Lea and Her BABY Ten Years Ago #atozchallenge2014

NOTE: I can’t believe it’s been ten years! I had several ideas for my “L” post for the A-to-Z Challenge until I decided that I wanted to feature my favorite artist, Lea SalongaI wanted to post either what I wrote before about her anniversary concert that I attended or my story on how I met her face to face and my little anecdote about it. Truth is I couldn’t find them. But I found THIS and I don’t mind sharing it at all 🙂 I’m just surprised that I read that the production was back in 2004. Time sure does fly! 

 

By the way, I know “L” comes before “M,” but I’m just making up for what I missed. Cut me some slack 🙂

 

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lea-salonga-babyReality is, what drew most of Atlantis Productions’ BABY The Musical‘s audience to march to Meralco Theater – literally from the gate to the building for this writer – consists of two words and five syllables: Lea Salonga. She was, of course, a big crowd-drawer. The posters said it all. “Lea Salonga in BABY The Musical.”

 

But what made people smile afterwards, long before the show was over, was a combination of four things: Lea, the story, the music, and the whole production itself. More than any one of the audience asked for or expected. I, for one, while excited about watching a musical, only psyched myself to enjoy watching the actress should the show proved the opposite of engaging. Oh, but it was engaging! And I had nothing to worry about.

 

Richard Maltby Jr.‘s BABY The Musical tells the story of three couples – Lizzie Fields (Salonga) and Danny Hooper (David Shannon), Pam (Agot Isidro) and Nick Sakarian (Jett Pangan) , and Arlene (Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo) and Alan McNalley (Miguel Faustmann).

 

Couple Number One. Lizzie and Danny, both in college, are living in together. They get the shock of their lives when the stork suddenly decides to drop them a visit and leave a gift. The practical and organized world of Lizzie is suddenly invaded by a third party, by the discovery that she is pregnant. It would make for a typical story. Guy finds out, guy runs away. But no. Instead, Lizzie is the one afraid of making the commitment and doing what Danny deems necessary, which is to get married. For Lizzie, “I don’t wanna get married because I don’t wanna get a divorce!” While she is prepared to be with Danny and raise the baby, marriage is not something she wants to say yes to.

 

(See and hear Lea perform with Liz Callaway Lizzie’s song “The Story Goes On” below)

 

 

Couple Number Two. Pam and Nick is a couple in their 30’s, married for two years, and still childless. Suddenly, it seems their prayers are answered. Pam, after a visit from the hospital, informs her husband that she is finally pregnant! The already-happy couple is now much happier. Finally, a baby!…The celebration is short-lived, however. They soon find out that, yes, Mrs. Sakarian is with child, only it is Nick’s sister-in-law. Having failed, they decide to consult a doctor and soon find out the cause. Then follows the hilarious attempts to conceive and the conflict that goes with the problem.

 

Couple Number Three. Arlene and Alan McNalley, in their 40’s, are prepared for a lifetime of being “TWO”, that is a family minus all their three kids. Arlene looks forward to finally having time alone with her husband at last, having sent their youngest child off to college. She is in, however, for a rude awakening. As said, “…a night of unexpected passion lands them back where they started” …Pregnant! Alan is overwhelmed with joy. Arlene, unfortunately, obviously isn’t. A new baby in the family just isn’t what she needs now, not anymore.

 

To be honest, a part of me was really interested in seeing the show because of the premise. Why wouldn’t BABY be interesting? It is, after all, about relationships between men and women, and particularly about the responsibility that often follows – raising children. As Maltby said, BABY is about that something that is not really rare and, yet, is often taken for granted…Or something like that.

 

Based on the book by Sybille Pearson, the musical does not only tell of interwoven stories, oftentimes “told” with humor. Behind the laughs, however, lie the serious problems that come with having a baby and that need to be addressed. It tackles concerns such as pre-marital sex, living in, women’s lib, sterility, age, and yes, even abortion. Etcetera. Not all of these are directly mentioned throughout the course of the play, nor does it tend to be preachy. You’d have to be dumb, though, not to notice the subtle hints at times. Either that or you were sleeping.

 

 

Baby-musical-cast

THE CAST (from left to right): Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Miguel Faustmann, David Shannon, Lea Salonga, Agot Isidro, and Jett Pangan

 

Lea as Lizzie was perfect. Playing a 20-year-old didn’t seem to be a “STREEETCH,” unlike what she herself said. Not at all. The voice was as crystal clear as ever, both in singing and speaking. That is a trait that sets her apart from most actors today and makes her Number One in many people’s books. And man, did I laugh when she danced and bounced, big belly and all! No wonder Julie Andrews loves her voice…Lea. You just gotta love her.

 

David was convincing, as well, as Danny. Listening to him sing reminded me of the character Chris in Miss Saigon. Oh, but wait. He did play Chris in the U.K Tour of M.S.! Four things I like about the guy: he sings well, he sang “I Chose Right,” he played Rum Tum Tugger and Marius in a CATS and a Les Miserables production respectively, and he is married to an equally talented Filipina artist, Ima Castro! And – oh! – he signed the cover of my Collector’s Edition CD, so that makes it five! Well, his presence in the theater scene is surely welcome and appreciated.

 

menchu-lauchengco-yulo

Got pic from HERE

From the role of Schrintze in Fiddler on the Roof  in 1978 to this year’s Arlene, Miss Menchu has indeed proved her mettle in the business. It seems I liked that mettle and it has made a fan out of this writer. Listening her do the solo piece “Patterns” gave me the goosebumps, the very good kind of goosebumps. Despite that she is a great actress, though, she still did not come across as forty-ish, which Arlene should have been, and which she actually is. Miss Menchu, with all that faux curly locks that were intended to make her appear 43, is really a very beautiful woman who looks much younger than she actually is. So I guess this comment is more of a good kind of negative response, if you know what I mean.

 

Mister Faustmann was actually my problem. Of course, he was a good actor. His recent awards say it all. The show, however, did not showcase much of his singing talent. He did have his own solo, ”Easier To Love,” which I liked, but it was not much to give me the same kind of goosebumps as aforementioned. Not his fault, I know. It just was not meant to be goosebump-y, but rather a humorous take on and comparison between love for a spouse and love for a child. Guess which is easier.

 

The show bared two revelations, namely Jett and Agot.

 

jett-pangan

Got pic from HERE

Pre-theater, the only songs that I could remember The Dawn frontman singing were not really that impressive, for me, at least. But ever since I found out his stints in shows such as The Rocky Horror Show and Tick, Tick, Boom!, I had been interested in seeing him perform. Whoah, baby! The show gave me the opportunity to hear the man, and boy, was I surprised! All I can say is he has got one of the best voices that I ever heard, ever! Jett could act as well, bringing the house down with his portrayal of funnyman Nick. On both occasions that I watched (yes, I watched it twice), he got the audience clapping wildly at curtain call.

 

Agot, like I said, was quite a revelation as well. Onstage, the prim and proper lady we had come to know suddenly transformed into a funny, kikay, and yes, daring woman. Well, at least, more daring than the usual Agot. The novice among them (she recently starred in her first musical, TrumpetsHonk!), she held her own against the more seasoned actors. She has become a better actress and a better singer as well. The sporty persona of her character Pam, though, just was not Agot. For a basketball coach, she sure played ball like – should I say it? – a girl. But it was not a major concern, anyway, so who actually cared?

 

The whole story would not be complete without the Ensemble. Very special mention to the great people who provided all sorts of characters that helped mold the whole story and piece it together. The show was not found wanting, what with such great talents such as Chari Arespacochaga, Cathy Azanza, Topper Fabregas, Christine Sambeli-Marquez, Jun Ofrasio and Robie Zialcita (whose doctor was quite a riot with Nick and Pam). Most of them are theater veterans. Kumbaga, ‘di matatawaran ang galing. (In other words, their great talents are all worth it.)

 

My only complaint was during ”The Ladies Singing Their Song,” most of the ladies didn’t look their part. The tennis women and the woman with ten kids did sound older but looked much younger. I mean, I would kill to have those figures and legs! Sure, older women do have the right to look gorgeous (Miss Menchu comes to mind again), but let’s face it. In reality, how many older women you know actually look like that?

 

Now comes the part where we criticize the music…Frankly, I find it a daunting task as I have come to love the songs, a collaboration of two wonderful musicians. Maltby’s lyrics, set into music by David Shire. Deadly combination. Add in an orchestra led by Gerard Salonga and his baton. Maltby, himself, said it. BABY’s music is not like the usual stuff we musical-lovers have come to expect. Heck, the story is not the usual stuff. That all the more makes it dear. The story, the music, the setting, the production, the whole of it, however contemporary, is a classic. Classic in the sense that whatever period it is, it will always sound fresh. The musical was written and first done in the early ‘80s. If I haven’t told you that, would you have realized it? No. That’s how un-antiquated it is.

 

All in all, BABY The Musical, under the direction of Bobby Garcia, was quite a success indeed. True, Lea’s name dragged people’s butts away from other activities and into the Meralco Theater seats. The smiles on people’s faces after the show, however, were the result of the whole new musical experience. Ladies and gentlemen, it was a bouncing BABY!!!

 

Meanwhile, here’s one of my favorite BABY songs:

 

 

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I hope you enjoyed what you read almost as much as I enjoyed the show ten years ago.

This post is a part of…

a-to-z-challenge

On a High…

So last Thursday, I was just buying a hotdog sandwich at the burger place very near the dorm when someone stood beside me and said in a low tone, “Don’t go up the dorm yet” like some sneaky “holdaper”, I half-expected to be robbed. Of course, I was surprised and had to scrutinize and realized it’s my theater-person friend “W”.
Copyright © Atlantis Productions

Copyright © Atlantis Productions

Apparently, she had two free tickets to Atlantis Productions‘ presentation of Tony awardee In the Heights and was hoping (but not really expecting ’cause she knew I often came home late these days, er, nights) to invite me to come with her. Apparently again, the one supposed to go with her backed out. Hurray for me!!! As they say, one person’s trash maybe…Okay, not trash, really, but you get the analogy, right? RIGHT?

So, not to waste more time as it was way past 7pm and the show was to start at 8pm, we brought everything that was with me back to Ayala and into the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at RCBC.

While it was good because it was free (he he, the best things in life), it was actually a really good experience! I think anyone who shelled out and will shell out money for it was/will not be disappointed. Non-fans of rap may actually like this rap-filled show. You can’t understand everything – heck,  even rappers might not understand every word – but you can surely understand what’s happening. There’s lots of hip-hop with also lots of salsa, merengue, soul thrown in – modern meets classic Latin, I say.

What struck me about the interwoven stories are their similarities to the Filipino scene, from the everyday hardships to the sense of family. Even to the idea that people get into their heads that America is the answer to everything. Just ask the main character’s father.

The main character, by the way, is Usnavi (hee-hee about the name, wait for the punchline), played by Nyoy Volante. Nyoy surprised me in Hairspray before, he surprised me even more in In The Heights. I never expected he could rap, and so well at that, he could give any rapper a run for his money. Rapping with a very passable accent. Not perfect, but hey, who’s complaining? There was a smooth way about him that I loved listening to him every time. Either that was actually because of his style or because of the way the piece was composed, I don’t know, and I really don’t care because I loved it!

Taken by Jaime Unson

The two leads, Nyoy Volante and K-La Rivera. Image from BroadwayWorld.com, photo by Jaime Unson

It was my first time to watch most of the performers. I was surprised to see Jackie Lou Blanco and I had to think hard before I realized I was looking at Calvin Millado. Jackie Lou was good in one of the songs, basically her solo, which title I have yet to find out (sorry, as of now, I have not gotten hold of a programme ’cause it was all so sudden, besides, I don’t think there were available programmes that night already). Calvin’s portrayal as the father of the Rosario Family, for me, was very touching.

I was not surprised to see reality singing competition show (or whatever you call it) finalist K-La Rivera because my friend mentioned her while I tried to gobble down my sandwich fast inside a taxi on the way there. Acting-wise, she’s okay. Nothing “Ooh”-worthy, but okay. She has a very nice singing voice, I must say. Many more training to go, perhaps, but very promising. She should do this more often. Less TV, more theater, ’cause in theater, she doesn’t have to scream to be appreciated.

I had been crushing on Felix Rivera before so it was a treat to see him again onstage. Ever the heartthrob, he got to ***spoiler alert*** kiss the girl again. I truly love his vocals. Very nice, very apt for musicals. I really appreciated him in Avenue Q that I watched sometime ago. Very commendable, too, were veteran thespian Ms. Jay Glorioso who was Usnavi’s adoptive lola and Bibo Reyes whose Sonny was quite the comic relief. Ima Castro was there, too. A very reliable performer she was, of course, though I felt her character did not showcase her talent that much. I wish I had seen Aida; I bet I would have enjoyed her.

Tex Ordonez wows in the song “Carnaval Del Barrio.” Image from BroadwayWorld.com, photo by Jaime Unson

But oh, my fave of them all that night was Ms. Tex Ordonez! I was so impressed, I actually made sure I asked my friend about her name. Her Daniela was wicked good! I never for a moment doubted she was a Latina living in Washington Heights. The look, the actions, the delivery of words,..excellent portrayal! She rivaled Bibo in the funny department… Hmnn… Actually, she was the funnest and funniest (sorry, Bibo, but you do get the second place award). Kudos to her!

On to the other actors and swings. It was apparent that one requirement for them to be part of the show was for them to be good dancers. They were expected to dance various numbers. Personally, I felt that much was lacking. Not really in the routines but in the dancing itself. Awkward moments, unsure steps, shaky lifting executions…But okay, it was just the start, it was not even really the real first night. I supposed they would get better every night.  One curious question though: Who was that Ralion Alonso look-alike? If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was him, only he didn’t grow older.

Now the music! Some beats were catchy enough, if only one was fast enough to catch all the words. I didn’t think anything was memorable. Still, I am not closing my doors. I think these are the kind of songs that you let grow on you. I wonder where I can get a soundtrack…

That said, this show is very much recommended. If you have the time, try and catch it. It’s got a limited run so don’t miss it now. Better yet, do as I did. Buy a hotdog sandwich and you just might get a ticket, for free.

That’s the whole cast for you. Image from BroadwayWorld.com, photo by Jaime Unson