After playing struggling composer, Jef Flores creates own musical

Jef Flores. Photo from the actor’s Facebook page

MANILA — “Jesus Christ said his balls are freezing in the
snow,” my daughter, barely out of grade school, told me a few
months ago. 

A bit worried though amused, I asked her in God’s name where,
how and when? Must be the “Dork Diaries” series she’s reading.
She got her cell phone and pointed me to the online profile of
theater actor Jef Flores, who my daughter saw in the musical
Godspell
two years ago. She’s only 10 at the time and Flores played
Jesus. 

For some reasons behind my back, she sought Jesus via social
media and has been a follower eversince. 

“OK, Jesus could be referring to baseball, softball or
basketball. Jesus loves sports,” I told my daughter back then.
She said OK, with prolonged emphasis in the letter “o” and
nodded the way kids’ attention would shift to another topic
before you could finish your sentence. She knew I was
lying. 

A bit of recall, Jesus was the role Flores did before playing
lead in 9 Works Theatricals’ “Tick,
Tick…Boom
,” for which he won his second Gaward Buhay
Awardee. 

The first was for “This Is Our Youth” for Red Turnip and it was
that drug-dealing role where I got personally hooked on
Flores’s career path. This guy’s the real deal, I thought then.
This review, among others, agreed with me. 

Now, “Jesus” has created his own group, Barefoot Theatre, and
his first musical titled “Flashcard Tangle” has characters who
are supposedly 10-year-old kids. 

Flores is the all-seeing writer, composer and director.
Described “like-like not love story,” the musical runs only for
one weekend, January 12 to 13, both at 3 p.m. at the Power Mac
Center Spotlight in Makati City and tickets are running out.
Only two shows, we read it right. 

At the rehearsal, Jef Flores directs the kids for his
original debut penned-musical ‘Flashcard Tangle.’ Photo
courtesy of Jef Flores

We asked Flores to give us a brief backgrounder about his
creation. In summary, he said, “Matthew [Turner] is in love
with Tina and he’s too scared to tell her, so he lies about it.
A white lie. It spirals out of control. All hell breaks loose.”

Matthew, we learned from a post by Trumpets Playshop, will be
played by one of its alumni, Martti Franca. Matthew, it added,
is Franca’s first role in a professional theater. Matthew is
described a boy with a high IQ but has problems with his social
dealings. Sounds like a nerd?

“No, he’s not,” Flores said in protest. “He’s just special. But
for a strange reason.”

Flores added: “The actors are mostly first-timers. Trumpets
Playshoppers, a Metta fresh-grad, a Benildean and a few
free-agents who haven’t quite snagged a professional gig. Most
of them I casted through an open audition. They wanted it. They
wanted to take the leap into the hardest kind of theater: a
full-mounted original. So I went with the young ones. They have
this brightness about them that the show would fail without.”

There are four professional actors — Tory Cortez, Kiara Dario,
Chino Veguillas and Gab Pangilinan. 

Eureka moment

The motivation, Flores explained, came to him after seeing
“Come From Away” on Broadway. It is a musical based on the true
story of passengers of 38 planes diverted into a small town in
Canada following the tragic 9/11 Twin Tower attacks and how
they were taken cared of by the townfolks. Flores said he was
“taken by the way it tells a story.”

“Very straightforward, but smooth and constantly flowing, and
before you know it — poof! It’s over. And I walked out of
‘Come From Away’ changed, only slightly, but forever. I wanted
to make something like that — fun and cute. And I’m afraid
people will fault me for trying to be cute — for not trying to
change the world or the social landscape or shatter your soul.
I want to entertain my audience and have them say, ‘well that
was nice,'” he added.

“And maybe they’ll leave the theater humming a song. And maybe
they’ll encounter a problem in their life and they’ll remember
a line from the show. And that would be a success. Knowing that
a moment from the show moved them, slightly but forever. That
it haunted them in a nice way. Like a friendly ghost,” Flores
said. 

“Flashcard Tangle” is a collaboration with set designer Ed
Lacson Jr., lighting designer Joseph Matheu, projectionist Joee
Mejias and sound designer Aji Manalo.

Jef Flores (in black shirt in the middle standing) wrote,
composed music for and now directs his debut original
musical ‘Flashcard Tangle.’ Photo courtesy of Jef
Flores

“I’m directing under supervision of a few men who ask to not be
named. But if you guess hard enough you’ll know who they are,”
Flores said. 

“And I have four different choreographers — Paul Fausto,
Jourdan Bartolome, Gia Gequinto, and PJ Rebullida. As well as
myself. And the cast makes their own choreo as well. It’s
communism.

“I couldn’t be happier with my cast. These kids are going
places. And it’s gotta be hard for young actors to crack the
industry with the Bibos (Bibo Reyes) and the Nels (Nelcito
Gomez) and the Gabs (Gab Pangilinan) and the Maronnes (Maronne
Cruz), and all my peers who are really starting to find their
light. Well I found some new actors. They’re damn talented. And
Joseph Matheu is going to light the hell out of them,” he
added. 

Jesus got balls

There’s no doubt that Flores is one of the best actors around
but beyond that, there’s the musician-composer brimming with
ideas. “Flashcard Tangle” is his first full-length original but
there have been precursors. 

The last time we had a long conversation with him, it was at
the lobby of School of Design and Arts (SDA) theater at Dela
Salle College of St. Benilde in mid-May last year for the
re-staging for Chris Millado’s dance musical “Ding! Ang
Bato!” 

Flores told us he contributed music and sound, in collaboration
with musical director Ejay Yatco. Incidentally, Yatco was also
musical director of “Godspell.”

“With ‘Ding! Ang Bato!’ I feel like I’ve finally started to
scrape the surface. I want to write songs for dancers, songs
for shows, songs for singers, and maybe a few plays. I can’t
say I know exactly what I’m doing, but give me a flashlight and
I’ll walk down the rabbit hole,” Flores told us. 

And he did walk the talk. 

Even prior to “Ding,” we are also aware of his original songs
on his YouTube channel. 

“Oh yeah, my YouTube channel. I write songs, and I’ve always
looked for a way to share that. As an actor, my songwriting
faded into the background. Thats why ‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’ with
9 Works was the role of a lifetime. Because there’s no acting
required. I want more than anything to be remembered as a
person who wrote beautiful music,” he said. 

Pure coincidence but “Tick, Tick…Boom!” is an
autobiographical musical by the late, great Jonathan Larson,
who won Pulitzer and Tony awards for his second and more
popular work, “Rent.” 

(From left), Tanya Manalang, Jef Flores and Ariel Reonal in
a scene from ‘Tick, Tick … Boom!’ Photo by Erickson
dela Cruz provided by 9 Works Theatrical

“Tick, Tick…Boom” is about a 29-year-old composer named Jon
who is having all the anxiety and uncertainty of advanced
mid-life crisis before he turns 30. Larson, with all his
brilliance, wrote only those two and never got to see the
success of his works. He died on the morning of “Rent’s”
premiere run at age 36. 

“It’s a little vain, and angsty, and childish, but that’s how
composers are. Ask anybody. So when I did ‘TTB’ and played
Jonathan Larson, Jon’s heavy feeling of resentment always
lingered. So I took a break from acting and made a push to
write more. Here we are at the brink of my ‘Superbia’, fun
fact: I’m also 29. I guess life imitates art,” he said. 

While many aspire to go abroad, Flores is here to stay and
hoping to do write more originals.

“The Philippines has the highest talent-density in the world
bar none. That’s why I’m here. There isn’t a university in the
world that could have taught me performance the way I know it
now. This is my homebase. I’ve been given the opportunity to be
a player in the renaissance of Philippine theater. I’m not
going anywhere,” he said.

But on second thought, he added, “Unless I get ‘Hamilton’ or
something then peace out, I’ll see you guys later.”

And anywhere he goes, one thing is for sure, this Jesus has the
balls to survive the coldest winter and make it on top. 

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