Why PH audiences are perfect for mega musicals

By Rocky Christopher Fajardo

Posted at Nov 12 2014 03:11 PM | Updated as of Nov 13 2014 02:53 AM

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions CEO James Cundall

MANILA -- With the longest running American musical "Chiacgo" all set to open in Solaire Resort and Casino’s The Theater on December 3, Lunchbox Theatrical Productions CEO James Cundall promised local audiences to expect even bigger stage productions in the coming year.

“The audiences here are, I think, better than anywhere else in Asia. And more importantly - you know, I’m just the producer - but the performers love working here. You only have to see the last performance of 'Wicked' where over 2,500 people gathered outside the CCP to say goodbye to the cast,” he said in an interview with ABS-CBNnews.com.

Cundall recalled how impressed he was with Philippine theater enthusiasts when they staged a farewell serenade for the Australasian touring cast of "Wicked" after the show’s final performance during its week-long season extension in Manila last February.

“You wouldn’t get that in anywhere else in the world,” he added, “Mick Jagger doesn’t get that, you know. One Direction won’t get that.”

He also pointed out the numerous Facebook petition pages for shows like "Miss Saigon," "The Lion King" and "Les Miserables" – among many others -- as proof of the marked enthusiasm of Filipinos for mega musicals.

“Nowhere else in Asia are there petitions to bring musicals to a city. People in Hong Kong don’t have a Facebook site to try and get a musical to come to Hong Kong. People in Singapore don’t, but here they do, which is terrific!” Cundall said.

“I’m sure all those shows will come to the Philippines in time,” he noted, with a mysterious sparkle to his eyes.

“I think it’s a testament to if we bring great shows here, and if we continue to bring the original show -- in other words, the one you’d see in the West End or in Broadway -- the audiences will respond and will love coming to our shows,” he shared, pointing out how "Chicago" – headlined by an all-star American cast led by Broadway stars Bianca Marroquin and Terra MacLeod – is the perfect holiday offering to close a colorful and highly successful year for mega musicals in Manila, which opened with "Wicked."

Filipino talent

Apart from eager audiences, the Philippines also boasts of enormous talent.

“Everyone knows this: You’re a very musical nation and you’ve got wonderful performers and singers who’ve worked in musicals overseas like Lea Salonga, Leo Valdez, MiG Ayesa, and many, many others,” Cundall pointed out, as he further enumerated other Filipino theater luminaries who have made it big globally such as Rachelle Ann Go and Jon Briones of London’s 2014 "Miss Saigon" revival production.

After the percussion-powered show "Stomp" made local headlines earlier this year with Hawaiian-based Filipino Andres Fernandez, Cundall noted that Lunchbox Theatrical Productions is again looking into bringing yet another international musical next year, which will feature a mixed cast of international and local talents.

“We always use as many local musicians on our shows and as many local technicians on the shows. To put a member of the cast into a show is much harder unless they’ve done the role before," he said.
"The gentleman on 'Stomp' (Fernandez) has performed it many times, so it’s just a question of putting a 'Stomp' performer back in
'Stomp.'

"It’s harder to put a person into a musical because it requires a whole five or six weeks of rehearsals with the whole company so it’s a very expensive proposition. So if and when we can, we would love to, but it’s not easy,” he continued.

Booming city

Broadway stars Bianca Marroquin and Terra MacLeod at the press conference for "Chicago."

For Cundall, Manila has become a very important and economically competitive city in the global circuit, and the steady rise in the country’s financial stability has opened wider opportunities for business growth and allowed foreign investors to see the Philippines as a desirable hotspot for international mega-musical productions.

“When we designed tours for shows, historically, they never came to Manila. Go back three years and they’d be in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, maybe Taiwan, Japan - but they never came here," he said.

"So what’s happened over the last three or four years is that Manila has become part of the footprint. So when we or anyone else starts to think about touring a musical, Manila has become a part of that tour now, which is great. And it fits in nicely between Hong Kong and Singapore because it’s only a week’s sea freight from each city. Therefore it’s quite easy to tour a show from Singapore, to here, and to Hong Kong,” he said.

Personally, Cundall said it was Manila’s bustling energy that made a lasting impact on him, especially during his short business trips to the country to visit Filipino banking clients many years back.

“I love the hope and aspiration that is in the city. So now to see the economy doing so well here – with the GDP and everything else improving – I find it very satisfying,” Cundall stressed.

Sophisticated taste

Cundall believes that the sophisticated taste of Manila audiences perfect complements the dark and subtle humor of "Chicago," which is further enveloped in its savvy media satire.

Winner of six 1997 Tony Awards -- including Best Musical Revival, "Chicago" follows housewife and nightclub dancer Roxie Hart who has murdered her secret lover. Desperate to avoid conviction, she dupes the public, the media and her rival and cellmate Velma Kelly by hiring Chicago’s craftiest criminal lawyer to create a smokescreen of sensational media headlines to twist the details of her gruesome crime.

“I think the production that is around the world at the moment, and is still on in Broadway after 20 is just so amazing! Why does it work? It’s got the best dancing, it is a very clever, sophisticated, sexy show,” Cundall said.