Review: 'Oz' marks 20 years of Rep Children's Theater

Posted at 08/18/12 1:29 PM

Rep Children's Theater (RCT) artistic director Joy Virata (center, in pink) join the actors who have appeared in RCT productions through the years in a special tribute to mark the company's 20th anniversary on Friday night at Onstage in Greenbelt, Makati.

MANILA, Philippines -- Repertory Philippines' Children's Theater (RCT) marked its 20th anniversary on Friday night at the Greenbelt 1's Onstage Theater in Makati City with the press preview of its latest production "The Wizard of Oz," as well as a surprise tribute to RCT artistic director Joy Virata.

A surprised Virata thanked the actors as well as the audience for continuing to support RCT, which is the brainchild of the veteran stage actress during her previous position as vice president for audience development at Rep.

"I think my family was somehow involved in this," she remarked after watching a video tribute, which showed old photos of Virata as a child, newly wed and mother, as well as scenes from her most memorable Rep performances, including "A Chorus Line," "Blood Brothers" and "Piaf."

The cast also performed a medley of songs from past RCT productions, including "Sleeping Beauty," the first play staged by RCT back in 1992 at its previous home at the William J. Shaw Theater in Shangri-La Plaza.

More than 50 RCT alumni also gathered onstage for a special photo op and to sing "Oh, The Thinks You Can Think" from last year's "Seussical." Among those who came for the special tribute were Bituin Escalante, Carla Guevarra, Robbie Zialcita and ballerina Maritoni Rufino-Tordesillas.

"Twenty years ago, in the belief that there was a need for plays made just for children that are professionally produced, directed and acted in by professional adult actors, I launched the Rep Children's Theater," Virata wrote in her director's notes for "The Wizard of Oz."

"I'm happy to say I was right and the RCT -- now rechristened Rep's Theater for Young Audiences -- continues to welcome thousands of children to its production."

However, it wasn't an immediate success. During the tribute, Rep stalwarts Rem Zamora and LIza Infante recalled the tough start of RCT at the Shangri-La mall, where it would at times play before just a handful of theatergoers.

That would change when Rep moved to Greenbelt, where it would have back-to-back performances in a day, several days a week.

With 25 productions, RCT has played before an estimated 1.7 million people in the last two decades.

Not the movie

A special treat for both the actors and the audience was a medley of songs from Disney movies, including "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes" from "Sleeping Beauty," "Reflections" from "Mulan" and "A Whole New World" from "Aladdin" -- which have never been heard in an RCT production.

While RCT has presented these classic children's tales, the version it puts up are not the more familiar Disney musicals but special adaptations, mostly written by the tandem of Jim Eiler and Jeanne Bargy.

This is also the case with "The Wizard of Oz," which doesn't include any of the familiar songs from the Judy Garland, such as "Over the Rainbow."

Dorothy (Cara Barredo) is welcomed by the Munchkins in a scene from Rep Childen's Theater's latest production, "The Wizard of Oz," on Friday night at Onstage in Greenbelt, Makati.

But all the elements from the book of L. Frank Baum are there: the lovable Munckins, the trio of the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow and, of course, the Wicked Witch of the West and her army of flying monkeys.

True to its mission to enthrall kids, Rep goes over the top with the visuals. In this case, the costumes of designer Raven Ong stand out -- from the candy-colored pastiche of the Munchkins, including a ball gown that hides the fact that the actors are seated on rolling chairs, to the detailed metallic designs of the Tin Man.

Matched by the busy lighting design of John Batalla, generously using concert-style intelligent beams, as well as precise sound effects, the production certainly transports kids to the fantasy land that is Oz.

Virata also cast two gymnasts/dancers as the lead flying monkeys, who perform tumbling runs, b-boy poses and other acrobatic stunts to delight audiences.

The Wicked Witch -- in green face makeup, no less -- makes her dramatic entrances riding a flying broomstick which descended from the top of the stage.

There is even an animated video at the start of the musical.

Still this is children's theater, as can be gleaned from the repetitive score and the use of audience participation to involve the children in the production. Apart from the usual call and response, they also played a game of charades, with the monkeys acting out the lead characters of the musical and having the audience guess who that is.

With productions as polished as "The Wizard of Oz," RCT is sure to have many more successful seasons ahead.

"The Wizard of Oz" runs until December 16.