By Nickie Wang / Manila Standard Today
Think of putting top-notch actors, talented and creative people, and a moving love story in one stunning venue like the Meralco Theater. What you get is a world-class stage production.
One of the most highly anticipated productions in the local performing arts is the Manila re-staging of West Side Story featuring Christian Bautista to play the lead role Tony, and Karylle and Joanna Ampil to share the plum role of Maria.
On Sept. 5, local production company Stages will raise the curtain at the Meralco Theater for the musical that transports the classic tale of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the turbulent streets of the Upper West Side in 1950s New York City.
West Side Story was first staged by Repertory Philippines in 1981, where Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, who now directs the musical, played the role of Maria while executive producer Audie Gemora played Riff.
The multi-million re-staging of this production also has Gerard Salonga leading the FILharmoniKA orchestra as musical director. Part of the creative and technical staff are Mio Infante (scenographer), John Batalla (lighting director), Bobbit Jacinto (sound designer) and Eric Pineda (costume designer).
Veteran theater actor Gemora is excited about the revival of this musical, which is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International in New York and will precede a new Broadway production in 2009.
“Anything live is spectacular, and the best thing about a theater version is that everything is well written. Staging West Side Story is also a challenge for us because we had to get actors who can both sing and dance. And this production is not just about living the essence of the story alone, it’s about the whole cast and the people behind it,” Gemora said.
Gemora is more than glad to have Joanna Ampil in the production. He said that having Joanna adds up a certain level of polish to the entire ensemble.
“We have a bunch of neophytes, but equally great actors. But when you put Joanna with the rest of them, she simply stands out,” he revealed.
Gemora related to Karylle as a joy in the musical while Christian as a talented actor who made dramatic improvement through proper training.
“Karylle is such a joy. She is very sweet and looks fitting for the role. She really looks like Maria. With her, there’s a certain demand vocally. She is used to doing pop so she had to be trained singing in soprano. While with Christian, he is really into it, we see his dedication and focus,” he added.
West End’s Joanna Ampil who left the country 16 years ago to star in the Sydney and London productions of Miss Saigon arrived in July for the rehearsals. She also shared her excitement for the role she is going play. When she heard the news that West Side Story is going to be staged here in Manila, she personally contacted Audie Gemora to audition.
The author and Joanna Ampil
“It’s always been my dream to perform with Filipino audience. That’s why when I perform abroad and there are Filipinos in the audience, I feel like I have an unspoken connection with them. I will never feel complete without performing here in my country and with Filipino of course,” Joanna shared her enthusiasm.
Christian Bautista, who Gemora believes is suited to play the lead role, underwent different trainings to prepare particularly for the role of Tony. Bautista considers his role in the West Side Story as a great learning experience and that it has transformed him into a versatile performer.
The author and Christian Bautista
“Well aside from vocal trainings, I started working out because I need to look big on stage. This is my first leading role in a stage production, and in a big venue, so I studied everything and focused on intense acting,” Asian pop heartthrob Christian explained.
According to Gemora, there is a great possibility of bringing the production on a tour in Asia next year. It all depends on the success of the show at the Meralco Theater that runs from Sept. 5 to Oct. 12.
Completing the stellar ensemble of West Side Story are Rowena Vilar, Pam G, Jake Macapagal, Jeff Singson, and Gian Magdangal, Jordan Aguilar, Marielle Alonzo, Jed Amihan, Rosanne Araneta, Earl Baer, April Luz Belarmino, Caissa Borromeo, Joanna Marie Cabrega, Red Concepcion, Napoleon Ching, Pom Decena, Carlos Deriada, Guji Lorenzana, John Philip Martir, Francis Matheu, Beth Munar, Michelle Murenec, Mikaela Padilla, Anthony Ong, Vinia Pamplona, Sam Prudenciando, Rizza Ribo, Bobby Superales, Jay-Anne Tensuan, Erwin Villanueva, Gerald Yranon, Noel Zabala, and theater veterans Richard Cunanan, James Paoleli, and Jaime del Mundo.
For tickets, call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or Stages at 818-1111 local 225. Ticket prices range from P500 to P1,200.