|Monique Wilson wears a gown designed by Rajo Laurel in "The King and I." Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA, Philippines – Fashion designer Rajo Laurel may have created dazzling costumes for several local musical productions, including “Dreamgirls,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Spring Awakening,” but one show that is closest to his heart is “The King and I.”
Laurel has been tapped to create the costumes for the musical’s lead characters – the King (played by Leo Valdez) and Anna Leonowens (Monique Wilson) – for the upcoming staging of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic by Resorts World Manila, which opens on September 15.
The musical’s director Freddie Santos recalled Laurel’s reaction when they offered him the job: “I will read to you the text, the very first response of Rajo when I texted him that we’re doing ‘The King And I.’ ‘OMG, it’s a full circle for me. Yes, yes, yes. I’m in Tokyo.’”
In a sneak preview of the musical last Saturday at the Newport Performing Arts Theater, Laurel explained that he played one of the King’s children in the 1978 production of the musical staged by Repertory Philippines.
“The same batch as Lea Salonga, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Raymond Lauchengco, and Tito Freddie was our assistant director,” Laurel recalled.
Laurel is the nephew of one of Rep’s leading ladies, Celia Diaz-Laurel, who was also the production designer for many of the company’s productions.
But while Laurel didn’t grow up to be an actor, he said the musical had a “strong imprint” on his career in fashion.
“Because of this production, I am a fashion designer. I fell in love with the costumes. That experience made me fall in love with clothes,” explained Laurel, who will be celebrating his 20th year in the fashion business this November.
“I’ve been wanting to do ‘The King and I,’ the costumes. It brings me back to where I was a long, long time ago. It’s like a journey,” he added.
According to Laurel, in designing the costumes, he drew heavily from the mid-19th century Victorian period and utilized materials that were imported from Thailand, the musical’s setting.
“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,” he said.
Among his creations for the musical, the ball gown to be worn by Wilson during the number “Shall We Dance?” is the one to look out for. Laurel described it as “the most intricately designed” piece in the production.
“Designing for stage and real life are two wholly different things but I hope in either case, the person who wears my clothes are empowered by my garments,” Laurel said.
Asked what other musicals he wants to work on in the future, he said it’s a toss-up between Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion” and the drag musical “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.”