What a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Last Sunday, my husband and I accepted a standing invitation to see 9 Works Theatricals’ production of “They’re Playing Our Song.” The 4 p.m. show would be the final performance of this sweet show, one that brought back a lot of wonderful memories of having also performed it once upon a time.
It was surprising exactly what I remembered from that production (first in Singapore in 1999, and then Manila in 2000), as well as what I’ve forgotten.
First off, let’s talk about this production, starring Nikki Gil and Lorenz Martinez (as Sonia Walsk and Vernon Gersch), with Peachy Atilano, Jill Peña and Anna Santamaria (Sonia’s Voices), and Reb Atadero, Noel Rayos, and James Stacey (Vernon’s Voices).
The production was ably directed by Robbie Guevara and choreographed by Gemini Quintos, with costume execution by Twinkle Zamora, costume styling by Kalila Aguilos, scenic design by Mio Infante, lighting design by Martin Esteva, music direction (orchestra) by Joseph Tolentino, music direction (vocals) by Lionel Guico, and make-up and hair design by Myrene Santos. I find it quite funny that there were more people behind the scenes than on stage. Truly, in this case, it took a village to raise a show.
This musical (with a book by Neil Simon, music by the late Marvin Hamlisch, and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager) is one of those wonderful standby shows, created in the 1970s. As dated as it might initially seem to be (what with obvious 1970s references, as well as more dating so far back that a lot of them seemed lost on the members of the Justin Bieber generation), there is much of it that still holds firm, fast and true.
Any woman in a messy break-up situation (and I think every lady has been through at least one in her lifetime … if you say you haven’t you are lying through your teeth) can relate to the messiness of Sonia’s apartment, an obvious reflection of her mental and emotional state, which is ironic, given the seeming order of her lyrics, rhyming schemes, and pointed criticism of Vernon’s first eight bars of music … her criticisms seem to turn his external orderliness into a self-critical, neurotic mess of a man. These two characters totally go together, in a weird sort of symbiotic relationship that the whole audience roots for, from the moment Sonia walks in wearing her costume from “The Cherry Orchard.” And later in a dress from “Pippin.” Plus references to costumes from “Dracula,” with little bats on them … and I may have realized this one in my mind.
It’s obvious to us watching in the dark that Nikki and Lorenz were having themselves a wonderful, fun time playing these two characters. Nikki was going a mile-a-minute … at once charming, strange and energetic. There was a kernel of it that I saw in “Legally Blonde,” and I’m so pleased that she’s allowed more of it to come out. And yes, she wore all those kooky costumes well, and sang the score dreamily. Strangely enough, the singing I enjoyed the most was her angry and strident delivery of “I Still Believe in Love,” as this was where she most successfully melded her singing and her character.
This is the first time I’ve seen Lorenz in the lead of a show (he seems more known for featured roles, starting with “Beauty and the Beast’s” Cogsworth and continuing to “The King and I’s” Lun Tha), and he seems a natural in that position. He may not have those matinee-idol looks, but for this show, that is totally perfect. We want neuroses, imperfection (the only perfect thing should be the music), a meltdown … and we want to fall in love with all that, as Sonia does. Lorenz did all that very well.
As always, there will be a few beefs from me, but nothing of consequence, and certainly nothing that can’t be improved upon. The RCBC Theater is notorious for its sound issues, and although there wasn’t the usual feedback and crackles as there were in past shows I’ve seen here, I had issues with the volume of both the vocals and the orchestra. At times, the band would drown out the singers … at others, the singing didn’t match the speaking, as if two different people were doing these two separate tasks. I knew that it wasn’t the actors themselves—I’ve seen their previous work in the past and never encountered that before—so there may have been sound mixing issues, especially with the band sharing the stage with the actors. I get the difficulty, truly I do, and this may be something every theater company that decides to use that space needs to experiment with. So far, only “Next to Normal” seems to have achieved that delicate balance, but the size of the band might also have something to do with it.
Sitting there watching the show brought back so many wonderful memories of having done it more than a dozen years ago, which, now that I’m thinking of it, feels like a lifetime ago. So much living has taken place in the years since, as well as so many shows for all of us in the cast. But there are things that I’ll always go back to and think about with fondness: the lightning-fast quick changes in the dark that my two dressers—Luz Imperial and Kakai Bautista—always pulled off without fail; attempting (and failing miserably a lot of the time) to keep a straight face when going head to head with Adrian Pang and, later on, Michael K. Lee; the orchestra led by Gerard Salonga wearing their own brand of kooky getups on the last day of our run (Gerard donned my wig and a Red Riding Hood cape while conducting the final few songs); our most awesome Voices in the personages of Isay Alvarez, May Bayot, Melanie Dujunco, Rosetti Rivera, Tony Pineda, JM Rodriguez, Miguel Vera and Roeder; and singing that wonderful music night after night after night.
I had my own relationship issues in the background while I was playing Sonia, which made doing this show incredibly therapeutic. I will always consider it to be special in my heart, look upon it with love. “I Still Believe in Love” became an anthem that, with each passing night that I sang it, I believed in more and more.