If laughter is the best medicine, the crowd at last night's 'Koronang Hilaw' ('Unqualified Crowns') had their prescription filled - and then some!
It was like getting a three-for-one ticket to a show with all the right elements. First, it was a comedy, with a storyline centred around a gay beauty pageant featuring an alien (yes, a Martian!). Second, it was a musical, with the gravity-defying vocal performance of opera singer Marcus Rivera (Miss Australia) and high-energy dance choreography from Andrew Mark Baris (Miss Thailand). Finally, it was a stage play, top-billed by none other than Philippine-based celebrities Joey Marquez and sister Melanie Marquez Lawyer.
Joey proved why he became one of the country's favourite comedians while Melanie was endearing and funny as the debt-stricken socialite forced to enter a gay beauty contest. Her performance made all the sweeter by the knowledge that she is, in fact, a beauty title holder, having won Miss International 1979.
Koronang Hilaw was hilarious from start to finish. Kicking off the beauty contest was Miss China, played masterfully by Charles Chan and who surprised everyone with his (hidden) singing talent.
Up next was Miss India, played by Nadia Trinidad who wowed the audience with his oh-so-sexy sari silhouette and Bollywood dance.
Andrew Mark Baris, who played Miss Thailand, is best known for his multiple talents as a dancer, choreographer and singer. After the play? He can now add stage actor to his resume.
Then came Miss Australia, the character that went to actor and singer Marcus Rivera (he played the lead role of 'The Engineer' in the Australian production of Miss Saigon).
Marcus delivered the goods from the moment he said 'G'day!' to the part where he sang the iconic 'I still call Australia home' all the way to his confrontation scene with Melanie. Who didn't laugh when he lifted his Victorian skirt to reveal the classic Australian footwear, the Uggs?
Meanwhile, Melanie dazzled onstage with her Sarimanok costume and Joey was in form as the cross-dressing and double-crossing Miss India. The online sibling chemistry between the two was palpable and used to full effect.
But the play's lead writer, Ken de Leon, had more in store for the audience: the extra twist was the revelation of a sixth candidate, an alien from Mars played by Archie 'Chi-chay' Lubrin. It's physical comedy at its best the way Archie captured the audience with his, shall we say, Martian mannerisms? Why would he die tomorrow, not today? You had to be there to understand why Lubrin was eventually crowned Miss Gay Universe despite Melanie's and Joey's machinations to grab the $5,000 cash prize.
A massive credit to Bing Cristobal who did an absolutely phenomenal job as wardrobe designer. The attention to detail, the style, the choice of fabric and how every costume suited each of the characters elevated the production to a whole new level.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
There were so many reasons to love the play not least that it was a family affair. 'Koronang Hilaw' was the brainchild of producer Via Marquez Hoffman. It was a brave and bold step for her to ask not one, not two, but several family members to be part of the show: Joey and Melanie onstage, her daughter Tina as musical director and performer, niece Wyn Wyn as dancer, son John and nephew Paolo on film. It must be part of their 'family code' to keep showbiz in the family!
Via then surrounded herself with an extended 'family' with serious industry-cred. Besides Bing, award-winning director Soxie Topacio flew in to direct the play while the local FLAGCOM production staff guaranteed that back-of-stage and front-of-stage house ran smoothly.
Kudos to Albert Prias and Dizzy Dizon as overall coordinator/voiceover and technical director respectively for bringing the stage to life with special effects and video.
As with many musicals, the dancers very rarely get a mention but kudos also goes to the elite dance ensemble Joel Corpuz, Klien Hicks, Sandy, Vanessa Sew Hoy, Lilibeth and Franco Baltazar (plus visiting guest, Wyn Wyn Marquez and local choreographer, Andrew) who rounded up the stellar cast. Emerging artist David Michael White as special guest and performing a duet with Tina was icing on the cake.
Before the show started, Via gave a brief thank-you speech to the audience and everyone involved in the show, including the directors of Alay sa Kinabukasan sa Kapwa Pilipino (A.S.K. Council of Australia). A lot of people worked hard behind the scenes to make the show the success that it was.
Best of all, ticket proceeds will go towards A.S.K.'s fundraising efforts, with onstage talent and offstage staff waiving their fees to support the project.
To date, Operation Restore Hope (ORH) has helped provide free life-altering surgery to more than 1,000 children who otherwise couldn't have afforded the medical assistance. Proceeds from the show will go a long way in transforming the lives of disadvantaged children back in the Philippines.
The local community is ripe for high-quality entertainment and A.S.K.'s debut production 'Koronang Hilaw' delivered the goods. More, please.