MANILA, Philippines—The story goes. Well-known composer Vernon Gersch meets aspiring offbeat female lyricist, Sonia Walsk. It’s the story of boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl falls head over heels for boy— only, the kookiness of Sonya interspersed with the wisecracks of Vernon leads to one hilarious scene after the other.
Based on the real-life relationship of the show’s Broadway creators, the late, great Tony Award-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch (“A Chorus Line”) and Grammy Award-winning songwriter Carole Bayer Sager (“Michael Jackson,” “Celine Dion”), “They’re Playing Our Song” takes a peek into the trials that both Sonia and Vernon undergo before finding true love. The musical also features hit songs like “Fallin’ and I Still Believe in Love” which is sure to bring out the romantic in everyone this coming February.
The musical, which returns to Manila after over a decade, marks the return of singer-actress Nikki Gil to the stage. Nikki, who regularly appears on the noontime variety show “ASAP 2012,” is one of the longest running VJs for MYX music channel. She is also a trusted brand ambassador and spokesperson for various advocacies, as well as a TV actress and a singer with several albums under her belt. She also played the role of Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde the Musical” and “Charity Hope Valentine” in 9 Works Theatrical’s critically acclaimed dance musical, “Sweet Charity.”
For this interview, we sit down with Nikki for an intimate tête-à-tête on matters like love, theater, and having to perform a role that was once played by her all-time idol, Lea Salonga.
So you’re doing theater again? Feelings?
I know right! I’m so excited.
Super nervous. But I guess more excited. Actually, I don’t know. It’s like 50 percent nervous, 50 percent excited. It’s such an iconic play. Everyone knows that and everyone knows “Fallin”. And it’s a really small cast as opposed to Sweet Charity, so the responsibility is more spread out.
Does it ever get easier?
No. You know my worst nightmares consist of me being onstage and not knowing what to do, or blacking out. I don’t think it ever gets easier on anyone.
How do you deal?
You just work at it, to the point where you throw your hands in the air and say, “I’ve done everything I can. Let God see you through.”
What was it about this show that made you return to the theater?
After Sweet Charity, well, I love the music. I must admit, when I said ‘yes’ to it, I hadn’t read the script yet. But I love the music so much so I just said, “Whatever, kaya yan!” And also Lea Salonga did it here!
Were you able to see the Lea version?
No I wasn’t. But yes, that’s a plus. I love Lea and everything that has to do with Lea. Ha ha!
She’s an idol of yours?
Now that you’re playing a role that she did?
I don’t think that’s a very smart move for me! Ha ha! Because everything that Lea has done, I don’t think anyone can ever duplicate that. I guess I just have to bring something different to the table. Definitely what she has done with They’re Playing Our Song is not something that I’ll be able to. So maybe just bring my own version to the table.
Talk about Sonia, your character in the show.
Sonia is quirky, funny and very me – indecisive! Ganyan ako. And my boyfriend hates that about me. Ha ha! I’ll say, “I’ll see you at this time.” And then, “Ay no, I can’t pala do it!” I’m like that. My brain is all over the place – very not organized and yes, very Sonia. And also, she complicates things. She has a very complex view of love. I think all girls have. Something so simple can be so complex for girls.
How different are you guys then if you seem to be so similar?
I definitely have a better taste in fashion. Ha ha! Well, I don’t hold on to my past so much. I let go easily as opposed to Sonia who’s so stuck in the past. I’m more forgiving, a little bit forgetful but in that sense, we’re different.
What’s your favorite scene in the show?
I think it was super cute when they first met. And she was all nasa-starstruck kay Vernon. And she was all, like, trying to look composed. Oh another similarity pala is that she’s always late. I have this habit of being kahit five minutes late. Any
So, how they first met? Does it remind you of how you first met Billy?
Ha ha! Does it? A little. Because she trying to be pa-cool and look like she had it under control. I guess it was the same for me. I was trying to hide my being star-struck by Billy.
How different is Sonia from “Charity”?
Charity, she was very gullible. She was simple-minded. Sonia is edgier. She has more of a ‘fight’ in her but an intelligent ‘fight.’ Charity also had a ‘fight’ but it was brought about by different circumstances. Sonia, she’s smart. She’s a lyricist. She lives by herself. She’s exposed to an industry that requires wits.
Speaking of “Sweet Charity”, this is also the show that reunites you with Robbie, your director.
Yes! The one and only! What I enjoyed about Robbie directing Sweet Charity was that it felt like, even if the material wasn’t ours and it wasn’t original, it felt like it was because of how different the staging was. And the approach. And the execution. So I’m excited about this because again, it’s an old piece, it’s been done before but you never know how Robbie is going to change things up. And also when you finally see the finished product, it feels like it’s something you gave birth to.
What’s the best thing he’s taught you?
Don’t quote or unquote plagiarize. It doesn’t make sense to copy from something or someone else. You just have to go back to the script and the music, and bring something of you to the table. I grew with Charity. I know that I will grow with Sonia as well. It makes the experience more beautiful.
And incidentally, your assistant director in Sweet Charity, Lorenz, is now your scene partner and love interest?
How weird is that?
The thing is Lorenz is such a versatile actor. The moment I read the script and they told me that he was doing, I was like, “Ya! I can already see him doing justice to the role.” It’s going to be different. I’ve never worked with Lorenz as a co-actor. I’m used to him telling me what to do or choreographing my dance routine. This should be an interesting experience. I’m also very excited because Lorenz is Lorenz. He’s a very respected actor. I know that I’m going to learn so much from him. It gives me confidence because I’m working with someone like him.
And you’re working with 9 Works Theatrical again?
What I love about 9 Works Theatrical is that they’re very flexible. I don’t have to stop everything else I’m doing for the show. They accept the fact that I still do other things. And of course, the experience of Sweet Charity couldn’t have be the same without them. It was beautifully staged. It was such eye candy – the staging, the music, the production value.
Do you have any other dream roles?
I’ve never done a serious play or musical. All I’ve done so far are comedies. A drama or something serious should be interesting.
Finally, what can audiences look forward to with Nikki Gil as Sonia?
Maybe just the musical in general, They’re Playing Our Song. It’s so timely that 9 Works Theatrical is staging it during Valentine’s month. It’s such a beautiful love story. The music is beautiful. And I’m pretty sure a lot of people will be able to relate with Sonia and Vernon. From meeting each other, to getting into the relationship, the complications and everything in between. There’s something in there for everyone. It’s going to feel like watching a chick flick, live! He he!
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For “They’re Playing Our Song,” Nikki will be joined by Lorenz Martinez as Vernon and some of the finest actors in the country today. Among which are James Stacey, Reb Atadero and Noel Rayos who will play a bevy of roles in the show as the male ensemble, as well as Peachy Atilano, Anna Santamaria, and Jill Pena in the female ensemble.
The artistic team is led by Robbie Guevara (director), Joseph Tolentino (musical director – instrumentation), Lionel Guico (musical director – vocals), Mio Infante (scenographer and costume designer), Martin Esteva (lighting designer), Gemini Quintos (choreographer), Chuck Ledesma (sound designer), Twinkle Zamora (costume execution), Kalila Aguilos (costume stylist), Joseph Pascual (photographer), Tin Samson (magazine editor), and Larry Palma (graphic designer).
The production team is led by Santi Santamaria (executive producer), Anna Santamaria (company manager), Toff de Venecia (PR director), Jonjon Martin (PR manager), GM Hernandez III (marketing manager), Carlos Canlas (HR manager), Sunshine Domine (production manager), and Aries Alcayaga (stage manager).
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The play will run at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati from February 8 to March 3, and is co-presented by The Rockwell Club and The Peninsula Manila, with special participation of SM Accessories, Lynelle’s, The Makeup Secrets School, Mary Grace, BPI Credit Cards, and media partners, MYX, Business World and HerWord.Com.
For tickets, call 9 Works Theatrical at 586-7105, 0917-5545560 or Ticketworld at 891-9999. You may also visit www.9workstheatrical.com or follow 9 Works Theatrical on Facebook (9workstheatrical) or Twitter (@9WT).
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“They’re Playing Our Song” is presented by special arrangement with SAMUEL FRENCH, INC.