Gian Magdangal is back in the Philippines after working for three years at Hong Kong Disneyland and Universal Studios Osaka.
“I went straight into rehearsals,” says the 35-year-old actor about his comeback project titled Disney’s Newsies. Produced by Globe Live and 9Works Theatrical, this musical will have weekend shows from July 7 to 30, 2017 at the Globe Iconic BGC Amphitheater.
Gian portrays the lead role of Jack Kelly in this musical about the New York City newsboy strike of 1899.
To prepare for his role, Gian said: “I’m reading more about the history of the 1899 New York. What happened in America at that time. How it was to be an immigrant in America. I’ve been watching movies starring Robert de Niro, like Once Upon A TIme in America. And I’ve been revisiting my youth because I have to be fit for this musical.”
STAGING A DISNEY SHOW. Newsies, which is about the newsboys’ strike in New York City that challenged the mighty press industry, is based on the 1992 movie of the same title. The Manila staging features a lot of dancing and acrobatics from a predominantly male cast.
In 1899, publishing titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raised distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack finds a cause to fight for and rallies newsies from across the city to strike for what’s right.
In fact, according to Joe Caliro, executive producer of Globe Live: “[Representatives of] Disney were in town for another project we were working on, and when they saw the set for American Idiot, they said: ‘Oh my god, we have a perfect show for this space!’ [We had the chance] to have the honor of producing a Disney show in the Philippines when it’s really hard to get a license to do a Disney property. But we realized how difficult this show is, so we didn’t say ‘yes’ immediately.
“It’s one of the most difficult shows to do because of the nature of the casting, the nature of the dancing. It’s a triple threat show: you’ve got to sing, act, and dance.” After careful consideration and consultation with 9Works Theatrical’s Robbie Guevara, the show’s director, and PJ Rebullida, the choreographer, they finally made the commitment.
“The staging was unquestionable. We can do it. But it just needed more requirements than normal. Normally, it takes 8 weeks to put up a show. [We had to add] 6 to 8 more weeks of training,” Robbie says. To prepare the cast for the show, they conceptualized “Training Ground,” an intensive training in dancing, singing, and acting for the ensemble.
POUNDING THE “TRAINING GROUND.” The online show Training Ground: Newsies follows the search for the members of the cast, from online video auditions (they received a total of close to 500), to dance auditions, to the revelation of the members of the cast. The series also follows the grueling rehearsals the cast have had to undergo in preparation for the show. They had vocal training as an ensemble and one-on-one sessions with a vocal coach, as well as training in ballet, jazz, modern dance, and tap dance.
According to Robbie: “I don’t want [the choreography to be] clean ballet or clean modern because these are streetchildren. The only way to find the middle ground is to have a mixture of all those dance styles, reflected in all the dances. It’s actually working because nobody sticks out, nobody stands out, nobody is exceptionally better than another person when it comes to a particular dance.”
If you’ve seen a performance of Newsies in the U.S., you’ll be surprised to see the staging in Manila because, though the story is set in New York, the sets, costumes, choreography are all original Filipino concepts. Disney requires the production to think of original concepts and to submit those for clearance.
“You can imagine that Disney wants to control the property. They’ve approved the set, costumes, and the way we’ve done marketing,” Joe says.
“They were very impressed with the approach we’re taking with the set. They said that nobody else has been that innovative with the set.”
Robbie points out: “I’m proud of what we’ve achieved already because it’s very, very different from Broadway.”
For his part, Gian says of the ensemble performance: “It’s a well-rounded musical of young talents--and we haven’t seen that [in the Philippines] in a while: the high-testosterone performance of an all-boys ensemble singing, dancing, acting on a live stage with a Disney formula.”
Gian is happy to be back and looking forward to kickstarting his career here. “I’m looking forward to hopefully connect back into TV. I miss home. I want to contribute more to OPM, yun yung puso ng Pilipino and yung malapit sa puso ko.”