Nonie & Menchu as new team in The King & I
LIVEFEED - Bibsy M. Carballo () - January 28, 2013 - 12:00am

Perhaps because from Day One in 2009 we were already present at the opening of Resorts World Manila, we felt a certain affinity to the place. From watching acrobats from Belarus in the casino, to meeting Resorts executive Colin Kerr who told us he would never leave the Philippines and has so far kept his word, we watched the quick growth of this casino resort and that of its surroundings as well, at Newport City opposite NAIA Terminal 3 in Pasay City.

We were also present when the Newport Performing Arts Theater, a 1,500-seat venue opened with KAOS, a combination of internationally acclaimed acts with celebrated Filipino stage thespians. We met and watched acrobats from China, the Cycle of Life motorcyclists from Spain, and so many others.

Apparently, this was only a rehearsal for the all-Filipino production of The Sound of Music with Cris Villonco and Joanna Ampil alternating as Maria Rainer; Audie Gemora, Ed Feist, Jon Joven and Ariel Rivera alternating as the Captain with direction by Roxanne Lapus. Then followed The King and I West End veterans Leo Tavarro Valdez and stage veteran Monique Wilson, with Bo Cerrudo and Sheila Valderrama as alternates for King Mongkut and Anna under the direction of Freddie Santos.

Last December 2012, Resorts World Manila announced an extended run until May of 2013. The new leads are Nonie Buencamino as the King, and Menchu Lauchengco Yulo as Teacher Anna.

In its announcement, Resorts PR wrote: “What happens when Diana Goodman of Next to Normal meets Tirso of Stageshow in the enchanting land of Siam?  Menchu, who is already acquainted with The King and I musical as she played Tuptim while also being the understudy of Anna in the early ’90s, states that she is already age-appropriate for the role.” 

After watching the show with friend singer-actress Timmy Cruz, we cornered the duo with our own questions. We asked them for their favorite songs and scenes. Menchu said, “I love the song Shall I tell you what I think of you. It plays on so many levels and emotions, and it is the only time you see the character’s real sentiments.” She added that the scene she loves best is the Shall We Dance scene where “I feel this is where Anna and the King really connect and their relationship grows.”

Nonie confessed to “always looking forward to doing the scene where the King is about to whip Tuptim and Anna stops him. It has many layers that could be explored and emphasis varies with every performance. It is also the King’s climax… I like listening to Menchu’s Hello Young Lovers because of the sadness she injects in Anna when she sings it. I also like Something Wonderful by Gina and Apple. They have beautiful voices and the content of the song reveals a loveable side of the King.”

When asked what was more important in a theater musical, the acting or the singing, Menchu answered, “It should be a good combination of both. But personally, I would always go with the actor who can sing, rather than the singer who can act.”

We wondered how Nonie prepared for his role as King, and he confessed, “I try to play him as someone always struggling to wear his father’s huge shoes, a leader as seen by his subjects, but whose wisdom pushes him to learn more about the advanced ways of western civilization. He constantly struggles and at times is confused but never ceases to desire what is good for his Kingdom.”

Of all the children characters in the musical, Nonie singled out Mari, “the child who eats a banana during the presentation, sneaks in between my legs and runs first to me during my dying scene.  He is so natural.”

For all her theater experience, Menchu admitted not to have done a Filipino play, nor a William Shakespeare play and would look forward to doing Mama Rose in Gypsy, Dot in Sunday in the Park with George, Elphaba in Wicked, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, and Desiree in A Little Night Music. Plays she would love to do include 33 Variations, Agnes of God and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.

Obviously, both Nonie and Menchu are enjoying the experience of doing the play and working together. Nonie described Menchu as a great co-actor/teammate. Menchu admitted that she is a fan of Nonie’s work and she feels so connected to her “King.” We wonder if the people behind Resorts World realize how lucky they are to have gotten together such a talented and dedicated team.

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