Lea Salonga visits the cast of West Side Story in rehearsals, and you get this remarkable picture: Joanna Ampil, Lea and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo in one frame.
Consider the shared destinies of these musical-theater royalty. Lea and Menchu have been lifelong friends and colleagues, going back to their early training in Repertory Philippines. In 1980, Lea had made a big splash in the musical Annie. Her next outing, within the same year, was The Sound of Music, where she and Menchu played two of Captain Von Trapp's seven children, along with Monique Wilson (10), Raymond Lauchengco (14), Javier Arriaga (12), Angela Adams (5) and Risa Hontiveros (14, now the party-list congresswoman).
Menchu, the musical's Liesl, was 17, Lea 9. The next year, Rep would stage West Side Story, with Menchu playing Maria and Juno Henares filling the part of Anita. Audie Gemora was Riff.
At 18, Lea rendezvoused with international musical-theater history when she was plucked to headline a new West End production called Miss Saigon. Monique also played the part, as would many Filipina actresses down the line, including, some years later, a 17-year-old girl named Joanna Ampil.
After playing Kim, Lea would again break ground by becoming the first Asian to play Eponine in the Broadway production of Les Miserables. Then, with greater maturity in tow, she went on to tackle Fantine, also in New York.
From Kim to Eponine to Fantine--it was a path that Joanna would, in time, replicate in London. The similarities didn't end there: In Miss Saigon's original London cast album, Lea sang Kim. The complete symphonic recording had Joanna doing the honors.
When Miss Saigon finally came to Manila in the year 2000, Lea had the chance to recreate her signature role before local audiences. The part of Ellen, the American GI's wife, went primarily to a Caucasian actress. But for 14 performances, at least, she was played by an old friend--Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo.
By this time, with a thick resume of performances at the Repertory lot that had consistently showcased her talent and versatility in some of the most coveted female roles in musical theater, Menchu had become one of the country's most accomplished musical-theater artists--in fact, the “First Lady of Philippine Musical Theater,” as many were now calling her.
September 2008. Menchu finds herself deep into the restaging of the Sondheim-Bernstein musical--no longer as Maria, but as its director. Audie Gemora, Rep's one-time Riff, is now producer of the show for his theater company Stages.
For Maria, he decides to get two actresses: the pop-singer Karylle, returning to musical theater after her debut in Trumpets' The Little Mermaid some years back, and the Filipina actress who's just wrapped up an acclaimed stint as Fantine in London's Les Miz: Joanna Ampil.
“Joanna is to the West End what Lea Salonga is to Broadway,” says Audie. This is the first time Manila will see the West End sensation in a local production. Quite serendipitously, she is being being directed by the same actress who played Maria nearly three decades ago, and who is, with this production, also making her debut as a solo director (Menchu co-directed the musical Children's Letters to God with Bart Guingona last year).
That's why Lea dropped by that afternoon: to say hello and lend her support to theater friends and colleagues. And that's how three of the country's greatest musical-theater artists ended up in one picture, thanks to Girlie Rodis who took the momentous shot.
Simple photo, but what a story behind it.
PLUS: Then and now.
The Von Trapp children in Rep's 1980 The Sound of Music (from left): Lea Salonga, Raymond Lauchengco, Angela Adams, Menchu Lauchengco, Risa Hontiveros (back), Javier Arriaga and Monique Wilson
Menchu Lauchengco Yulo as Maria and Juno Henares as Anita in Rep's 1981 West Side Story
Menchu with her two Marias, Karylle and Joanna Ampil
With the lead cast of Stages' West Side Story (clockwise, standing): Gian Magdangal, Marielle Alonzo, Christian Bautista, Karylle, Rowena Vilar, Jake Macapagal, producer Audie Gemora, Joanna Ampil and Jeff Singson