Atlantis Productions stages Duncan Sheik's 'Spring Awakening' musical in Manila

Spring awakening in Manila
By Walter Ang
September 17, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Atlantis Productions is staging Tony Award winning musical "Spring Awakening" this September. This rock musical, featuring the music of Duncan Sheik, is an adaptation of the controversial 1891 German play of the same title by Frank Wedekind. It went through seven years of development, finally debuting Off-Broadway, and eventually winning four Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical, and eight Tony awards, including Best Musical.

Set in late-nineteenth century Germany, it chronicles the challenges faced by star-crossed young lovers Melchior Gabor and Wendla Bergman against a backdrop of sexual awakening. The original play was banned in Germany due to its portrayal of masturbation, abortion, rape, child abuse, and suicide.

"If your children watch TV shows like 'Gossip Girl' or 'One Tree Hill,' this musical is nothing. Those TV shows are actually worse!" says Cheska Inigo, who plays Female Adult Figure. Cheska started as a child actor with Repertory Philippines and moved on to film and television.

She plays five different roles in the musical. "I play a slew of mothers from supportive ones to ones that are negligent or in denial, but as a mother to three children myself, I want parents to give this musical a chance. The teenagers in this musical are not going through anything that we don't also have in our real lives. At least with a musical, audiences will see real people, and hopefully, that will bring the message home closer," she says.

With Cheska is The Dawn lead vocalist Jett Pangan who plays Male Adult Figure. Also portraying five different roles, Jett says, "I play roles that range from a loving and supporting father to a forbidding and abusive schoolmaster. Just like in the musical, there still exists a communication gap between the young and old in certain homes and communities. This musical is not just about adolescents yearning to learn about their sexuality, but also about themselves in general."

Both Cheska and Jett have experienced working in milieus that are iconic of youth culture. Cheska was immortalized in the movie "Bagets 2" along with Eula Valdez and Yayo Aguila while Jett's music with The Dawn has spoken to an entire generation of young people. That both are now parents and portraying roles that represent the "institution" is an ironic and funny situation that is not lost on them.

"It's surreal," says Jett with a laugh. "But while I was reading the script in preparation for our rehearsals, I realized I had to play a principal who is a real jerk and it made me remember my own days as a student. I became more conscious of how strict I am to my own kids."

Cheska adds, "I think parents in the audience will, just like me, have some sort of rude awakening. But it's an awakening in a good sense. When I was reading the role of a mother who was just so detached from what was going on in her daughter's life, I thought to myself, `This could possibly happen to me as a parent.' So it gave me a reminder to be constantly involved in my children's lives."

Concerns with the musical's subject matter aside, both actors enthuse about the music. "Duncan Sheik's music is great," says Jett. "I used to cover his songs with The Dawn and now I'm in a musical the he made."

"The music is beautiful!" says Cheska. "There is a range from hard core rock to bubble gum pop. The music is so emotional, it really carries you. In fact, one of the songs in the show, `My junk' is now my ringtone."

Both Cheska and Jett will be working with a young cast led by Joaquin Valdes as Melchior and Kelly Frances Lati as Wendla. Joaquin has been on the performing since he was just eleven years old and was recently seen in the musical "Into the Woods," while New York City native Kelly makes her professional Philippine theater debut. Kelly has been in musicals like "Pippin" and "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

"Spring Awakening" is part of Atlantis Productions' 10th Anniversary and is directed by Chari Arespacochaga. Chari has directed musicals like "Honk!," "Altar Boyz," and "Avenue Q." She's also served as Assistant Director for Bong Quintana at Pagcor's "Wanders" and "Flow."

An actress, choreographer and educator, Chari actually had a chance to watch the show Off-Broadway in New York City even before it won any awards. An usher did show up for work and Chari was offered to take the job in exchange for a free seat. "I left the theatre in a daze," she says. "I knew I wanted to direct this musical!"

She is collaborating with Rajo Laurel for costume design, Tuxqs Rutaquio for set design, Dexter Santos for choreography (both Tuxqs and Dexter were recently involved in another Wedekind play, "Lulu," as actor and director, respectively), Voltaire de Jesus for lights design, and Jojo Malferari for musical direction.

Spring Awakening runs from Sept. 25-Oct. 18, 2009 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. Call 892-7078 or 840-1187. Due to explicit content and some nudity, Parental Discretion is advised.

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