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Andrew Lloyd Webber for the stormy weather

/ 09:33 PM June 23, 2011

SEATED: Blake Bowden, Kirsten Hobbs. Behind them, from left: Shaun Rennie, Andrew Conaghan, Michael Cormick, Alinta Chindzey, Trisha Crowe.

“Something in the water,  maybe?” Andrew Conaghan wonders. “I mean, you have Lea Salonga, Charice…”

What he’s saying is, he’s heard that every other Filipino is singing-idol material. That is understandably of particular interest to this young Australian singer—and he’s also heard of “the great food, the famous sunset, great audiences.” Plus, Conaghan is one of the eight bright stars of “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber,” which starts a nine-day (13 shows) run tonight at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

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The concert-format revue showcases the best-known songs from 14 musicals by Sir Andrew, considered the most successful British composer of musicals ever. Conaghan has as many solo spots in the show as lead performer Michael Cormick. “That feels good,” he says, grinning.

Blake Bowden looks forward to meeting more Filipinos. “Friends of mine who are Filipinos introduced me to karaoke,” he tells Inquirer. “They’d take me home and we’d take turns at the mic… and they always prepare a feast.”

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It’s hard to imagine Bowden in such a gathering and not stirring up the neighbors. He sings some big songs in the concert, the most compelling of which is “’Til I Hear You Sing,” from “Love Never Dies” (sequel to “Phantom of the Opera”). “Love Never Dies” premiered only a little over a year ago, and so Bowden’s performance proves that familiarity with the songs in the revue is not a requisite to appreciation.

Singular experience

He admits there was no instant connection when he learned that one of his solo spots would be “‘Til I Hear You Sing.” But when rehearsals started, he recounts, “Something happened.” That singular experience is not lost on audiences.

And it certainly wasn’t lost on James Cundall, the show’s promoter (Lunchbox Theatrical Productions). “When I heard Blake finally sing that song, I was reminded of why I do what I do now,” Cundall, who  used to be an investment banker, says. “Watching an enormous talent bloom that way makes all the work worth it.”

Among the cast members, only Cormick and Delia Hannah have met Lloyd Webber, though this is not the reason that the whole cast looks up to them. Cormick’s international appearances in musical theater include lead roles in “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Calamity Jane,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Chess” and “Evita.”

“I love doing ‘The Phantom,’” Cormick says and, indeed, it is one of the most immediately apparent charms of this concert.

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Show stopper

DELIA HANNAH: Flawless as Evita

Hannah, the leading lady if one need be named, has toured internationally as principal soloist with Sarah Brightman and Anthony Warlow in a similar production in 1996. Hannah’s “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” is flawless.

And of the whole cast, only Shaun Rennie has been to Manila, having played Munkustrap last year in “Cats.” This Lunchbox-Really Useful Group (a Lloyd Webber entertainment company) production has also toured Australia, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, China and Hong Kong.

Trisha Crowe and Kirsten Hobbs can silence the biggest halls with their moving duet on “Pie Jesu”—a genuine show-stopper—from “Requiem.”

Alinta Chindzey sizzled as the sassy Anita in the Australian production of “West Side Story” last year. To think she debuted professionally onstage only in 2002, with the Australasian tour of “Mamma Mia!” In this revue, she is sure to be remembered for her rendition of an old Pinoy favorite, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” from “Jesus Christ, Superstar.”

Cast and crew—and Cundall—hope Manila audiences would turn up in spite of what they call “typhoon weather.”

Cormick enthuses, “Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is rightly dubbed, not just a genius, but a phenomenon [in musical theater]. It’s always a thrill to hear his songs.”

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