Manila’s version of West Side Story was fantastic. I witnessed the final show of this production at the Meralco Theater last October 13 and I felt lucky because West End’s Joanna Ampil was the one playing Maria for the night. This production by Stages made “my date with mom” a remarkable experience.
I believe Audie Gemora has a reason why he revived West Side Story, and whatever his reason was, I’m sure it was good. And the result was astonishing. Last year, Gemora pulled off a version of High School Musical on stage and it was impressive. This time, he and Mechu Lauchengco-Yulo, were able to restore the glory of a 50-year-old Broadway musical. The whole production ended up looking very well-planned.
Not so bad at all
Christian Bautista may not be the perfect Tony but at least, he was able to sustain his voice quality until the end of the run. Bautista’s inability to dance was not a problem because his voice became his edge. As a pop singer, Bautista deserves a round of applause. On stage, Bautista is not that good but he blended well. I love the part when he sang “Maria” and everyone was in awe (including the foreigners beside me) when Bautista was able to sustain the last note for several seconds.
Joanna Ampil, on the other hand, deserves a bouquet of flowers and a standing ovation. She is now one of the reasons why I am proud to be a Filipino. Her powerful voice was stunning. Her role as a Puerto Rican was very convincing, plus, she never slipped a change in her accent throughout the presentation. Bravo!
The moves of the dancers were very graceful and the choreography was simple but clean, thanks to James Laforteza. For the supporting characters, Gian Carlo Magdangal (Riff) stood out among the rest.
The voice qualities of some characters were not that far from what is expected of a singer. Felix Rivera may not be able to transfer his “Avenue Q” know-how to all the characters but he was notably a good vocal coach. The music (with Gerard Salonga as Musical Director) was comparable to the original production.
Overall, I give a score of 7 ½ out of 10 for this local musical. Truly, there’s a place for West Side Story in Manila! Here’s a very memorable line from the song “Somewhere” – “There’s a place for us, a time and place for us. Hold my hand and we’re halfway there; hold my hand and I’ll take you there… somehow, someday, somewhere.”