Eddie Mesa channels Elvis and Carmen Soriano belts ABBA’s songs
► Words and photos by Rene Villaroman
I would not venture a guess as to their age, but I could state that in their golden years they have got staying power, physically and artistically. Eddie Mesa has lost some of his famous mane. His mutton chops are still prominent, but the pompadour is gone. Carmen Soriano, she with the creamy complexion and the ample bust-line, can still sway fluidly to an ABBA song and belt out a Spanish melody with elan. But, like her contemporary, Eddie Mesa, she too has aged gracefully.
It was a pleasant surprise then we learned that Carmen, an actress-singer of an earlier generation, and Eddie Mesa, considered Elvis Presley’s 1960s incarnation in the Philippines, would team up in a Baby Batacan-produced Mother’s Day Concert at Hollywood’s Celebrity Center on May 13.
“I was really surprised that Baby Batacan would take a chance on me to perform in a concert after so many years of inactivity,” said the voluptuous mestiza from Ibisan, Capiz. Baby Batacan’s short bio of Carmen states that Carmen, the singer, the entertainer, the actress, a devoted wife, is the eldest of a family of four children. Ms. Batacan has been friends with Carmen since the 80s, along with Lani Oteyza, a popular Philippine movie actress in the day. Carmen had been married to Dr. Robert Dabao, now deceased, a surgeon at the Huntington Medical Center in Pasadena.
As she relates the ups and downs of her life as a performer, wife and mother, Carmen waxed sentimental when she revealed that both her mother and her husband died of cancer. She also let out that she had ballooned in weight and had just come down to her present weight after making weight loss a top priority in her life. “I was able to do it,” she said excitedly.
Carmen never really revealed her real age, but throughout the show she titillated the audience’s curiosity by promising to reveal it at the end of her set, but never did. The audience was either too engrossed with her performance or didn’t care. The Sunday evening concert was designed around the ‘Golden Years” theme anyhow; from the “Best Mothers of 2012” honorees to some of the performers, in addition to the music genre that was highlighted. About the only member of the production that evoked ‘younger’ was mistress of ceremonies, “Kababayan LA” host, Jannelle So.
Emerging saxophonist Ner de Leon, lately becoming a fixture at Pinoy concerts here, was Baby Batacan’s choice to open for Carmen and Eddie. With his trademark languorous playing style, he performed “Conte Partiro”, “Dahil Sa Iyo” and a medley of Original Pilipino Music (OPM). Eddie Mesa, conservatively dressed in a dark suit merges from behind the red curtains and engages the audience with a lively banter and a Mother’s Day greetings. He opened his set with a Beatles’ medley consisting of “Sweet Caroline,” “Yesterday,” and “Let it Be” with Carmen joining in after the first song. Broadway hit “Mama Mia,” featuring several hits from the Swedish group, ABBA. Carina Afable, a popular actress and singer of more recent vintage, made a surprise appearance. She invigorated the sagging interest of the audience with the upbeat dance songs, “Get Ready” and “I Get No Satisfaction,” even inviting some audience members to sing along with her. A few enthusiastic, younger spectators indulged her.
In Part Two, the mood turned sentimental and the songs revolved around the motherhood theme. Carmen sang “Iugoy Ang Duyan Ni Nanay” and pop-opera singer Jonathan Badon reawakened the audience with his powerful performances of “Anak,” “Mama,” and “Torna A Surrento,” and Eddie sang “Sing a Song To Your Mama.”
When Eddie jumped back in the stage wearing a mariner’s cap, sunglasses, an Elvis Presley-inspired white sequined jacket with a huge upturned collar, it was the 1950s all over again down to the Elvis hip and shoulder action. Eddie, with a minimum of appurtenances, has brought back an earlier music era with a medley of Elvis Presley songs, including “Love Me Tender,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Suspicious Minds.”
The presentation of awards to the “Best Mothers of 2012” composed of Sonja Menor, Luz Matienzo, Lani Oteyza and Marites Lo came next, with Baby Batacan doing the honors of presenting plaques and bouquets of flowers to the honorees: Menor, a retired nurse-practioner and community leader; Matienzo, a retired school teacher of the Los Angeles Unified School District; Oteyza, a popular Philippine movie actress;
and Lo, a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente Hospital.
The Eddie Mesa and Carmen Soriano concert at the Celebrity Center reminds me of another nostalgic concert held in this very same venue about ten years ago. It was a concert by Jun Polistico, another outstanding singer-impersonator in the day who had experienced the heady success of performing live in Las Vegas shows. It was a very entertaining and fun show, even though the Celebrity Center was only one-third filled with concertgoers. But Polistico, a seasoned showman, performed with the same chutzpah and concentration as if the hall was filled with spectators. In a similar way, the Eddie Mesa-Carmen Soriano concert was memorable because they were the correct singers for classic songs that they shared warmly with the audience.