Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo first did “South Pacific” for Repertory Philippines in the early ’80s, under the direction of Zeneida “Bibot” Amador. She recalled being “one of the girls” in the ensemble.
Three decades later, she is now directing “South Pacific,” the concert, at Resorts World Manila (RWM).
“You know you’re old when you’ve done a show twice,” she says, laughing.
Yulo has a new vision for the well-loved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical—to stage it as concert the way American playwright David Ives did in 2006 at Carnegie Hall in New York.
“South Pacific in Concert” will be held on Sept. 12 and 19 at RWM’s Newport Performing Arts Theater. It is presented with Ultimate Shows Inc. and Full House Theater Company.
Joanna Ampil leads the roster of performers as Nellie. Jon Meer Vera Perez is Emile. Mark Bautista plays Lt. Joseph Cable and Ima Castro is Bloody Mary.
Joining them are veteran actors Michael Williams, Red Concepcion, Hans Eckstein and Raymond Concepcion, among others. Accompanying the cast is the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra led by conductor Rodel Colmenar.
“South Pacific” is a hit Broadway musical based on James A. Michener’s 1947 book “Tales of the South Pacific,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories. Its music is by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan.
It premiered on Broadway in 1949, and has won a number of Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Director for Logan and a slew of acting awards for the original cast.
Set on the lush South Pacific island during World War II, “South Pacific” is about two couples who fall in love, but also fall prey to racial issues between them.
There’s Nellie Forbush, the beautiful and gutsy nurse from Arkansas, and wealthy Frenchman landowner Emile de Becque. Then there’s Lt. Joe Cable, smitten with
Liat, an innocent Tonkinese girl who is the daughter of Bloody Mary, a spunky island native.
“South Pacific” was adapted into film in 1958 starring Mitzi Gaynor and John Kerr, and was made into a TV movie in 2001 starring Glenn Close and Harry Connick Jr. Both films were directed by Logan.
Among the songs popularized by “South Pacific” are “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair,” “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” “Honey Bun” and “Bali Ha’i”—the name of the mysterious and enchanted island that intrigues the GIs.
People who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s loved these songs, and Yulo says she wants to present them with a fresh approach to three kinds of audiences: those who came of age listening to them, the casino crowd of RWM, and new theatergoers who are not too familiar with the musical.
“South Pacific” is a major production that requires a huge stage and a multiracial cast. Staging it as a concert makes it more accessible, says Yulo, and allows singers to take roles they usually wouldn’t do in a musical.
“In a concert adaptation, we cast vocally,” notes Yulo. “An actor can be perfect for the role, but it would not be believable, say, if he is too old, or if we cast an Asian actor as Emile, who is French.”
Concert adaptations have long been done abroad, but it’s a new concept in Manila.
“It will be the entire musical with all the songs—but the story is abridged. There will be scenes, a very small set and the actors in a hint of costume. In the US, actors usually read the lines, but we’re not gonna do that; I want them to memorize,” says Yulo.
To ease the audience into the concert concept, Yulo will make use of LED screens to project island scenes. She explains: “It’s about the music, not anymore about physicality, but I want them to be comfortable with the idea. They’re expecting a concert, but I will still give them a story.”
She’s hopeful that the audience will enjoy the show. “For me, the director is captain of the ship. If a show doesn’t work, it’s my fault.”
Such accountability comes from her training under the legendary Bibot Amador of Rep, who played Bloody Mary in its ’80s production.
Yulo, now 52, recounts singing as a 15-year-old newbie who didn’t know stage left from right, and being thrown in on the same stage with the veterans.
She lists Monique Wilson, Bart Guingona, Audie Gemora, Junix Inocian, Michael Williams and Jaime de Mundo among her contemporaries—now theater luminaries who stage their own productions. (Inocian passed away on June 13.)
“We learned the hard way. Nabato na ako ng kape, mesa, sigarilyo,” Yulo recounts. “If you’re late, don’t even enter the room.”
As a director, Yulo promised herself never to scream at her actors, and instead motivate them by being firm but nurturing.
“I was performing out of fear, and it took time for me to be relaxed on stage. Looking back, I understood why. Rep was doing two seasons of 10 plays and two musicals. We were rehearsing one play, opening one and running another!”
If Yulo’s “South Pacific” experiment works, it could break barriers and open doors. Big musicals such as “Titanic” and “Oklahoma!” or British warhorses such as “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom of the Opera” can now be presented in concert form, and more Filipino talent can be showcased.
“South Pacific in Concert” is on Sept. 12 and 19 at Newport Performing Arts Theater, Resorts World Manila, Pasay City. Tickets are sold from P1,956.24 to P6,303.44 at www.ticketworld.com.ph.