The enduring Broadway hit West Side Story is currently being staged at the Theatre at Solaire until August 27.
An all-American cast, many of whom come direct from Broadway, depict two enemy street gangs fighting it out in 1950s New York: the Jets and the Sharks (composed of Puerto Rican immigrants).
Among them, a Jet named Tony, and Maria, sister to the leader of the Sharks, fall in love.
Christian Bautista, who played the lead character Tony when the musical was staged in Manila in 2008, got the chance to record one of the popular songs from the play, “Tonight” with Jenna Burns, who plays Maria. He first met Jenna in early August.
“I went to Solaire Theatre right after one of her shows. She was in full ‘Maria’ wardrobe and makeup. We sang through “Tonight” without the dialogue. Mabilis lang, dalawang pasada, the musical director [Donald Chan] was there. He nodded, we were done.”
About Christian, Jenna says: “It was really fun, I hadn’t done anything like that, and it was a fun way to mix it up, to sing it with somebody different, somebody local,” she said of their recording at the Globe Iconic Store in BGC. “You get so used to what you do with someone, and obviously, we weren’t doing any blocking, we were just standing at the mic and singing, but still, it’s strange because I’ve done this show with Kevin [Hack, who plays ‘Tony’] and his understudy so many times that it’s like clockwork, you can do it with your eyes closed.”
“Singing with somebody different and blending your voices with somebody different is an adjustment, I had to think about it and I had to listen to what he’s singing and what he’s giving me so that I can balance off of that. It’s fun.”
Christian says: “I had to adjust my singing a bit because my singing has been pop, I had to adjust to singing with a theatrical voice. But since I also do that when I sing Broadway and jazz for corporate shows, okay naman. It brought me back to all those wonderful times with Joanna [Ampil] and Karylle.”
Jenna admired Christian’s talent: “He sounds so great on the music and definitely has the pop influence of his voice, but he can totally sing musical theater.”
JENNA’S AROUND-THE-WORLD TOUR. West Side Story is the story of star-crossed lovers from rival gangs and the effect that this has on their blossoming relationship.
“This version of the show is the most true to the original that you’re going to find. Our director and choreographer, Joey McKneely, and our music director, Donald Chan, both worked with the original creative teams, with Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein. They know their vision of the show, what they wanted,” Jenna says of the show that plays 6 days a week. “There is a reason the creators made the show the way that they did.”
“We’ve been so excited to come here from the beginning because we knew how into musical theater Filipino audiences are, and we had had people reach out to us on social media many months before we came here.”
Jenna, who leads the cast that has been touring different parts of Europe, Middle East, New Zealand, and now Asia since October 2016, says: “We’ve been to so many different cities and so many different countries, and people’s reaction to the show is always different. Everybody loves it, but sometimes people are not as vocal about their excitement or as active on social media. It’s always nice when we know people are really, really into it, and they wanna reach out to us and say hello.”
She says the audiences that have so far watched them at Solaire have been very appreciative and enthusiastic. “As we go out the stage door, we stop and sign and take pictures, and say ‘hello’ to fans. It’s been very fun, i love getting to interact with our audiences because this message is one that I feel is so important, I would love to see the faces of the people that we’re telling it to. I’m hoping and praying that we have had an impact on them in some way, even if they just enjoyed the music and the dancing, even if they weren’t in the mental and emotional space to process the deep stuff in the moment, that at least we entertained them.”
Because their schedule only permits them one day a week off, the Kansas native who has been performing since she was 8, says she has only been to places around Metro Manila.
But she says what she’s seen, she likes. She is also a foodie, so she enjoys going to restaurants here. “Any people I meet, I ask for recommendations of restaurants, places to check out. I’ve had Filipino food [but I don’t remember the names of the dishes]. I’m supposed to go to a restaurant called Sarsa, I’ve heard that that’s really good. We also went to a Japanese restaurant--I love sushi, and we just came from Tokyo before this--but this was different than any other sushi that I had had before. I’ve had pho [Vietnamese noodle soup] here. I never had that before.
"So I’m having all different kinds of cuisine from all over here in Manila. I’m so blown away. I definitely want to have more Filipino food since I’m here, but everything has been amazing too. That’s one of the things that’s been fun about this trip is getting to explore, eat my way around the world, trying in each country different things. And that’s what’s fun about getting to travel.”
After Manila, Jenna is looking forward to a two-week vacation, when she and some of the cast will go back home. “I’m going to stay at my parent’s house and completely veg out, lay low, do nothing, eat my parents’ food, and not worry about cooking.” But the tour isn’t over yet. After that, they go on to perform in Singapore, Bangkok, then Paris.
FUTURE PLANS. Christian, who has seen the show, says: “I love West Side Story! It’s a complete package: the songs are memorable--there are so many good songs that you will remember like 'Tonight,' 'Maria,' 'Somewhere,' 'A Boy Like That.' The story is like Romeo and Juliet; the dancing is excellent. Buti nalang Tony yung role ko before kasi di ko yata kaya mag-Riff or mag-Bernardo because of the dancing. It will stand the test of time. It has a magic to it. It’s a universal story.”
Despite the story having been written in a different century, Christian observes: “Up to now, we still have these kinds of problems. This will also be a reminder about the negativity of racism. We should welcome our differences. We should work together. We will not agree, definitely, it’s impossible to agree 100%, but let’s find ways to carry each other. Like the last scene, the rival gangs, the Sharks and The Jets come together even though they hated each other, but they worked together. If that’s the only thing the audience gets from watching this musical, then it has done its job.”
Christian has been busy, having released two singles: “Kapit” and “Huling Harana.” He is also finishing his album that will be out in September. He also told PEP that he will join a European tour at the end of the year for Filipino communities, with Sam Concepcion, Dulce, and Nanette Inventor.