PRISON DANCER Wins Three NYMF Awards
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by Oliver Oliveros
New York, July 30, 2012 - Filipino musical creators Romeo Candido and Carmen de Jesus' "Prison Dancer," a new musical loosely based on the five-year-old viral video featuring the dancing inmates of Cebu, Philippines' Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, won Excellence in Choreography for its director and choreographer, Jenn Rapp; Outstanding Ensemble Performance for its all-Filipino cast led by Broadway actors Jose Llana, Catherine Ricafort, and Albert Guerzon; and Outstanding Individual Performance for Filipino Canadian actor Jeigh Madjus, who plays Lola, a cross-dresser who teaches his fellow convicts how to dance, at the 2012 New York Musical Theatre Festival's (NYMF) Awards for Excellence ceremony held last night at Hudson Terrace.
Now in its ninth year, NYMF provides an affordable platform for theater artists to mount professional productions that are stylistically, thematically, and culturally diverse; and that are accessible to musical theatergoers and industry influencers.
Popular musicals such as "Altar Boyz," "[title of show]," and "Next to Normal" debuted at NYMF.
"Prison Dancer," which also features Marcus Calderon, Marc Delacruz, Andrew Eisenman, Nathan Ramos, Enrico Ramos, and Moses Villarama, played six performances - to sold-out audiences - at the Theatre at St. Clements on 46th Street these past two weekends.
Below are review excerpts that "Prison Dancer" garnered during its run.
Brooke Pierce, Theatermania.com: While there is no full re-enactment of the YouTube sensation in the show, this is such a powerful story, full of rich, delightful characters, that that's beside the point. Carmen de Jesus and Romeo Candido give us a warm, witty book that does a great job showing how every aspect of the dancing transforms the lives of these troubled criminals. For them, the simple act of dancing facilitates cooperation between former enemies, helps the inmates use their pent-up energy in a positive way rather than fighting, provides them personal fulfillment, and eventually attracts worldwide attention.
David Rosenberg, Backstage.com: Romeo Candido's disco-inspired score is beautifully wed to his lyrics and to his and Carmen De Jesus' book. Under the vibrant work of director-choreographer Jenn Rapp, everyone is a distinct character. Heading the accomplished 10-person cast as Lola is the ingratiating Jeigh Madjus, who expertly walks the line between sincerity and caricature. Christian's journey from introvert to extrovert not only mirrors the show itself but clarifies its themes of redemption, and Jose Llana makes Christian's embrace of freedom, when he submits to his loyal girlfriend (an excellent Catherine Ricafort), intoxicating. Also notable are Albert Guerzon, as the tough-but-yielding Tondo, and Moses Villarama, as the delusional Shakespeare (so nicknamed because of his penchant for writing).
Despite the characters' sordid backgrounds, we end up caring what happens to them. Yes, they're criminals, but they're also human and as such not beyond saving.
Mark Newman, Stagebuzz.com: The cast-some newbies and some Broadway workhorses-get their Pinoy on and all of the characters are surprisingly well drawn. While the entire cast is outstanding, a true diva has been born on the stage of the Theatre at St. Clement. Jeigh Madjus-a Toronto-based actor-plays the titular role of Lola, a cross-dressing inmate who swishes and struts his stuff yet ably puts down the prison thug with ease. I have never heard of Madjus before but he is nothing short of amazing. What could have been a shrill, irritating performance (i.e., most of the characters in "Priscilla: Queen of the Desert") became a nuanced, sensitive portrayal of a tortured soul who gets through life with a fresh mouth, lacquered lips, and a kick punch that would render you senseless…
"Prison Dancer" is as innovative and passionate a production you are likely to see on Broadway or off, off, off, off Broadway. With a desire to create a show that is strictly unique to the Philippines, Candido and De Jesus have successfully told a story about a forgotten group of people, but the themes of love, loss, redemption, and forgiveness are universal.
BroadwayWorld.com: The musical's creative and production team's intimate approach works well on that small performance space at the Theatre at St. Clements, which effectively depicts the play's setting of a supposedly crowded prison through the functional use of Josh Zangen's movable jail bars and makeshift brick walls, and Betsy Adams' consistently sparse lighting, which helps evoke a sordid milieu amid the overnight social media fame of its occupants…
"Prison Dancer" is brimming with sheer Filipino talent and thick Filipino accent seldom experienced on New York stages.
Check out the complete list of NYMF 2012 Awards for Excellence winners HERE.
Photo Credit: Billy B.