By Kris Ontong
Hundreds flocked to the Rainbow Stage in Kildonan Park on August 22 to watch BELT FEST 2020. The much-anticipated concert featured ten of the city’s top Filipino singers belting out show tunes from well-known Broadway productions.
Numerous aspirants auditioned for the concert but only ten performers were selected and mentored by Andrea Macasaet, star of the critically-acclaimed SIX the Musical on Broadway. According to artistic producer Hazel Venzon of UNIT Productions, there was tremendous interest to be part of the ensemble, attracting hopefuls from as far as Hawaii and even Manila.
The concert was also an attempt to safely bring back arts and culture events amidst the pandemic. Patrons were required to wear masks. Event volunteers stationed by the entrance were selling inexpensive disposable masks. They also handed out COVID-19 screening questionnaires to be filled up before entering the venue. Once inside, ushers made sure that patrons were seated in compliance with the required physical distancing for groups and individuals.
The two-act program kicked off with Macasaet taking center stage to sing ‘Defying Gravity,’ the show-stopper popularized by Idina Menzel from the musical Wicked. After a generous round of applause for her performance, she welcomed the audience, provided an overview of what to expect for the evening, and introduced John Eisma who accompanied all the performances on piano.
Victoria Exconde was the first of the mentored artists to perform, singing ‘Sexy’ from Mean Girls. Next up was Seanne Buenafe who sang ‘Freeze Your Brain’ from Heathers. The youngest of the cast, Alba Manuel, performed ‘Ring of Keys’ from Fun Home. After each performance, Macasaet would re-enter the stage to introduce the next singer. A moving rendition of ‘Out There’ from The Hunchback of Notre Dame was performed by Jesse James Baris. Vina Dimayuga followed with ‘Fly Fly Away’ from Catch Me If You Can. Shauldon Santos sang next with ‘Proud of Your Boy’ from Aladdin. ‘Someday,’ another tune from The Hunchback of Notre Dame was performed by Joyce Jugo. Wrapping up the first act were performances from Robin Quintana with ‘Santa Fe’ from Newsies, Marini Tagarda with ‘The Wizard and I’ from Wicked, and Josh Caldo who sang ‘For Forever’ from Dear Evan Hanson.
After a fifteen-minute intermission, the second act opened with MA-BUHAY! The Musical’s Joseph Sevillo who sang ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story. Andrea Macasaet returned to center stage to sing ‘Piece of Sky’ from Yentl. For the Q & A segment, Hazel Venzon and Joseph Sevillo joined Macasaet on stage as the two shared about their artistic journey with MA-BUHAY! The Musical for Sevillo, and Macasaet’s casting as Baby Bo, the contemporary version of Anne Boleyn portrayed in SIX the Musical.
For the finale, the entire cast of BELT FEST re-assembled on stage to sing ‘Being Free’ from MA-BUHAY! The Musical which brought the audience to their feet. On Facebook, Andrea Macasaet was ecstatic in summing up the event, “We bravely brought live art back into our lives and my heart is soaring.”
“I created BELT FEST with the intention to provide artists coaching and an opportunity to perform in a space where they don’t often see themselves being represented. ?For the first time on one of the most popular stages within the industry in Winnipeg MB, there was a roster of an ALL Filipino cast belting their faces off. You are SEEN. You are HEARD and you are LOVED.”