The Sound of Music continues to live on
Bibsy M. Carballo (The Philippine Star) - November 13, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - It is not only the brand-new cast of gifted Filipino performers that makes the Resorts World’s current version of The Sound of Music a definite must-see, but the combination of factors headed by unseen geniuses behind the stage and the largest Led screen in the whole of Asia.

The opening scene of the musical with light streaming into the abbey with smoke machine magic sets the tone for what the audience is to expect. The musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein tells of confused young postulant, Maria Rainer, sent away by Mother Abbess to find herself in the outside world as governess to seven children of a cold stern widower Captain Georg von Trapp. Through music, Maria wins both the children and the Captain, and both fall in love. But war threatening their quiet village in Austria compels the family to escape from the forces of the Third Reich closing in on them. They escape over the mountains to build a new life together.

In the Philippines, Repertory first produced the musical in 1980, and through the wonders of YouTube, we watch Helen Vela, Eddie Ilarde and the children over Student Canteen. There was Menchu Lauchengco, Risa Hontiveros, Monica Wilson, Raymond Lauchengco and Lea Salonga, all of nine years old.

Audie Gemora played the role of Rolf, the love interest of Menchu as Liesl. Later, in the 2006 restaging by Rep, he was Capt. von Trapp with Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo still as his love interest in the role of Maria. It is interesting how the musical has touched the lives of the country’s best theater performers, many of whom are still active, moving on to roles as director like Menchu. Audie, for his part is on his third Sound of Music assignment, reprising the Capt. von Trapp role with the latest Sound of Music from Resorts World as directed by Roxanne Lapuz.

Why is the musical so popular? We have been told that musicals with children are always winners. Parents accompany their kids; these children grow up and bring their kids to the theater inevitably looking for the shows of their childhood. We are certain this is the formula followed by Broadway to assure themselves of a hit.

In 1951, The King and I premiered on Broadway and went on to immense success with 1,246 performances. Based on the memoirs of Anna Leonawens, the novel Anna & the King of Siam follows the life of a Britisher who became governess of the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. In the movie version, Yul Brynner is the King and Debra Kerr is Anna. Yul wins Best Actor at the Oscars. There is a side plot involving forbidden love between the Burmese Tuptim and Luntha. Tuptim had been promised by the King of Burma to King Mongkut for political reasons.

Joanna Ampil and Audie Gemora as Maria and Capt. Georg von Trapp

One of the most enduring of Broadway musicals, The Sound of Music starred Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel which opened in 1959, ran for 1,443 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical and Best Actress. The 1969 film musical starring Julie Andrews as Maria, Christopher Plummer as the Captain, and Eleanor Parker as the Baroness, won five Academy Awards. Like The King and I, there is also a romantic side plot between Liesl, the Captain’s daughter, and Rolf whose loyalty belongs with the German Third Reich.

The coincidences in both musicals are so amazing, they couldn’t have been accidental. We are told that for purposes of better dramatic content, some details have been altered from reality. Maria was engaged as tutor to one of the children, not governess of all the children. The Von Trapps spent some years in Austria after Maria and the Captain married and didn’t escape at once. The Captain had, in fact, considered a position offered in the Kriegsmarine, or German Navy during Nazi regime. When they left, instead of hiking over the mountains to Switzerland, they merely walked to the local train station and boarded the next train to Italy, where they fled to London and ultimately the United States. Imagine what a boring musical the actual biography would have made!

The New York Times gave a mixed assessment calling it “Rodgers and Hammerstein in good form” while “succumbing to the clichés of operetta.” The audience being the ultimate arbiter, however, had spoken and given it their thumbs-up approval.

At the Resorts World version, the cast has Maria played by Joanna Ampil with Cris Villonco; Capt. von Trapp by Audie with Ed Feist and Jon Joven; Mother Abbess by Pinky Marquez and Sheila Francisco; Max by Miguel Faustman and Robbie Guevara; and the Baroness by Pinky Amador and Lynn Sherman. Liesl is played by Tanya Manalang and Rachel Coates; Rolf by Marvin Ong and Bryan Homecillo. The other von Trapp children are Paolo Luis Ocampo, Luis Nieto, Danielle Sanghio, Rebecca Coates, Atasha Muhlach, Janina Punzalan, Alessandra Allado, Roberto Sison, Anton Posadas, Justin Sian, Alida Moberg, Paula Therese Zamesa, Sofia Yabyabin, Alexa Villarroel and Shanti Gleason. Support cast are Debraliz Valasote, Eduardo Bouffard, Lorenz Martinez, Jennifer Villegas, Carla Guevara, Sarah Facuri, Pamela Imperial, Jillian Peña and Maxine Sian.

On the night we watched, Amalia Fuentes was there on the front row. “I’m here to watch my apo,” she told us proudly. Atasha, Aga and Charlene’s daughter, was one of the von Trapp kids that night who practically stole the show by providing an important conflict to the story. She told Maria her dad the Captain was in love with her. Frightened by her own feelings, Maria flees to the abbey where Mother Abbess Shiela Francisco tells her she has to face life’s problems and return to the von Trapps.

As we were watching, we could see the audience mouthing the lyrics of the songs. This is possibly one reason why the play has lasted this long. The songs are heartfelt and simple enough for everyone to sing. The best loved are Do Re Mi, My Favorite Things, Edelweiss, Sixteen Going on Seventeen and Climb Every Mountain. And of course, the formula of a love story between opposites, against odds, is always a winner.

What is new in the local production is how the Led technology has evolved from a practical home electronic component in 1962 to an artistic tool of today. We find samples in window display, fashion shows, car shows and theater. We read of how the lighting designer of King Lear’s 2011 tour created an emotionally-charged storm scene through lighting technology with “fractured light revealing the decay inherent in the design symbolizing how Lear’s mind is falling apart.” We hear that a horizontally concave LED screen formed the central backdrop for the rock band Oasis concerts. We listen to students specializing in Creative Technology studies explain how science and art are now fused in the modern world.

Charged with the video animation is Paul Soriano who recently directed the indie Thelma, currently making the rounds of festivals abroad. Paul and production designer-scenographer Mio Infante have collaborated to bring alive the light and shadows of the abbey, the gazebo nature backdrop for the song celebrating young love I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen, the moving landscapes, and the wintry mountains in the finale song Climb Every Mountain. If there would be a single most impressive aspect of production, it would be these. Of course, it is always a rare treat to have a production backed up by the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra under Maestro Rodel Colmenar with the Wind Song singing group blending with the instrumentation.

The Sound of Music runs until Dec.11 from Wednesdays to Sundays. For details, visit www.rwmanila.com. E-mail your comments to bibsymcar@yahoo.com.

CAPT CHILDREN CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN KING KING AND I LIESL MARIA SOUND OF MUSIC TRAPP VON
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