A tale of two musicals

Danee Samonte - The Philippine Star
 A tale  of two  musicals

The author with wife Mady and kids at The Theatre at Solaire for Sound of Music

MANILA, Philippines — Broadway musicals have always been a great passion of mine. In the last three decades, I’ve flown thousands of miles to get to New York’s Broadway, Los Angeles and London’s West End just to watch the shows because they were never available in the Philippines until just a few years ago.

I particularly love Andrew Lloyd Webber and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musicals. Phantom of the Opera is my all-time favorite and I never tire of watching it even if I’ve seen it at least 30 times in 12 different cities, including one at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) a few years ago. The best version for me is the original production starring opera diva Sarah Brightman and Broadway superstar Michael Crawford that I saw in London. I’ve also watched an unusual version that starred black artist Robert Guillame as the Phantom at the Ahmanson Theater in L.A. back in the ‘90s.

Second on my list of Broadway favorites is the most performed musical worldwide — Sound of Music. In the mid-‘60s, I watched the Academy awarded movie at Ever Theater that starred Julie Andrews. Since that time, I’d watch the musical at every opportunity whether in movie form or on stage. In fact, because of my love for Sound of Music, I even brought the real Von Trapp grandchildren to tour and perform in the country back in 2010. I would have wanted to bring them back again but they have retired unfortunately and are now in school.

• Sound of Music

When Solaire announced they were presenting the musical with the West End cast, I was excited and booked tickets for me and the family. If you have watched the movie, the stage version might disappoint you as it is a condensed version and doesn’t show a lot of scenery which the movie film crew shot on location in Salzburg, Austria where the Von Trapps originated from.

For the stage version presented at the Theatre at Solaire, majority of the main characters including Maria, Capt. Von Trapp, Mother Superior, Uncle Max, Baroness and Liesl are all West End veterans ably supported by local thespians in minor roles except for the Von Trapp children. It first looked strange that all the Von Trapp children were oriental save for Liesl played by Zoe Beavon who was Caucasian with blonde hair, but after watching them sing and act, the kids melded well and I was race blind ‘til the end of the musical. The six Pinoy Von Trapps I watched are part of the 18 Von Trapp kids pool chosen from over 400 kids who auditioned. Standouts in the cast were Maria and Mother Superior who sang and performed almost flawlessly but the Pinoy Von Trapp kids stole the show. I highly recommend families to watch it. (Sound of Music runs until Oct. 22.)

Maynila... Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag

I’ve almost forgotten about this Lino Brocka classic I watched back in 1975, which was an adaptation of the Edgar Reyes novel Manila in the Claws of Light.

My interest was piqued by my friend, music aficionado and concert promoter Tita Baby Javier, during one of our frequent lunch meetings wherein she announced she was producing a musical version of the movie classic and was looking for a huge dance studio to rehearse. I said to myself it would be tough to convert the serious and tragic movie into a musical but Tita Baby pulled it off and booked the series of shows at the Kia Theatre.

I attended the premiere showing with friends, including major concert promoter and compadre Renen de Guia of Ovation Productions. Bembol Roco who starred in the movie was in attendance as well as some press and celebrities.

The show started with the national anthem followed by a lengthy overture then an eye-popping opening number that featured the entire cast of over 40. My eyes had difficulty focusing on a particular performer because there was so much going onstage. It was a very impressive, well-choreographed production number.

Although the story progression was slow by Broadway standards, there was no shortage of great songs throughout the over two-hour musical. Even the instrumentation was good and very commercial.

The standout to my opinion besides the lead characters was the finely-blocked choreography. Downside is the musical spends so much time and focus on the construction site scene, making it boring at times. There is also too much involvement of the ensemble even in very personal scenes where the interaction should only be between two people.

All these could still be tweaked as the musical goes through its planned year-long run around the country. Even the most awarded Broadway musicals go through theatrical osmosis. Kudos to Joel Lamangan who did a great job in directing the musical. After Maynila sa Kuko, will Tita Baby follow up with other musical versions of Brocka classics like Insiang and Jaguar?

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