Vehnee Saturno’s ‘passion project’
DIRECT LINE - Boy Abunda (The Philippine Star) - October 16, 2015 - 10:00am

Vehnee Saturno is one of local music’s most prolific songwriters in local music. He’s written countless songs for artists from Martin Nievera to Sarah Geronimo, and from Regine Velasquez to Ariel Rivera. With such a rich catalogue, it was a surprise that it took so long for a musical to be produced using his songs.

It was a long time coming, but it’s finally happened. That musical, Chuva Choo Choo (which had a limited but successful run recently at the Spotlight Theater at Circuit Makati, produced by Stages Production Specialists). It starred young diva Morissette Amon and singer-slash-theater star Joanna Ampil in the lead roles with a brilliant supporting cast. Vehnee explains how his “passion project” came about. It was a long-standing dream of his to do it, and when the opportunity presented itself, he couldn’t say no. “Matagal ko nang dream magkaroon ng ganitong klaseng project, and finally, after 35 years, dumating na nga yung hulog ng langit, nung ma-conceptualize ito, sabi ko, di ko na tatanungin kung magkano ang ibibigay sa akin, gagawin ko ito. Maraming producers ang interested gawin itong musical play na ito, pero nung umpisa puro plano lang. Finally, ito na, naging eroplano, lumipad na siya.”

The story of Chuva Choo Choo was partly inspired by the Hollywood film Connie and Carla, which is about two friends (in Chuva Choo Choo the characters played by Morissette and Joanna are sisters) who have a song-and-dance act, but go on the run after witnessing a murder. 

Producer Alvin Trono shares that it was Star Records that helped get the idea for the musical off the ground and onto the stage. “Mga two years ago, inalok ng Star Records ang catalog nila, and a major part of the catalog were Vehnee Saturno songs. It so happened that Audie Gemora, then head of Stages, was asking us to come up with a musical, to use the music. And ang gusto niya was something like Connie and Carla. So when the play was being written, we were looking at the songs. The story came up, and siyempre, nung inadapt yung Connie and Carla idea, nag-sanga sanga ‘yon because of the songs na pwedeng gamitin from Vehnee’s catalog. May songs nga na dapat kasama na masakit sa loob na hindi na pwede.”

They were anxious when they first presented what they had to Vehnee. “So nung binuo namin ‘yon, maraming binali na mga kanta. When we presented to Mr. Vehnee, medyo kabado kami kung magugustuhan ba ‘yung ibang mga mash-ups, buti naman natuwa.”

Chuva Choo Choo is an entertaining romp combining several different forms of art, and because Vehnee’s songs are known to almost everyone, it also has a strong commercial appeal. 

But perhaps the most important thing to be said about the musical is how it is breaking new ground in how theater shows are marketed in the country. Chuva Choo Choo did not immediately break into a full run, but had a limited run, and there are plans to bring it back for a full run in early or mid-2016. This will allow for adjustments to be made where necessary, and for every little detail to fall into place before the full run begins.

“I think they want to change entire dynamics of theater now. You want to test it first with an audience and be able to have enough materials to market and to sell it before you actually run. It’s not like putting all the eggs in one basket to see if it sinks or swims. It’s a calculated move to have it in 2016, that we have a ready product, that there’s a market that wants to buy it, and it allows us to have PR and marketing approaches before we actually run,” says Trono, adding that this new method is like having try-outs, or staging a production off-Broadway before it actually goes to Broadway. “It’s basically testing a new business model in theater now. Theater is so alive here, so almost everyone here watches theater productions. So we want to change it a bit and see how it goes, for the benefit of everybody.”

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