“Beauty and the Beast,” the Broadway musical based on the beloved fairy tale about a cursed creature finding redemption through true love, was Ovation Productions, Inc.’s first venture into bringing a touring theatrical production to Manila.
It is also among the favorite musicals of Ovation’s president and CEO, Renen de Guia—a list that includes “Miss Saigon,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Aladdin,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “Rock of Ages.”
Staging the Alan Menken show in Manila in 2015 was not only an opportunity for business expansion for the man and his company known for bringing foreign concert artists to the Philippines. It was also a return to a youthful passion.
“I love theater,” says De Guia. “I joined the Dramatics Guild as a freshman at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) College of Engineering. I was awarded best actor in the 1972 Intercollegiate Dramafest by Bernardo Bernardo who headed the panel of judges. I also sang and acted in an operetta directed by Leo Martinez and produced by the UST Conservatory of Music’s graduating class of 1973.”
De Guia’s second theatrical import is “Sister Act,” another popular musical based on the hit movie starring Whoopi Goldberg. This collaboration with Broadway Entertainment Group, which will showcase a predominantly American cast, will run at The Theatre at Solaire on June 27-July 9.
While the producer side of him feels that “Sister Act” would be “perfect for the Filipino market,” the fan in him enthuses that the local audience will like a lot of the production’s musical numbers, such as the show-stoppers “Take Me to Heaven,” “Raise your Voice” and “Haven’t Got a Prayer.”
Among the many musicals he and his colleagues watched in places such as London, Singapore and Los Angeles, it was “Sister Act” that got the greenlight over other heavy-hitters like “Rent,” “My Fair Lady” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” because “the story was interesting and hilarious. It had a very nice buildup toward the end. The audience had a blast and so did we,” says De Guia.
The “Sister Act” ensemble that will perform in Manila also performed in Singapore, and will tour China, Seoul and Tokyo next.
In the tradition of having famous Filipino theater performers play critical roles in foreign touring productions, such as Rachelle Ann Go in “Les Miserables” and Lea Salonga in “Cats,” Ovation looked into the possibility of casting Morissette Amon as the timid Sister Mary Roberts in “Sister Act.” But schedules did not meet, and the plan panned out.
What has De Guia learned from importing theater shows as compared to pop performers?
“When you book a show after having watched it playing in some other part of the planet, you might not end up necessarily with the same cast,” he says. “By the time the show gets to you, certain elements of the production might have changed for whatever reason.
“When you buy a show, you are buying a concept. Depending on circumstances, the production company may have the option of assembling a whole new cast and creating a production calendar for your dates such as conducting auditions.
“As far as marketing is concerned, theater is hard sell. Even if the play or musical is well-known, you still need to go through the routine of putting up billboards, leaving flyers at places for people to randomly pick up or organize press tours to preview the show.
“Meanwhile, in concerts, you are marketing a product that is already well-known: the artist. When concerts do well, you may opt to cut down or completely skip advertising, thanks to social media. Not all artists with millions of views on YouTube necessarily translate to ticket sales. Prior to the internet, not all top-selling CDs necessarily meant successful concerts.”
He does see that the performance market in the Philippines is growing, but one that is not totally risk-free, especially for those venturing into theatrical productions.
“We feel it in our concerts. On many occasions, we have wondered if the market can handle expensive acts—and we are amazed that, oftentimes, the most expensive prices are the first to sell out. As the middle class expands, there should be a proportionate increase in the number of people getting introduced to theater. But what kind of shows do they like? Does anybody really know? It’s a tricky business.”
De Guia believes that although Ovation is theater’s “new kid on the block,” the reputation and community goodwill it has established after mounting the Manila concerts of top artists such as Sting, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Ed Sheeran will work on its behalf.
Another source of support is its partner, Broadway Entertainment Group, with whom Ovation established ties in 2013. As De Guia recalls, Liz Koops from that company flew to Manila in 2013 to meet with prospective Filipino producers who could help them mount their musicals. The two hit it off right away and soon afterward came up with a list of potential shows. “Beauty and the Beast” was eventually chosen as their first production.
De Guia says he’s in this for the long haul. “I thought it would be quite a challenge presenting something I am so passionate about. If I can produce a bit of theater productions alongside my concerts, why not?” —CONTRIBUTED
“Sister Act” runs from June 27-July 9 at The Theatre at Solaire. Visit ticketworld.com.ph.