Ela Lisondra: Swinging from London's 'Miss Saigon' to Manila's 'Christmas Carol'

In BGC, an open-air 'A Christmas Carol' starting tonight
Ela Lisondra: Swinging from London's 'Miss Saigon' to Manila's 'Christmas Carol'
Dec. 3, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Ela Lisondra.
Photo by Hugh Maynard
9 Works Theatrical's "A Christmas Carol"--the classic story of stingy Ebenezer Scrooge and how he changes for the better after being visited by three Christmas ghosts--opens tonight and runs until Dec. 25 at Globe Iconic Store, Bonifacio High Street Amphitheater, Bonifacio Global PCity (BGC), Taguig.

That's the same open-air space where 9 Works presented the punk-rock musical "American Idiot" as a live concert experience several months ago, in collaboration with Globe.

This version of "A Christmas Carol" features the music of Alan Menken ("Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Pocahontas," "Hercules," "Tangled") and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens ("Once on This Island," "Anastasia").

Playing the Ghost of Christmas Future is Ela Lisondra, who is marking her first Christmas back in the Philippines after eight years of performing in various productions around the world, most recently in "Miss Saigon" in London.

What is she most looking forward to this holiday season? "The hamonado," she says. "Kidding aside, it's being with my family."

"I missed the feeling of a strong family bond. Pinoys are very family-oriented. In other countries, Christmas is more of a celebration, a reason to get fat and to buy and give presents. For us, being in a big Catholic country, we don't forget the real reason behind the season."

Female swing
Miguel Fastuman as Scrooge
Lisondra was also part of "American Idiot." Before that, she spent the past two years playing Miss Everyone Else in "Miss Saigon"--that is, she was one of the production's two female swings, someone who takes the place of absentees.

She had to learn 10 female roles, Gigi's (the role originated by Isay Alvarez) ensemble bits, and even a few male roles. She had to be ready to do any one of them (or several) on any given show.

"Nobody understands how terrifying it is to get a few hours' notice that you'll be on for another role. You think to yourself, 'Shoot! What does she do again?'" she says.

"I had to remember that role's lines, harmony, costumes, props, hairstyle, entrances and exits, the quick [costume] changes and who the dresser was. Backstage, where do I sit? Onstage, who is my GI and where is my spotlight? What's my back story for this particular role?"

Boot camp
Note from Jon Jon Briones, who played The Engineer.
"It was really difficult in the beginning and the pressure was high." Once she'd gotten used to it, Lisondra made it fun for herself by ensuring she had different artistic choices and background stories for each of the roles. "That's what kept it challenging and exciting." 

With actors taking vacation leaves and getting injured or sick, swings are always on. She once covered five people in one show.

Prior to "Miss Saigon," she honed her chops as a performer in Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland in shows like "Mulan," "The Lion King" and "High School Musical: Live!" Lisondra says these experiences, plus the "Miss Saigon" boot camp of sorts, has only made her hungry for more.

"Being a late bloomer, I still need to learn and experience more theater. Being home in the Philippines gives me that opportunity. Performing in my home country feels good."

In "A Christmas Carol," she will be working with Miguel Faustmann as Scrooge, Raul Montesa as Bob Cratchit, Norby David as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Franz Imperial as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Rocco Buser and Dewayde Dizon as Tiny Tim.

Robbie Guevara directs, with Daniel Bartolome as musical director. Onyl Torres is assistant director, Daniel Bartolome is musical director. PJ Rebullida and Yek Barlongay, choreographers; Mio Infante, set designer; Martin Esteva, lighting designer; Ian Cartalaba, costume supervisor; Myrene Santos, hair and makeup designer; Jaime Godinez and Rards Corpus, sound designers; Chuck Ledesma, sound effects designer; GA Fallarme, video designer. 

Now that she's back, "I'm happy to break the chain of working on Christmas day," says Lisondra. "Wait, no, I'm working pala on Christmas this year!"

Tickets: 0917-554-5560, Ticketworld.com.ph. Details: Fb.com/9WorksTheatrical.

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