Theater is an experience for theatermaker and theatergoer alike. To watch is to bear witness, and this fact is no better proven than when we see soul-baring performances on stage. This is a look back at the best of the year, performances that are unforgettable, character work that elevated the art form, and moving moments that endure even months after closing night.
18. Robbie Guevara, Arsenic and Old Lace
A lot of things were going on in Arsenic and Old Lace, and for Robbie Guevara to be the standout comedic actor in a measured but hilarious performance as Sheik Abraham’s henchman is testament to his range. It was entertaining, but not over-the-top, not exactly scene-stealing but definitely memorable.
17. Marjorie Lorico and 16. Bong Cabrera, Amoy Pulbos ang mga Alabok sa Ilalim ng Tren
Virgin Labfest is usually the place to discover one-act gems, and Alabok is certainly one of those gems. An exploration of voyeuristic poverty through the lens of noontime shows? How’s that for layer and nuance– which of course was made possible by the tag-team performance of Lorico and Cabrera as an incredibly realistic and entertaining husband and wife who live in a shanty space under the train tracks.
15. Neomi Gonzales, Himala: Isang Musikal
It’s a massive production, with a lot of strong female roles within it yet Neomi Gonzales proved herself capable and excellent in her own right, turning the best friend role into one that did not get lost in the huge ensemble, nor totally eclipsed by other female powerhouses around her with bigger personalities in the story. Her beautiful singing voice was put through its paces on this show, and she was just as pleasant to listen to in Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!.
14. Bibo Reyes and 13. George Schulze, Waitress
As I see it, these two play the opposites of the same male coin of which Jenna decides she doesn’t really need, and they both were so equally great in serving their purpose to the plot. Bibo Reyes is given his rom com leading man moment and delivers the exact amount of charm that makes him just this side of forgivable even if technically, he’s cheating on his perfectly lovely wife.
George Schulze is proving himself the go-to guy for characters that require realistic whiteness. He was excellent in Upstart Production’s Spamalot last year, and was the highlight of Repertory Philippines’ Hair. His hick turn as Jenna’s pig of a husband was infuriating, but in a realistic kind of way, and gave Joanna Ampil a real conflict to overcome.
12. Chic San Agustin-De Guzman, Desaparesidos
Guelan Luarca’s direction of Lualhati Bautista’s Desaparesidos showed him a master of the medium, staging an adaptation that was very theatrical, and yet highly impactful. Central to this triumph was Chic San Agustin-De Guzman’s performance of a woman’s realistic plight with all the dignity she can muster.
11. Eugene Domingo, ‘night, Mother
Even with her slew of serious roles (that always earned her well-deserved accolades), it’s always a unique treat when Eugene Domingo, funny woman extraordinaire, flexes her drama muscles— and on stage, too! The complete despondence and resignation she showed in this play was so effective, it was chilling.
10. Jobim Javier, Eto Na, Musikal nAPO!
It’s his theater debut and Jobim Javier showed himself a natural on stage. He stood out as the fun and funny breakout actor in a show that didn’t really seem to stretch anyone’s acting range. He was so era-appropriate, it was like he was plucked out of sepia-toned movies of the 70s and put on stage.
09. Gab Pangilinan, Side Show
Gab Pangilinan knows how to give a good ballad. In Side Show, she had a couple, and were the production’s emotional highlights. It’s also worth mentioning her definitive, stage-shattering eulogy, ‘Ang Sabi Nila’ in Mula sa Buwan. She’s been consistently earning her stripes as a triple threat in supporting and ensemble roles in shows, and it’s thrilling to finally see her do leading roles and soar.
08. Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, A Doll’s House, part 2
Nora is likely a hit or miss in these parts thematically, but Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo’s performance was so committed to everything she was saying, with nary a doubt about her life choices, and unflinching resolve to live her best life, that her performance (and her character) was nearly aspirational. The play was already obviously feminist, but she made it even more overt, and it was breathtaking.
07. Nicco Manalo, Mula sa Buwan
This version of Cyrano de Bergerac doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but Nicco Manalo makes it look so easy. Even the taxing monologue in act two was riveting and emotional. He lends that exact same mastery for the funny parts and the high energy numbers. Even when the material dragged, it didn’t feel like it because he’s just so alive, and so present on stage. You know exactly who Cyrano is, because he knows exactly who his character is. A masterclass performance by a male this year.
06. Aicelle Santos, Himala: Isang Musikal
Aicelle Santos performed what may be a career high in this year’s Himala: Isang Musical, giving a definitive take on the role that may be just as iconic as Nora Aunor’s own turn in the 1982 film. Elsa’s eerie stoicism was so magnetic, it’s no surprise she was able to put the entire town under her spell. And that show-stopping number in act 2? If 11 o’clock numbers were an olympic sport, she’ll take home the gold.
05. Sherry Lara, ‘night, Mother
The Melvin Lee-directed hyper-realistic adaptation of Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother ran last February, but such was the strength of the performances that they’re quite unforgettable, many months later. Sherry Lara, as the mother, conveyed the realistic complexity of a mother confused, angry, grieving, over what she was hearing from her daughter. She created such a vivid portrait, it was all too easy to be sucked in to their back and forth, and empathize with her.
04. Jon Abella, Dekada ’70
If I could pick one performance to call a breakout this year, it would be Jon Abella as Jules Bartolome in Pat Valera’s musical version of Lualhati Bautista’s book. Jules was a demanding role, and he delivered with aplomb second only to Stella Cañete-Mendoza. He gave a gripping performance–broken, angry, vulnerable–whatever the character called for, showing audiences his range and capacity, and quite frankly, that there’s a new leading man in town.
03. Joanna Ampil, Waitress
That Sara Bareilles’s musical would be a hit here was no surprise. What was surprising was Bobby Garcia’s casting of Joanna Ampil as Jenna, a character played traditionally by a 30-something actress. But Ampil’s knack for drama and performing the stuffing out of 11 o’clock numbers made her version of Jenna–and therefore our version of Waitress–a singular treat, delivering to those who had the pleasure of watching her the most emotionally cathartic show of the year.
02. Stella Cañete-Mendoza, Dekada ’70
Stella Cañete-Mendoza’s exquisite performance as Amanda Bartolome elevates Pat Valera’s Dekada 70 musical to its emotional heights. The complexity she exhibited on stage showed the audience the human and personal cost of the Marcos regime, and the unique effect it had on women, especially mothers. Her character’s personal success from mere wife and mother to a woman with her own personhood felt like a triumph for all that she stood for.
01. Skyzx Labastilla, Ang Dalagita’y Sang Bagay na Di Buo
One woman doing 20 or so characters over two hours is the kind of stuff that tops lists like these, I’m aware, but there was nothing gimmicky about Skyzx Labastilla’s performance in Dalagita. The power of her performance wasn’t in how well she was able to mimic male roles or child roles in a turn of a phrase, it was her embodiment of this singular Girl / Woman, and how Labastilla tells her character’s story, inhabits her memories, and then recalls it with distinct storytelling that made her work in this show a cut above the rest. She was also a stand-out as a shell-shocked woman grappling with a miscarriage in the lamentably underrated Labor Room from this year’s Virgin Labfest.