REVIEW | Everyone is a star in PETA’s 2017 production of ‘Caredivas’

July 26, 2017 - 11:15 AM
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Melvin Lee and Myke Salomon in 'Caredivas.' (Photo by Jaypee Maristaza)

There are many great things about “Caredivas” as a musical: the songs by Vincent De Jesus, the direction by Maribel Legarda, the book by Liza Magtoto, and the costume designs by John Abdul.

I could go on and on, but the most impressive element of this show is the ensemble. “Caredivas” is a an ensemble piece, for sure, but it does have a clear lead in Melvin Lee’s character Chelsea.

But the book is so well-balanced in its structure that every character gets a chance to come into their own and have a moment and each actor of the show takes their moment and runs with it to deliver an almost three-hour experience on the stage that has you laughing and teary-eyed from start to finish.

“Caredivas,” set in Israel, is about a group of gay Filipino caregivers, who transform into glamorous drag queen performers at a local bar at night. The play is so wonderfully crafted that it touches so many themes — LGBT issues, discrimination, the lives of overseas foreign workers, navigating cultural differences, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule, love, friendship — but it never feels convoluted or over-reaching for relevance.

What begins as a musical montage to introduce our main characters shows us the lives of caregivers in Israel, from the good to the bad, to how they are treated because they are gay, and details their relationships with their employers.

And just as the point is made and before it veers towards the side of preaching, it brings us to how they maintain who they are and that’s by their performing group D’ Nightingales. From caregivers, they transform into singing and dancing drag queens in a small town bar until a friend gets engaged with an Israeli who has connections to a big night club in Tel Aviv, where D’ Nightingales all want to perform.

As they try to make their way to perform in Tel Aviv, we see the individual lives of the group. There is Chelsea, the kind-hearted soul of the group, who is blessed with a patient she regards as a father figure and who meets a young man at the park who falls in love with her.

The leader of D’ Nightingales is the sarcastic and acerbic Shai, who is haunted by his relationship with his mother. The soloist of the group is Kayla, who is always unfortunate with his employers and ends up becoming illegal. Rounding up the group is the ditzy Thalia, who has some of the best comedic scenes in the play, and the older and foul-tempered Jonee.

There is so much going on in “Caredivas,” from the songs to the individual stories and it’s all held together wonderfully by Maribel Legarda’s direction.

In ‘Caredivas,’ gay Filipino caregivers in Israel transform into glamorous drag queen performers at night. (Photo by Jill Tan Radovan/InterAksyon)

The play unfolds as if it has no story, played out onstage as if they’re just going about their lives and breaking out into song. It all feels so natural; the dialogue thrown in rapid-fire gay lingo with the added sarcastic remarks that really happen in real life. It’s theatrical without feeling manufactured and it creates an instant connection with the audience.

There is an amazing scene where the group members are at home and having a conversation, and it jumps from topic to topic, joke to joke, and it sounds like real life. But through it all, character is revealed, the plot is moving forward, and the play’s theme is being explored.

The magic is in the delivery and in the performances. Everyone in the show is a star.

Melvin Lee is a show stopper, juggling the most tender scenes of the show and the most heartbreaking without losing his comedic flair. Vincent de Jesus, playing Shai, is a powerful presence and takes the emotional weight of each of his songs and turns it into gold.

Dudz Terana as Thalia is a hoot, his sense for comedic is full-bodied. Even the littlest mannerisms are hilarious. Phil Noble is a powerful presence as Jonee. And this is really the best I’ve seen Ricci Chan, who plays Kayla. And with a fantastic ensemble to boot, with special mention to dynamic and ever reliable Myke Salomon and Leo Rialp, both of whom play different characters.

It’s my first time to see “Caredivas” and I’m so glad I finally did. My only wish was that some of the more dramatic scenes remained heavy and emotional and could have done away with the funny one-liners that already pepper the whole show.

There are moments when you want the scene to remain poignant and powerful but it’s disarmed by a funny joke. It’s probably realistic but this when it could have afforded to be theatrical. It’s as if the play was afraid to be earnest, which it has earned already from the salvo of first three songs.

But that’s just nitpicking. “Caredivas” is a triumph on its restaging and it’s a fantastic way for PETA to open its 50th season.