By Ed Uy
With nearly 200 outfits, a lead cast of world-renowned thespians and a budget that involves several commas, describing The King and I as merely “grand” would be a great injustice to the upcoming musical of Resorts World Manila (RWM).
“Actually muntik na nga kaming ma-coma,” joked director Freddie Santos as he talked about the production cost of the musical during a press preview held at the Newport Performing Arts Theater (NPAT) on Saturday.
“Originally I had listed around 147 outfits but Rajo (Laurel) and Aksana (Sidarava) who did the costumes decided to add more pa so we’re hitting nearly 200 outfits—not to mention the elephants,” direk Freddie added.
Aside from being staged at the grandest and most state-of-the-art theater in the country, The King and I boasts of promising new sets of production props; lights, sound, and video technologies; and the most exquisitely designed wardrobe helmed by no less than Philippine fashion icon Rajo Laurel.
Rajo dresses up the musical’s lead characters to be played by veteran thespians Leo Tavarro Valdez as King Mongkut and Monique Wilson as Anna Leonowens.
He says the musical is one of his personal favorites and has inspired him since his youth. He also recalled that he had been cast as one of the King’s children, even sharing the bill with current theatre greats Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Raymond Lauchengco, and Lea Salonga.
“It’s really an iconic play, and I wanted to stay true to that form, though I did inject my personal nuance of deep romanticism and my penchant for high drama,” the acclaimed designer adds. One gown to watch out for is Anna’s gown for The Ball sequence which Rajo says is one of the most intricately designed piece in the entire wardrobe.”
From Saigon to Siam
After setting a record-breaking 128 shows for its sophomore offering The Sound Of Music, Resorts World Manila takes it up a notch by providing theatre patrons a superlative production that features a stellar all-Filipino cast led by Leo Valdez, and Monique Wilson under the artistic direction of three-time Aliw Awardee for Best Stage Director, Freddie Santos.
Three-time Aliw Awardee for Best Male Performer Valdez is one of the most regarded theatre performers in the country, having played the coveted role of “The Engineer” in the 1997 Miss Saigon in London and other principal roles in local musical extravaganzas such as Rama Hari, Tales of the Manuvu, Hindi Kita Malilimot, Dahil Sa Iyo Gomburza, among others.
Like Valdez, Wilson is also an alumnus of Miss Saigon having played the lead role of Kim in the original London production. From 1994 to the present, Monique has given critically-acclaimed performances for her leading roles in Oleanna, Angels in America, Chess the Musical, Top Girls, My Sister In This House, Classical Monique, The Vagina Monologues, Cabaret, Aspects of Love, and The Good Body, among many others. Her most recent theatre performance was her star turn as Maria in Repertory Philippines’ The Sound of Music.
Alternating for the role of King is Bo Cerrudo whose musical credits include Flower Drum Song, West Side Story, Rama Hari and the Manila run of Miss Saigon. Meanwhille, Shiela Valderrama alternates the role of Anna. Valderrama most recently portrayed Elsa Schraeder in RWM’s The Sound of Music.
Joining the cast are, Gina Respall (another Miss Saigon alumni) and Apple Chiu who alternates for the role of Lady Thiang; Tanya Manalang and Marian Santiago (Tuptim); and Lorenz Martinez and Floyd Tena (Lun Tha)
Despite having performed all over the world, Monique admits that the cast feels a bit of pressure to live up to the success of The of Sound of Music.
“Filipinos can be the most critical of audiences, but we are also the most appreciative and loving audience, Monique stated. “Yes there is pressure, but that pressure also inspires us. It means everything so we have to give our souls and hearts to make this show a huge success,” she explained.
Sourced from the 1944 novel by Margaret Landon’s chronicle of Anna Leonowens memoirs, as she was chosen to become governess to King Mongkut of Siam’s many children in the early 1860’s, The King and I tells the travails of a British schoolteacher and her life in a foreign land, marred by conflict. It is also a timeless tale of love and a story rich in cultural lessons.
Another trait Direk Freddie said the audience will appreciate from the musical is the teachings on the value of respect.
“Respect for culture, respect for family and respect for country– that is the one thing we found so richly defined in the script, and that was also the first guideline given to the whole cast,” he narrated.
Monique adds another endearing characteristic of the movie is learning how to negotiate each others’ differences.
“Just as everybody is unique, our cultures are also different. Instead of building walls, like what’s happening in the world right now, this story teaches us to build bridges between our differences so we can be closer and connect to each other. I think that is the most beautiful thing about the musical, she pointed out.
Direk Freddie also promises that their version would be one of the most emotional interpretations of the story.
“This is a much more emotional treatment. We were running through the entire show just the other day and we were in tears. We really wanted to uncover that part of the show– more than the spectacle more than the racial and political differences, we want to focus on the issue of love.”
“Six months ago I sent the cast an email and my very first directive on how I wanted to approach the play and the one guideline I had is that in The King and I. Love rules. That’s the handle we want to define,” Direk Freddie asserted.
The King And I opens on September 15, 2012 at the Newport Performing Arts Theater, Resorts World Manila. Tickets are now available at the Resorts World Manila Box Office and all TicketWorld outlets. For more information, log on to www.rwmanila.com or call the Tourist/Visitor Hotline at (632) 836-6333.