‘Phantom’ producer sings Pinoys’ praises

British impresario says he asks every Filipino he meets to sing ‘Anak’

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07:07 PM June 4th, 2012

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By: Bayani San Diego Jr., June 4th, 2012 07:07 PM

James Cundall says Lea Salonga is his heroine.

Whatever part of the world he’s in, British theater producer James Cundall says he’s sure to bump into a Filipino—and surely that Pinoy can carry a tune.

Whether in a Swiss ski resort, a hotel in London, or on a cruise ship, Cundall will invariably ask the Filipino waiter, bartender or front-desk clerk to sing Freddie Aguilar’s “Anak.”

“Without fail, they would be in perfect pitch,” quips Cundall, who first worked as a banker and trained as a tenor. “I’ve asked Filipino call center agents to sing for me on the phone, too.”

Needless to say, he admires the innate musicality of Filipinos.

A prime example, he notes, is Broadway and West End star Lea Salonga, who played Grizabella in his Manila production of “Cats” two years ago. “The first time I met her, I was nervous,” he recalls. “I watched her in ‘Miss Saigon’ in the 1990s in London; she’s been a heroine of mine since.”

That the Philippines is a “musical country” is one of the reasons that, he believes, his company’s (Lunchbox Theatrical Productions) projects in Manila have been successful. He cites another factor: “Right timing—in the political and economic sense.”

After “Cats,” “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber” and “Mamma Mia!,” Cundall is mounting Webber’s megamusical, “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, beginning Aug. 25.

Many Filipinos know the “Phantom” story and music by heart, Cundall points out, and he promises to present exactly same show as it was seen in London and New York—“complete with the bloody chandelier.”

Although he hasn’t seen “Smash,” a TV musical that chronicles the drama and chaos behind the curtains of a Broadway show, he acknowledges that each theater production could very well be just as dramatic and chaotic … and comedic as a telenovela.

However, his experiences have been closer to the Broadway sensation, “The Producers”—it’s been a fun journey so far, though sometimes nerve-wracking. He says touring “Phantom,” for example, is “complicated, considering that it is a big, bold, brilliant show.”

25 container vans

He reveals that the production travels with 25 40-foot container vans—filled with 110 tons of scenery and 230 costumes. Plus over 90 cast and crew members are coming.

Three months before opening night, Cundall says, the production team started work at the CCP, installing steel riggings for the chandelier.

As chief executive officer of Lunchbox, he says his company hopes to leave some of the improvements with the CCP. “We simply couldn’t do it without its marvelous staff,” he says.

On a smaller scale, he’s soon bringing in a two-man play, “Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience—A Parody by Dan and Jeff,” to be staged at the RCBC Plaza from Aug. 28 to Sept. 2.

Written by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, “Potted Potter” attempts to summarize the seven Harry Potter books in 70 minutes, says Cundall. “It’s very funny and appeals to Potter fans of all ages, from kids to adults.”

Cundall notes that it’s the first time for “Potted Potter” to be performed outside of London, New York and Toronto: “It’ll mark its Asian debut in Manila.” Indeed, he sees Manila becoming a theater hub, catching up with glamorous neighbors Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong.

For Cundall, these Asian cities are not competing to capture the biggest slice of the theatrical pie. Each city, he says, offers its own lineup of stage productions.

It just so happens that in the Philippines, every other person is a musical prodigy, he reiterates. “The ‘Phantom’ orchestra has 18 members and 14 of the musicians will come from the Philippines. Why bring musicians to Manila when there are plenty of stunningly talented artists here?”

(bayanisandiego@hotmail.com)

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