With opening night only two months away, rehearsals for the all-Filipino cast and crew of Resorts World Manila’s (RWM) seventh stage production ANNIE are in full swing.
“We took the kids through a workshop in May and we focused on both Annie and the orphans,” shared Full House Theater Company (FHTC) co-artistic director Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo when asked how rehearsals are going along. “We needed to work on the children one on one to get them ready. We taught them projection, performance energy, how to go for truth, etc.” she added.
Also playing the role of the miserable orphanage matron Ms. Hannigan for the production, Menchu comes to terms with the challenging task of being the kids’ endearing director offstage and their antagonist during performances.
“I keep telling them they have to stop hugging me because they have to hate me but it doesn’t work,” she said jokingly. “But I have fallen in love with each and everyone of those girls so it (performances) will entail a lot of acting,” she said.
Director Michael Williams, who also serves as Menchu’s co-artistic director at FHTC, expressed his confidence on how the entire cast has fostered the cohesion to portray their respective roles onstage and engage audiences in their scenes. “I find it very, very exciting. It now comes to the part where we make them a company that works together. They are all very strong and there’s no lame duck in our cast,” he said.
Offstage, the seasoned teacher/director seemed to have shifted to his ‘Daddy’ Warbucks mode in getting the children cast to develop their best talents onstage. “The most important thing these kids can learn from me is discipline for them to develop their craft and learn to focus,” he shared.
With big names listed on its technical personnel, ANNIE has assembled another ensemble of professional artists to get on board. Among them are set designer Faust Peneyra, costume designer Gino Gonzales, lighting designer Jon-Jon Villareal, choreographer Nancy Crowe, and voice coach Lyn Fabella, among others. The Manila Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of maestro Rodel Colmenar will provide the musical direction.
For the role of Annie’s beloved dog Sandy, FHTC acquired the services of Brad Feliciano of Better Dogs Canine Behavior Center who specializes in clicker training. In the studio, two dogs, a six-year old Golden Retriever named Tony and a seven-year old native dog named Alab work regularly with Krystal, Isabeli and Annie understudy/Pepper player Cydel Gabutero for their challenging scenes.
“I’m very fortunate to work with these kids from ANNIE,” said Feliciano. “They are willing to take instructions and they are very professional at their young age,” he added.
When asked if there’s a possibility for the dogs to acquire stage fright or throw tantrums onstage, Feliciano expressed his confidence. “What I like about Alab and Tony is that the more people there are watching, the more they perform. They like showing off,” he revealed.
With the painstaking effort both cast and crew have put into the production, it is safe to say that audiences are in for yet another world-class production from RWM. On social media, millions have positively engaged with the #brightertomorrow video featuring the kids cast of the musical. The video, which was launched a day before the inauguration of the country’s new president, was intended to spread a message of hope as it welcomed a new administration. Come opening night on September 30, when Newport Performing Arts Theater opens its lights and raises its curtains, we truly say that ANNIE has once again endeared Filipino audiences since it was first staged in the country back in 1980.