TFM Review: Chuva Choo Choo by Pia de Ungria
This is, of course, from how the word is used: a substitute for anything that one can’t find an expression for. So this can’t be any more appropriate: Chuva Choo Choo was a whole lot of chuva.
The story started with sisters Dina and Darla singing in an amateur singing contest, with their trusty sidekick, Nenita. After declaring their competition as the winner, Dina decides to stop their foolish pursuit of becoming a star and tries to convince the other two to quit. While deciding, they stumbled upon what the trio (and consequently, the audience) believed to be a murder. The mayor of their town cocked his gun and fired (offstage) at one of the hosts of the singing contest. To make matters difficult, Dina’s ex-paramour was also trying to reconcile with her and conveniently, was also the Mayor’s bodyguard. Shaken to the core, they made a split-second decision to pack everything, leave their hometown and try their luck in Manila. The mayor, equally shaken with the unexpected complication of having “witnesses,” sent his bodyguard to run after the three. What ensued was a hilarious, often absurd, chase that involved cross-dressing, assuming identities and finding and rekindling love.
Chuva Choo Choo’s success lies in utilizing music that has a special place in the hearts of Filipinos. Featuring songs of Vehnee Saturno, audience members would find it pleasing to hear songs they sing along with in Videokes come to life in the form of a musical. Some may even sing along with the familiar tunes, but of course, that is a conversation that should be had by itself, since that deals with etiquette inside the theater. Majority of the cast was able to breathe new life into the songs that we have come to love.
Having said that, one of the weaknesses of the production was the material – the story and exploration did not bring anything new to the table. At times, the flow of the story and the circumstances surrounding the cast seemed too bizarre to bear semblance to real life. They explored realistic concepts (love, family, friendship) that moved around an almost preposterous set of situations that were supposed to propel the story forward. Most of what the characters stumble upon feels too convenient, too much of a coincidence that the unfolding of the narrative felt too forced. Even the fickle-mindedness of the characters was evident with the see-sawing of their convictions when dealing with conflicts. The result was the trivialization of the plights many of us may go through. Case in point, when one feels betrayed when a friend accuses him of being a bad luck, one does not go from being broken to suddenly being extremely forgiving. No matter how much we come across a miracle that is supposed to make people set aside their differences, there still has to be an exploration of the given conflict so that true reconciliation would happen. Otherwise, the angst seen in the character’s persona should have been tapered down so that the “conflict” could have been a very minor one to shrug off easily. Instead, we had a Nenita singing “Bakit pa” with such sadness and betrayal only for him to dismiss the feelings when he came across a possibly lucrative gig and found out that the sisters were also looking for him. Those, coupled with a “sorry,” are not enough to erase the degree of emotions shown in the number preceding it. There were other instances that the indecisiveness of different characters was shown, resulting to a trifle representation of everyday problems. The material seemed to have thought about the songs too much without laying proper groundwork for context therefore making most of the scenes spurious. In one scene, one of the lead characters sang the timeless, “Til my heartache ends” to the memory of her father. To say that it was strange was downplaying the oddity of the choice.
The choices in directing were understandable to say the least. Breaking the fourth wall proved to be a good, and interesting choice. It provided laughs among audience members. It also gave an almost seamless coming and going of props people when transitioning from one scene to another. The only issue was that at times, it felt more of an excuse given to the viewers to allow a blatant interruption in the flow of the story. It was funny, but not organically gelled into the scenes. Even the set design and props were made vibrant, giving it an almost cartoonish effect. Given the nature of the musical, it was at least, fitting.
The humor was authentically Filipino. It’s the kind the masses would have a grand time hearing and laughing along with. Understandably, the characterization and storyline also has the color of the Filipino culture, such as putting emphasis on family and friendship – although the colors are very muted, almost giving it a watered-down appearance.
Joanna Ampil as Dina/Jaya was a true gem. She brought a level of sophistication and experience onto the stage that elevated the overall quality of the musical. It was endearing to watch her act and speak in Filipino, and she did it so perfectly – we saw a genuine Filipina from rural Pangasinan, hoping to make it big in the entertainment industry. With her background and training, she painted a new masterpiece of the original Filipino songs. She cradled the notes and held them with affection and poignancy.
Morisette Amon as Darla/Jessa was endearing and forgiving as the younger one to her driven and often, painfully mature sister.
The supporting cast had major scene-stealers as well. Jay Marquez as the perpetually in love Reggie/Regine was delightfully ditzy and lovable. The one who was perhaps the most commendable in the supporting cast was Via Antonio who was ubiquitous and a true genius when playing eight different characters each providing a fountain of endless guffaw among audience members.
Chuva Choo Choo has its audience. It is a good musical to start with for theater neophytes since the storyline itself, as well as most of the jokes, was familiar. Watch it without overthinking, and just allow yourself to be in it for the ride. Watch it for the laughs. Watch it for the music. Watch it for the new life theater actors, such as Joanna Ampil, bring to OPM.
But don’t watch it expecting an innovative storyline that will change you.
It was really, all sorts of Chuva.
Were you able to see the show? What did you think?