Luigi Quesada and Rebecca Coates return as Marty and Dani in Dani Girl, alternating with newcomers Daniel Drilon and Felicity Kyle Napuli.
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Fiel Estrella (The Philippine Star) - August 10, 2019 - 12:00am

The Sandbox Collective’s ‘Dani Girl’ returns with faces old and new, and a stronger emphasis on positive thinking and hope.

MANILA, Philippines — As The Sandbox Collective celebrates its fifth year, there’s no better way to commemorate the anniversary than to bring back the show that started it all.

Dani Girl, the musical by Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond, is set to capture audiences’ hearts, make them shed a few tears, and reaffirm their belief in both magic and theater as its central journey unfolds. Dani Lyons, a nine-year-old girl battling leukemia after three years in remission, sets off on a brave mission to find the hair she lost to chemotherapy. She is joined by her guardian angel Raph, her friend and fellow cancer patient Marty, and her teddy bear, Mr. Fritz.

Unfolding from a child’s point-of-view, Dani Girl is a thought-provoking and emotionally gripping musical that elicits introspection and an exchange of ideas about life, death, hope, and the importance of holding on to one’s imagination. With her strong will and faith, in the midst of lightsaber battles and treks through outer space, Dani’s quest also becomes a search for answers, especially to one particular question: Why is cancer?

Rebecca Coates returns in the title role, alternating with newcomer Felicity Kyle Napuli, whose previous stage credits include Matilda and the international tour of The Lion King. Also returning is Luigi Quesada as Martin, alternating with Daniel Drilon. Lorenz Martinez and Juliene Mendoza play Raph, while Shiela Valderrama-Martinez and Pam Imperial share the role of Dani’s mother.

Rebecca says that revisiting her character after five years, during which she has grown up quite a bit and gone through different changes, has led her to processing Dani Girl in plenty of new ways. Back then, for instance, she had not had a lot of experience with the heavier themes in the story. “I revisited the script and discovered things that I never knew at 16,” she shares. “But the core is the same — focusing on the little things, on friendship and family, and on being child-like, since there’s a little girl in every woman, and a woman in every little girl.”

As with the recent production of Every Brilliant Thing, which advocated for mental health, there will also be talk-backs after every performance of Dani Girl, where audience members and those from the cast and crew can discuss topics related to death, grief, illness (especially pediatric cancer), and finding purpose and hope with experts from partner organizations, including St. Luke’s Medical Center, Carewell Community Foundation, Childhaus, Make-A-Wish Philippines, and Cancervants.

“Doing (the show) again is necessary with all the sadness and divisiveness that’s happening around the world,” says Toff de Venecia, who is directing a Sandbox production for the first time since No Filter 2.0 in 2015. “It asks all the hard questions: Why is cancer? Why is hope? Why is God? Why is death?” The show, according to him, means to challenge these notions. “Rather than accepting everything as is,” he adds, “it forces you to think.”

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Dani Girl runs Aug. 10 to Sept. 1 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC Plaza, Makati.

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