Thursday, September 04, 2008

There is nothing like these dames


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

13 comments:

TheBachelorGirl said...

Splendidly said... If you were in Meralco last night, sorry I wasn't able to say hi. And, sayang, I could have shown you the Rep Phils West Side Story poster my sister unearthed from her treasured possessions. See you!

White said...

that is an awesome picture of the 3 musical icons!

i hope i could watch West Side Story at Meralco. in fact, i will. :)

thanks for this post.

Keitaro Hanazawa said...

Hi Gibbs! Thank you for posting this! I didn't know na si Rep. Hontiveros eh thespian din pala when she was a kid. Galing, galing, galing talaga ng Pinoy when it comes to theater.

I'm so excited about West Side! :)

Anonymous said...

I really find interesting the picture of the 3 ladies, the director and the two marias. gosh, in terms of acting and singing, the director (menchu) would give the two young ladies a run for their money. she is a great singer-actress. saw her once in Into the Woods as the baker's wife. would have been interested to see her as the witch though... she is quite an intelligent actress. i am definitely curious to see her work as a director. maiden effort niya ito hindi ba. wish her the best of luck

Anonymous said...

the wss group shot looks like a bad office theme party

RentHead said...

"gosh, in terms of acting and singing, the director (menchu) would give the two young ladies a run for their money" <---absolutely! 'saw her as Aldonsa in Man of La Mancha and really, no one could be better than her!

Anonymous said...

I wrote the comment with "run for your money thing" ---> menchu is SO TALENTED. and so intelligent. i hope i see her performing her dream roles, like "Dot" in Sunday in the Park, and "Mrs Lovett" in Sweeney Todd. Paging producers out there, like Atlantis, Actor's Actor, and Li'l Boy Production, please develop these materials for Menchu. She RICHLY deserves them, and can definitely act the parts out. she is WORLD CLASS (case in point: last five years)

Anonymous said...

I love the theater. I also love Menchu, and I was so happy to hear Joanna Ampil came home to play Maria.

My family watched West Side Story last night and their reaction was, "Where is Bibot when we need her," referring of course to the late Zenaida Amador. They also said the musical had potential but it needs to be more polished, especially the dancing. I don't know if there is anything they can do at this point. Joanna's beautiful voice and wide range was a highlight despite not having a full song on her own.

What did you think of the show?

Anonymous said...

For the person who left the comment "My family watched West Side Story last night and their reaction was, "Where is Bibot when we need her,..." --> well bibot is long gone now. and i think even she would be happy to learn that menchu is growing as an artist and expanding her horizon. Yup, there might be problems in the production, but please, not all of bibot's work are picture perfect and original. menchu definitely has potentials, and she can be successful as a director as well if she chooses to pursue that path... so, bibot is long gone now, we should just try to see other directors work and prove their stuff. thank you.

Anonymous said...

"not all of bibot's work are picture perfect and original."

They were looking for the polished production that they have seen with Rep under Bibot.

This is not to diss Menchu. This is a comment on the production. Why was the dancing so bad, especially in the Somewhere dream sequence? Why was the dress of Joanna unflattering and anachronistic?

Why was the I'm sure Menchu will be mature enough to listen the comments without feeling this comment is not allowing her to "prove her stuff."

Menchu is a great performer. No local actress could come remotely close to her performances as Evita and Fantine (Les Mis). We hope her the best in her directorial and other pursuits.

Anonymous said...

"This is not to diss Menchu. This is a comment on the production. Why was the dancing so bad, especially in the Somewhere dream sequence? Why was the dress of Joanna unflattering and anachronistic?" --> yup i know the purpose is not to diss Menchu. But she is the director. Based on what i saw, the production has flaws. But taking in mind that it is her first work, not bad at all.

"Why was the I'm sure Menchu will be mature enough to listen the comments without feeling this comment is not allowing her to "prove her stuff."" --> i know she would definitely listen. I spoke with her before, she is quite intelligent. Can that intelligence be translated to good directing...well the production shows, though it is not as "polished" as Bibot's direction, there is promise if she choose to continue directing.

"Menchu is a great performer. No local actress could come remotely close to her performances as Evita and Fantine (Les Mis). We hope her the best in her directorial and other pursuits." This is quite obvious and i really agree. I just hope other actors who keep on complaining about the state of theater follow menchu's lead. take the plunge. yung iba kasi reklamo ng reklamo sa direction ng iba, eh hindi naman nila kayang magdirect.

Go Menchu. For a maiden directorial work, not bad at all.

and please, wag nang iinvoke ang pangalan ni bibot or iyong "polished" work ng ibang theater companies. let us judge the play based on its own merits.

fyhmd said...

Just sharing my own review of the WSS Opening Night last night: http://3xhcch.multiply.com/reviews/item/130

gibbs cadiz said...

hi LORNA, thanks much and i know you're having a splendid time with the WSS run. best of luck! :)

WHITE, go! :)

KEITARO, o, have you watched na? :)

ANONYMOUS, yes, menchu is a treasure hereabouts. :)

RENTHEAD, you saw that, too, huh? i thought menchu's aldonza/dulcinea was a career highlight. :)

FRED, thank you for sharing with us your thoughtful review. :)

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