Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tommy Abuel heads for the 'Woods'

The New Voice Company's production of Stephen Sondheim's musical “Into The Woods” opens this Friday, November 9, at the Music Museum. The 20-strong cast has been rehearsing since August, which gives you an idea of the level of hard work, commitment and craft required to stage a musical of this caliber hereabouts.

A few weeks ago some members of the cast met the press to render some songs and answer questions about the forthcoming show. Present were Tommy Abuel, Michael Williams, Jamie Wilson, Julia Abueva, Joaqui Valdes, Lynn Sherman, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Cathy Azanza, Mads Nicolas, Crisel Consunji, and director Rito Asilo.

Facing the pack: Tommy Abuel getting grilled before the TV cameras by ABS-CBN's Mario Dumaual and GMA-7's Lhar Santiago, among others

Ignorant me headed straight for Mr. Abuel after the short presentation and began asking about this being some sort of comeback for him. I meant to musical theater--I've not seen him that frequently on stage, the last one in a poorly-mounted amateur production of Frank Rivera's environmental play “Ambon, Ulan, Baha” at SM Megamall early this year. Mr. Abuel very gently and courteously swatted me down, telling me that he's never actually left the theater, only that he's become identified with his more visible work on TV and the movies. Then he rattled off the musical productions he's done: “West Side Story,” “Showboat,” “Brigadoon,” “Carousel,” “Finian's Rainbow,” “The King & I.” He was, in fact, the country's first Pippin.

“Into The Woods,” though, is the first time he's doing Sondheim. “Very difficult music!,” he said. Is there a secret to doing Sondheim? “The secret is to be musical--to listen and have a sharp ear for his music,” he said. A simple answer, but one that carries an entire universe with it, given the composer's formidable reputation for writing some of the trickiest, most challenging and unconventional works in musical theater. Mr. Abuel, one of the country's most accomplished actors, is set to play the Mysterious Man in this production. We're in for a treat, I think.

PLUS: The nifty artwork with Mr. Abuel's image above? It's a desktop wallpaper designed by Amiel of NVC. Here are more of them. The ones on Amiel's site come with lovely frames for a more fairy-tale look. They're free for downloading and sharing with friends, by the way.


rody vera said...

i've always been a fan of stephen sondheim. and into the Woods is, for me his second best-- second to sunday in the Park with George. the third being Sweeney Todd ( i can hardly wait for the Johnny Depp movieeeeee!) buti na lang babalik na ako in a week's time. I can catch into the Woods!!!

Anonymous said...

Im watching tomorrow and i am sooo excited. "Ever After" is already playing in my head. (As well as "No One is Alone" which always makes me teary-eyed everytime I listen to it.) What an amazing cast! Di kaya masakit sa ulo na pagsamahin ang mga 'to? Any inside info? All big names!! Im curious tuloy sa behind the scenes rehearsals nito.


gibbs cadiz said...

RODY! sondheim fan ka din? that's good to know. ako, i'm more into his earlier stuff--company, follies, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. among the latter shows, i find passion the most gorgeous. :)

ISSA, hehe, enjoy the show! amazing cast indeed, no? i'll keep my ears open for inside chismis. :)

Anonymous said...

ay, si tita menchu! lol


Anonymous said...

Saw Gibbs last Saturday night and he was the first to give a standing ovation. I hope more people can get to watch the amazing show.

Amiel said...

Thanks so very much for including the wallpapers in this post. I sure got a kick for seeing my name too. I laughed when you said I'm from NVC because I'm not exactly a company member (yet) nor an employee. However, I am always very happy to work with this professional theater group and am proud to be part of this great Sondheim material. It's also an honor understudying Tito Tommy.

Anonymous said...

hi po. Saw "into the woods" last friday. at the dinner after the show, my friend stopped me from enumerating which part of the musical i loved best, as i was practically enumerating the whole cast. hihi... my mom was telling me the day after to pull myself together coz i was "frothing in the mouth" so i stopped myself muna from commenting here. what can i say, the whole musical drew me in, and shook my rankings of "favorite songheim musicals." my favorite baker moment was "no one is alone" where michael williams really shone, vocally. There was a lump in my throat, and I had to stop myself from bawling.

i think mr.williams was perfectly cast than chip zien. cathy azanza shone so bright. though i have seen her in several plays before, i think i have re-discovered her here and can't wait to see her in more great roles in the future. menchu was pitch perfect, a well tempered performance.she was funny, she was amazing!!! especially when, after her "moment in the woods" with the prince charming, she said, "What was that!" mr. abuel certainly sealed a personalized interpretation and made me appreciate "No More" more than i have before. And Joaqui, OH MY GOD!!! I am so in love. hihihi... his star shone the brightest. not only was he so cute, he had the vocal and acting chops, what a "complete package". when he asked later, "who would take care of me", i was ready to jump from my seat and volunteer...hihi... and Julia as little red. this child has the voice of a lark. The roles of jack and little red had to work or the play would have faltered, and worked it did! even the dancings worked so beautifully. my god! i was so drawn to this musical like i have never been in a long time. my date who was prepared to snooze in the middle of the play was at the edge of his seat... hihi...i think ive found a theater convert!!! my mom and siblings will be watching next weekend due to my mouth-frothing.... and guess what po, i shook the hands of the director, Rito Asilo (i was so shocked, he was so young pa pala - is he the same who writes amazing reviews in PDI?, and i was honored to shake the hands of the man who made this whole musical such a delight!! Some caucasians were asking him for a photo op at nakisingit talaga ako!! Kapalmuks talaga. hihi,,, i didn't care, i wanted so badly to congratulate the person who made Into The Woods a very new, very vibrant, very enthralling musical. But he wouldnt autograph my programme, kainis. hihi...) i am so sorry if i go on and on. i guess, i havent settled back from my ecstatic ramblings. Sana my mom will pay for an extra ticket. I wanna watch it again next week too. ill be a good girl this week. i hope that ploy works.

and i am still wondering how the rehearsals of this went knowing they had an amazing cast. from the way it looks, mukhang everyone got along so well together, or it wouldnt have come out THAT spectacular. Mr. Amiel, insider's view naman po. chismosa talaga ako. ayyy!!! Congrats na rin po kay Ms Monique Wilson and Ms. Abueva. I heard they flew in from London to catch the show like a week before the show opened. I heard Ms. Abueva chat with someone kasi sa aisle. i wasn't eavesdropping ha. :-> hay grabe. salamat po sa space. i needed to vent my ebullient ramblings. may bonus pa. i saw one of my favorite actors, cute pala ni mr. noni buencamino in person. hihi...kasama ata nya yung wife and kids... tsaka i think mr joel trinidad was there too. mukhang siya yung kalbo? ba't kaya wala na sya sa new voice shows, dati lagi sya present ah. anyway, salamat po uli.


Anonymous said...

Sorry po for cluttering the comment space. Haba pala nung comment ko. I do tend to embarass myself when i am excited. sorry po.


Anonymous said...

Issa here again po. I just think its a social injustice NOT to mention Ms. Maramara as the narrator!!!! She was my sister's teacher in a ______. Ive seen her before in Vagina Monologues, the one translated by Mr. Rito Asilo too. Picking her instead of a male emcee was a stroke of GENIUS. I know kc for a fact that NVC daw is rather strict and faithful to a copywright material kaya I was surprised with the decision to cast Ms. Maramara. It made the material current (not "dated") and exciting, as Ms. Maramara was. She was emphatic, charming, and VERY CLEAR like a storyteller SHOULD BE! I also noticed they had exercised minor liberties like not having Joaqui use a red wig for its original character's "carrot-top". They made the play very relevant, current nga! Even the wicked step mum and sisters were a JOY to behold!! And i am still trying my best to sing Rapunzel's recurrent tune...with not much success....hihi...I was so bowled over feeling I was watching a NEW MUSICAL altogether. Ibang iba sa nakaugalian ko na na Into The Woods. Galing galing talaga ng New Voice. I hope to see more of Joaqui and Cathy and Menchu in future NVC plays ---please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mukha kasing elitist yung grupo nila and its not easy to penetrate for other actors; and with good reason, coz they only get the very best!!!!!! sipseppppppp!!!! Pengeng ticket!!!! hihi

Rito said...

Hi Gibbs. Rito here. Thanks for letting me know about the comments here and many thanks for the ITW plugs. Thank you also for doing what you did after last Saturday’s show. Appreciate it.

Rody, let me know when you’re back in town. Manood ka if you want, and bring a date.

Issa, you silly, sweet girl. Which one were you? The cast is a tight-knit group. They are supportive of one another. In fact, many of them arrive about two hours before call time just to chat and eat (Tommy, who’s a dear friend, is sometimes three hours too early. He shows up even when he’s not needed), they are that close.

Rehearsals were tiring but never tense because the cast respected one another, and they followed New Voice’s rules (and there are quite a number). These actors are as nice and open-minded as they are passionate about their craft. Yes, there are many wonderful behind-the-scene stories about how rehearsals went. And thank you for the kind words, Issa.

Oh, and yes, Gibbs knows the answers to some of your questions. Haha. Say hi if you watch again.

Anonymous said...

With regards to the comment of Michael Williams better than Chip Zien. with all due respect to Michael, the cast of ITW with bernadette peters was astoundingly great. ITW Phils cast is also great. They shouldn't be compared because they both brought justice to their respective roles.

Anonymous said...

The cast was perfect except for Jack's mother. I thought she was robotic, like she was narrating for Batibot. She can't sing too well either. jamie wilson was a great actor but not too well a singer too 9w all due respect). sorry, but he was really pitchy in the "agony" act. The other prince (john) was superb.

Amiel said...

Nice to see a post from Rito...

Issa, Yup it is quite usual for casts of NVC productions to be really tight-knit. Most of us end up being friends even long after the last performance of the shows and by the looks of it, it will be the same for the cast of ITW.

PLUS: You can watch a teaser of the show here.... OR

Anonymous said...

Eeeekkkkk!!!!!!! (fell off my chair!) Thanks po for Mr. Rito Asilo’s reply.

As to the comment re: not comparing, just coz both Broadway and Manila productions worked shouldn’t stop people from using their discerning capacity to compare performances, casting of actors. Baket???!!! If YOU were familiar at all with the Bernadette Peters version, SHOULD it STOP me from trying to make an intelligent comparison between the two? I did pay for my ticket so I guess I have the license to compare if I want to. Just because 2 productions were both great shouldn’t dumb me down from making analytical comparisons!

First, Mr. Williams has the physical criteria down pat. He was tall of stature and had the bearing of a lead, that was the baker’s part. He was sensitive and every line worked. Vocally, his “No More”, probably aided by the way Tommy Abuel “dropped” and enunciated his lines, was more heart breaking, especially when the mysterious man left the stage, when the song soared! Zien and Gleason’s baker’s wife (who was amazing kaya nga she won the Tony di ba?) was NOT a perfect pair. On the other hand, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Williams had better chemistry (probably coz they have been working together all these years) not to mention that they were PHYSICALLY well-paired! I liked Chip Zien. I am just saying that after having seen both productions (as well as Repertory’s early production of ITW in the 1990s), Mr. Williams was better cast as the baker. This doesn’t in any way mean that I found Mr. Zien horrible.

I had been lucky to watch Miss Saigon in the Westend years and years ago when I was 12, and not a few years back, I made sure I watched Lea perform Kim here in Manila. Ubusan ng allowance baga (I remembered). Hihi…

I remembered, after the show, when my friends asked me “is it really better than the one you saw in London?” “Was Lea better than (I think it was Joanna Ampil’s Kim in London)?” Should I have stopped myself from comparing and say, “STOP there, oh dear friends! I shouldn’t compare the two coz I enjoyed both productions and both worked!!! I am henceforth not of liberty to draw parallelism, as it would be a grievous sin!!! I cannot compare eh, coz my brain stops working coz I loved both productions! Hihihi….

I think comparison of 2 great productions is of purely didactic nature; it is a healthy exercise of ones brain cells. And it is also a normal topic of discussion among friends if THE MANILA PRODUCTION has indeed done justice to a spectacular musical like Sondheim’s “Into The Woods”! (OF COURSE IT DID!!!!)Pano ko sasagutin yan if I wont compare it from a previously staged production?

Isn’t it way better to compare SIMILAR MUSICALS from different productions (Broadway vs Manila – or shouldn’t I dare at all?) than, say, “NVC’s Into The Woods” vs. “Rep’s Fiddler on the Roof”? Or is there any other rule which I should know about comparisons of musicals?(Am I now an outlaw for comparing? LOL)

As to the inclusion of Ms. Mads Nicolas in the largely English-theatre veteran cast of ITW, it was a pleasant surprise to find a Pilipino-theater royalty in this cast. I was thrilled!!! She brought earthiness to the production kaya mas feel ko ang mother-son relationship nila ni Jack. I hardly remember Jack’s mother in the Broadway version, but Ms. Nicolas made great use of her part that I was sobbing when….errr…cant say. Hihi… It probably would have worked less if they got another English-twanged (and forgettable) actress but Ms. Nicolas had a very sincere performance, and it was a delight to see this kind of brilliance see light in an English theater production. The other “queens” of tagalog-theater Irma Adlawan and Shamaine Buencamino were in the audience when I watched. These queens are FINALLY testing the waters of the English theater, thanks to Ms. Nicolas' brave foray in ITW... Isn’t that just EXCITING???

Sana po, si Miss Irma Adlawan naman sa next NVC production. Yung silang dalawa ni Ms. Monique Wilson ang mag banggaan on stage para masaya. Diva to diva! Sabunutan to the max while speaking in the Queen’s language!!!!! Ayyyyy!!!!!!!!! Masaya! Congrats, Miss Mads!!! GREAT Cross-over po!!!! I loved Jack's mother - lalo na ang cute ng Jack mo!!!! ;->

Thanks po, Mr.Amiel. Im thrilled!


Rody said...

gibbs! Of course i'm a stephen sondheim fan! i also loved company when i saw a production of it in chicago. And of course Passion! How could I have forgotten. Guaranteed Five handkerchiefs! I so terribly identify with the lead!!! In fact i think I am she in denims and... hay im excited to watch na.

rito! maraming maraming maraming salamat! Will definitely take the tickets! See you!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Issa, Issa.
You're comments are saying a lot about you.

Anonymous said...

OMG. This Issa girl should get her own blog! She's like a gatling gun.

Anonymous said...

hi po, mr/ms anonymous, thanks. i would rather that my comments say a lot about me than of another person. as gibbs would say, "kerie naman devah?" hihi... cge, will start a blog site. i have rants a kilometer long about the 2 plays ive seen over the weekend, fiddler and dogeaters. better yet wag na lang, i dont want naman to discourage people from paying good money for a night at the theater. good luck na lang sa manonood.

lotsa luv,


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