My first acquaintance with Sondheim was the musical “Sunday in the Park with George” with the amazing Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters. Up to now, I am still in awe of the intricate music of “Sunday…”, its vivid imagery still fresh and its staccato-delivery a huge thrill in my mind, considering I was just a child when I first heard and saw it on video.
Stephen Sondheim is debatably the greatest composer of American Musical Theater. Sondheim’s music is never easy. The songs are tortuous, and the music comes together through its characters which have to be nothing less than magnificent to make the whole thing work.
Some of my favorite Sondheim songs: “Side by Side by Side”, “The Little things You Do Together”, “The Ladies Who Lunch” and the bittersweet “Being Alive” from the musical “Company”; “Finishing the Hat” and “Putting it Together” from “Sunday in the Park with George” – one of the very few musicals which got a Pulitzer for its writer/composer; “Pretty Women”, “Johanna” and “Not While I’m Around” from “Sweeney Todd”.
My first West End encounter with Sondheim was the intensely intriguing “Passion” at the Queen's Theatre. This introduced and forever made me a huge fan of Michael Ball. "Loving You" is my ultimate favorite! Every raw emotion from each song was palpably felt in such a dark musical about loving someone so intensely that it hurts.
Westend stage legend Michael Ball
THEN, I finally saw the legendary Judi Dench (aka “M” of the James Bond series) play the self-absorbed actress Desiree, and in the process, sing “Send in the Clowns” in “A Little Night Music” at the Royal National Theater just along the River Thames. I still remember the ¾ tempo that inhabited the whole auditorium, a swaying mesmerizing beat that ran throughout the musical… I was floored by her performance - though she wasn't a singer, her voice low, husky & non-lyrical (it was part declamatory, part sing-song which nevertheless worked coz of her searing, larger-than-life performance).
Little did I know then that this was adapted from Swedish film master Ingmar Bergman movie (1955's "Smiles of a Summer Night" - one of Bergman's very few light-hearted romantic comedies), and that its Hollywood version had Elizabeth Taylor sing "Send in the Clowns" - this ode to ironies (her vocal work was later re-dubbed).
This month of November, the New Voice Company presents Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” bringing together our favorite fairy tale characters Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella and her Prince, Rapunzel and her Prince, Jack (of “Beanstalk” fame), the wicked stepmother and stepsisters, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, et. al. This time around, these characters transcend fairytale land and move toward a darker realm, delving into gritty themes of greed and ambition, desire, infidelity, death and responsibility, self-preservation and owning up the consequences of ones actions. Fantasy meets harsh realities!
Director Rito Asilo gathers an amazing line-up of the very best of veteran as well as new English-theater stars, and I mean, “STARS”! Add the returning screen legend Tommy Abuel, and Pilipino-theater royalty Mads Nicolas in their English Theater-Sondheim debut; and finally the perfect casting of JOAQUI VALDEZ playing “Jack”, as well as child star JULIA ABUEVA playing “Little Red Riding Hood” – I cannot wait to soak myself watching this musical at the Music Museum, which opens on November 9, and runs until December 8.
I was made aware that during their open call auditions, which had a heavy turn out of almost 200 hopefuls (this included big names like the endearing Michael Williams who was a shoo-in for the Baker’s part from the very start), every one wanted to be JACK !!!
I cannot wait to hear Joaqui sing Jack’s signature song “Giants in the Sky” (a personal favorite) as well as the Princes’ duet, “Agony” (where Cinderella and Rapunzel’s princes trade musical conversation). I am also thrilled to watch Juno Henares play the wicked stepmother (I loved Juno in “The Good Body"!). And finally, Menchu Lauchengco debuts in a New Voice production – her lyrical voice interpreting the Baker’s Wife’s songs is just perfection! It is the perfect Tony-winning acting piece for Ms. Yulo's stature! Even the minor characters are a list of the brightest and the most brilliant new comers: Red Concepcion, Maita Ponce, Mika Margolles, Angela Padilla, et.al. Also in the cast: Jamie Wilson as Cinderella's Prince ("I was raised to be charming, not sincere..." - geesh!!!) and John Mulhall as Rapunzel's Prince. Tammy Monsod does a special vocal cameo.
Here are a few songs to sample:
Very Nice Prince/First Midnight /Giants in the Sky: http://rapidshare.com/files/67981234/A_Very_Nice_Prince_-_First_Midnight_-_Giants_in_the_Sky.mp3.html
No One is Alone:
The next item is a medley of "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" (from Rogers & Hammerstein's "South Pacific") and Sondheim's "Children Will Listen" ("Into The Woods") as performed by Barbra Streisand before a live audience. I tell you, "Children Will Listen" (the Witch's song) has never been so beautifully interpreted: http://rapidshare.com/files/68073479/Carefully_Taught_-_Children_Will_Listen_-_Barbra_Streisand.mp3.html
Though of late, I have personally preferred straight dramas more than musicals (the more complicated and thought-provoking, the better), it is without doubt that it is the musical genre which shoved me into appreciating the theatre. I hope people will watch this amazing conglomeration of talents that only New Voice can bring together – the WAY New Voice delivers it – raw, meaty, thought-provoking and entertaining!
And yeah, in typical New Voice fashion, the role of the emcee was given to sensational actress Ms. Missy Maramara, a role that was originally played by a male actor in its Broadway and Westend stagings – and who would ever dare, but New Voice. This early, my congratulations!
Here's a video link of some of the cast, i think at their the press conference: http://www.thebachelorgirl.com/2007/872/meet-the-cast-of-into-the-woods-manila/
(thanks to bachelorgirl for the video link- and yeah, please watch the november 17 - Saturday at 8 PM show if you haven't bought your tickets yet.)
Lyn Sherman fills in Bernadette Peters' HUGE shoes as the Witch - a doting mom to her ill-fated daughter Rapunzel (played by NVC actress Angela Padilla) : "Careful before you say, Listen to me..."
Cathy Azanza is Cinderella who "will always love the faraway Prince"
INTO THE WOODS, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book and original Broadway direction by James Lapine, is a winner of three Tony Awards - including Best Book and Best Score. In addition to its successful Broadway and West End runs and subsequent revivals, Into the Woods has also been performed around the world and has produced a Grammy award-winning album.
INTO THE WOODS combines the well loved fairy tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel with the tale of a childless Baker and his Wife, who catalyze the action of the story by attempting to reverse a curse on their family in order to have a child.
In the first act, the characters set out to achieve their dream of living "Happily Ever After" through the familiar stories we know of their fairy tales - Cinderella, working for her wicked stepmother and stepsisters, finally goes to the Ball and her beauty and charm captures the heart of Prince Charming, Jack foolishly climbs the Beanstalk, enters the land of the Giants and steals their gold, Little Red Riding Hood, pursued by the Wolf on her way to Grandma's house, survives her battle with him and saves Granny, and Rapunzel, locked away in a tower for years, falls in love with a handsome prince who climbs her long hair and escapes.
The Baker and his Wife meet the other characters inside the woods, as they pursue their own goal. Long ago the Witch put a curse on his house, and has finally agreed to lift it. But the Baker and his Wife must first find the ingredients to help her reverse a spell which has kept her old and ugly. Those ingredients are: A Slipper As Pure As Gold, which the Baker's Wife pursues from Cinderella, while Cinderella flees from the Prince; A Cow As White As Milk, which the Baker buys from Jack in exchange for magic beans, A Cape As Red As Blood, which the Baker gets from Little Red Riding Hood in exchange for saving her and Granny from the Wolf, and Hair As Yellow As Corn, which they get from Rapunzel.
The ingredients are put together, and the spell works, leaving the Witch devoid of her power, but restoring her beauty. At the end of Act I, all the characters believe they will live "Happily Ever After".
Act Two, however, deals with the consequences that traditional fairy tales conveniently forget. What does one do with a dead Giant in the back yard, and how does the entire community save themselves from the angry Giant's wife seeking revenge? Does marrying a self-absorbed, unfaithful Prince really lead to a happy and fulfilling life? How can children survive without their parents? How can parents let go of their children as they grow up? Are Giant always wrong? Are wishes always right?
In Act two, all the characters must deal with what happens AFTER "Happily Ever After". As they face a genuine threat to their community from the Giant's wife, they realize that all actions have consequences, and their lives are inescapably woven together, but also that that interdependence is their greatest strength. Once the characters have accomplished their goals, however, they learn about the pitfalls of greed and gluttony. Finally, they learn about the need for community and unity and the power of wishes and dreams.
Some of the cast of NVC's "Into The Woods"
Recording artist Joaqui Valdez: "there are big, tall terrible giants...in the sky." (His debut album, "The Jazzanova Project" was recently released; a delightful fusion of jazz & bossa - go get your copy!!!)
Michael Williams as the baker and returning cinema icon Tommy Abuel as the mysterious man: "No more questions, no more tests; comes the day you say, What for? - please no more... we disappoint, we disappear, we die but we dont..."
the lovely Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo as the baker's wife (a Tony-award winning role) : "Sometimes people leave you half way through the woods, others may deceive you, you decide what's good...no one is alone."
INTO THE WOODS runs at the Music Museum from November 9 to December 8. Show and block buying packages are available for fundraising purposes. Interested show buyers, school groups and sponsors can contact Rona De Lim at the New Voice Company office: 896-6695, 896-5497, 899-0630. Visit the NVC office at 8020 Tanguile Street, San Antonio Village, Makati City, or visit www.newvoicecompany.com. Tickets are available at the NVC office or at Ticketworld (891-9999). Discounts are also available for students, groups and senior citizens.
This is the Eye in the Sky!