The two Annies, Isabeli Araneta Elizalde (sixth from left) and Krystal Brimner (seventh from left), with the other “orphan” cast members: (from left) Stephanie Ginger Karganilla, Cydel Virie Gabutero, Atascha Chloe Mercado, Maria Francesca Rojas, Chrysse Jilliane “CJ” Jover, Alba Berenguer-Testa, Natalia Victoria Escano, Precious Lainey Galvez, Maria Ericka Peralejo, Shanti Leialoha Gleason and Gwyneth Jearei Dorado. PHOTOS BY TOTEL V. DE JESUS
What’s with ‘Annie’ being staged in Manila in 18-year intervals?
For those who grew up in the late 1970s to early 1980s, the character of Annie, the orphan with a golden voice, was embodied by Lea Salonga, who played the title role in Repertory Philippines’ production of the Broadway musical in 1980.
Rep restaged the musical in 1998, or 18 years later, with Camille Cabrera and Charity Sanoy alternating in the role of Annie.
This year—purely by coincidence, but how uncanny—Full House Theater Company of Resorts World Manila is mounting its own “Annie,” again after another interval of 18 years. Full House’s “Annie” will run at the Newport Performing Arts Theater on all weekends from September 30 to December.
“We realized a whole generation has never seen ‘Annie,’” says Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, acclaimed actress and co-artistic director of Full House.
Two new discoveries
For this production, Resorts World Manila conducted open-call auditions for the role that made Salonga a child star. The two young actresses who were eventually chosen and who will alternate playing Annie are 9-year-old Krystal Brimner and 10-year-old Isabeli Araneta Elizalde.
“We had almost 500 Annie hopefuls. There were two waves of auditions,” says Yulo. “The first was live and the second was online. Of all the kids who auditioned, these two have all the qualities we were looking for.”
Brimner’s face may be familiar because of Erik Matti’s “Honor Thy Father,” where she played Angel, the daughter of John Lloyd Cruz’s character. For the role, she won the Best Child Performer award in the 2015 Metro Manila Film Festival.
Half-Filipino and half-Scottish, she was born in the United States and moved back to the Philippines in 2009. She started out in TV commercials and has also taken acting workshops. She was a finalist in the reality-TV talent search “I-Shine Talent Camp” in 2013.
Elizalde, on the other hand, has appeared in various school plays. She is the daughter of TV personality-host-model Bianca Araneta and businessman Juan Elizalde.
Besides taking acting workshops in her school, Elizalde also took voice lessons with actress Caisa Borromeo. She bagged the lead role of Mary Lennox in Rep’s “The Secret Garden” last year but had to beg off due to school priorities.
Elizalde comes from a talented family of actors and performers—the famous Revilla siblings whose parents are 1960s film heartthrob Armando Goyena (José Revilla Jr. in real life) and Paquita Roces.
“Her cousin Alba, who is the daughter of Lexi Schulze, is also part of the cast. So it’s in the genes,” says Yulo.
“The audition was a combination of many factors,” says Yulo. “First was the singing. The kids all had to belt. We needed strong singers. Then we would call back for reading. We needed kids who could act and had good instinct. The last process was choreography.”
Both Brimner and Elizalde “have expressive singing voices and they understand the role,” says director Michael Williams. “It’s important to possess the ability to understand a character and interpret music, and these kids are fantastic in those areas. You can see they are completely different from each other. When they actually get into the role, there will be something new and fresh in each of their performances.”
As for the other orphans, Full House chose a total of 14 kids ranging in age from 9 to 14 years old.
Shanti Leialoha Gleason, who plays July, the “motherly” quiet orphan, was part of Resorts World Manila’s “The Sound of Music,” Rep’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and Trumpets’ “Bluebird of Happiness.”
Stephanie Ginger Karganilla, who plays Duffy, the oldest and friendly to all orphans, was in Resorts World Manila’s “The King and I” and “South Pacific in Concert,” and Rep’s “The Secret Garden.”
Atascha Chloe Mercado, who plays Pepper, the bossy “anti-Annie” orphan, was part of Kids Acts and has done several musicals with the group.
The other orphans are Maria Francesca Rojas and Precious Lainey Galvez, who alternate as Molly, Annie’s best friend; Chrysse Jilliane Jover and Maria Ericka Peralejo as the shy Kate; Alba Berenguer-Testa and Natalia Victoria Escano as Tessie, the lachrymose orphan; Gwyneth Jearei Dorado, who also plays July; Sofia Wong, an alternate Duffy; and Cydel Virie Gabutero, who plays Pepper and will also understudy Annie.
Yulo recalls that, although her younger sister Vicky was the original Tessie in the 1980 musical with Salonga, she herself was never part of the two Rep productions.
But this time, Yulo will play Miss Hannigan, the bored, alcoholic, cruel caretaker of the orphanage who makes Annie’s life miserable—while also acting as assistant director to Williams.
“[It’s her] median physique, the physicality,” says Williams of Yulo. “She fits that role. She is very versatile. It’s a challenge for her to bite into this role, this drunken disillusioned woman.”
Playing the billionaire Oliver Warbucks is Michael de Mesa, who “has a gentleness to him that Warbucks eventually
has for Annie. The softer and parental side of him—Michael will bring that to the role.”
Red Concepcion and Mako Alonso alternate as Daniel “Rooster” Hannigan; Raymond Concepcion plays Bert Healy; Jill Peña is Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ secretary; and her real-life sister Justine is Lily St. Regis, Rooster’s girlfriend. Italian-American actor James Paolelli, who used to act for Rep, is playing Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“We chose the musical ‘Annie’ as our next presentation because we felt it is a relevant show to do now. With all that our country is going through, this musical speaks about hope and optimism,” says Yulo.
They also wanted something family-friendly. “And in keeping with the goals of the Original Pilipino Performing Arts, our foundation for nurturing new talent, this was the perfect vehicle.”
“Annie’s” set design is by Faust Peneyra, costume design by Gino Gonzales, lighting design by Jon-Jon Villareal, choreography by Nancy Crowe, vocal coaching by Lyn Fabella and musical direction by Rodel Colmenar.
For tickets and other updates on “Annie,” visit www.rwmanila.com.