Directed by Noam Shapiro, New York City-based theatre collective Three Hares’ On This Side of the World explores the transgenerational Filipino immigrant experience in the United States through song — and what songs they are! Through the talents of Composer/Lyricist Paulo K. Tiról, each of the show’s 17 numbers is an award-worthy performance in itself. That said, the sum of the show’s parts is no less than extraordinary. These characters’ journey is a rich, spicy, and sweet buffet of diverse experiences and emotions. On This Side of the World may be Tiról’s love letter to the Filipino community, but the show’s universal themes will be related to by and be appreciate by all. (More about “universal themes” later…!)
The show’s kickoff song, One Way Ticket, immediately grabs the audience, thanks to the flawless but seemingly effortlessly delivered vocals of Jaygee Macapugay and the instantly captivating lyrics of the gifted Mr. Tiról. Macapugay’s first notes sets the high bar, and the rest of the cast wastes no time in joining her with their equally supreme vocal talents. Passports in hand, the cast of six (three men, three women) sing about what they’re heading towards on their 16-hour flight from the Philippines to America: “To a school I’ve only ever dreamed of”…”To a man I’ve only met online”… “To a mother I haven’t seen since 1993.”… The vibe of the opening number captures the spirit of an exciting but somewhat scary adventure and the anticipation of a new and hopefully better life. If that sounds like the beginning of a Broadway-style, feel-good musical, you’re right. Even in the intimate space of the black box-style Access Theater, the power of Tiról’s music and lyrics combine with the charm, talent, and physical attributes of the cast to make for a larger-than-life experience. The cast is aided by a four piece band. One Way Ticket kicks off the show, but there are many other soaring, lighthearted moments throughout On This Side of the World. The pop hit-worthy The Language Lesson comes across as a youthfully giddy love song delivered by what should be our first Filipina Disney princess. Rice Queen (The title is a slang term in LGBTQ lexicon for non-Asian men who are attracted to Asian guys), preformed by Michael Portacio, becomes a smart and sexy mini-masterpiece of burlesque-style camp, with some hilarious lyrics. The laugh-out-loud Yaya, performed by Macapugay, is about a modern-day princess of another kind– a “Filipina American Princess” studying at New York City’s famous F.I.T. A classic take on “the old versus the new”, the song and the performance are deliciously over the top. The generation gap is also explored in My Mother Is an Immigrant, sang by Diane Phelan. The heartwarming Lantern in the Window, performed by Joanne Javien and inspired by the Filipino holiday tradition, deserves to become a fresh new Christmas classic for America’s annual Yuletide playlist.
However, don’t mistakenly think that On This Side of the World is solely an idealistic, carefree musical romp. The show boasts many stories about exquisitely ascending highs, but there are just as many agonizing lows– all imbued with Tiról’s keen sense of realsism for Filipino culture. For many of the seemingly infinite number of characters (all played by the six performers), the experience of living in two cultures often proves to be more bittersweet than sugary. The second song of the show, Proud (savagely performed by Albert Gueron), addresses the often intense identity conflict involved in leaving one’s home country. Maybe Today, sung by Kevin Schuering, is about the sadly too-common experience of immigrant workers who are taken advantage of by their employers. A Simple Transaction, ostensibly about a mail-order bride in an arrangement gone wrong, is truly heartbreaking– made all the more emotionally affecting by Diane Phelan’s nakedly raw delivery and height-reaching vocals. On Your Side of the World features all three male cast members singing their stories about being fathers living in America to give their children a better life at home. With immigration being the top story in everyone’s news feed in 2019, it’s an important reminder that ALL of us want a better life for ourselves and our families– even if it means, for these characters, relocating 8000 miles away. It is indeed a song about survival, a basic human need. Along those lines, Fiesta is a raising-the-roof song about another basic human need: The need to combat the challenges of life with old-school style partying! If there was one number during On This Side of the World which demonstrates the cast’s sheer joy of performing, this is the showcase. The audience will want to jump from their seats and join the “Fiesta-ivities”.
To restate the obvious, all six performers are universally excellent, whether singing solo or in the group numbers. As mentioned before, Tiról’s lyrics are instankly accessible but also multifaceted. One example is In This Kitchen, a duet between Michael Protacio and Jaygee Macapugay (“A secret to every recipe; Is adding a dash of memory…”) . Without giving too much away, the song packs a surprise emotional climax which leaves the audience speechless (and not without a teardrop streaming down the face…). Yes: You’ll cry, you’ll laugh, you’ll want to sing along… and you’ll learn that “kilig” is the Tagalog word for “romantic excitement”– which is exactly how this reviewer feels about this show.
Three Hares in association with Access Theater presents On This Side of the World. The show continues at the Access Theater, 380 Broadway, New York City, through Sunday, May 12. Tickets range from $30 for General Admission to $35 for Reserved Seating, and can be purchased online here.