As the end of 2019 draws near, we at PalabasTayo have compiled a list of great performances for Philippine theatre in 2019. These exceptional actors and actresses have made the past year a memorable one with brilliant performances that have left an indelible mark on the theatre scene.

Great Performances in Philippine Theater 2019 - Lea Salonga

Lea Salonga (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street | Atlantis Theatricals) – The incomparable Lea Salonga infuses the character of the manic Mrs. Lovett with a fresh, inventive irreverence that meshes seamlessly with the grittier staging of this Sondheim classic. What makes her performance particularly noteworthy is inseparable from who she is as a performer: Lea Salonga’s subtle choices in playing the insidious character inspires sympathy and loathing in equal measure, reminding us once more that her genius lies not only in her flawless vocal ability but also in her nuanced treatment of the character she assumes. Her darkly magnetic interpretation of Mrs. Lovett draws you in and refuses to let go, long after you’ve left the theater.

Kakki Teodoro (Every Brilliant Thing | The Sandbox Collective) – It takes a particularly sensitive actor to deal with a topic as complex as mental illness. As the focal point of a loose, deconstructed universe that pulls in the audience to participate as much as watch, Kakki Teodoro anchors her performance with a quiet frankness that unnerves you. When dealing with something like suicide, and the ripple effect that it has on the people around you, in this case, how a daughter deals with the emotional fallout of having a suicidal mother, there are multifaceted issues that an actor must process and present. In the hands of a less than brilliant actor, they would not do be able to do justice, and properly draw attention to the bigger issue that the play seeks to impress upon its audience. Kakki Teodoro shines in her portrayal, not in any flashy way, but with a tragic earnestness that brims with pathos, and fills one with hope. 

Lance Reblando (Ang Huling El Bimbo | Resorts World Manila and Full House Theater Company) – As one of the Philippine’s most successful bands, there was very little doubt how a musical based on their most popular songs would succeed. What was unexpected, was the level of the cast’s performance which resonates with the audience in a very real way. Of particular note is the character of Young Anthony, and the utterly charming way Lance Reblando plays him. There is an earnestness to his portrayal of a gay man finding himself. He inhabits the character with such sensitivity, it is really not a surprise that he steals every scene he’s in. Buoyed by the classic songs that we all know by heart, his brilliant tone breathes a wonderful innocence into the character and compels you to get on your feet by the time the curtain falls.

Topper Fabregas (Angels in America: Millennium Approaches | Atlantis Theatricals) – Angels in America is probably one of the most culturally important plays of this generation. As such, there is tremendous pressure to perform in such a way that not only makes sense of its more absurd elements but also effectively conveys the meaningful message that is woven into the story of people finding their way in the midst of the AIDS crisis in the mid-’80s. Topper Fabregas played Prior Walter, the emotional center of the play, with a startling dignity that opted for a soft, almost imperceptible subtlety, it was heart-wrenching to watch. If there is anything to look forward to as far as the theater season next year is concerned, it is the second part of Tony Kushner’s magnum opus and more of Topper Fabregas’ raw and wonderful performance.

Jonathan Tadioan (Katsuri | Tanghalang Pilipino) – Tanghalang Pilipino has always delighted and surprised theatergoers with productions that not only entertain, but also challenge the audience to take a closer look at classic pieces of literature and reinterpret them in new and exciting ways. This year’s offering is an adaptation that stars Jonathan Tadioan as a mentally retarded farmhand with a penchant for soft things. His performance was disarming, filled with an innocent, joyous optimism that was captivating to watch against the miserable backdrop of an Ilonggo hacienda. His character’s buoyant personality that contrasted so much with the dry, almost desolate material shone through like a ray of light that pierced the veil of gloom that pervades the theater.

Great Performances in Philippine Theater 2019 - Shamaine Buencamino

Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino (The Kundiman Party) – Rebellion through beauty. It is a struggle to think of any premise more interesting than the alignment of art and politics. The Kundiman Party is a fascinating look into the true nature of patriotism and the role each person plays in preserving freedom. Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino’s portrayal of Maestra Adela as a woman who finds herself at the center of a personal and political storm is a masterclass performance as a woman who defies time and embodies a fire that transcends generations. Her impassioned performance inspires and delights to no end. Her silent strength as she weaves through the lives of the rest of the characters that orbit around her is truly one of the most compelling things onstage.

Tex Ordonez-De Leon (Lam-Ang | Tanghalang Pilipino) – In what could be one of the most unique of the new shows this year, Lam-Ang came in late in the day, opening for a limited engagement. The elaborately adapted epic poem comes to life onstage to the sound of Tex Ordonez-De Leon’s Baglan. Eerie and haunting, as if awakening some slumbering creature within you, her performance propels the plot forward with a crystal clear voice that makes even the air within theater hum, and leaves the audience spellbound. She completely loses herself in the role and it’s apparent to the audience as we’re all taken on a journey to a past we have all but forgotten.

Great Performances in Philippine Theater 2019 - Shela Valderrama

Sheila Valderrama (Passion | Philippine Opera Company) – As the most emotionally charged of Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim’s works, Passion is the most complex, and perhaps the most controlled of all the popular musicals in his oeuvre. The beating heart of this show is the desperate beauty of Fosca. Sheila Valderrama underwent the most striking of transformations by transitioning to the plain and sickly Fosca, completely enveloping herself in the tragic miasma of her character: It all makes for truly compelling theatre. The bare, spartan setting frames Valderrama’s Fosca perfectly, showcasing the actor’s performance and amplifying the deep emotional pathos of the material.

The Ensemble (Himala | Nineworks Theatricals / Sandbox Collective ) – Himala is an original Filipino musical that has endured for years since it first burst into the scenes, and has since become one of the most popular musicals to enjoy extended runs in different venues. While the cast may have changed, the ensemble being one of the uncredited characters has maintained a level of performance that was remarkable in its subtlety. In the original Ishmael Bernal film, the mob, the unnamed mass of people, has always been recognized as a character in the story that manages to engulf everything in the end. The ensemble in the stage production is no different. The collective mass of voices perform all sorts of functions in setting the mood for the scenes, and becomes a force unto itself, threatening to devour everything in the end. This was achieved through the brilliant work of the members of the ensemble, whose performance left an indelible mark on what has already become one of Philippine theatre’s most enduring musicals

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