Mar 7, 2013

[Theater] They're Playing Our Song (9 Works Theatrical)

So this counts as our first musical for the year. My partner Tobie and I do frequent a lot of shows throughout the year and it's always interesting to see what each theater company will bring to the table with each new production.

I haven't watched too many 9 Works Theatricals plays apart from Sweet Charity, so it's always nice to see more theater companies still contributing to the local theater scene. I do appreciate Atlantis Productions still, but a little competition and variety is always good, right?

Some time back Lea Salonga originally performed in a local production of this play together with Adrian Pang (the two were reunited in Atlantis Productions' God of Carnage last year), which admittedly is rather tough competition when you think about it. And while I wasn't able to watch that particular production, it seems almost everyone has decided to remember that earlier show in the context of this one.

Even without comparing, I can say that it was still a decent show but definitely had it's share of opportunities on the technical side. And we'll go over that at length in the course of this review.

Synopsis: They're Playing Our Song is a musical with a book by Neil Simon, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and music by Marvin Hamlisch. This local staging was put up bu 9 Works Theatrical and ran from February 9 - March 3, 2013 at the RCBC Plaza in Makati City.

The show starts with award-winning musical composer Vernon Gersch (Lorenz Martinez) first meeting a potential new collaborator, Sophia Walsk (Nikki Gil). The two have very different working styles with Vernon being quite organized while Sophia is highly impulsive and almost impossible to keep on a schedule. The two couldn't be any more different from one another and yet Vernon remains excited to work with her since he has shown quite an interest in some of her submitted lyrics.

But to help with their work, Sophia suggests that the two have a non-working dinner together to get to know one another better first. Reluctantly Vernon agrees and the two make reservations at "Le Club". When Sophia finally arrives, Vernon is forced to learn a lot more about Leon, her ex-boyfriend while Sophia tries to get him to talk more about his past relationships. But when each of them hear one of their songs being played at the club, it helps them open up more and become more comfortable as friends and potentially much more than that.

Now I can totally see why they chose those two actors as the leads in this particular production. Nikki Gil has become quite the charmer in the local theater scene given her work in other productions like the Atlantis staging of Legally Blonde. And she brings to this production the same high energy exuberance that has made her so endearing to theater audiences in the metro. She made for quite the adorable Sophia in this particular show. Opposite her was Lorenz Martinez, who had already demonstrated his diverse singing range in the Upstart Productions staging of Forbidden Broadway. He uses that same range to really belt out a lot of his songs and convinces us all that he is indeed his musical composer character.

As good as they are as individual actors, the on-stage chemistry wasn't quite as palpable as I had hoped. While the characters were initially meant to be a sort of "opposites attract" kind of pairing, I think it took a lot longer for them to warm up over the course of the show.

Each actor also had their accompanying inner voices acting as their respective Greek chorus of sorts. I love this concept as we've seen it in many past plays, although I felt execution this time around was less than idea. Some of the casting choices were odd since they didn't all match the visual look of the characters plus they couldn't even get the same costumes across their scenes. It almost seemed as if they had been asked to use their respective wardrobes to match the look of the main actors and thus the diverse styles and colors used. And from a performance perspective, you'd expect them to have more snap and power in their renditions but that didn't come across either.

We watched the very last show in the run, which is not something I aim for given the potentially higher emotions running that may affect the performance. However that does not account for the various technical issues that plagued our show including the music cutting out in the middle of a song, the sound levels of the music and the vocals competing with one another and odd lighting cues that had our lead actors speaking in the relative dark a lot of times given the lack of well-positioned spotlights. Add in the mixed bag of the set design which had good points light the rotating stage and bad points like their inability to secure it sufficiently and some of the more disappointing set pieces. And all that was rather disappointing from a professional theater group.

On the whole the show only came across as being decent but nothing amazing or truly entertaining. I found myself feeling as if the show had not met its full potential given the talent assembled. It could have done so much more but failed to do so, and thus I had myself hankering for a better show as my next theater date.

They're Playing Our Song is a good story with some good songs and interesting character options. However this run lacked sufficiently impressive staging to match the story, thus leaving us feeling like we didn't quite get our full money's worth. Thus the show can only rate 3 not-quite-up-to-par costumes for Sophia out of a possible 5.

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