To begin with, the story about a “demon barber” is not exactly what one would want to tell little children for their bedtime story. After all, if you think about it, the theme is rather grizzly. But one had to admit that there is this nagging fascination for all that is horrible and frightening – provided you are not part of it. So when you sit in a darkened theatre and watch the events as they unravel, you take pleasure in some delicious, tingly sensation.
Sondheim’s music in “Sweeney Todd,” is not your usual predictable sequencing of melody. On the contrary, to someone not familiar with his work, it may seem jarring at first. It takes genius to create a harmonious fluidity in the dissonance, which Sondheim seems to enjoy doing. So when his music combines with a story that is darkly irresistible, you’re bound to have exceptional entertainment.
For its new production of “Sweeney Todd,” Repertory Philippines has brought together the talents of two of the most respected actors in Philippine theatre today: Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo playing Mrs. Lovett, and Audie Gemora essaying the title role.
Menchu has had 25 years of theatre behind her, and has starred in “West Side Story,” “Camelot,” “The King and I,” “Evita” – to name a few. And as for Audie, he has had so many theatre-related functions that one is simply in awe of his accomplishments. But it is in his dedication as a prime actor that marks his career.
So when one asks these two accomplished artists why they have agreed to come out in “Sweeney Todd,” the responses are quite remarkable. For all the varied productions and roles they have been through, they both agree on one thing as far as “Sweeney Todd” is concerned: It is a dream come true.
For Audie, “Sweeney Todd” has always been THE classic masterpiece of Sondheim. He jokingly remarks that if Repertory Philippines did not choose to produce it, he would. With a wry smile, he says – for athletes, it’s the Olympics; for actors, it’s “Sweeney Todd.” He adds that the musical is an art piece that has to be performed with precision, because the ear has to be trained for this particular type of music. The challenge is to bring the listener to that space where the dissonance is actually harmony – as so it is!
Menchu was in the 1982 Repertory Philippines’ production of “Sweeney Todd” as the young girl, Johanna. Today, she takes on the rather weird Mrs. Lovett. As an actor, Menchu finds “Sweeney Todd” a major challenge for the serious actor. She observes that it can be frustrating when you “come in from the cold” and get exposed to Sondheim’s music. It is his dissonance that makes it all unfamiliar territory. She laughingly adds, when you think you’re singing it right, that’s when you’re off. And when you think you’re off, that’s when it’s right!
It is an understatement to say that both Menchu and Audie are enjoying their respective roles; it has been a long time coming.
Audie Gemora & Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo in Repertory Philippines' past production of The Sound Of Music
Repertory Philippines’ “Sweeney Todd” also features Liesl Batucan (beggar woman), Robbie Guevara (Beadle), Robbie Zialcita (Pirelli), Franco Laurel (Anthony), Lena Mckenzie (Johanna), Marvin Ong (Tobias), Roger Chua (Judge Turpin), Juno Henares (Mrs. Lovett understudy), and chorus members: James Stacey, Meynard Penalosa, Jejie Esguerra, Red Concepcion, Raul Montesa, Rem Zamora, Oliver Usison, Collins Gutierrez, Jay Pangilinan, David Cruz, Gary Junsay, Cara Barredo, Jay Glorioso, Naths Everett, Joy Virata, Marisse Santos, Ring Antonio, Gloria Sicam, Teenee Chan and Ronna Guba.
Baby Barredo co-directs with Michael Williams. Other members of the artistic and production staff include Gino Gonzales for costume design, John Batalla for lighting design, and Mio Infante for set design. Gerard Salonga conducts the FILharmoniKA orchestra.
Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (center) and Audie Gemora (far_right) in Repertory Philippines' past production of West Side Story
“Sweeney Todd” play dates are from November 13 to December 13, 2009 with additional matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at Onstage, 2/F Greenbelt 1, Ayala Center Makati City. For ticket inquiries and other information, call Repertory Philippines at 8870710, 8880887 or Ticketworld at 8919999 or www.ticketworld.com.ph
Repertory Philippines’ “Sweeney Todd” is made possible with support coming from Bench, Business World, Lifestyle Channel, Bag of Beans, Ayala Cinemas, ClicktheCity.com, Lane Moving & Storage, Yehey.com, Dot.ph, Gourmet’s Café, NU 107, Crossover 105.1, Jam 88.3, and XFM 92.3.