By Alex Rey Pal
The Song of Solomon, a musical inspired by the romantic Old Testament Book with the same name, will debut at the Luce Auditorium here on Nov. 15 and will run until Nov. 18.
For composer Andrew Beall, this is the first time he will be seeing the realization of the dream he started in 2006.
Beall and lyricist Neil Van Leeuwen kept improving on the musical until they came out with a concept album in 2016 featuring a bunch of artists and a 22-piece orchestra.
After Beall finished writing the song cycle and premiered it at New York University for his masters recital, he did several other performances until someone approached him after a performance in Chicago to expand The Song of Solomon further, by adding a string orchestra.
As fate would have it, New York-based Filipino performer Miguel Braganza attended that performance.
Braganza, a triple-threat performer (someone who can sing, dance, and act) was in the original cast of Miss Saigon, and was moved by what he saw.
“When I heard the concept album in New York, I felt the urge to do something great for my country -- I wanted right away to bring The Song of Solomon to the Philippines!” Braganza said.
Braganza studied Speech & Theater Arts at Silliman University in the 70s, where he was exposed to theater at an early age. Bringing the musical to his Alma Mater would be an honor, he said.
He reached out to other theater enthusiasts like Maria Luz Cole-Havranek and Mae Magdamo, to form a group of like-minded volunteers to piece this project together.
He then asked multi-awarded director Jaime Luis del Mundo to direct the play, and Mio Infante to join in as the scenographer.
Del Mundo has produced and directed for the Singapore Lyric Opera and Lyric Opera Malaysia, as well as for Actor’s Actors Inc., Dramatis Personae, and Repertory Philippines.
In 2013, del Mundo was adjudged Best Director by Aliw Awards for his work in the Broadway play The Rivalry. His most recently acclaimed work was a revival of the 1968 British musical adventure Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang.
The task of raising P7 million to underwrite the cost of producing this musical in the Philippines alone fell into the hands of the Dumaguete Theater Company (DTC), a newly-formed group of local theater lovers.
“We’re ordinary people who decided to volunteer our services together when the opportunity presented itself,” said lawyer Jose Riodil Montebon, DTC president.
Montebon said DTC is just as excited as the artists in seeing how things are falling into place.
“There’s a great opportunity to develop local talent. This opportunity with Song of Solomon came as a blessing because this is an original work, and it’s already here. So we have to do our part in letting it take shape,” he noted.
The cast of Song of Solomon includes David Ezra, who starred in Ricky Lee’s Himala: Isang Musikal, an adaptation of the classic film by Ishmael Bernal; the Tsinoy musical Binondo, and the Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical, Side Show;
Yanna Laurel, who starred in Ang Huling El Bimbo: The Musical; the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Broadway musical Kinky Boots featuring the music of Cindy Lauper, the rock musical American Idiot, and the Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home;
Menchu Lauchengco, whom del Mundo raves as the “First Lady of Philippine Musical Theater” has earned several Aliw Awards nominations and was Aliw Awards Best Actress for the rock musical Next to Normal.
“Menchu has done everything; it would be easier to do what Menchu hasn’t done,” said del Mundo. “We’re lucky to have her in a featured role.”
Members of the cast of The Song of Solomon are rehearsing in two venues. The choral group Ating Pamana, founded by Dr. Susan Elizabeth Vista-Suarez, has been practicing in Dumaguete, while the actors and actresses are rehearsing in Manila under director Jaime del Mundo and musical director Daphne Jocson. They two groups start rehearsing together starting Oct. 31st in Dumaguete.
Del Mundo said The Song of Solomon is “a challenge because it’s sung-through. It’s like Les Miserables or Miss Saigon. This is 99 percent sung.”
He said this musical “reaches pinnacles of beauty and musical imagination. Some of the music that Andrew Beall has composed is breathtaking in its beauty and its level of difficulty,” del Mundo said.
After The Song of Solomon completes its Dumaguete run, it will be performed on April 27-28 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay City, as part of the CCP’s 50th anniversary.
Beall said that after the CCP performances, he’s aiming for Broadway. “Every single one of them is coming to Broadway. I would love nothing more than to bring them over, and make them stars!”
For now, what does Dumaguete stand to achieve from all these cultural excitement? For del Mundo, the theater is great for the people of Dumaguete in the sense that theater makes one smart.
“The moment you step into the theater, there is a switch in everyone’s heads that turns into the ‘smart’ switch. It’s because theater demands that everyone uses their imagination -- they’ve got to believe in the unbelievable, and to do that, they’ve got to use their imagination. Using your imagination makes you smarter!”
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