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The real return of live theater is now, and we’re here for it

The real return of live theater is now, and we’re here for it

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  • 2023 was a rich and busy year for local theater, and this year’s gearing up to be even better

You’re reading this because you’re probably one of two things: First, a theater fan. Second, you’ve probably heard of this thing called “Philippine theater” and have gotten curious. Maybe you’ve seen one or two shows, or have heard one celebrity or others talk about it. 

Whichever type you fall under, welcome. Welcome to 2024, where we already have nearly 20 productions lined up, and it’s only the first week of January. 

But before we get to all the upcoming shows, I think we need to take some time to honor the year that was. 2023 was a rich and busy year for local theater with major companies, independent performance groups, and university productions all tirelessly putting out some of the best work Manila has seen in years.

While the heart of live theater started to beat once again in 2022, it’s last year, 2023, that we’ve witnessed its true revival. Many have called it revenge theater, and it’s true. The pandemic years robbed audiences and artists of the stage, and this year, now that restrictions have fully eased, theater artists have come back to play, explore, and experiment on the stage.

A good friend and fellow theater writer has even gone to see more than 60 shows last year. Sixty! I can only claim half that number. Nevertheless, out of those 30-something productions (my younger self would never have believed it possible), several stood out.

2023 recap

One of the most beautiful things about the revival of live theater last year was to see a good number of Filipino or localized adaptations. Tanghalang Pilipino’s award-winning “Ang Pag-uusig,” from Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” featured ensemble work that has left its viewers nothing short of stunned. Meanwhile, The Sandbox Collective’s Filipino, queer take on Duncan Macmillan’s interactive “Every Brilliant Thing,” thus aptly renamed “Bawat Bonggang Bagay” featuring the iconic Jon Santos, was one that effectively touched hearts and brought forth tears of both grief and joy.

Then there are braver adaptations like the Company of Actors in Streamlined Theatre (C.A.S.T.)’s take on Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” thus transformed into “Uncle Jane,” with powerful performances led by Topper Fabregas and Missy Maramara. PETA also dipped into the adaptation scene, taking on the extra challenge of modernizing and making relevant once again the classic zarzuela, “Walang Sugat,” into the laugh-out-loud romantic-comedy hit “Walang Aray”.

walang aray
PETA’s “Walang Aray”

Speaking of classics, we’ve also seen a handful of noteworthy revivals. Rock opera ballet “Rama, Hari,” the brainchild of five National Artists, for instance, completed packed performances at both the iconic Metropolitan Theater and the Samsung Performing Arts Theater. More than 40 years since its inception, “Rama, Hari” is also slated for a rerun in February this year.

Half “Rama, Hari”’s age is another iconic tale, given a more Gen Z spin: Theatre Tita’s production of Juan Ekis’ “Twenty Questions,” which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. 

Manila also became a hotspot for several international productions. Foremost is the Asia premiere of the historical rap musical “Hamilton,” which enjoyed an extended, sold-out run from September to November. We were also able to see local stagings of Broadway and Off-Broadway cult favorites: “Tick, tick… Boom!” by 9Works Theatrical, and “The Last Five Years” courtesy of Barefoot Theatre Collaborative. The two featured the best of Philippine theater’s talents. In “Tick, tick… Boom!” we were able to witness the performance dexterity of Tanya Manalang and Reb Atadero, playing dozens of characters throughout the three-hander musical. In “The Last Five Years,” Gab Pangilinan soared as she brought the grief-stricken-then-wide-eyed-hopeful Cathy Hyatt to life, backed by luscious melodies conducted by Rony Fortich.

9Works Theatrical’s “Tick, tick… Boom!”

Children’s theater had a moment in 2023, too. “Kung Paano Nanalo sa Karera si Rosang Taba,” staged by Dulaang UP, “Sandosenang Sapatos” by Tanghalang Pilipino, and “Prinsipe Bahaghari” by Teatro Mulat ng Pilipinas all beautifully translated award-winning children’s stories to the stage. 

Where “Rosang Taba” was inspiring and uplifting, especially through the engaging work of Kiki Baento as the titular character, “Sandosenang Sapatos” led by Felicity Kyle Napuli, alongside a noteworthy crew of her 12 “shoes,” was effectively a heart-wrenching tear-jerker. Meanwhile, “Prinsipe Bahaghari” showed us another form of theater we don’t often see: puppetry. Done exquisitely well thanks to the designs of Aina Ramolete and Ohm David, the classic story, adapted to Filipino by Vladimeir Gonzales using our local myths and environment, is also set for a rerun this January.

This year also allowed several artists to experiment with the craft. Several noteworthy plays sought to play around and bend their genres, pushing the boundaries of what they could do with the story. Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” got a fascinating twist with the all-female production by The Playbook Club, directed by Nelsito Gomez, while the one-man, Filipino adaptation of William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” into “Pangulong Bangaw” by Langgam Performance Troupe proved riveting. 

Also worth noting are several plays in last year’s Virgin Labfest lineup. Personal favorites were the quiet but affective “10 to Midnight,” the harrowing “Room 209,” and the very engaging mix of mythology with reality in “Mga Halimaw Rin Kami.” There were also several thought-provoking pieces, like “Ang Tuyom” and “Tuloy ang Palabas.” (“‘Nay May Dala Akong Pancit” from the revisited set was also riotous, and an enjoyable, partially interactive VLF experience. A “you had to be there” theater moment, if you will.)

Theater is not just an art but also a mirror of society, as they say, and 2023 was also rich with very timely pieces. The rerun of “The Reconciliation Dinner,” one year after the divisive presidential elections, came with an updated script that reflected the sentiment of the time. (Remember the “Ginusto niyo ‘yan” versus “Hindi ‘yan ang radikal na pagmamahal” discourse we all had at some point?) 

Barefoot Theatre Collaborative’s “Pride Plays” (“Unica Hijas”)

As for more season-appropriate productions, I most applaud Barefoot Theatre’s twinbill, “Pride Plays” featuring “Unica Hijas” and “Laro,” which was also a fitting way to celebrate Pride Month on the stage. Rounding out the year were C.A.S.T.’s holiday staged readings, themed “‘Tis the Season,” which featured “The Last Noel,” “Snowflake,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” These plays were beautifully chosen, all underscored by a message of reconciliation and peace among loved ones and with ourselves. 

Up next for 2024

Although we’ve only just started the new year, we already have nearly 20 productions lined up for the coming months. (…Did you hear that, it’s the sound of my bank account fearing for its life. Kidding. I love theater. See me rush for tickets again this year the moment they open selling, haha.)


  • Teatro Mulat’s “Prinsipe Bahaghari” – Jan. 19 to 21, 26 to 28

Power Mac Center Spotlight Black Box Theater, Circuit Makati

  • PETA’s “Control+Shift: Changing Narratives” – Jan. 14 to 21; and “Kumprontasyon” – Jan. 19 to 21

PETA Studio, PETA Theater, Quezon City

  • Repertory Philippines’ “Snow White and the Prince” – until Jan. 21

Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1, Makati


  • The Sandbox Collective’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” – opens Feb. 24

Power Mac Center Spotlight Black Box Theater, Circuit Makati

  • Alice Reyes Dance Philippines’ “Rama, Hari”


  • Tanghalang Pilipino’s “Pingkian: Isang Musikal” – Mar. 1 to 24

Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez (CCP Black Box Theater), Pasay

  • Repertory Philippines’ “Betrayal” – Mar. 1 to 17

Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati

  • GMG Productions’ “Miss Saigon” – Mar. 23 to May 5

The Theatre at Solaire


  • PETA’s “One More Chance”/Ben&Ben musical
  • Dulaang UP’s “Kung Paano Nanalo sa Karera si Rosang Taba”


  • Repertory Philippines’ “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” – June 7 to 30

Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati

  • C.A.S.T.’s “Patintero sa Ayala Avenue”


  • The Sandbox Collective’s “Little Shop of Horrors” – July to August

Globe Auditorium, Maybank Performing Arts Theater, BGC, Taguig


  • C.A.S.T.’s “Othello”


  • The Sandbox Collective’s “Tiny Beautiful Things”

Zobel de Ayala Recital Hall, Maybank Performing Arts Theater, BGC, Taguig

Aside from these, we also have shows slated for this year that have yet to announce their official showdates. Full House Theater Company’s new original jukebox musical “Buruguduystunstugudunstuy: The Parokya ni Edgar Musical” already announced its full cast. Meanwhile, 9Works Theatrical’s production of “Rent” also teased one of its cast members in a post last Christmas. Repertory Philippines has also announced that they will be producing two original musicals: ”Jepoy and the Magic Circle” for its theater for young audiences offering, and “Going Home to Christmas” for its first-ever jukebox musical, featuring the songs of Jose Mari Chan. Of course, we can also expect a new season of Virgin Labfest coming this June.

It’s only the first week of the year; we’ve still got a lot ahead. So if you’ve been looking for a sign to finally give the theater a chance, this is it. This. Is. The. Year! See you at the theater.

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