'Little Women' is Rep's 2010 holiday musical

'Little Women' is Rep's holiday musical
By Walter Ang
November 18, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

A hundred eighty degree turn from the material it staged last year for its annual big musical, Repertory Philippines has gone from a suspense-thriller about people eating pies made from people (a sold-out run of "Sweeny Todd") to a decidedly more genteel, light comedy romance about the lives and loves of four sisters: Little Women.

This family musical, with music by Jason Howard, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and book by Allan Knee, is based on the novel by American author Louisa May Alcott.

"This is a wonderful story that's appropriate for the holiday season," says director Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo. Yulo won the 2009 Philstage Gawad Buhay for Female Lead Perfomance in a Musical for her turn as Mrs. Lovett in Rep's "Sweeny Todd." Her most recent directing credit was for the musical "West Side Story."

"Audiences will see how the March sisters depend on each other as a family and how they cope as their father is away serving the American Civil War," she says. "They're a fun bunch: brash aspiring writer Jo, romantic Meg, pretentious Amy, and kind-hearted Beth. Audiences will surely be able to relate to these four little women."

To further help audiences relate to the material, Yulo is collaborating with New York-based set designer Joey Mendoza to craft an acting space that "visually bridges the material's setting with the sensibilities of today's audiences."

Mendoza was a teenage Rep workshop attendee in the 1980s. He graduated into backstage work and acting roles for Rep. "My first bit in design was for a staging of the musical `You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown' in Dumaguete. I was terrible," he says with a laugh.

Mendoza moved to New York City in the early 90s and "immediately got involved with former Rep member Jorge Ortoll's spanking new theater group, Ma-Yi Theatre Company." It was here that Mendoza was able to learn from and work closely with multi-awarded set designer Loy Arcenas.

While he did other theatrical endeavors like producing the "Stage" series of albums (compilations of musical theater love songs sung by men) and the premiere cast recordings of "Heading East" (featuring Paolo Montalban) and "Bed, Boys & Beyond," designing for the theater has never left his heart.

"I belong to a family of architects/designers/artists so it's no surprise I have reverted back to my first love, the theater," he says. "Little Women's setting and period fascinates me."

Modern aesthetic
The story is set in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1860s. "While it is a period piece, we wanted something very modern about the design. I think it's essential to have a contemporary interpretation to suit the times," he says.

No one can accuse Yulo and Mendoza of being copycats. "The first thing we wanted to do was stay clear of the look of the original Broadway staging," he says.

"We wanted to magnify the story, making it as intimate as possible. I discarded anything that wasn't absolutely necessary that might clutter or distract. The set is a study in minimalism, which is ideal for the era's austere architecture and a stark contrast to the warm, cozy yet strong March family.

"When the March sisters are playing make-believe, we have a center platform to anchor the scenes but all conventional rules of space and movement are thrown out. The audience is encouraged to participate in an imaginative way. There are just enough pieces of very well appointed furniture and props that will allow them to make that leap.

Mendoza will also use silhouettes ("A very Victorian effect," he says.) to create shapes such as trees and dunes, and to imbue the necessary atmosphere.

"The script is very episodic and the best way to achieve fluid transitions is to have only essential pieces that will define the space, so that shifting to the next scenes won't be tedious or cumbersome (our theaters are not equipped with multi-million dollar hydraulics of yet). I prefer this more organic method. While spectacle is entertaining, there's something more magical about simple stage techniques.

"Ironically, this back-to-basics concept seems very modern to me. There is an elegance in this minimalism that is very modern to me."

The actors who'll be using Mendoza's set are Caisa Borromeo (Jo), Lora Nicolas (Meg), Kelly Lati (Amy) and Cara Barredo (Beth).

Multi-awarded performer Pinky Marquez will play the sisters' mother (Marmee). Marquez was last seen onstage for Rep in the musical "Fiddler on the Roof" and the children's musical "Sleeping Beauty." She has played major roles in productions such as "Magnificat," "The Vagina Monologues," "Flower Drum Song," "The Sound of Music," "Rama at Sita," and "Beauty and the Beast," among many others.

Gerard Salonga conducts the FILharmoniKA orchestra. Tuxqs Rutaquio does costume design and John Batalla does lighting design. Rem Zamora is assistant director.

The musical will be staged at Onstage Theater at the second floor of Greenbelt 1 Mall, Makati City. "We're at a convenient location for families or friends. There are many things they can do before or after watching our shows, like shopping, dining out, visiting the nearby Ayala Musuem or even simply enjoying the outdoor garden spaces as we embrace the holiday season," Yulo says.

"Little Women" runs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 12, 2010, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM with matinees at 3:30PM on Saturdays and Sundays at Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1 Mall, Makati City. 

Call Repertory Philippines at 571-6926, 571-4941 or email info@repertory-philippines.com. Tickets also available at Ticketworld at 891-9999 or www.ticketworld.com.ph.

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