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Visiting the ‘Band’

By: - Columnist
/ 12:30 AM March 19, 2020

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (left) and Rody Vera

First of all, allow me this space to announce that my 2020 US tour will not go forth as originally planned. We are currently working to reschedule all the dates. God willing, many of them will happen this fall, while others will take place perhaps next spring or later. Kindly check with your point of purchase or the performance venue for information, or head to leasalonga.com for updates. Allow me to apologize, but in this time of crisis, this was what we needed to do. To those who already bought your tickets, thank you for your support.

At this moment, I am hoping that everything from June 2020 onward will still be a go, depending of course on the course the COVID-19 will take. In the meantime, please do stay safe, everyone, and don’t forget to wash your hands and stay healthy. We can do this if we band together!

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Speaking of banding together … thank goodness for the last-minute invitation by Bobby Garcia to see the final technical dress rehearsal for what would’ve been Atlantis’ initial 21st season offering, “The Band’s Visit,” with music and lyrics by David Yasbek and book by Itamar Moses.

It stars Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Rody Vera and Mark Bautista, along with Bibo Reyes, Reb Atadero, Rhenwyn Gabalonzo, Nino Alejandro, Leanne Mamonong, Floyd Tena, Jill Peña, Maronne Cruz, Steven Conde, Dean Rosen and Jep Go.

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Only a few of us were seated in the house, and we all practiced major social distancing: no hugs or kisses, and kept a wide berth of at least a meter and a half from one another.

We all sat in the silence … laughed … cried … and felt our souls fill with having witnessed something very special. And we got up on our feet and gave mad respect to everyone performing on that stage and working in the house despite, the night before, hearing the words no theater professional in this fruitful season wanted to hear: “The run has been canceled.”

Previous to “The Band’s Visit” announcing its cancellation (the second offering of Atlantis 2020, “Oliver,” has also been canceled), other theater companies made similar announcements, all very heartbreaking and soul-cracking.

Yes, everyone does understand that for reasons of public health and safety, it was necessary for these productions to close to prevent the further spread of the virus.

However, thank heavens for the decision of Atlantis Productions to keep working for as long as it could. For those of us who were fortunate enough to see one of its dress runs, oh, we were blessed.

Yes, it goes without saying that Menchu deserves the title of “Undisputed First Lady of Philippine musical theater.” As Dina, she is incandescent, as if there’s a softly glowing special light that follows her everywhere. She is always a master class onstage, and I’m so glad I brought Nicole (who happens to be her goddaughter) to witness her brilliance.

Casting the wonderful Rody Vera as Tewfiq opposite her was a stroke of genius. The two needed to be somewhat alien to one another; having come from different theatrical traditions and backgrounds while still sharing this art form in common made for a lovely contrast and complement.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mark Bautista be this amazing. He displayed such subtlety as Haled, and that wonderful singing voice was put to great use. And, it goes without saying that the rest of the company was, across the board, excellent.

But I have to give special mention to Dean Rosen and Maronne Cruz for stealing each and every scene they were in. Props too for that excellent dialect work. That couldn’t have been easy to master!

Kudos as well to the onstage band led by musical director Farley Asuncion, with a huge bravo to Patrick Espanto, Paul de Guzman, Mark Hipona and Erskine Basilio for actually acting onstage.

Brilliant direction by Bobby Garcia (as always, able to find the beating heart in every production he does), sound design by Justin Stasiw, lighting design by Adam Honore, production design by Faust Peneyra, musical staging by Cecile Martinez, vocal direction by Manman Angsico, costume design by Odelon Simpao, projections by GA Fallarme, and makeup and hair design by Jaydee Jasa.

The whole experience was, in every way, perfection. And, given what this musical is about, it’s ironic that it closed before it could open.

The show is how, in one full day, two seemingly opposing groups of people can find connection and commonality. Whether it’s through music, life experience, finding love, feeling heartache, kindness and generosity, to see them come together gives hope.

We never forget for one moment that there is tension between the band from Egypt and the residents of an Israeli Jewish town, and that kindness and generosity weren’t going to be easy for either one to give, but it happens, right before our eyes.

The irony is that this show about human connection had to close because of the risks posed by close human connection.

However, I am hopeful. I want to believe that this show (and all the other shows) wasn’t canceled, but merely postponed. I would like to think that, in God’s more perfect time, “The Band’s Visit” will get the full run it deserves. This is something Manila musical theater audiences really need to see.

We have a lot of human connection of our own to work on.

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