Rep stages Valentine musical comedy

Rep stages Valentine musical comedy
By Walter Ang
February 2, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Couples who want to do something more than the usual dinner-movie combo for their Valentine's date this year can consider catching Repertory Philippines' staging of "Romeo & Bernadette," a modern comedic twist on the Shakespeare classic "Romeo and Juliet."

"There's romance, it has kilig moments, it's a comedy, there's singing and dancing?all the stuff that we Filipinos love in a show," says Rep associate artistic director Joy Virata. "There will be a four-piece band that will play the musical's songs that are actually popular Italian tunes with adapted English lyrics and modern arrangements. Audiences may recognize the melodies since they've heard them used in many movies and television shows."

Audiences who usually stay away from Shakespeare needn't fear. There won't be any complicated old English words, Elizabethan corsets, or funny looking pointy shoes since the musical is set in Brooklyn, New York in the 1960s.

Project Runway Philippines season two finalist Santi Obcena is doing the costume design while Virata directs the show written by Emmy Award-winning Mark Saltzman. The world premiere staging of "Romeo & Bernadette" in the USA was nominated for seven Florida Carbonell Awards.

"In the original Shakespeare tragedy, Romeo and Juliet die in the end. In this one, it turns out that Romeo just took too much of a sleeping potion and ended up in a very long coma," says Virata. "He wakes up in the 20th century and sees a girl who looks like Juliet, but is actually Bernadette, daughter of disreputable, most feared mob chief Sal Penza."

To make sure the cast gets the accent of "Italian-Americans-from-Brooklyn" just right, Virata devoted two weeks of rehearsals just for accent work. "I simply googled `how to speak in an Italian accent!'" she says with a laugh. "I made them watch movies like `My Cousin Vinnie.' It helped a lot that we were able to cast Jim Paoleli, a returning Rep actor and a real Italian American who grew up in Brooklyn. He became our accent coach."

Virata is a veteran Rep actress and has done countless light romances and comedies, the most recent one being "Duets" this January, where she and co-star Miguel Faustmann played four different characters each.

"Because of the roles I've done, I feel like comedy is something I understand and, as a director, I can share that understanding with my actors," Virata says. "Farce is actually one of the hardest kinds of productions to do. Even though the situations are exaggerated for comic effect, actors still need to show a level of truth to make it real for the audience. So I handpicked the best actors I could find for this musical to make my job easier," she adds with a laugh.

Cris Villonco, whose last production for Rep was playing Ophelia in "Hamlet," returns from a year-long stint with Hongkong Disneyland to take on the role of Bernadette. Virata is all praises for the actress despite Villonco's own admission that she's more used to portraying "serious and deep" characters.

"As an actor, Cris is intelligent and open. As a director, that's all I really need," says Virata. "I actually asked her while she was still in Hong Kong to play this role of a vulgar, sexy, spoiled brat who, deep within, is a well of tenderness capable of true love. I'm glad she accepted the offer. She's doing great."

Villonco says, "It's impossible to be too serious with the material since it's campy and fun." Partnering with Villonco as Romeo is PJ Valerio, the latest resident male ingénue in Rep's stable of actors. Valerio was in the musical comedy "Altar Boyz" and has played romantic leads in "Disney's Mulan" and last year's "Fantastiks." Romeo's counter ego Dino del Canto will be essayed by very capable character actor Red Concepcion.

The young actors are supported by Rep veterans such as Liesl Batucan, Dido de la Paz, Juno Henares, and Jaime Wilson. Rem Zamora, in addition to being the show's assistant director, has been tasked to play eight different roles and will have to contend with three accents: Russian, Irish, and Brooklyn. "The hardest accent I had to learn is an Irish one where I have to be extra careful not to sound Indian," he says with a laugh.

Deanna Aquino choreographs, John Battala does lighting design and Dennis Lagdameo designs the set.

"Romeo & Bernadette" runs from Feb. 5, 2010 until the end of the month at Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1, Makati City. For details, call 8870710.

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