Seniors prom at the Big Dome
FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - March 2, 2013 - 12:00am

Thursday night, Margarita Fores’ Café Bola where patrons of the Smart Araneta Coliseum engage in animated chit-chats over comfort food (popular favorites are Mongo with Dilis over white rice and Spam with Parmesan Cheese and fried egg over white rice) while waiting for the show to start, was packed full with mostly senior citizens. You guessed it: Sir Cliff Richard has drawn them into a spontaneous “homecoming,” including our group of two doctors (Wilson Lim and Welson Yap of Metropolitan Hospital), Balikbayan journalists Baby Jimenez (from Toronto) and Raoul Tidalgo (from New York), and Ethel Ramos’ sisters Tessie (on vacation from Austria where she has been working as a nurse for decades) and Nel Alejandrino.

As we entered the coliseum’s green gate, I was looking for a “Nobody below 50 Allowed Inside” sign. Happily, there was not. When an iconic singer like Sir Cliff who is 73 does a repeat, you be sure that “the young once” like him will brave the traffic for two hours of reliving the good old days when things were less complicated and less stressful, filled only with great expectations, great romance and technicolor dreams.

Thursday night was strictly “seniors prom.” Among those spotted in the audience were Joey de Leon (with his “not-quite senior” wife Eileen Macapagal), Virgie Ramos with Suzan Joven, former Chief Justice Renato Corona (a few pounds lighter) with his wife Ma. Cristina, Dr. Vicki Belo with her ex-husband Atom Henares, Boots Anson-Roa and her brothers, Pinky Tobiano, and Dr. Vivian Sarabia (an avid lover of old songs). 

Sorely missed was Jose Mari Chan, the Cliff Richard of the Philippines, who was in Davao for an important commitment. Had Joe been there, I’m sure Sir Cliff would have invited him to the stage and, why not, sung a duet with him. In an exclusive phone interview with Sir Cliff two weeks before his arrival (from Australia), he said he was happy to learn that the Philippines has its own “Cliff Richard” and hoped the two of them would meet.

Onstage, Sir Cliff was as energetic as he was when he performed here almost a decade ago, never mind if the years have left tell-tale signs on his face. Had the producers remembered to flash snapshots of Sir Cliff at his prime on monitors inside the coliseum, it would have heightened the nostalgia and driven his “young-once” fans to swoon over him once again, with more feeling.

Just the same, Sir Cliff was in his element, opening the more than two-hour show (including the 20-minute intermission) with rock ‘n roll numbers not his own (but those of Bobby Darin and Elvis Presley). Eager to hear Sir Cliff’s old hits, the audience started getting excited only when he sang Summer Holiday (from his starrer of the same title) before he launched into more new songs that most of those in the audience probably were not familiar with.

When he sang The Young Ones (also from his starrer of the same title), the whole coliseum erupted with unbridled excitement. Most of us singing or humming along with him, except for Baby and Nel, both Cliff Richard diehards, who were clapping and sometimes rising from their seats in-between taking shots of their idol swinging like in olden times with the Canon and Mini iPad. 

A few more Elvis-inspired songs and then Sir Cliff gave the audience what they trooped to the Big Dome for — that is, his old songs like Ocean Deep and We Don’t Talk Anymore. As I’ve been saying, fans want to hear the same old songs and, in a text message, Joe agreed, “He should know that most of the people in the audience grew up listening to his music, therefore he should have sung his old hits. Whenever I do my concerts, 90 percent of my repertoire are my hits in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.”

That was Joe’s answer when, halfway through the show, I texted him that we were waiting for Sir Cliff’s old hits, even if Nel was saying, “He can sing any song, even those I’m hearing for the first time, and I will still love him dearly.”

I assured Joe that Sir Cliff was showing a stamina that could have easily exhausted younger singers. I guess I know his “secret.” In the same STAR interview, Sir Cliff described himself as “the best rock star there ever was,” one of a kind, because he didn’t do drugs and has been consistently clean-living, sustaining that energy by working out and following a healthy diet.

For more than two hours, without any front act, Sir Cliff ruled the overwhelming Big Dome stage, accompanied by a beautiful female singer (sorry, I didn’t get her name) and two handsome male back-ups, spicing up the space between songs by regaling the audience with anecdotes and self-deprecating jokes because, as he said in that STAR interview, “it’s when I do concerts that I personally connect with my fans by sharing with them stories about myself and my life.”

The “seniors prom” ended with Sir Cliff doing a medley of old and new songs, coming back thrice to shouts of “More, more, more!” and profusely thanking the Philippines for the warm reception.

But our group went home a bit (only a bit!) disappointed that Sir Cliff didn’t sing our favorites: This Day, Bachelor Boy, I Only Live To Love You, Regatta, Lessons in Love and, yes, Constantly.

Maybe next time?

That is, if there will still be a next time. That “seniors prom” could well be Sir Cliff’s last hurrah in the Philippines, unless he comes back for another show when he turns 80.

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