Having conquered Manila, so to speak, after a grand debut on Broadway, it now wants to reach out to key cities in the land: “M. Butterfly,” the breakthrough play by David Henry Hwang which created a buzz on the Great White Way years ago, somewhat similar to the excitement “Crazy Rich Asians” is generating today.
The straight play featuring a gay heroine, well, a cross-dresser, was loosely inspired by Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” the iconic aria “Un Bel Di” is sang) and is based on improbable but true events. René Gallimard, a member of the French embassy in China, falls in love with Song Liling, a Chinese opera star with an enchanting, womanly mystique. But she is really a man, and an agent at that, revealing classified information to the Communist authorities.
When the scandal broke out (in real life), Gallimard was asked why, despite their long and passionate affair, he did not realize Song Liling was a man. He replied that, well, they did it in the dark or something like that!
“M. Butterfly” has been staged by Dulaang UP, Repertory Philippines and, just last year, in a version more faithful to the original, in Manila by FrontRow Entertainment. This latest incarnation won many awards, was produced by Jhett Tolentino and starred RS Francisco, the original Song Liling.
It will now go on tour in the cities of Iloilo (Feb. 14-17), Dumaguete (Feb. 28-March 3), Cebu (March 14-17), Davao (March 28- 31), back to Manila (May 8-19) and finally Baguio (May 30-June 2).
This was announced in a press conference at the Oriental Palace in Quezon City, presided over by producers Tolentino and Francisco, who will again play Song Liling. But this time he will have an alternate in the new young talent Aira Igarta.
The cast is international. French actor Olivier Borten will essay the role of Gallimard while Jenine Desiderio (“Miss Saigon”) is his wife Helga. Norm McLeod of the United Kingdom plays the French ambassador, while American Lee O’Brian is the decadent best friend of Gallimard. Feature roles are played by Mayen Estañero and Maya Encila of Arizona.
Jasmin Salvo is the Opera Singer, and she gave a sample of her trained soprano during the press launch. Joed Balsamo handles music and the ensemble is composed of Pheith Iena Ballug, Ullyses Basa, Sasa Cabalquinto, Franco Ferrer and John Paul Ortenero.
This new production is a labor of love for the producers. Tolentino said they hope to raise P11 million for the benefit of their 10 charitable institutions in the cities where they will perform.