MANILA -- In a fancy restaurant not so long ago somewhere in Pasig City, there was a beautiful conversation between composer "Gerry Goffin" and legendary American singer "Carole King" that made an impression among nosy diners nearby.
"'Sah-lah-bhat'? What is that?" the curly-haired white male who was supposed to be Goffin asked the lady date who was supposed to be King.
"It's the Filipino term for ginger tea and it can do wonders to one's voice, especially before a performance," she said.
"Oh, I have to try that. Where can I get that?" he asked.
"In the supermarket, ginger is available. Just boil it or you can get the powdered version sold in packs. But fresh one is definitely better," she told him.
"Am gonna try it, as quickly as possible," he said.
"Goffin," as theater followers who've seen "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" at the Meralco Theater may have known now, is New York-based American actor Nick Varricchio. For the past three weekends, he's been playing the role of the brilliant lyricist who with King, composed more than 50 Top 40 hits.
"Beautiful" has earned rave reviews in the Manila theater scene and is now on its final weekend. Varricchio also gained new fans and "sah-lah-baht" may have done wonders in his singing voice.
For those who've seen him only now, it may be a surprise to know that it's his second time to act in Manila. In 2015, he was part of the international tour of "Saturday Night Fever" that was staged by Atlantis Theatricals. He played Double J, the most aggressive among Tony Manero's friends, and was also an understudy for Tony.
"Saturday Night Fever" ran from June to July that year at The Theatre at Solaire, before it was brought to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. In the Manila run, Varricchio remembers getting some time off from performing and experiencing Boracay.
"It was a great experience. All the Filipino hospitality. And Bobby Garcia is just so knowledgeable. He's great. It was also my first time in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur," he said.
But all those time, he was oblivious of the wonders of "sah-lah-bhat".
"King," or the source of "sah-lah-bhat" knowledge is theater actress Kayla Rivera. We've learned that she has a Filipina mother and a Romanian father but grew up and is still based in Calgary, Canada.
The start of her longer stay here was when, after being a co-winner in the David Foster Star Search in 2009 in Canada, she moved back to Manila to join ABS-CBN's first batch of "Starpower" talent-search show. She was a finalist in this batch that had Angeline Quinto as grand winner. Eventually Rivera had some stints as a video jockey on MYX.
But it was musical theater via Atlantis Theatricals that she found reasons to come to her mother's homeland every year. "When I watched 'Next To Normal' in 2010, it opened up my eyes. At first I thought everything was all recorded. I didn't think they were singing live. I even asked Direk Bobby if that was live. Perfect, amazing," she said.
"I auditioned for 'In The Heights' and got the role of Nina Rosario. I was part of some musical productions in high school but I can say Bobby Garcia opened my eyes to the world of theater. Direk Bobby has such a big heart. He's so generous. When he believes in you, he's all out. Am so grateful to him," she added.
After "In The Heights," she's always been part of the succeeding Atlantis productions in the following years while still managing to finish her communications degree, major in economics, at the University of Calgary.
"Atlantis feels like family. They treat you like family. I've grown so much with them as a person and as a perfomer. I feel at home, like in a family environment, where everyone is encouraging," she said.
But it wasn't anyone from Atlantis who taught her to drink "sah-lah-bhat" but from her mother since she was a kid. Over the years, she has tried to limit her ginger tea intake because she's become a bit acidic. "I stick to warm water and lemon," she said, laughing.
Rivera knows how to speak more Kapampangan than Tagalog or Filipino because her mother hails from Pampanga.
"We don't speak Tagalog at home but I understand it, though not that fast," she told us. In fact, when she watches musicals in Filipino, she needs someone to translate the faster dialogues.
"The last one I saw was 'Huling El Bimbo' when I was doing 'Sideshow' for Atlantis last year," she said. She played one of the conjoined twins and true enough, it was her co-lead actress, Gab Pangilinan, who accompanied her and did the random translation. "She'd whisper to me the meaning of the unfamiliar lines," she said, again laughing at the thought of it.
When she saw "Rak of Aegis," she had a different translator because Pangilinan was a member of the cast onstage.
For "Beautiful," Rivera is performing around 24 songs. She and Varricchio have no alternates in the two-hour long musical that's now down to its final five shows, and they assured that they'd give their consistent best like what they did in the past three weekends.
Now, if there's a shortage of ginger roots and calamansi in any supermarket near Meralco Theater, we'd know the culprit. In a more recent conversation, she confirmed: "Nick has tried and is currently obsessed with salabat! And calamansi, honey and warm water too."
And a few months from now if some actors in a musical on Broadway are drinking salabat with calamansi, we know who brought the idea.
("Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" has 8 p.m. shows on July 5, 6 and 7 and 2 p.m. shows on July 6 and 7).