Theater Review: Inspired Casting Banners new ‘Zsazsa Zaturnnah’
Ada (Phi Palmos, Adrian Lindayag, Shaun Ocrisma) was a serious gay man who lived in a small provincial town. He made a living by running his own beauty salon. His loyal best friend was his very gay, very sociable assistant Didi (Almond Bolante, Joshua Cabiladas, Robert Bradley Hao). The two friends were used to stirring up jokes in their community, but they bravely challenge themselves to be themselves. Ada’s crush was Dodong (Juan Carlos Galano, Jude Matthew Servilla, Elian Dominguez) in the vulcanization business.
One night, a bright pink stone fell into the bathroom where Ada was taking a bath. Didi convinced Ada to go ahead and swallow it to gain superpowers. When Ada shouted the word “Zaturnnah” written on the rock, he morphed into a sexy woman with red hair and a healthy breast whom they would christen Zsazsa Zaturnnah (Kim Molina). They would soon discover that while Zsazsa possessed powers of super strength and super speed, she lacked Ada’s hair cutting and makeup skills.
This comic tribute to Filipino superhero Darna is adapted from the pages of a 2002 graphic novel written by Carlo Vergara. In 2006, Tanghalang Pilipino directed a musical adaptation of this cult favorite, written by Chris Martinez, music by Vincent de Jesus and directed by Chris Millado. The original cast was led by Eula Valdez as the titular heroine, with Tuxqs Rutaquio as Ada, Ricci Chan as Didi, and Arnold Reyes as Dodong. This show had seven runs through 2011, TP’s longest-running music show.
In this press show, all the main actors had powerful singing voices that went perfectly with de Jesus’ soulful arrangements. Physically and vocally, Kim Molina, who is sorely missed on the music stage after memorable starring roles in “Rak of Aegis” and “Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady”, is the perfect choice to play Zsazsa.
Phi Palmos has played all the major gay characters in recent musicals like Ang Huling El Bimbo and Mula sa Buwan, making his casting as Ada an inspired choice as well.
The role of Didi was written for an effortless scene thief. The actor who played him needed a strong stage presence, precise comic timing and Jennifer Hudson-esque vocals – and luckily, they were able to find that rare combination of talent in the incredible Almond Bolante.
Juan Carlos Galano had the handsome face and chiseled body to play the neighborhood dream boat, Dodong. The vocal demands of his first song might have been a bit out of his reach, but with his last song he also proved himself as a singer.
Kakki Teodoro seemed born to play the silver-clad and formidable alien dominatrix Queen Femina Suarestellar Baroux. Her excellent command of complex English dialogue and her fluent, dynamic speaking and singing voice more than compensated for her small stature.
Her four minions, the Amazonistas, were hilarious parodies of local film queens Nora A, Sharon C, Dina B, and Vilma S. During her featured song number, Carlin Maximo, Jelena Evangelista, Dani Tan, and Heart Romeo all gave a remarkable performance with their distinctive vocals.
This latest revival, presented by Rizal Library, co-presented by Areté Ateneo, and #Ateneo Blue Repertory, had the original script updated with various pop references to events and trends that had transpired since the last staging and the present. Some story elements about how badly gay people are treated may at first seem outdated. However, after a while you would realize that SOGIE Bill and all maybe haven’t changed much and they still feel persecuted not only by society but also in their families.
I sat in one of the two mosh pits on either side of the catwalk. While seeing the actors up close, it wasn’t easy for me to keep track of everything that’s happening on the different parts of the stage, especially at the end of the catwalk, which was behind me. I imagine it would be better to sit in the back of the stands to see the whole stage. During the press night there were audio and mic glitches, damaged props and a number of gags that didn’t work – nothing too serious that can’t be fixed in the next few shows.
Director Missy Maramara had a talented team working with her, including music director Vincent de Jesus, lighting designer D Cortezano and sound engineer John Robert “Ago” Yam. The most technically demanding task is probably the production and costume design of Tata Tuviera. He had to create the illusion of the giant frog attacking the city and how to show that Zsazsa could uproot a large tree and throw it into the sky. His flashy costumes for Zsazsa, Femina, the Amazonistas, and the Zombies all deserve praise.
“ZSA ZSA ZATURNNAH THE MUSICAL…’YUN LAN !!!!” is playing at the Doreen Fernandez Black Box Theater, Arete, Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City from March 17 to April 2, 2023.
This review was originally published on the author’s blog, Fred Said.