How PJ Rebullida is training a band of actors to become high-kicking "Newsies"

June 24, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

In 9 Works Theatrical's upcoming staging of "Newsies the Musical," only the book (script), lyrics and music must be followed. All other aspects of the show (direction; designs for costumes, set, lighting, etc.) must be created from scratch.

Patrick Rebullida

"We can't do what they did on Broadway," says the show's choreographer Patrick Rebullida. "We have to create and are required to have our own vision."

The musical is about boys who sell newspapers on the streets of 1899 New York City and their strike to challenge the low wages paid to them by publishers.

With music by Alan Menken ("Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast"), lyrics by Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Fierstein ("La Cage aux Folles," "Kinky Boots"), the musical is based on the 1992 Disney movie.


Rebullida's been working with director Robbie Guevara and the rest of the artistic team to build the show.

"We began by discussing who and where the newsies are in the whole scheme of things. Where do they come from? How do they live? What are all the aspects that led to a successful strike?"

"These kids are survivors, they are tough. They made the headlines by coming together and fighting a system that did not value them."

The performers who've been cast for the show -- a 21-member cast of "newsies" that include Gian Magdangal, Jef Flores and Ariel Reonal -- also have to be tough. They had to undergo and pass a six-week boot camp Rebullida put together that included ballet, jazz and gymnastics.

For fun

"I never meant to be a choreographer nor an artist." He directed and choreographed small and amateur shows when he was still in school, "but it was all just for fun and for extra-curricular events."

He'd geared himself for life in the corporate world, applied to an IT firm in Ortigas and promptly quit on his second day. "I couldn't take being cooped up in the office. I went to Megamall to watch a movie and soul search. There I saw a Triumphant People's Evangelistic Theater Society (Trumpets) Playshop poster for Adult Musical Theater."

Choreographer James Laforteza spotted him during the workshop and gave him a scholarship to take up jazz, ballet and modern dance at Steps Dance Studio. "The little boy who would make his friends dance to the 'Macarena' back then was always in me."

"I was old at 22 to even start, but with hard work and inspiring guidance, I became a full-fledged dancer."

He went on to perform for groups such as Repertory Philippines and Trumpets; and eventually danced for Ballet Philippines and Germany's Ballet L√ľneburg.

He started choreographing while he was in Germany and continued to do so upon returning to Manila, working with groups such as Red Turnip and Stages.

He received the Philstage Gawad Buhay for outstanding choreography in a musical for 9 Works' "American Idiot." He'd competed against himself with another nomination for "A Christmas Carol."

Signature steps

He admits that the first few weeks of choreographing "Newsies" were difficult. "All the signature steps from the Broadway staging are off-limits. I had to provide my own solutions to the demands of the story."

He credits teamwork to paving the way. "The more we worked, the clearer the path became. The dancing must be driven by intent. What do we want to push forward?"

In addition to ballet and jazz movement, Rebullida is including tap and boxing moves into the dance vocabulary. Though he says even he doesn't know how it will turn out exactly just yet.

"We're still in the creative process. We might throw everything out after a week and go for something completely different."

"We're all excited. We want to put on a great show. Despite all the pressure, I'm taking my cue from the newsies: 'We will carry the banner, persist and seize the day!"

Daniel Bartolome is musical director; Ed Lacson, set designer; Eric Pineda, costume designer; Martin Esteva, lighting designer; GA Fallarme, video and projection designer; Myrene Santos, hair and makeup designer.

"Newsies the Musical" runs July 7-30 at Globe Iconic Store, Bonifacio High Street Amphitheater, Taguig. Visit or link