The unending sound of talent
- Joy G. Virata () - October 29, 2006 - 12:00am
Manila was recently visited by the Von Trapp chil-dren–the family whose history became the story behind the classic The Sound of Music.  They charmed their audience as Von Trapp children have charmed audiences for three generations.

Twenty six years ago a remarkable group of seven young Filipinos took to the stage to play the Von Trapp children in Repertory Philippines’ 1980 production of The Sound of Music.  Where are they now?

Menchu Lauchengo-Yulo was 17 when she played Liesl, the oldest Von Trapp child.  That was her first professional stage appearance.   

"I had auditioned for King and I a couple of years before but I was too old to play a kid and too young to play a wife," she remembers. "My brother Raymond got taken instead.  Two years later I got into The Sound of Music.  Since then it has been tuloy-tuloy (non-stop) in theater." 

After Sound of Music she went on to play in many other Rep plays and musicals including South Pacific, West Side Story (her first lead role), The Fantastiks, A Chorus Line,  Sweeney Todd, Fiddler on the Roof, Evita, and many others. She took a little detour and began a career as a lounge singer until marriage and a family took the place of theater and singing. As her children grew up she returned slowly to theater–appearing on stage once year and giving stellar performances in such productions as Oliver, Les Miserables, Camelot,  Into the Woods, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Secret Garden and Passion for Rep and for other theater companies.

She decided to hone her dancing skills as well and showed them off to good stead her most recent roles of Aldonza in  Rep’s Man Of La Mancha and Erzulie  in AAI’s Once On This Island.  Her theatrical career comes full circle in Rep’s new production of  The Sound of Music where she plays  Maria Von Trapp–the novice who started it all.  And Menchu is  making another contribution to this production.  Her daughter Nicole is singing the role of Liesl–the role she sang 26 years ago! 

After beating his sister to the stage playing the role of Louis, Anna’s son in The King and I, at the age of eleven, Raymond Lauchengco was given the role of  Friedrich, the 14-year-old Von Trapp son. A year later, the purity of his light tenor, his good looks and acting ability led to his being cast in the role of the urchin, Toby, in the dark and beautiful musical Sweeney Todd. It was in that musical that he was spotted by movie talent scouts and he left theater to become a popular movie and concert artist.  Raymond occasionally returned to the stage but spent most of his time on the concert circuit.  In recent years he has become a much sought-after photographer and now divides his time between his two professions. 

Risa Hontiveros, who played Louisa Von Trapp in the 1980 production, chose the political stage instead of the theatrical stage and is a sectoral representative for Akbayan in Congress. Still she must have put her theater experience to good use because she became a top-notch newscaster and program host for public affairs and women’s causes for which she was got the Golden Dove award in 1994 for being best female newscaster.   

Open your mouth and sing," Monique Wilson recalls being told by theater stalwart Baby Barredo at a party being held in the home of Celia Laurel. She did and so the eight-year-old Monique was cast as one of the orphans in the 1980 Rep production of Annie. Then came the role of  Marta in The Sound of Music that same year. 

There was no stopping Monique after that: Fiddler on the Roof, A Little Night Music, Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Real Thing, Pirates of Penzance, Evita, The Diary of Ann Frank, Les Liasons Dangereuses, Baby, Nunsense, and many others.  By the time Miss Saigon came along Monique had done over 70 plays.

The advent of Miss Saigon was a milestone in Monique’s career. She was taken as one of the original cast of the West End mega-hit and alternated with Lea Salonga in the role of Kim for several years.

After Miss Saigon, Monique returned to the Philippines to make movies and do recordings. A year later she went back to London to take up graduate studies in Classical Acting at the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.  She continued to commute, doing movies and concerts and in Manila founded the New Voice Company.  She has appeared in and/or directed many of NVC’s productions, including the highly successful Vagina Monologues which has toured other countries. 

Although she now lives and works in London, she continues to run NVC and to act in and direct its productions.  For her theatrical achievements, Monique received The Outstanding Women of the Nation (TOWNS) award, the Honor of the Country award, Most Outstanding Artist of Manila award, FAMAS Special Award for Theatre and the Arts and the Tinig award for Best Broadway Singer.  

Like Menchu, Monique’s career comes full circle as she alternates with Menchu as Maria Von Trapp in the present production of The Sound of Music. 

Lea Salonga began her unbelievable career in entertainment as a five-year old child in the musical The King & I.  Three years later she was playing the lead role in Annie–a role that foretold her rise to super-stardom.  She played in three Rep productions of Annie after that but in the meantime she was cast in the role of Marta in The Sound of Music. As she grew from child to teenager, she continued singing in concerts and performing on stage but concentrated mostly on her studies.  She was an honor student and thought of becoming a doctor one day. 

But, unexpectedly, Miss Saigon came along.  Lea had the incredible talent, the experience, was the right age, had the right looks, and was in the right place at the right time. The rest is history. Not only did Lea get the coveted role of Kim, but she went on to win highest awards for acting and singing on both sides of the Atlantic and at home.   She was the first Asian actor to play the role of Eponine in Les Miserables on Broadway and London.  She played the lead in Flower Drum Song on Broadway and is the singing voice of Disney’s Mulan and Princess Jasmine in Aladdin and recorded the Academy award winning song A Whole New World.  Now a wife and mother, she continues her concerts both here and abroad. 

Little seems to be known about  Javier  Arriaga, son of Nina’s Papagayo singer Mecca Trapagga, who played the role of  Kurt  in the 1980 production, and Angela  Adams who played Gretl, the youngest Von Trapp child (except that her younger sister Mishka became a rock singer).  Both these children migrated to other countries with their parents. 

Rep has gathered another group of children for its new production of The Sound of Music. (There are a bit more of them since there are three sets of children this time. Will they be as great achievers as their predecessors were?  Who can tell? But Baby Barredo, who played Maria Von Trapp in the 1975 and 1980 productions and who now directs the new production says: "Every new generation brings forth new talent.  Talent is a natural resource with which the Philippines is abundantly endowed. But it has to be discovered and nurtured and given a chance to bloom. That is our job at Rep–and the job of all theater companies in the Philippines–to discover it, to teach and nurture it, and to give it a chance to reach its greatest potential." 

The Sound of Music  goes onstage at Rep’s Globe Theater at ONSTAGE in Greenbelt 1 from November 11 to December 17. Call Rep at tel 887-0710 for performance details and ticket reservations.

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