Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rock of Ages' 2014 Manila run

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I didn't get to see Rock of Ages the first time Atlantis Productions staged it here in the Philippines in 2012, but I got to see the repeat run last year...thrice (thanks to my friend Claire again, as always). Both runs were held in RCBC Plaza's Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium. The 2013 cast included Vina Morales, Nyoy Volante, MiG Ayesa, Jett Pangan, Jamie Wilson, Calvin Millado, Bibo Reyes, Aiza Seguerra and Rachel Alejandro. The stage was small and it was Vina Morales' first theater role, but the play did really well and I really enjoyed all three times I watched it.

For this year's very limited repeat run, Kayla Rivera replaces Vina in her role as Sherrie Christian, the wide-eyed girl from Paola, Kansas who moves to L.A. to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress. While Vina already exudes sultry rockstar confidence, which made her truly in character during the play's sexier scenes, Kayla, having a similar backstory as Sherrie's, manages to bring genuine innocence to the role. She might not have rock-hard abs or a rougher, growlier edge to her singing voice like her predecessor does, but Kayla could hit the high notes better and she certainly had more chemistry with Nyoy who plays Drew Boley, busboy at The Bourbon Room, aspiring rockstar and Sherrie's love interest.

Jinky Llamanzares played Justice Charlier during the musical's original run and she reprises the role this year. I liked Rachel Alejandro more though, because her pulling off portraying a matured "gentleman's club" owner (a.k.a. a "madame") at her age was really impressive. Jinky undeniably has a more powerful voice, however, and she's more natural on stage, owing to her many years of theater experience both here and abroad. At one point last Friday when I watched Rock of Ages with my friends, she slipped (I think on her costume's train) and fell on her side, but she made it look like it was part of the choreography, quickly getting back on her feet and still singing, hitting the high notes like nothing happened. I wanted to give her a standing ovation right then and there.

It was a shame Aiza Seguerra couldn't join Rock of Ages this year. Thea Tadiar Everley in her role as Regina is fantastic, but Aiza brought the role, minor though it may be, to a completely different level. She was comical as Regina, and even more so as Candy (you have to have seen the play to appreciate it).

One other actress I would have liked to have retained her role was the one who did the reporter interviewing Stacee Jaxx in the "Wanted Dead or Alive" number. She reminded me of a certain local comedienne, in that she had a big smile and was funny, yet there was a sexiness in the way she moved, running her fingers up her curly faux-hawk before strutting off the stage at the end of the dance numbers she was in. I remember my friend Claire saying she's a mother already, making her playing the double role of a sexy waitress in fishnets doubly impressive.

The mainstays of the musical are brilliant as usual. Whether it's due to added theater experience or being paired with someone he's more comfortable with in real life for his love interest, Nyoy Volante seems more natural in his role as Drew Boley, especially in the scenes with Kayla. MiG Ayesa is convincing as Stacee Jaxx, disbanding rock group Arsenal's lead singer with shiny washboard abs, and he should be because he's played him since Rock of Ages' first U.S. national tour in 2011.

Jett Pangan, wearing a mullet as Lonny Barnett and narrator, is hilarious as ever, still bringing the house down with Jamie Wilson as Dennis Dupree in their "Can't Fight This Feeling" number. Calvin Millado is intimidating as Hertz Klinemann, the German land developer who wants to rid The Sunset Strip of its rock-'n'-roll image, and with him again is Bibo Reyes who plays his son Franz, all cute and submissive to his father, until Hertz's overbearing attitude forces Franz's claws—or rather, his sequined boxing attire, shinier than ever—to come out. That "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" number along with Regina is always one of the highlights of Rock of Ages, though again it would have been much more hilarious with Aiza Seguerra in it.

Being held at Meralco Theater in Ortigas this time around, the set is bigger, giving the actors more freedom to move about. The decorations outlining the stage (I won't say what they are) are more visible because they're more scattered about and in better lighting. It is regretful that some members of the cast couldn't reprise their roles in this year's limited rerun, but with a heartwarming, rockified story about love and dreams told under the direction of Chari Arespacochaga with musical direction by Ceejay Javier, Rock of Ages still is a fantastic play. No matter your age, you'll no doubt be familiar with one song in the musical at the very least (most probably "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey) and be able to sing along with the cast. There are two shows today at 3 and 8 PM. Go catch either one as today's their last day.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

First time at Ramen Nagi and Magnum Manila

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Some office friends and I had a few birthdays and work accomplishments worth celebrating, so we decided to eat out last night, but outside Eastwood City this time. Our chosen destination: SM Aura Premier (which I've never been to since its opening, mostly because some architectural features in the exterior seem sketchy to me). My suggested restaurant which we all have never been to and therefore agreed on: Ramen Nagi. 

Ramen Nagi only has four branches in the Philippines so far (SM Mall of Asia, SM Aura Premier, SM North EDSA and Robinsons Magnolia) though its franchise extends globally. We arrived at its fifth-floor location in SM Aura Premier and were fortunate enough to have been seated almost right away. Synchronized shouts of "Irasshaimase!" ("Welcome!") from Ramen Nagi's wait staff greeted us at the door. Not sure if it was the lack of bowing real Japanese-style but it felt just a tad like I was entering an SM Supermarket right after their bell has signaled for them to do their clap-thrice-HAPPY-TO-SERVE thing.

We were handed our order slips on small clipboards for us to customize our ramen, and the choices were Butao King (original ramen base), Black King (garlic, squid ink), Red King (spicy ramen base), Green King (basil, cheese) and Limited King, a limited ramen which they rotate through their other ramen flavors like, currently, the Ebi King. For ramen beginners, our waiter recommended Butao King with spiciness level at 1. I was hungry and didn't want to think too much about what I was ordering, so I did as he said and then ticked "Chef's recommendation" for the rest of the ramen elements.

Ramen Nagi' order slip

Despite the menu having the disclaimer that waiting time is at least 15-20 minutes, our order arrived surprisingly fast. I've never been to Japan, have only tried ramen at Teriyaki Boy so far, and could only reference anime like Naruto and that ridiculous film called Ramen Girl for the popular Japanese noodle dish, but I think that Ramen Nagi's Butao King pretty much nails how gourmet ramen really should be. Not surprising as Ramen Nagi's chefs are ramen masters after all.

Butao King, chef's recommendation

We also ordered curry spring rolls and chicken karaage, which were both delicious.

Chicken karaage

After dinner, we went for desserts at Magnum Manila, also on the fifth floor of SM Aura Premier. I love Magnum, especially its almond and gold variants, and being a sweet tooth in general, the idea of getting to customize my own Magnum bar seemed a very exciting endeavor.

Magnum Manila at SM Aura Premier

Upon entering, we were asked by a waitress whether we were ordering plated desserts, which meant we needed to be seated, or were just customizing our own Magnum bars, which meant we could go for take-out. The place wasn't even half-full, so I'm guessing this was just preemptive crowd control. We opted to order plated desserts so we could be seated, despite our original plan of only trying the Make Your Own Magnum Dessert Bar.

Apple pie crumble

Magnum Manila's plated desserts are basically at least one Magnum bar in a plate of cake slice, pastry or fruits. There were five of us and since the plated desserts could be shared, we decided to order three: apple pie crumble, red velvet and Death by Chocolate. The first two are exactly as they are named. Death by Chocolate is deep dark chocolate lava cake and a chocolate truffle Magnum bar topped with brownie bits and chocolate crispearls. Being their bestselling plated dessert, it needs about 15 minutes' prep time.

Red velvet

Death by Chocolate

I'm uncertain whether it was because I was sharing plates with friends or I simply have a really high sweetness threshold, but I didn't enjoy the desserts very much. Or maybe it's because they were a bit impractical (for each dessert I could have ordered a dozen original glazed Krispy Kreme donuts and would have been way more satisfied). Still, Magnum Manila's desserts are delicious, and it cannot be denied that they are unique.

Magnum Manila is big for an establishment that serves mostly desserts, and beautifully decorated, with photos of inspiration Magnum bars by the booths, and their M logo and an art installation of the Banaue Rice Terraces made using many, many Magnum sticks. The place also serves hot meals, many of which I wanted to try after seeing their menu. Visit them before their one year at SM Aura Premier is up. That branch is just a pop-up pleasure store after all.
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