"West Side Story" restaged in Manila after 27 years

by Jocelyn Dimaculangan
Aug 25, 2008
West Side Story is topbilled by (from left) Joanna Ampil, Christian Bautista, and Karylle. This Broadway play will be staged at the Meralco Theater from September 5 to October 12, 2008. Click HERE to buy tickets to West Side Story.

Wearing a mustard yellow coat, "baston" pants, and shiny patent leather shoes, Christian Bautista looked like his fashion sense was still stuck in the 1950s. His leading ladies wore identical white dresses accented with a bright red ribbon at the waist. Karylle's hair was curled at the end while Joanna Ampil's black long tresses framed her face.

Last August 20, mall goers of TriNoma in Quezon City were treated to snippets of the play West Side Story at the mall's activity center. For avid theater goers, the restaging of the Broadway play has been long overdue.

This year's production of West Side Story won't be the first time that it will be performed in Manila but it does promise to be one of the most historic collaborations in the world of theater. This is the first time that GMA-7 star Karylle and ABS-CBN talent Christian Bautista will team up onstage as star-crossed lovers in West Side Story. Not only that, this also marks the first time that West End star Joanna Ampil will be performing for her native country under the guidance of first-time director Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo.

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This full-length musical will be staged at the Meralco Theater from September 5 to October 12, exactly 27 years after Filipinos first watched the play in 1981. This highly anticipated revival in Asia also precedes a new Broadway production in 2009.

Repertory Philippines is credited for the 1981 staging of West Side Story, wherein Ms. Yulo played the role of Maria. She was then paired with Cocoy Laurel who essayed the role of Tony. Audie Gemora, who is now West Side Story's executive producer, played the "Jets" gang leader Riff.

This year, STAGES presents 20 shows of the Broadway play, under the musical direction of Gerard Salonga, with the FILharmoniKA orchestra. The local production also stars pop artists and international thespians Rowena Vilar, Pam G, Jake Macapagal, Jeff Singson, and SOP mainstay Gian Magdangal.

When PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) asked Christian Bautista to describe how it was like to be a leading man to two ladies, he said, "Wow! I'm a very lucky man. It's great ‘cause I can really connect to both of them in such different levels. We help each other and we really have great chemistry."

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He later adds: "When you have two talented ladies like these, beautiful, talented, it's not hard at all!"

How does he describe both Marias? "Karylle is beautiful, she loves dancing, talagang siya ang pumipilit sa akin: ‘Christian, dance!' Si Joanna naman, she loves singing, classical music, siya naman ang nagi-inspire sa akin to sing."

NINE KISSING SCENES. According to Christian, he has nine kissing scenes with his leading lady (alternately played by Karylle and Joanna).

Karylle admits that, being a conservative person, she had difficulty doing the kissing scenes for the play. "Actually nahirapan talaga ako, uhm, you should have seen them copying me. Dati, sa Little Mermaid [her first theatrical play], wala namang kissing scene dun. Yung hug namin ganito kalayo [she demonstrates being a foot away from the other person]. Hug pa lang, ha!

"Pinagtatawanan nila ako. Minsan daw yung lips ko parang naninigas na...so sinabi ko magi-smile muna ako bago mag-kiss. So mga little things like that. It's more of...may ginagawa pala akong pangit panoorin so kino-correct nila ngayon sa rehearsals. Na-correct na naman kasi parang ang layo ko masyado."

The daughter of Zsa Zsa Padilla describes how they conduct rehearsals: "During rehearsals, binibigay niya [Joanna] lahat, kahit na nakakapagod. It's a very tiring, emotionally draining show. After our scenes, natutulog kami talaga sa sahig. Yung iyakan dito combined with the singing and the dancing, mapapagod ka talaga."

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SYNOPSIS. West Side Story transports the classic tale of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to the turbulent streets of the Upper West Side in 1950's New York City. Star-crossed lovers, Tony (Christian) and Maria (Karylle or Joanna), find themselves caught between the rival street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds, the "Jets," led by Riff (Magdangal), and the "Sharks," led by Bernardo (Macapagal or Singson). The young lovers' struggle to exist together in a world of violence, hate, and prejudice is one of the most heart-rending, relevant, and innovative musical masterpieces originally conceived for the stage by director and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

West Side Story highlights the many show-stopping numbers, and immortal songs of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, like "Somewhere," "Tonight," "One Hand, One Heart," "America," and "Something's Coming."

While the new Broadway production is said to present the "Sharks" speaking and singing in Spanish, Ms. Yulo says that the local production is staying true to what West Side Story was in 1957. It will re-create Jerome Robbins' choreography, delivering it as it was originally written.

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The director challenges her cast to come up with extremely organic characters though. "My actors attack their characters in a more real, more edgy manner as compared to the musical's movie version. I don't set rules and tell them what to do during rehearsals. I take it on how they give it," shares Yulo. "I don't expect Karylle's Maria will be like Joanna's, for instance. I don't make them copy each other, but I still make sure that there's not a great disparity in their performances."

West Side Story runs at Meralco Theater on Sept. 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, Oct. 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, and 12. For tickets, call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or STAGES at 818-1111 loc. 225. Ticket prices range from P500 to P1,200.

Click HERE to buy tickets to West Side Story.

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West Side Story is topbilled by (from left) Joanna Ampil, Christian Bautista, and Karylle. This Broadway play will be staged at the Meralco Theater from September 5 to October 12, 2008. Click HERE to buy tickets to West Side Story.
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