Well and good, we can all do with more such displays of enthusiasm for theater fare. But I have a question: where is everyone when it's a local production being launched? From my experience, not even the most well-organized media events like those by Monique Wilson's New Voice Company or Audie Gemora's Trumpets can rope together more than 50 of my media fellows for lunch in one room. Obviously, I can't fault the PR organizer here; it did a swell job in contacting every single entity--prominent, obscure or otherwise--that could help it drum up interest for the play. Budget also played a part, as ABA Productions, the company behind "Peter Pan," seems to have deep enough pockets to fund a lavish lunch-cum-sneak preview at a five-star hotel.
But could it be that the real reason many more people showed up was because this was a "foreign" production, with all the enticing splash and dazzle that the term carries? "Peter Pan" does promise an opulent show, with breathtaking flying sequences, magical special effects, the works. I'm not complaining about that; I'm looking forward to enjoying the fairy dust as much as everyone else. What disturbs me is the implication that we can interest many of our local media outlets to cover a theater story only if it's big, fun, glittery, non-threatening, family-friendly. Snort, snort.
In the next few months, F. Sionil Jose's "The Pretenders" will debut as a Tanghalang Pilipino play, Laurice Guillen returns to the stage after a 30-year absence with Tanghalang Ateneo's "The Glass Menagerie," a galaxy of theater stars will pay homage to National Artist for Theater Daisy Hontiveros Avellana on her 90th birthday, the great Nonon Padilla takes up the director's reins again via PETA's "Ang Babaeng Nakabelong Puti," ang Gantimpala Theater honors pioneering dramatist Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero with a twin-bill production of "Forever" and "Call Me Flory." Let's see if we get even a third of the 120 people present at the "Peter Pan" presscon to cover their openings.
Breathe. Okay, now that that's out of the way, I have to say this "Peter Pan" did well by hiring a good number of Filipino performers for its local run. The UST Action Singers Alumni Ensemble provides the musical's choral harmonies, though they sing in an unrecognizable language--"fairy language," the show's producers describe it, composed mostly by Karl Jenkins of Adiemus fame (or notoriety, if you hate that Celtic-New Age type of music). Elvish perhaps, by way of Enya (stop cringing, Beektur!).
The kid who plays Slightly, one of the Lost Boys, is 14-year-old Eric Ibarra, a half-American, half-Filipino talent who's moving from HK to Manila for good with his family after the show's run. He's set to enrol at International School-Manila and says he wants to explore doing more theater stuff in the country. (Playing Peter Pan in the excerpts was the livewire 15-year-old Michael Lin, half-British and half-Chinese. At the meet-and-greet, he said this wasn't his first musical; he played "Oliver" years ago. "Oliver, based on Dickens' story? And this was a musical?," asked a woman, scribbling furiously. I fought hard not to roll my eyes.)
"Peter Pan's" musical director, Amuer Calderon, used to be a dancer with Ballet Philippines before joining HK Ballet. "Oh, so you know Wendy Panganiban?," I asked him. Ms. Panganiban, also of Ballet Philippines and HK Ballet, was one of the Filipino performers I interviewed during HK Disneyland's opening in 2004. She was the original Spirit Bird in the park's daily show "Festival of the Lion King" (the dancer who soars out of the floor and up towards the dome--a jaw-dropping sight--during the "Can You Feel the Love" number).
"Wendy Panganiban? I should know her, she's my wife," quipped Mr. Calderon. That had me sputtering in laughter. Mr. Calderon has set aside his dancing shoes and is now putting his formal Music background to good use with "Peter Pan" and with another ABA Productions musical adaptation, "Around the World in 80 Days," the entire score of which is his doing. That show will also tour Asia, so here's hoping it eventually finds its way to Manila, so we can savor the hard-won success of another homegrown musical talent.
"Peter Pan" runs until Feb. 4 at the CCP Main Theater (call 8919999 for tickets). Do cheer for the Pinoy actors, singers and dancers. In the company of their co-performers from all over the globe (some from the West End), they're raring, I bet, to make us all extra-proud.
[photo: Rudy Esperas/PDI]