Review: Prison Dancer looks behind a viral moment at the NAC until 12.2.23
Laura and Samara spend their days as non-profit unicorns and fill every spare minute exploring the world of musical theatre as BFFs (that’s Broadway Friends Forever). Follow @bffs613 on X (previously Twitter), Instagram and Facebook.
Even if you don’t remember one of the first viral videos—back in 2007, now with nearly 60 million views—of Filipino prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, you too must have wondered about internet-famous people and who they really are. What’s their story? How did they get to this moment that brought them these 15 minutes (seconds?) of fame?
Prison Dancer: The Musical, a fictional background story based on that 2007 video, gives you a view into what could be behind the people in that viral moment. Why are they in prison, and what led to this video? But more than that, this show digs deeper and examines major themes like family, love, grief, addiction, and the true meaning of freedom in an unlikely setting and story that’s full of warmth, laughter, and joy.
It has an extraordinary cast, excellent choreography, singing, and great music that will pull you in right from the first note. Its creative costuming and wonderfully simplistic set all somehow transform and bring you into the world of these inmates who you get to know and want to cheer for. The talent through every level of this production is outstanding and not to be missed.
Dominique Brilliantes, Josh Capulong, Stephen Thakkar, Julio Fuentes, Norm Alconcel, Chariz Faulmino, Pierre Angelo Bayuga. Photo: Dahlia Katz.
While highlighting the stories, challenges, and growth of individual inmates, there is also an immense focus on the community and family built within the prison walls. They unite as a pangkat (a Filipino term for group) and not only support each other for who they are but accept each other’s flaws and pull through some immense hardships. This is not the typical representation we often see of prisons in art, theatre or film; there’s no friction or hate—just love and a community of people who build each other up.
The show was created by Filipino Canadians Romeo Candido and Carmen De Jesus, and made its world premiere at the Citadel Theatre in May 2023, but is now being presented as part of this year’s English Theatre season at the National Arts Centre. The first all-Filipino production in Canada is award-winning and will be spreading joy to Ottawa audiences until December 2. It’s already 80% sold out, so be sure to grab your tickets soon to see how the power of dance can heal and transform a life.
Content warnings: contains strong language and mature themes, including reference to criminal activity, drug use and addiction, as well as sex. There is also brief violence depicted onstage (gunshot, murder).
Prison Dancer continues at the National Arts Centre until Saturday, December 2. Shows are Friday, Saturday, Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, a 2pm matinee on Saturday, Dec. 2. There is a talkback performance on November 29 and an American Sign Language presentation on December 1. Tickets cost $30-$45 with $15 ticket options for under-30 audience members and Indigenous communities . The show runs for about 1 hour 40 minutes.
The NAC’s main accessible entrance is on Elgin Street. The Canal Lobby entrance and Parking 2 and 3 vestibules are also accessible. Seating for wheelchair users, the visually impaired and their companions is available in every performance venue. All NAC public spaces, event spaces, and washrooms are wheelchair accessible. Universal and companion care washrooms are located on the Orchestra level of Southam Hall.