Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's one of the proudest moments in my career

By Bobby Garcia (The Philippine Star)
Original Article can be found HERE

MANILA, Philippines - I first heard of Next To Normal when I was casting Cinderella in New York on a blisteringly cold February day in 2008. It was playing Off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre which was right beside Telsey + Co, our casting office, on W 43rd Street. After a long casting day, I went to check it out. Although it was not yet in its final finished state, the show and the music lingered in my mind for weeks after. In 2009, it opened on Broadway with numerous dramatic and musical changes. I caught it during its first few months on Broadway and was blown away by the music, the story and its power. I knew then, that at some point in my career, I wanted to take on directing Next To Normal.

Luckily, soon after that, we were able to arrange for the rights to stage it in Manila, thanks to the wonderful guys at Music Theatre International, who have entrusted us with the most current musicals through the years. The Manila Production marks the first internationally licensed English language production of Next To Normal. The Australian production opens right after us. I knew, though, that staging Next To Normal did have numerous challenges. The first challenge would be to find a cast ready to take on the demands of Next To Normal.

Finding Next To Normal’s cast was both daunting and extremely easy. I already had a cast in mind to tackle the extremely demanding material. The question really was whether they would be up to the challenge and the reality of living with the emotional complexity of the show for months as we rehearsed and ran the show.

Who else but Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo could take on Diana, really? Menchu is one of Philippine Musical Theater’s great stars. She brings to each and every role a passion, a focus, and a truth that is unparalleled in musical theater in the country. She also possesses a fantastic voice that can scale the heights in either a thrilling belt or a sweet soprano.

It has been a joy working her to create a Diana unique to this production. This is Menchu’s fifth show with me, and each and every time it is a joy. Over the years, she has become a dear and trusted friend. I am also thrilled that Menchu has expanded her career to include directing and taking on the associate artistic director position at Repertory Philippines.

Repertory Philippines paved the road for those of us who work in English language musical theater in the country. Zeneida Amador and Baby Barredo are the pioneers who laid down the railroad tracks for us to take our journey on. All of us who have followed in their footsteps, have merely built the trains.

Now, as the torch is passed on to a new generation, it is in the best of hands with Menchu there. I can’t wait for audiences to see Menchu’s emotionally raw and soul searching performance as Diana in Next To Normal. It is a performance that captures the highs and lows of Diana’s turbulent mind, and Menchu alternates between electrifying and devastating.

It is the work of a musical theater actress at her prime.

I am also thrilled that we produced Menchu’s first CD, which will be released on the opening night of Next To Normal. Released by Sony Music, the CD titled Light will feature seven songs from Menchu’s musical theater past and present. It will also feature two songs from Next To Normal along with the entire original Manila cast. The CD will be available at the theater throughout the run of Next To Normal. I believe the album is a first in the country, an album by a musical  theater star singing strictly musical theater songs.Thank you Sony Music for believing in this project.

I first met Jett Pangan when he auditioned for Rent in 1999. Although we wanted him for the show, schedules didn’t allow it to happen. But lucky for me, the Gods would smile upon me a few years later when I was doing another Jonathan Larson musical tick, tick… boom!

This time, Jett was available to do the show. And he was a revelation as Jon. Jett is a natural on stage. Not only does he possess one of the finest male voices of our singers in Manila, but he is also a sensitive and truthful actor. Next To Normal  marks Jett’s ninth show with Atlantis.

He has performed with us almost every year. He has become family to us. And we are blessed to have him in our lives and in our shows. After yesterday’s run through, I can safely say that audiences are going to be extremely surprised by Jett’s versatility. He is a rock star of course, but he is also a brilliant actor.

Felix Rivera, Bea Garcia and Jake Macapagal represent the finest of musical theater talent in our shores. Jake has performed in many shows with us in the past and has also shared his musical gifts with audiences in Germany, where he performed in Miss Saigon for many years.

He most recently did an excellent job as Count Malcolm in A  Little Night Music,  both in Manila and Singapore. He is one of the kindest, most genuine people I know. And it shows on stage when he performs. Jake is a generous performer, never ever stealing the spotlight from his co-actors.

Felix, I can say, has grown up a lot in the three years he has been working with us. In those three years he took on lead and featured roles in Avenue Q, Spelling Bee, Legally Blonde and A Little Night Music. And with every show, he has improved his skills.

He is one of the most naturally gifted performers I have worked with, and the dedication he has to his craft becomes more evident with every role he takes on. He is destined to take on many of the finest roles in musical theater. Bea has worked with us in Hairspray, Spring Awakening, Xanadu and A Little Night Music. And, no doubt, this is only the beginning of many great things for her. She brings passion and focus that is sometimes lost amongst her generation of actors. Never one to settle for good enough, Bea continues to improve her skills and I think it shows in Next To Normal. I suspect many people will find her Natalie to be a revelation of sorts.

Markki makes his stage debut in Next To Normal, and I couldn’t be happier that musical theater has found a new rising star. Casting Henry was perhaps the most difficult challenge we had. We went through many performers before I called Mariole Alberto at Star Magic and asked her if there was anyone she wanted to send our way as we were stuck without a Henry. She sent Markki to audition for us, and immediately after he sang and read his scenes I knew we found our Henry. Markki brings an honest and sincerity to the role that is so refreshing to see.

Equipped with a wonderful singing voice, Markki is also an extremely instinctive actor. This is just the first of many musical theater roles for Markki, whom I suspect will become one of the great leading men in Philippine Musical Theater.

Theater is a collaborative medium, and I wouldn’t have been able to stage the show without the amazing creative team that surrounds me. They consist of but are not limited to choreographer Chari Arespacochaga, set designer Lex Marcos, lighting designer Shoko Matsumoto, costume designer Twinkle Zamora, musical director Ceejay Javier, vocal coach ManMan Angsico, stage manager Bernice Aspillaga Cañete and production manager extraordinaire Liza Camus. Blessed is an understatement to describe how I feel about the people I am surrounded by.

This has been one of the most rewarding rehearsal processes I have had in my career. The material is unparalleled in musical theater and the rehearsal room is filled each day with so much love and care for the show and for each other. I genuinely love each and every person in the room (which is actually quite rare for me!). And rehearsals have been an emotional rollercoaster for everyone in the room (just ask ManMan). Tears one second, laughter the next followed by headaches and migraines by the end of the day. But the rehearsal room is always, always filled with respect and love. I normally am very good about cutting the umbilical cord when a show has opened and I move on to the next one, but I suspect I will have a harder time of it with Next To Normal.

Next To Normal would never have come to Manila without the generous support of The Philippine Star, Business World, Portfolio, Studio 23, Lifestyle Network, Yoshinoya, Yellowcab Pizza, Superbowl, Burger King, Baang Coffee, Club Astoria Plaza, Loop Creative Dining, Corner Tree Café, Banana Leaf, MBC Radio, Crossover 105.1, Mellow 94.7, Hit Productions, Digipost, Media Magnet, Prime Recall Advertising and Services, MAC Cosmetics, Mandaue Foam, RCBC Plaza and the City of Makati and our loyal show and ticket buyers. Please write  down their names and support their businesses, as they are the ones who keep theater alive.

For those unfamiliar with Next To Normal, it is “an emotional powerhouse of a musical about a family trying to take care of themselves and of each other.”

It is the winner of three Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The crux of Next To Normal can be summed up in a lyric one of the characters sings in the finale, The price of love is loss. But still we pay. We love anyway.

Isn’t that the truth? I do hope you will join us when we open our doors on March 11. Next To Normal is one of the proudest moments I have had in my career, and I can’t wait to share this acclaimed and groundbreaking musical with all of you.
Catch Atlantis Productions' NEXT TO NORMAL
on March 19, 2011 / 2PM / Saturday / RCBC

Borgy Marzan (0922.888.5344)
Robert Marzan (0922.888.5348)
or Onay Sales (0918.536.2116)
 Seat Plan can be viewed here:

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