NEW YORK—As I write this, my overarching thought is thus: My heart is full.
On Friday, I arrived in Manila for one purpose: to catch Nicole’s final performances in Atlantis Productions’ “Matilda the Musical” at Meralco Theater. This was my daughter’s musical-theater debut, and she got to have it alongside some of Philippine theater’s most experienced stars, as well as 18 other children.
On Friday evening, I got settled into my seat beside my mother Ligaya and my husband Rob. “She’s really good, honey,” whispered Rob, clearly very proud of what Nic has been able to accomplish thus far. Despite almost zero theater experience, she’s up there, singing and dancing with everyone else, keeping up and doing well.
The first actors we see on stage are the kids at a birthday party, and what a talented bunch of kids these are! The children in the ensemble were divided into two groups: the Maggots and the Newts. Nic was a Newt.
The young ladies playing Matilda had a separate rotation schedule. In order of appearance: Alba Berenguer-Testa, Ian Magallona, Teddy Velasco, Chi Chi Tan, Josh Ryan Nubla, Pablo Palacpac, Gabrielle Ong and, of course, Nic.
Full-throated and confident, the first impression the audience gets is a strong one. And it only gets better from there. The adults put on a great show, too.
Joaquin Valdes (Mr. Wormwood/The Escapologist) and Carla Guevara-Laforteza (Mrs. Wormwood/The Acrobat) are vocally impeccable, totally hilarious and incredibly engaging in their dual roles.
They are each adept at physical comedy as well as drama. Each part they take on is diametrically opposed to the other, one being mean and cruel, the other nurturing and loving.
Cris Villonco hones in on the vulnerability of the characters she plays. Her portrayal of the kind, generous and patient teacher, Miss Honey, is no exception.
You almost expect that Miss Honey is about to disintegrate before your eyes, most especially in the presence of Miss Agatha Trunchbull (a brilliant turn by Jamie Wilson) in whose hands she endured the cruelest of abuses.
But, inspired by Matilda Wormwood, she’s able to muster up the strength to fight for that little miracle of a girl.
Speaking of Jamie Wilson, his vile Miss Trunchbull is beyond anything I’ve ever seen him do onstage. In Jamie’s able hands, we see the cruelty in Miss Trunchbull from start to finish.
However, the comedy of this character is also thoroughly mined, and each line Jamie delivers sends the audience into fits of loud, side-splitting laughter with no hamming, no winks to the audience, none of the cheap tricks some performers resort to in order to elicit chuckles.
This is nothing short of dramatic and comedic genius, and I am hoping that Jamie is recognized by every theater award-giving body for his work. He most certainly deserves it.
Also putting forth great work here are Bibo Reyes as Mrs. Wormwood’s dance partner Rudolpho, Nelsito Gomez as Michael Wormwood, Emeline Celis-Nuguid as Mrs. Phelps, Steven Conde as the party entertainer/head of the Russian mafia, and Tim Pavino as the doctor who delivers Matilda.
Kudos too to the adult ensemble comprised of Gerhard Krysstopher, Mica Fajardo, Alex Reyes, Jim Ferrer, Teetin Villanueva, Gabby Padilla and Rhenwyn Gabalonzo.
And what about Matilda herself? I was able to witness the wonder of two out of the three young actors playing this role: Uma Martin and Esang De Torres. I was unable to see Felicity Kyle Napuli’s portrayal, but from what I’ve been told, she is an actress possessing heaps of nuance and a beautiful singing voice.
Uma is 8 years old, but she might as well be 48. Already showing dramatic precision and a gift for storytelling, there’s no doubt that she is a star, able to command the attention of the entire audience. I cannot wait to see what’s next for her.
Esang is perhaps most known for her powerful singing voice, as well as her ear for music, but she is a revelation as Matilda. Esang’s orientation leans more toward Filipino than English, so it comes as quite a shock that she is able to learn that entire script and all the songs—and did it all with a British accent.
Some hints of her natural Filipino accent would peek through every now and again. That said, however, the task in front of her was great, and she was able to take it on. As her one-time “The Voice Kids” coach, I am mighty proud of what she has done.
Once we arrived at the climax of the show where the kids drive Miss Trunchbull out of the classroom, Josh Ryan Nubla as Bruce Bogtrotter stands up on his desk and lets out a wail, launching into what is possibly the most popular song from the musical, rousing the audience into a frenzy.
The kids performed “Revolting Children” with energy, focus and intention. I looked over at Rob; he was tearing up watching our daughter. So was I.
The tears kept coming after the final curtain fell, with Nic having a bit of a meltdown in her dressing room. Her big feelings were pouring out of her when it hit her that the run was over, and that she would now miss the show and her friends. Separation anxiety is a real thing.
My family is more than grateful that our little Nic got to experience working on a musical. She now understands, more deeply than she ever did, the hard work and discipline required to be an actor in a show.
Thank you, Bobby Garcia, Cecile Martinez, and to the adult company for your patience in teaching our daughter what she needed to learn. She will carry these lessons with her forever.
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