Wednesday, July 18, 2012

RCS7 - A Magical Night of Music, Dance & High Concept Entertainment

Beautiful music makes me cry. I can't help it. It's a scourge and an embarrassment. It isn't even the lyrics of a song, but hearing a beautiful voice turn into a veritable instrument. A couple of weeks ago, I once again made a fool of myself. I cried unabashedly. With hundreds of people around me. It was the RCS7 show at the Music Museum!

I was more surprised to learn that the iconic musician Ryan Cayabyab's stable of performers called the Ryan Cayabyab Singers (RCS) have been in the business for five long years. Sure, I've heard of them, but they seem to evade mainstream consciousness, performing only for charitable events and overseas concerts more than staking their claim in the local entertainment spotlight. But July 7 was special! This was the day RCS stepped into their rightful limelight... and director Rito Asilo made sure they do just that!

The musical concert is curiously conceptualized like a "chamber performance" - with distinctly eclectic musical forms lining up the show. Most broadly, chamber music involves pieces performed by a small number of performers. That's how it was 200 years or so ago when people wanted to hear singing voices in a "private salon" with an intimate atmosphere. Thus Asilo puts his London directorial education to good use by fielding an entertaining, albeit free-sailing theatricality in a musical show that hasn't been seen in the local stage in quite a while. 

The show, in fact, ushers us to the evolution of the musical group: how each of them was picked from 197 hopefuls, and what better opening song than "Hard Work' (from "Fame" the musical) . You somehow start to think that this was a musical play than a mere run-of-the-mill concert! With a big video screen hanging down the back of the stage, "Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika" is heard in the background. A video starts to show Mr. C. His septet gradually takes the stage, looking up the screen while their mentor explains what he wanted in a group, and how he chose them. With kleig lights bearing down the singers, I had goosebumps as I watched them evolve from their passive stance into jubilant auditionees, declaring, "I pray to sing someday!" to "I made it!" And what a joyous moment it was when their voices eventually blend to a rousing: "I'm alive. I will survive. Show the world that I can take it!" You have never heard "Hard Work" played and performed this way! They've only just begun!

In another highlight, the singers were given spotlight numbers that declared not so much about vocal bravado, but how these performers were as different in style, temperament and technique from each other. No, sir, this wasn't a chorale, but a conglomeration of different "styles" of singing. Check out the repertoire: Vince Lim, possibly the most prolific of the group, delves into the burdensome Dave Brubeck classic, the cantankerous "Blue Rondo a la Turk" I was holding my breath as he studiously hopped from one staccato note to the next: "Round, round, round a melody; round, round, round a harmony..." It took the bejesus out of my nerves! Though the number wasn't seamless as Al Jarreau's version (Vince would end up breathless at the tailend of each phrase), but this was a showcase piece that could only be sung by very few gifted individuals. I doubt if Gary V or Ryan Fuentes can still do it. Vince would have fared better with "Spain" if it was mere scatting he wanted to show off, right? But this was a very brave performance that took my breath away as it did Vince. 

This was followed by Erwin Lacsa's (hold your breath) "E Lucevan Le Stelle" - a romanza composed in 1900 for Puccini's opera "Tosca". You have to remember that this was a song of a dying man, a painter who was to be executed on a roof. Though typically sung by a tenor, Erwin's version (he's baritone) is enigmatic, I actually fell in love with him from this rendition. Now tell me, which 1900 song is sung in a pop concert like this, tell me, tell me fast? Needless to say, I liked Erwin - a lot! Though it's clear that he's rough around the edges, he seems more than malleable where genres are concerned; and I just adore raw talent; the ones that possesses the capability of evolving into better artists. Erwin easily shifts from pop territory to classical singing, I turned into mush listening to him. Ohgawd! From jazz and opera, Kaich Tiuseco takes us to the contemporary world with Gwyneth Paltrow's "Forget You". At this point, I was ready to stand up and frolic with the crowd! Kaich's fun is so palpable on stage that she infects her audience as she sings: "I see you drivin' round town with the guy I love, and I'm like, forget you..." She occasionally loses herself in the song while intermittently twisting her neck and shoulders rather awkwardly. When you're in a fabulous gown and heels like that, some movements don't quite make the grade, but we're just nitpicking. 

VJ Caber then follows with a fantabulous and surprising version of Bamboo's "Alleluia". Suddenly, a familiar song sounds new and well, "urgent". I had goosebumps as dashing VJ wows the crowd with a ballad-styled "Alleluia". Among the guys, VJ could be the romantic balladeer. He is smooth and good looking, and he is emotional (in fact,he couldn't contain himself when they started singing "Tunay na Ligaya" for Mr. C - awww!) I just love guys who wear their hearts on their sleeves. You get these raw emotions from their singing, and I appreciate his sincerity. It doesn't hurt that VJ is such an eye candy too. As the concert winds down, you find him gyrating like a "macho dancer" in one of the latter numbers. Ooohlala!

Anezka Alvarez, sophisticated and playful, was given "Orange-Colored Sky". Though her low registers weren't as full and fetching as they should be, Anezka makes up for it with frisky, character-filled singing. Celine Fabie takes on the showstopping "As If We Never Said Goodbye". Celine is the group's belter so she was a revelation when she performed Maricris Bermont's "Narito Ako" - or Didith Reyes' "Bakit Ako Mahihiya" with sultry vocal bravado! Celine has a voice that soars so it's always a pleasuring listening to her. Poppert Bernadas was given Basil Valdez's uber-difficult "Sometime, Somewhere". Among the guys, Poppert probably possesses stratospheric range. His voice is full bodied, has excellent technique (able to sustain his notes easily) even when he's doing a falsetto. It's hard not to notice him. Having said this, Poppert can easily mask his colleague's voices, but he is able to control this beautifully.

VJ Caber and Erwin Lacsa

While we concentrated on their spotlight numbers, it's pertinent to mention that the repertoire flowed smoothly. There was a Motown medley; as well as the ridiculously enjoyable Metro Pop Medley (with songs like "Pain", "Isang Mundo, Isang Awit", "Hahanapin Ko", "Magsimula Ka", "Swerte Swerte Lang", etc.) which was easily a crowd favorite because it took us back to an era when great Pinoy songs lorded the airwaves. The 80's were indeed a treasure trove of wonderful music. Another number was a Medley of Novelty Songs: Yoyoy Villame's "Butsikik" evolved from a heart-wrenching ballad to the fun novelty number that it really is. Other novelties included Donna Cruz's "Rain", Edgar Mortiz's "My Pledge of Love", Vilma Santos' "Sweet Sixteen" and Victor Wood's "Mr. Lonely".

My favorite was the mash-up of Cayabyab's Mamang Kutsero (about a guy who's fascination with the horse drawn carriage makes him want to give his girlfriend away in exchange of the kutsero's kalesa) and Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger". Now how do you exactly hybrid these two divergent and contrasting songs? Moreover, they garnished this number with a dash of Riverdance footworkWhen the group started tapping away sans music, I held my breath! Tap dancing over "Moves Like Jagger" and "Mamang Kutsero"? This unearthly number rocks, indeed, like Jagger!

Jolina Magdangal, a product of Cayabyab's talent searches, guests to sing the teen ballad, "Kailan". It was hard not to fall in love with Magdangal who sparkled like the star that she is. Her voice was clear, her singing emotive and sincere. I had to stop myself from singing along loudly, but then the whole theater was doing just that, singing their hearts out about an unrequited affection. Sigh.


I would have suggested a portion that told a little more about the singers' background. Where do they come from? What did they do before joining RCS? After all, this was their coming out party and it was imperative that we know a bit more about them for us to fully empathize with them as interesting personalities. If you want your audience to relate to you as a performer, you have to open yourself up to them; give them a piece of your personal history. This tack could have endeared them more to their audience. I personally wanted to know them better. Do they have day jobs? Do their parents sing like them? Does Mr. C train them himself? Does Erwin have a girlfriend? Ooops! :) But then that's just me!

RCS7 was a high concept musical concert that boasted of fully choreographed numbers and well chosen, brilliantly arranged songs. In which other concert do you get two high-adrenaline choreographers (Dexter Santos and Bim Ebol)?

By the time I got inside my car, I was still heady and dazed with the reverberating sound of Pinoy Disco. Rock, baby, rockin' in the year 2012! Such staggering, mind-blowing, toe-tapping, heart-pounding musical extravaganza in a single night! This definitely deserves a restaging!

Celine Fabie

Anezka Alvarez and Kaich Tiuseco

Poppert Bernadas and Vince Lim

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