Sunday Lifestyle

I dreamed a dream that just came true

SUPREMO - Tim Yap - The Philippine Star

It is a well-known fact in musical theater history that when Lea Salonga auditioned for Miss Saigon ages ago, she sang On My Own from Les Miserables. That’s what made composer Claude Michel Schönberg take note that the musical had gained quite a following here.

“Quite a following” is, of course, an understatement — most people here know the musical and the lyrics of Les Mis by heart. The Boubil- and Schönberg-composed songs are the de facto audition, karaoke or contest piece for most theater lovers in this corner of the planet. It is practically as popular as Disney or Whitney, so when the news broke that the new touring production of Les Miserables was coming here to start its Asian premiere, everyone was ecstatic.

That the universe also conspired for Sir Cameron Macintosh to be here in Manila (for Miss Saigon auditions) with Schönberg — the musical’s composer, no less — was a casting coup in recent Asian musical theater history. Last Wednesday’s Les Mis Manila opening night was one for the books, looking at the notables not only onstage, but offstage in the audience as well.

Aside from the stellar performances of Simon Gleeson who sizzled as Jean Valjean and Earl Carpenter who played Javert with a sinister edge, Paul Wilkins charmed the audience as lovelorn Marius smitten by a vulnerable Cosette, expertly portrayed by pretty young thing Emily Langridge. The Thenardiers, being the show’s resident scene stealers, expertly interpreted by Cameron Blakely and Helen Walsh, provided annoyance to the other characters and good laughs for the audience.

But the goosebumps and the tears were brought in the open by Kerrie Anne Greenland as Eponine and our very own Rachelle Ann Go as Fantine. Greenland was spot-on with her nuanced rendition of Eponine and we felt like we were being torn when she sang the immortal ditty of unrequited love, On My Own.

Go go, Rachelle

Rachelle Ann Go, who flew in from the West End production to show the local audience her take on the tragic Fantine, kept us on the edge of our seats with her performance. You can see that her London training has paid off as her diminutive frame owned the stage like no other. Her voice was pristine and pure. And her acting? Brilliantly intense. So catch her while you can. Rachelle Ann will fly back to the UK to resume her West End role after the show’s run here and another actress will continue on with the Asian tour.

After the show, I went to congratulate Bambi Verzo of Concertus, responsible for bringing the crown jewel of musical theater to our shores. It’s the theatrical equivalent of the Madonna concert coming to Manila. As such, other big league movers and shakers were also in the audience that night. A quick roll call would include Bobby Barreiro and Bobby Garcia of Atlantis and Disney Asia, Audie Gemora of Solaire Theater, Michael Cassel who is the producer of the Les Mis international tour, Renen and Cel de Guia of Ovation Productions, to name a few. These are the people that run the town. I also spotted Leo Valdez, who played Valjean in the Manila production staged by Repertory Philippines, and West End superstar Joanna Ampil. Also spotted was Julie Carceller of Smart Infinity who sponsored the Les Mis Manila run.

Speaking of Joanna, Cameron Mackintosh mentioned her in his speech during the show’s curtain call with Schönberg and a teary-eyed Rachel Ann Go onstage. And why wouldn’t she be? That night marked a coming of age for musical theater in the Philippines. It was the start of the Asian tour, which debuted in Manila, with the world’s top names in theater on one stage in front of the Filipino audience. It was history unfolding in front of our very eyes.

At the after party at The Corniche of the Manila Diamond Hotel, another legend joined in: Lea Salonga was one of the first guests and she lost no time in catching up with Cameron and his long-time partner Michael La Poer Trench, who’s been taking the photos, behind-the-scenes shots and the opening nights of Les Mis for the past 31 years — all of it going straight into the books of musical theater history.
Bravo, Les Mis Manila!



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Les Miserables is on an extended run until April 24. For more facts and behind the scenes fun, follow me @officialtimyap on Twitter, Instagram and snapchat.

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