If I may borrow a quote to describe the body of work that is “Zsazsa Zaturnnah,” it would probably be Wendy Williams’ declaration: “She is an icon, she is a legend, and she is the moment.”
And for her latest appearance in the form of “Zsazsa Zaturnnah The Musical… ‘Yun Lang!” staged by Ateneo Blue Repertory (Bluerep), she, through the stunning Kim Molina and the masterful Phi Palmos, ate.
The original material already has a cult following: of lives who have been touched and changed by this story of a gay parlorista who had superpowers thrust into his hands, who later also discovers and welcomes the transformative power of love.
So naturally, the icon needs no introduction, and no further prodding as to why one must come see the daring heroine. But with great power comes great responsibility, as they say. In the case of Bluerep, that meant putting up a production that could stand up to the greats before it (Tanghalang Pilipino’s nine-run streak at various theaters throughout 2005 to 2011, and the Regal Entertainment film adaptation that competed in the 2006 Metro Manila Film Festival).
As beautiful as the source material is, this university production seems to shakily, if not only barely, hold up a candle to those that paved the way for it.
The music is no doubt marvelous, and the student cast of Bluerep wonderfully matches up to their professional guest artists, Molina (Zsazsa Zaturnnah), Palmos (Ada), Almond Bolante (Didi), and Kakki Teodoro (Queen Femina). They were able to fill the small black box theater of Ateneo’s Arete to the brim with energy, making up for the areas the production falls short.
Molina is a perfect Zsazsa, capturing the sassy, cheeky, and brash confidence of the heroine. Her acting range is also put on display here, as she easily navigates snappy comedic banter, action scenes (in her tiny costume, no less!), belting out her power anthems, taking a jab at the raunchy Vivamax image, and then settling in the quiet ruminations of Zsazsa.
Palmos likewise shines in these quiet moments as Ada. Because we hardly get exposition for their world, it is through these scenes of contemplation and expression of his innermost hopes that we get to peek into the window of Ada’s mind and story—the struggles that built him up to how he is today, and his motivations. Palmos’ take on the 11 o’clock number “Ayoko Nang Mabuhay Nang Ganito” is particularly rousing and powerful, too.
Bolante, as Ada’s best friend, confidante, and assistant Didi, is fantastic. He really showed off with all those riffs and runs, hitting high notes, and just tirelessly giving. A total joy to watch.
Then there’s Teodoro’s fabulously imposing Queen Femina Suarestella Baroux. The leader of the Amazonistas is a clear contrast to Zsazsa with her accented English and regal air. She takes feminism to the toxic extreme, it becomes discriminatory instead of inclusive. If anything, her entire arc is proof that that is not a good look. But even then, Teodoro’s portrayal makes Queen Femina not someone to be feared per se, but to be wary of.
Queen Femina and the Amazonistas are also comical and entertaining to a point, especially with their little quips alluding to popular culture—from NewJeans’ “OMG” and the theater anthem “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked,” to mentions of current celebrity icons like Zendaya.
One major regret is that the beautiful voices of this cast have been subject to wonky mics (a typical live performance mishap of course, but nevertheless something we always hope to not experience)—or even no mics at all for some of the ensemble, which is a shame because audiences in less optimal seats are unable to hear some of the lines in songs or in dialogue.
For such an iconic story and material, I suppose one cannot fault me for having grand expectations. Unfortunately, some scenes in Bluerep’s “Zsazsa Zaturnnah” required a major workout for my suspension of disbelief for the stage. Zsazsa’s first exploration of her powers, which required her to uproot a tree and climb up a hill, felt like a massive classroom roleplay with the props—a disservice to the acting chops of Molina and Bolante (but also a display of Didi alternate Joshua Cabiladas’ dip into improv). Zsazsa’s first opponent, the gigantic frog that had suddenly appeared to wreak havoc on their town, was also visually difficult to grasp at first.
Thank goodness we at least have Zsazsa’s stunning hero suits and Didi’s fabulous costume changes (both of which have elicited excited gasps of surprise from the audience), and Queen Femina’s eye-catching silver battle suit to do the visual heavy-lifting here.
Juan Carlos Galano’s Dodong is himself a major visual for the musical, too. He oozes charm the moment the spotlight turns on him, especially as he’s backed by the bop, “Walang Ibang Pangarap Kundi Siya.”
It’s just a shame that some of these visual stunners may go unappreciated because of poor seating arrangements and blocking. The W-shaped stage is intriguing at first, and in some parts also help in creating a sort of immersive experience, but makes it difficult to fully appreciate the actors’ acting in certain scenes, especially if you don’t get a good seat (which, unlike most theater shows, is at the bleachers). Some numbers also end with ensemble members standing right in front of the audience, blocking the main characters, which reduces the impact a scene might have made otherwise.
Overall, despite a few lapses, Bluerep’s “Zsazsa Zaturnnah” is still an enjoyable show. The high energy, powerful music, and the cast’s amazing vocals will easily draw you in, and will keep you hooked and rooting for the small town hero. It was still a mighty effort, but also one that I hope to see again, in a bigger and better scale. ‘Yun lang!
“Zsazsa Zaturnnah The Musical… ‘Yun Lang!” by Ateneo Blue Repertory runs until April 2 at the Doreen Black Box Theater, Arete, Ateneo de Manila University. Based on the graphic novel by Carlo Vergara, with music, lyrics, and musical direction by Vincent A. De Jesus and stage adaptation by Chris Martinez. Directed by Missy Maramara. Featuring Kim Molina as Zsazsa Zaturnnah; Phi Palmos, Adrian Lindayag, and Shaun Ocrisma as Ada; Almond Bolante, Joshua Cabiladas, and Bradly Hao as Didi; Kakki Teodoro and Anyah De Guzman as Queen Femina; Juan Carlos Galano, Jude Matthew Servilla, and Elian Dominguez as Dodong; Kyla Rivera-Soong as Aling Britney; Jelena Evangelista, Heart Romero, Carlin Maxino, and Dani Tan as the Amazonistas; also starring Ron Balgos, Ice Canlas, Teia Contreras, MK Dabbay, Carlo Dano, Gideon de Guia, Bianca Lao, Fred Layno, Julia Mitra, Marta Munoz, Jamie Papa, Andrea Papio, Marj Peleño, James Pe Lim, Karl Salenda, Alexis Semilla, Ade Valenzona, and Claire Venzon.