Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Spectacle That is the Amazing Philippine Theatre

The Manila Film Center, inside the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex, looks less abandoned now. Posters of pretty women in gaudy costumes adorn the facade together with the blemishes of weather and age. The garden lights are much brighter, lending the building a sense of grandeur at night. Occasionally, the tourist buses arrive but not for the history of the building nor for films, for which the building was originally intended. The Marcos-era building now houses the Amazing Philippine Theatre, which produces the all-male, song-and-dance spectacle The Amazing Show almost every night for five years now, mostly for tourists.

What proves to be remarkable about the show is that it is performed by transsexuals. This fact is a drawing factor as much as the ostentation and the entertaining nature of the show. The men, lithe, statuesque and beautifully made-up, parade in gowns and whimsical costumes. They dance with an amusing grace. Women in the audience regularly joke about feeling insecure. Garbed in flamboyant costumes, these men are more beautiful than they are and carry themselves with such aplomb that leaves observers astonished. More likely, the description “amazing” refers to this fact.

But it also refers to the show, according to William Lee, the Korean chief operating officer and director of sales and marketing of the Amazing Philippine Theatre. The Amazing Show can rival, if not surpass, the ones being put up in Thailand, well-known for musical shows featuring transsexuals and to which the Philippine show took its inspiration.

The wealth of talent as well as the beauty of transsexuals in the country inspired Korean investors headed by its chairman and owner Lee Jong Hyun to put up the Amazing Philippine Theatre in 2001. At the first audition, they hired 80 performers to make up the first pool of talent. Investors decided to rehabilitate the Manila Film Center to make it the venue for the shows with an initial capital investment of about US$ 1.4 million. The selling of the show was concentrated to the Korean market.

At the start of the venture, business was slow. There were times when the show opened to small audiences, even once to only one customer. But the show pushed on. Over time and with perseverance, the Amazing Show is slowly gaining more audience and a respectable reputation.

Formerly with the Dulaang Universidad ng Pilipinas, Elmir Castillo is currently responsible for the choreography and the production, which is frequently likened to the Thailand shows.

Currently, the Amazing Philippine Theatre has about 60 performers. About 25 of them perform male roles while about 35 female. Castillo admits they are having difficulty in creating a substantial pool of talents. Many of them leave for a more lucrative job in Japan. They regularly hold auditions for new talents though. Aspirants usually range from 19 to 35 years old or as long as they look young. And the company put an emphasis on beauty over talent. After all, they can teach and train them.

The Amazing Philippine Theatre also holds an annual beauty pageant, and winners are given contract to perform with the company. This is one way of discovering new talents. The winners are also fielded to an international transsexual beauty pageant in Thailand.

Despite their looks, only a few of the performers have undergone sex reassignment surgery (SRS), though many are planning to have one. One post-operation transgender is Lena Macarasig, one of the beauty queens of the Amazing Philippine Theatre. The surgery was performed in Japan. Christina (Christopher) Dandan, the tallest and one of the most beautiful performers, had a breast enhancement operation fiannced by the company. Her operation was financed by the company. Although the Amazing Philippine Theatre does not sponsor SRS or any kind of operation of their talents, Dandan’s operation was a gift of the company for her good work attitude and excellent performance.

Every night, Dandan performs at the Manila Film Center, whose lobby area, 850-seat theater and second level office spaces are rented by the Amazing Philippine Theatre.

The lobby still has its old grandeur. The company has built a café for the visitors. On the left wing of the building, there is a restaurant that looks like a cafeteria but serves delicious authentic Korean dishes. The theater has also been renovated. Decrepit chairs were replaced and re-upholstered. The stage has also been renovated to accommodate the lavish sets. There are many set changes during the show, which last an hour and ten minutes.

The show is made of several sequences and concepts in a vaudeville or Las Vegas style. Cultural references and styles are used liberally and with modifications.
The prelude features a gowned performer lip-synching to “Kiss Me Once.” “This sequence is intended to warm the audience and enchant them for them to stay for the whole duration of the show,” the company explains.

The first sequence is their trademark Egyptian-inspired spectacle with a Sphinx monument and a parade of men/women is glittery costumes. Called “Serpent of the Nile,” the sequence is said to tell the love story of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, with the dead Cleopatra brought to life by two goddesses of love and beauty.

Another sequence is inspired the Ramayana, particularly the love story of Rama and Sita, who find themselves in a magical forest, and Kali, an evil sorcerers tries to kill Sita to have Rama for herself.

A medley of Philippine folk dances from an Igorot ritual to the singkil forms one of the highlights of the show. Equally delightful is their Arirang Korean fan dance. The gentle movements are accompanied with a fast-paced pop tune. The performers use only fans as props, collectively forming waves and flowers that glow in the dark.

On the other hand, the popular Chinese love song “Wa Ai Ni” is lip-synched. This is punctuated with gigantic flowers and little butterflies illuminated by black lights.

The show also excerpted for the movie Moulin Rouge, with the dancers doing the cancan. The rest of the performances incorporate Hawaiian and Latin pop themes. There are also a tango sequence and a medley of ballroom dances. The finale is a rousing contemporary dance spectacle to the tune of “If You Could Read My Mind.”

The Amazing Show is mounted twice, at : 30 P.M. and 9 P.M., from Tuesday to Sunday. Every three to four months, they add or change something in the sequences.

Lee said they plan to have a night market and build an “Oceanarium.” This is part of their thrust of enlivening the tourism activity in the area, and of the Philippines in general.

The Amazing Show is mounted by the Amazing Philippine Theatre at the Manila Film Center, Leona Florentino corner Dela Rama Streets, Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City. For information and reservations, call (632) 833-5758, 833-5785, 832-9866 or fax (632) 832-9866. The Amazing Philippine Theatre Cebu office is at 9-2 Hadsan Cove Resort, Agus, Maribgao, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu. For information, call (6332) 495-2592 or (6332) 495-2593, 0917-8072713, email Log on to

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