Book: Jessica Hagedorn
Music: Fabian Obispo
Lyrics: Jessica Hagedorn
Choreographer: Brandon Bieber
Director: Ralph B. Pena
Watching the hands of the protagonist Felix (Alan Ariano) grasp slimy innards of his patients and drop the “negatives,” as he calls them, into a nearby bin feels like observing a birth and a death. This is what happens over and over in Felix Starro, the Filipino musical, currently running at Theater Row. Adding to the surreal yet compelling sight is the company’s first number, which states:
Is he for real?
Of course he is!
Just ask the Mayor of Manila….Or Shirley MacLaine.
The play is based on the short story of the same title by Lysley Tenorio, known for her 1990 novel Dog Eaters, which she subsequently turned into another play. Ma-Yi Theater Company, now in its thirtieth season, does a more than apt job of bringing to life the true story of a famous faith healer from the Philippines, who travels to San Francisco to set up shop and whose clients include celebrities and big politicians. It a story that explores issues of faith, family, love, loss, betrayal, and what it means to be an undocumented immigrant in America. As the story unfolds, people like Jim Jones, Benny Hinn, and Oral Roberts come to mind.
Unlike many faith healers who are heavily scrutinized, Felix never reflects on the accusations by many that he was a fraud. Even when his namesake grandson, superbly played by Nacho Tambunting comes to the realization that he doesn’t want to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, Felix does not question his own choices.
This production has the darkness of Sweeney Todd and the lightness of Chicago and Brandon Bieber’s choreography is just what the doctor ordered. Just the right amount of technique mixed with a good serving of naughtiness. A few numbers aside, Fabian Obispo’s (of FX’s Fosse/Verdon) music is like most darkly comedic musicals as far as tone. It serves the story and lyrics well but does not go beyond that. Director, Ralph B. Pena (The Chinese Lady, Among the Dead) found a clever way to meld the scenes, dance numbers and overall arc of the play. Though it is worth nothing that the book by Jessica Hagedorn has a nebulous ending as to Felix Starr’s decision on which path he will choose. Other notables in the production are Ryan James Ortega, who plays Ramon and Bobby and Francisca Munoz, who portrays Mrs. Delgado.
Excepting a couple of lulls in the hour and fifty minute (intermissionless) journey, Felix Starro is a good night of theater and the representation on the stage is refreshing.
Runs until September 21, 2019 | Photo Credit: Richard Termine