salonga (Helen Bechdel), Nyoy Volante(Lola), Felicity Kyle Napuli (Matilda), Melvin Lee (Chelsea)

It’s been another great year for the local theater scene. From bold, political productions to crowd-pleasing musicals, there was something for everybody to enjoy and even ponder over. So much local talent on stage made us laugh, cry, and feel every other emotion in between.

TFM Editors (and huge theater fans!) Frida Tan and Nikki Francisco look back on the last year and share their pick of truly unforgettable performances they were ecstatic to have witnessed in 2017.

15. Javi Coromina as Newton in “Carol

What's in the Dark?
Javi Coromina (Newton), Sari Estrada (Jill), Liv Gonzales (Carol); photo by Luis Mendez

FRIDA: “It was the first time that I’ve seen him perform on stage! And why is that?! Coromina was excellent as the grieving and desperate father in Theatre Titas’ maiden production. Such a perfectly nuanced and impassioned performance. I hope to see him in more productions.”

14. Upeng Fernandez as Nanay Tere in “A Game of Trolls” (rerun)

A Game of Trolls
Upeng Fernandez as Nanay Tere

FRIDA: “She ripped my millennial heart in two with her heartbreaking performance in this Martial Law musical. Her pain was palpable. If her performance didn’t speak to the youth who didn’t go through that harrowing period, then I don’t know what will.”

NIKKI: “Nanay Tere was the heart of PETA’s A Game of Trolls, and Upeng Fernandez performed her role with so much understanding that really brought out the genius of Liza Magtoto’s writing and Vince De Jesus’s music and lyrics. By the time she sings “Nakakita ka na ba ng bali-baling kaluluwa”, she’s taken the audience to a height of emotion, it’s impossible to not be moved.”

13. Noel Rayos as Various Characters in “Spamalot

L-R: George Schulze, Noel Rayos, Lorenz Martinez, Dean Rose , Bibo Reyes; photo by Jaypee Maristaza

NIKKI: “Noel Rayos is such a great comedic character actor. I recently saw him as the Ghost of Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol and he has a knack for elevating these larger-than-life characters in an entertaining way. What makes his work in Spamalot so noteworthy was the amount of zany characters he portrayed, and the way he was able to perform each with distinction yet equal hilarity.”

12. Lea Salonga as Helen Bechdel in “Fun Home” (rerun)

Fun Home
Lea Salonga as Helen Bechdel (photo c/o ATEG)

FRIDA: “Okay coming into this show, I was like, ‘Calm down people, she only has one solo.’ But no!! That solo performance of ’Days and Days’ has not and will never ever leave me. Incredible!! She is not a Tony-award winning legend for nothing!”

NIKKI: “If you’ve never seen Lea Salonga perform live on stage, you better include it in your bucket list, stat! My god can that woman make any song iconic! Now, Fun Home in itself was a spectacular show, but her performance of ‘Days and Days’… CHILLS! As in, jaw-dropping, can’t-believe-I’m-witnessing-a-legend-right-now jaw-dropping.”

11. Paul Cedrick Juan as Dusyanta in “Sakuntala

Sakuntala
Paul Cedrick Juan as King Dusyanta

FRIDA: “Such a magnetic presence on stage! I doubt that anyone could have commanded the role of the king who spoke in lyrical Filipino poetry as well as he had. Art Theatre Manila’s maiden production wouldn’t have been as stunning without him in it.”

10. Nel Gomez as Alfonso Ossorio in “Angry Christ” and Asher Lev in “My Name is Asher Lev

Angry Christ
L-R: Nelsito Gomez (Ossorio) and Kalil Almonte (Anselmo); photo by Vladimeir B. Gonzales

FRIDA: “2017 is the year Nelsito Gomez made his mark as a leading man. These were two, exceptional, dialogue-heavy straight plays where he was practically on stage the whole time. These two performances, both of which had him playing very conflicted characters, were especially impressive as Gomez has been known more for his work in musical theater.”

9. Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante as Alison Bechdel in “Fun Home” (rerun)

Fun Home
L-R: Yanah Laurel (Joan) and Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante (medium Alison); photo c/o ATEG

FRIDA: “Perfectly awkward as Alison Bechdel in all the right places! Bradshaw-Volante did not adhere to stereotypes and played the coming-of-age character as authentically as possible.”

NIKKI: “She completely disappeared into that role! She was almost unrecognizable; a transformation as noteworthy as Cris Villonco in that same show. Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante nailed the awkwardness and confusion of Middle Alison. Her performance brought out the innate humor of the material.”

8. Felicity Kyle Napuli and Esang de Torres as Matilda in “Matilda”

L-R: Uma Martin, Esang De Torres, Felicity Kyle Napuli as the Matilda’s

FRIDA: “Ohh these little girls!!! Don’t let their size or their age fool you. They are surefire leading ladies at 10 years old. They were so seasoned that they left me bawling every time they were on that big stage. Absolutely jaw-dropping, emotional, and powerful performances from these young ladies.”

NIKKI: “Felicity Kyle Napuli is such an intelligent young actress. You can see the depth and understanding in her performance, even if she’s playing a character experiencing all these complex, heavy stuff. I won’t easily forget just how tenderly she sang “Quiet”. She was excellent all throughout, but the way she sang that song in particular, was so beautiful. The last time I was moved by a young actress’ performance of a song was Katie Bradshaw singing “Ring of Keys” in Fun Home.”

7. Joaquin Valdes as Mr. Wormwood and the Escapologist in “Matilda

Matilda
Carla Guevara-Laforteza as Mrs. Wormwood and Joaquin Valdes as Mr. Wormwood

FRIDA: “This role is the furthest thing that Joaquin has ever done in his acting career! Having almost always played the bulk, handsome, leading man in previous productions, who knew that he could transform into this sleazy, abusive father with a cockney accent?! And not only that, he also played the Escapologist, a character that was a complete opposite of Mr. Wormwood! Comically revolting in one scene, and intensely poignant in the next. Wow! He has truly come out of his shell in this one.”

NIKKI: “The last time I saw Joaquin Valdes, it was as ‘Spike’ in Rep’s Vanya, Sonya, Masha, and Spike. Before that, he was in ‘Ako si Josephine’. A character like Mr. Wormwood is certainly a departure, but he really stepped to the plate. It’s so easy to go overboard with a storybook-grotesque character like that, but you can see the control. He made that character as distinctly sinister, impactful, and even iconic as Trunchbull.”

6. Cris Villonco as Josephine Bracken in “Dear and Unhappy

Dear and Unhappy
Cris Villonco as Josephine Bracken; photo by Jude Bautista of judebfood.wordpress.com

FRIDA: “Cris Villonco isn’t the most-awarded actor (5 wins) in Philstage Gawad Buhay history for nothing. Having played multiple leading lady roles in big musicals this past year alone, I was so excited when I found out that she was a part of this year’s Virgin Labfest. At no surprise to anyone, she was a clear stand-out as a lost, Josephine Bracken in mourning.”

NIKKI: “I don’t often think about Josephine Bracken. I don’t think most people do, but Cris Villonco’s bedraggled, youthful Bracken is so hilarious and intriguing, I wished the whole one-act was a full-length. Perfect comedic timing. Inexhaustibly entertaining delivery. I could honestly watch a full-length play or movie of just Cris Villonco doing a monologue as Carlo Vergara’s fictionalized Josephine Bracken.”

5. Gian Magdangal as Jack Kelly in “Newsies

Newsies
Danielle Chopin as Katherine Plumber and Gian Magdangal as Jack Kelly; photo by Erica Feliz Marquez-Jacinto

FRIDA: “Gian Magdangal’s roaring comeback to Philippine theater! Years spent performing in Hong Kong Disneyland and Universal Studios in Japan seemed to transform him into a real-life, triple-threat, Disney prince of a leading man. He was on fire (with a perfect Boston accent to boot)!”

4. Melvin Lee as Chelsea in “Care Divas” (rerun)

Care Divas
Melvin Lee (Chelsea) and Paul Holme (Isaac/ Moishe/ Yaakov/ Club Owner)

FRIDA: “Melvin Lee played transgender OFW Chelsea with the perfect balance of femininity and authenticity. Marvelous.”

NIKKI: “When Melvin Lee as Chelsea said that (for me) iconic line, ‘It’s been a pleasure’, I was crying. Literally tears were streaming down my eyes. I’d bawl, if I wasn’t seated front row center. But even before that, I was so bowled over by Mr. Lee’s commitment and respect for the role. Very feminine, very compassionate, very real. Just a genuinely beautiful and authentic performance.”

3. Angeli Bayani as Babaeng Itawis in “Buwan at Baril sa E Flat Major

Buwan at Baril
Angeli Bayani (Babaeng Itawis) and JC Santos (Pari)

FRIDA: “I mean… look, Angeli Bayani is an acting god. Always has been, and always will be. Her performance in this play opened up a whole other kind of human experience. She wasn’t even speaking in a language we could understand. She learned a whole other language for this role is what I’m saying. I couldn’t understand a single word, but her performance alone moved me beyond words. My heart broke with every sound and every move that she made. The 30 minutes she spent on that stage was worth twenty times the ticket price.”

NIKKI: “I don’t think I’ve seen a performance with such clarity of emotion, it transcended language. You really felt for this character that she created. You understood her plight, what was done to her, how she was damaged by it. It was breath-taking, gob-smacking, everything.

2. Becca Coates as Agnes in “Agnes of God

Agnes of God
Becca Coates as Agnes

FRIDA: “Aahh!!! Mark my words, Becca Coates will be the leading lady of her generation. They couldn’t have chosen a better actress to play the titular role. I’ve heard Becca sing like nobody’s business in previous performances (Dani Girl, One Night Stand Cabaret), but man, her performance in this intense straight play proves that she can command any role in whatever genre you give her. And I heard she’s also studying to be a doctor? That’s just not fair.”

NIKKI: “Define ethereal! All the complicated elements of this character she was portraying–youth, religiosity, virginity, instability–was in full view for the entire time she was on stage. She even looked and sounded like an angel, which helped the mystery of the piece. From the way she held herself to her singing and speaking voice–it was just an unsettling, eerie, haunting, compelling performance.”

1. Nyoy Volante as Lola in “Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots
Nyoy Volante as Lola

FRIDA: “Definition of transcendent! I got chills the moment he stepped out on that stage! Out of this world stage presence. First few minutes in, I just knew that it was going to be one of those performances that would stay with me forever. Give this man any role and he’s guaranteed to give 110% (his extremely versatile body of work is proof of that).”

NIKKI: “Oh my god! Where do I even begin? The moment he entered, I—and the rest of the audience—were losing our damn minds! You can really tell how careful he was in creating and playing the character. It was done with so much love and knowledge of the craft, you know? I think his performance might be my favorite, ever. Not just this year. Talk about career-defining!

Performances also worth mentioning:

  • Carla Guevara-Laforteza in “Once Upon a Mattress
  • Issa Litton in “Mga Ama, Mga Anak
  • Jackie Lou Blanco in “Buwan at Baril sa E Flat Major
  • Katie Bradshaw in “Fun Home” (rerun)
  • Uma Martin in “Matilda”
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