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Lea Salonga Shines in Sweeney Todd

Born to and raised by parents who worshiped Tony laureate Lea Salonga, I obviously had high expectations of the Manila staging of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Topbilled by Salonga (as Mrs. Lovett) alongside Jett Pangan (former lead vocalist of rock band The Dawn as the eponymous character), the musical was long awaited.

It did not disappoint.

Especially Salonga’s performance. In several ways, I love her interpretation of Mrs. Lovett more than Helena Bonham-Carter’s. Compared to the latter’s, hers is a louder, more comical, lovesick woman. It was my first time to watch Salonga perform live, and the experience shattered my previous image of her as the almost-always wholesome artist. The lady can do comedy — the dark kind, even the one laden with innuendos.

The most memorable part for me — more than The Worst Pies in London — is her rendition of By the Sea. Hilarious. Letting out a seagull’s GAAWK and slithering on Sweeney Todd’s lap (seducing him in vain), she proves to be a more versatile artist than you’ve probably known her.

Sweeney Todd is staged at Solaire until October 27.

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The Crazy Crains

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The Haunting of Hill House is your binge-worthy Halloween treat

The Haunting of Hill House, at 10 episodes, does not feel long. It’s the story of a family of seven easing their lives into an old house and of what happens to them many years later.

“Ease into the house”, of course, isn’t exactly what they did. The house sucks them in to a whirlwind of paranormal events, ending with the mom, Olivia Crain’s (Carla Gugino), mysterious death.

The Crain family moves out of the house, but their lives are changed forever. Steve (Michiel Huisman), the eldest kid, becomes an author of paranormal stories. He publishes a book about the haunting at Hill House — a bestseller — at the cost of wrinkling his relationship with his sister, Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), who has become a professional embalmer. Shirley considers Steve’s earnings blood money. Theo (Kate Siegel), meanwhile, secretly accepted Steve’s money to finish her PhD in psychology; aloof since childhood, she struggles with what seems to be the middle-child syndrome. Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) turns into a heroin addict and is at rehab. All but Nellie (Victoria Pedretti) thinks he can still change. But Nell is now a young widow suffering from sleep paralysis and the refreshed haunting of the Bent-Neck Lady from Hill House. Only Hugh Crain (Timothy Hutton), the patriarch, seems to be of clear mind, placid and wise from years of grief. And then Nellie kills herself. And the family gathers under one roof again. But the story is only just beginning.

The Haunting of Hill House transcends the horror genre into the genuinely dramatic. It tackles parenthood, sibling dynamics, and ultimately, love. It describes how people can sometimes have a twisted, deadly view of love. A love that confines. Fortunately, as the series shows, there is always the sane, serene, forgiving kind of love. The love that is freeing. The love that can vanquish all ghosts of fear and guilt and sin. The Haunting of Hill House beautifully unravels this towards the end.

Technique-wise, The Haunting of Hill House is a marvel. Episode 6 is especially remarkable for a long single-take/single-camera scene, when all the Crains gather for Nellie’s wake. It captures what one is sure to feel at excruciating events, when one painful moment just flows into the next equally stabbing one — no cuts. Anyway the series’ editing is superb throughout, actually. Even with its characteristic zooming back and forth in time, the series maintains a compelling story; it reminds me of Christopher Nolan’s time experiments. I just have trouble with some parts of the script — I mean, does Theo really need that long monologue on Episode 9?

But this baby is a 9/10. It’s beautiful, it’ll haunt you.

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