When In Manila, especially if you’re in Manila right now, the theater scene is alive and kicking. From 9 Works Theatrical’s recently concluded auditions, to the buzz on the CCP’s latest import, there are a myriad of opportunities to experience the allure of the stage. But one stage in particular promises a spectacle sure the capture the attention not just of the hardcore theater “geek,” but of the whole family. In just a few weeks, Resorts World Manila is set to premiere its most lavish musical yet–Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I.
Fresh off their coup with The Sound of Music–the multi-awarded production that was both the longest-running Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in Southeast Asia and the longest-running Filipino-helmed musical in the world–the creative minds at work in the Newport Performing Arts Theater were determined to find a worthy follow-up to the stunning, breathtaking setting of Austria with the Alps and the edelweiss. According to Colin Kirk, Vice President of Promotions for Resorts World, that follow-up had to be something “grand…majestic…palatial…”
Voila! The King and I.
Featuring a dramatic (yet still relatable–Thai culture is, in many ways, like our own) setting, a timeless family story, and classic songs such as the ever-popular Getting To Know You, The King and I was the perfect candidate for Newport Performing Arts Theater’s next box office hit. After rigorous auditions–in which yours truly actually tried her hand, but failed miserably, at becoming Tuptim–an all-star cast of theater greats were assembled, helmed by legendary director Freddie Santos and starring, as Anna and King Mongkut respectively, Monique Wilson and Leo Tavarro Valdez.
Despite my disastrous audition (which was so bad it would be unsurprising if I refused to show my face at the NPAT (Newport Performing Arts Theater) again), I am still extremely excited to see what wonders of Siam will be on display in The King and I, so when I got an invitation to attend one of the exclusive press previews, I jumped at the opportunity to be one of the lucky few who got to sit front and center–front row, VIP seats!–and see for myself a taste of the wonders that were in store for the September 15 premiere.
The performance was a “cutting”–a mashup or series of excerpts–of some of the favorite numbers from The King and I. The first was, of course, the presentation of the royal children (“of only the wives who are in favor with the King, of which there are currently very few”), followed by that Broadway standard: Getting To Know You.
Not only was the number itself–sung by Monique Wilson’s alternate, the amazing Shiela Valderrama (fresh off her run as Elsa Shraeder in RWM‘s The Sound of Music)–even more catchy than I’d remembered it (but then again, I’d only seen the TV version of the musical), but from the sets to the lights to the costumes, I was more than blown away. The costumes especially grabbed my attention, but then again, that was no surprise! Designed by master couturier Rajo Laurel, they were created from materials imported direct from Thailand. This production, too, was full-circle for the magnificent Mr. Laurel, who acted as one of the King’s children in a previous production of The King and I, treading the boards alongside greats such as Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Raymond Lauchengco, and Lea Salonga.
From the cheerful atmosphere of the Palace schoolroom, the mood immediately shifted to one of heartwrenching drama as Gina Respall, who plays the ever-loyal Lady Thiang, chief wife of King Mongkut, sang her declaration of love for her less-than-perfect husband: Something Wonderful.
I’d never actually heard this before–I’d probably skipped over it when watching the movie as a kid–but hearing it now gave me goosebumps. More than just a song about a long-suffering wife whose devotion to her husband is deserving of awards, it is a stunning, musical example of what true love is like: loving a person because of and in spite of who they are and what they do. I admit I got more than a little weepy at this point.
After Lady Thiang’s powerful declaration of love came that of Tuptim, King Mongkut’s newest wife, for her Burmese escort, Lun Tha. Tanya Manalang made for a beautiful Burmese princess, and Floyd Tena a dreamy scholar-lover. Their performance of I Have Dreamed was both optimistic and ominous–could these two really manage to find happiness with each other, or would the King prove too big an obstacle?
One word: kilig. The chemistry between Tuptim and Lun Tha was palpable and electrifying, deeper than the “PBB Teens” sort of romance that we usually see. I was left breathless and feeling almost voyeuristic, having been allowed to glimpse what is essentially a private moment between lovers.
Finally, as a grand finalé, Shiela Valderrama and Leo Tavarro Valdez once again took the stage to perform another The King and I favorite: Shall We Dance. A lighthearted and adorable number, it gained a further liveliness from the actors’ performances, not to mention the piece de resistance of Anna’s grand ballgown with its swirling skirts!
The preview seemed too short–I wanted to see more, which is a sign of a successful teaser and definitely an omen of a stunning performance. From the sets to the props to the wardrobe and tech, everything was absolutely perfect–light and airy, yet dramatic and grand and heartwrenching, and at the heart, a beautiful, multilayered love story.
And all this from the previews alone!
As if getting to see The King and I previews in the very front row were not enough, the promotions team of RWM treated us lucky members of the press (and special guests) to a lunch at Café Republiq, the chic bistro on the floor below Resorts World’s popular nightclub.
The food was, unsurprisingly, delicious, but what was even more of a treat was getting to meet some of the cast and crew up close and personal! As I was lining up for the buffet, I managed to spot Tanya Manalang and Floyd Tena, catching lunch. They gamely posed for photographs, as good-looking together offstage as they are on.
As if getting to meet Tuptim and Lun Tha were not enough, I was able to get an audience with The King himself, Leo Tavarro Valdez. Tongue-tied, I only just managed to ask for a photo, which he posed for with regal dignity.
But even that was no match for meeting the real King of the show–Director Freddie Santos himself! He was happy to answer my questions about the show, from the story (It is, according to him, about love in its many and purest forms, without the sensationalism of Hollywood’s ideas of “romance.”) to what drew him to the show (“…a King trying to preserve national identity while interacting with the modern world–definitely a story for our time.”), to nuances of production and performance.
What really hit me, however, was his answer to my question about what he wanted audiences most to take away from The King and I. Amongst the many forms of love in the show, Direk Freddie hoped that “A love for country and culture, just as what King Mongkut had for his kingdom” would leave a lasting imprint on audiences’ hearts.
From the beautiful songs to the solid story to the timeless lessons to be learned, The King and I is definitely a spectacle with true substance, worth watching by the whole family. So When In Manila, and looking for a show that will both entertain and touch, why not catch Resorts World Manila’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, premiering September 15, 2012 at the Newport Performing Arts Theater!
Tickets are available Resorts World Manila Box Office and at all TicketWorld outlets. For available showtimes, visit www.rwmanila.com or call the Tourist/Visitor Hotline of Resorts World Manila at (632) 836-6333.