‘Chuva Choo Choo’

Mr. Kupido tests musical waters

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(From left) Edward Benosa, Morisette Amon, Joanna Ampil and Jojo Riguerra together with the rest of the Chuva Choo cast

(From left) Edward Benosa, Morisette Amon, Joanna Ampil and Jojo Riguerra together with the rest of the Chuva Choo cast

In an unprecedented move in local theater, Chuva Choo Choo: The Mr. Kupido Musicale, was staged in a limited edition four-show run in the last weekend of September. Unlike most productions in the thriving Philippine theater scene, which hold consecutive shows for a full run, the partial run is deliberate move on the part of Stages Production Specialist Inc., before Chuva Choo Choo returns for a full season staging in January 2016 at the new Power Mac Center Spotlight in Circuit Makati.

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“I think we want to change the entire dynamic of theater now. We want to test [a production]first with an audience and be able to have enough material to market and sell it for the actual run. It’s not like ‘all eggs in one basket,’ where you put it all out there and risk if it sinks or swims,” explained Stages’ vice president, Alvin Trono.

Seven-time Palanca winner and Chuva Choo Choo director and playwright George de Jesus for his part compared, “It’s almost like the productions that go on Broadway. They have tryouts, like pre-production and off-Broadway runs, before a show actually goes to Broadway.”

Trono admitted in an interview with The Manila Times that they decided on the setup precisely because of the growing demand for theater productions in the Philippines.

“We’re testing a new business model in theater, since, theater is so alive here and almost everybody watches a production or two. We just want to change [the theater business model]a bit and see if it will benefit everyone in the industry.”

Morisette Amon and Joanna Ampil play sisters Darla and Dina

Morisette Amon and Joanna Ampil play sisters Darla and Dina

Chuva Choo Choo: The Mr. Kupido Musicale is inspired by the 35-year catalogue of multi-awarded composer Vehnee Saturno who composed popular hits such as “Be My Lady,” “Sana Kahit Minsan,” “Isang Lahi,” “Mister Kupido,” and “Dahil Tanging Ikaw,” to name a few.

More than 30 songs from Saturno’s rich catalog are used in the musical that follows the story of two sisters Dina and Darla who unwittingly witness an altercation involving the mayor of their town. Fearing for their lives, they head off to Manila to seek refuge where they begin working as female impersonators.

Thereafter, the sisters unexpectedly find themselves on the stage of a national singing contest. Their true identities are finally put on the line when the fulfillment of their dreams and promises of true love inch their way through the sisters’ cover up.

Morisette Amon (as Darla/Jessa) was undeniably comfortable in her role, while Joanna Ampil (as Dina/Jaya) seemed a little awkward in her use of the Filipino language. This is understandably so, because Ampil is best remembered for doing Broadway shows and was simultaneously in the local concert version of Rodgers & Ham-merstein’s South Pacific during Chuva Choo Choo’s limited run.

“I was memorizing two shows at the same time so medyo pinahirapan ko yung sarili ko,” Ampil admitted. “But the process was a lot of fun. And George [de Jesus]is a genius, he’s written something quite amazing.”

Theater newbie Edward Benosa (as Zandor, Darla’s love interest), Jojo Riguerra (as Tonton, Dina’s love interest), Ross Pesigan (Nenita, Dina and Darla’s cheerleader), Julienne Mendoza (as Mayor T/Zsazsa), Ron Alfonso (Arma/Lani), Jay Marquez (as Reggie/Regina), and Via Antonio (with eight whopping roles: Geena, Tiya Nene, Tiya Nita, Mrs. Chua, Bong, Max, Anne, and contest host) complete the show’ cast.

Jessa and Jaya are Darla and Dina’s alter egos

Jessa and Jaya are Darla and Dina’s alter egos

All in all, Chuva Choo Choo was a big hit among the audience in the limited run because of the beloved Saturno classics. But precisely because of this familiarity, the performers made sure they presented their musical prowess by belting out the songs with the skill and humor required of the storyline. This left audiences quite impressed, while in fits of laughter.

While certain parts of the musical need to be polished in time for the January 2016 regular run, it is safe to say that as Mr. Kupido successfully tested the musical waters, Stages’ newest offering has all the makings of an Original Pilipino Music (OPM) theater production.

For ticket inquiries, call Cheng Pimentel of Stages Production Specialist Inc. at 0917-8596544.

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