Sunday, September 21, 2008

Zheng Zhou

We just got home from our two show day in Zheng Zhou. We are here as part of an arts festival and we only do three shows here. Our last performance is Monday night. Zheng Zhou is truly in the heartland of China. It is reputed to be the oldest capital of China and the oldest civilization in China. Which makes it the oldest civilization in the world.

I have learned a few things about history that I have never really grasped before. I have learned that civilization really refers to a formed society that stays in one place and builds a community with a government and laws. This usually means that agriculture is being practised. Hence, no need to be nomadic. It makes sense that The Chinese Were the first to make Ice Cream and Spaghetti, and alphabets etc. etc. Ironic side note: gunpowder was discovered by accident as they were trying to concoct an immortality drug! They had a working Seismograph 1700 years before anybody else!! I saw it at the splendid Henan (pronounced Hu- nan the u as in bush) Provincial Museum. It was here that I became fascinated with the progression of crafts and written language in this culture. This museum starts at the beginning and leads you through a chronological progression of the history. You get to see how they got from A to Z. I am now particularly interested in the origin of Dragons and their mythology. Here they are benevolent symbols of power. Their origins have something to do with water and hurricanes. It is a whole realm of research for me to do.

We also travelled on Saturday to the Longmen Grottos in Louyang. This is a cliff side by a river which is covered in myriad carvings of Buddhas and Bodhisattva's of all shapes and sizes. Longmen means "Dragon Gate" in Chinese. Work started on these carvings in 494 AD. Many are missing or defaced or beheaded, but there are many spectacular specimens left. They range in size from 10,000 one inch high figures in one cave, to spectacular 50 ft high giants in the grandest of the walls.

Now I've seen a lot of Buddhas in my day, (All that time in Japan as well as travels in Thailand)
so after 30 minutes I was sort of over it, but the biggest carvings just knocked me out! And our walk across the river bridge and the view of the countryside softened by the misty atmosphere made me want to just keep walking away into the landscape. It was really beautiful.

In, fact, one of the great things has been seeing the country side. I remember family vacations when my Dad would go so far as to stop the car to talk to farmers about how the crops were doing. He was still a farmer where ever he went. I guess I inherited that trait. I was fascinated by all the little farms along the road. Lots of tidy little fields of corn and squash and other crops growing in the rusty colored soil that distinguishes this region. They have farmed this land for centuries and much of it is terraced into small plots. Where there is flat land there are crops. and Trees! Apparently the government has made a big push to plant trees along the road sides. There are row upon row of tall, straight, fast growing trees. They look like Maples or Alders to me. Even on our 9 hour bus ride through the rain from Xian to Zheng Zhou, the sight of these orderly forests pleased me greatly.

So far I have found China to be warm and inviting. The people have been friendly and happy, and the sights have been great. I'll talk about The Shaolin Temple ( home of Kung Fu) next.

Friday, September 12, 2008

More Taal Volcano

Here's Julia at the scenic overlook.
Here's Julia in the shaded spot where you can buy sodas, water, coconut,snacks, etc. Oh yeah, and that horse in the background just pissed allover!! Appetizing , ain't it?
Talk about a dog day afternoon... in the village at the base of the volcano.
Too Hot for Pants!!

Traditional house. This whole village subsists on tourism and it seems some agriculture. There were many chickens, fighting cocks, cattle and of course horses. It had a sort of island charm but was still very crowded and dirty. They did have a basketball court (it is very popular here) and an outdoor pool table,(also very popular).

Catch up Taal Volcano

Wow, I know there is a big gap here. I'm using Julia's computer because will not upload photos to this site and I have not been able to fix that problem. I'm going to catch up bit by bit.

After enjoying the pool at the resort and the sunset, we walked into the town of Talisay to eat at a place called Milan's, which was recommended by the tourist office. This is the very friendly staff who were very excited that we were in Cinderella . It didn't get us any free food, but they sure took a lot of pictures. We had a good dinner of traditional Filipino food for this region. A whole fish and Rice of course, with a bitter green vegetable sauteed with shrimp and tomatoes.
Her I am in the prow of the Banca that is taking us to the Island of the Volcano.
This is the trail. The natives transport soda, food, ice etc up top the top by horseback to sell to tourists at extraordinary prices. The fellow in the foreground is a local policeman. Upon landing on a beachhead covered in manure we were met by this guy and our boatman infoemed us that he was to show us where to go. We thought he was going to direct us to the tourist bureau where you are to register and pay an entrance fee. It soon became evident that he was going to "guide" us to the top and of course be paid $10 for that. I informed that we did not not need or want a guide. He went with us anyway. We bought him a soda at the top. This is part of the constant "pay as you go" scam in the Philippines. You think you are doing one thing and suddenly you discover a bill that you did not expect. It is all very good natured, but perfidious.
A view from the top of the trail we took up. These are horse corrals and shelters below. Many people pay $10 to ride a scrawny horse to the top. I could have carried the horse up!
Here is the Lake. As you can see, there is an island in it. So it is an island within a lake within a volcano within a lake within a volcanic Caldera. Whew!! It was hot as blazes up here. We sweat (Swat?) buckets. It is a volcano after all. We know others who hiked down to the lake and swam in it. Funnily, I don't feel liked I missed it. Next up... Pictures of the village and sleeping dogs!!!!! don't miss it!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Juria and Shrinky are in China! However before we start blogging about THAT, it's only fitting to bid our adieu to good 'ole Manila. Basically, the show opened and you never heard from me (Juria) again! I guess I was too busy working and adventuring to get the job done. Procrastination and laziness reared their lovely heads as well. (Those two sometimes camp out in my life... we are intimately acquainted!) With so much to write about I will condense my comments into a series of (I'm sure) captivating topics:

- We took an overnight trip to the Taal Volcano (technically, not a "day trip", I know.) Shrinky already wrote about that a little... but some of the highlights were swimming in a pool as the rain poured down on our heads and eating BUKO (coconut)... Buko pie (layers of buko in a flaky pie crust...wowsa), Buko juice drunk right out of the shell and then having them crack it open to get to the wet meat inside. The volcano was cool. We hiked to the top so we could view the sulphur lake down below and it was HOT. Hot temperature and hot fumes and a hot hike up. So, basically, cool and hot both.

-Pagsangjan Falls and Gorge: This is the river where they filmed Apocalypse Now and we boated up river in order to reach the Falls at the end and then ride the rapids back down again. Basically, it was the two of us in the middle of a canoe and two boatmen, one at the front and one at the back, who paddled when necessary and basically CARRIED us up the rapids. The gorge walls got larger and closer and we passed various smaller falls along the way. Then, we arrived at the Pagsangjan Falls.. and transferred to a bamboo raft so that we could travel to a cave located BEHIND the waterfall. Now, that's a fun way to get absolutely soaked!

-Ayala Museum in Manila: Lea's assistant, Sheila (who I adore), used to work there and gave some of us a tour of this beautiful museum... but the thing most notable to mention was THE GOLD COLLECTION. We are talking some SERIOUS gold pieces from Philippine history (they were hid from the Spanish!) And LOTS OF IT.... and BEAUTIFUL. Gold earrings, gold necklaces, gold death masks, gold crowns. I've never seen so much gold all in one place. The designs looked so modern to me, so forward. I thought of my Grandpa Cook, who would have been fascinated by the chains and the boldness of these 10th century designs!

-Walking tour of Chinatown and Quiapo Church: Another guided tour with our favorite guide, Carlos Celdran. Seriously, this guy's amazing. As a former tour guide myself (ok, so it was Universal Studios, but still) and a performer, I truly appreciate someone who can organize the information dramatically and present it in a lively and interesting manner. Well, that's what Carlos does, with humor and point of view fully intact. Walking around Chinatown was a perfect seque into the next chapter of our travels (and many Chinese settled in the Philippines so it's an important part of their mixed heritage as well.) We burned incense at a Taoist temple (and a special paper representing "money" in heaven... you burn it so that your ancestors have cash to spend in heaven. I gave mine to Grandma Marrett so she could do all the clothes shopping she wants up there!)
Quiapo Church and the market around it was one of the most fascinating places in Manila! The church houses one of the most beloved and strange icons, the Black Nazarene. The Spanish introduced this Christ sculpture to the Filipinos, hoping that they would more easily embrace Christianity with a dark skinned Saviour. It worked and became a beloved figure to the people, especially the poor and working class. (If you touch the foot of the statue, leave a flower offering and make 3 wishes, they will come true... I'll let you know.) Ironically, the market outside is the largest pagan/voodoo market in town... one can buy amulets, candles, oils, love potions and an abortion drink (which is very dangerous and used by many poverty-stricken women in a country with no federal family planning or legal options!) There are palm readers and fortune tellers available as well. Now, the same people that are shopping in this market are worshipping the Black Nazarene... somehow, it all fits together for them. CRAZY!

-Corregidor Island: Famous WW2 spot where a huge battle took place when the Japanese attacked the American base that was located there, to protect Manila Bay. Basically, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor AND Corregidor.. TWO hostile acts that started our war with them. It was a good history lesson and now a beautiful, hilly island to explore....


-NO ROOTS! It was time to get my hair re-done, so I did what I've done many times before... asked Lea Salonga for her recommendation. She recommended a lovely salon. I made an appt. after 20 phone call attempts (they are very busy) and arrived at the salon ready for my new highlights and haircut. FOUR HOURS LATER, I had new highlights, new lowlights, new snappy haircut, deep conditioning hair treatment, a neck and shoulder massage, and a smile on my face... but here's the kicker... usually, when I get new highlights, you can still see the roots since they can't go all the way to the scalp.... but somehow here they did! It looks like all these gorgeous blond strands of hair (in multiple shades) are growing out of my head... I've never seen anything like it. I mean, eventually my hair will grow our enough that my natural color will show, but seriously, this is amazing... and why it needed to be told to all of cyberspace. :)

-Korean Spa Day: Jefferson and I spent FIVE hours at a Korean spa, La Sema. We fell in love with hot springs and bathhouses when we lived in Japan and have seeked them out ever since. Experiencing bodywork has been one of my favorite things in Manila and when I read about LaSema in a magazine, I knew it was the place for us. We started in the baths (segregated) where I bathed in Green Tea, Ginseng, a cold plunge and sat in a Jade encrusted steam room. THEN, we moved to the co-ed area, the traditional Korean Jjim jjill Bang (Three hot sauna rooms, each designed to treat different ailments. They were made of mud, salt and charcoal, and clay at varied temperatures.) The point is to sweat, sweat, sweat. When we got too hot, we moved to the ICE ROOM. Yes, a room that resembled a freezer, with ice on the walls and ceiling. Then, back in the hot sauna. After all that, a 2 hour massage and time in the Napping Caves. These were caves where you could stretch out and rest your head on a wooden pillow (oddly comfy). Total price: under $30 each. Oh yeah.

-FISH SPA! We found ourselves at Manila Ocean Park in the Bay to watch the sunset one evening. As we were about to depart, I noticed the words, "FISH SPA" and remembered an article I had recently read about Nibble Fish, or Doctor Fish, used in the east to treat skin dryness. Sure enough, it was two large tanks of fish... for $3 you could stick your feet in the tank and let the fish "clean" them... as in, eat the dead skin from the bottom, sides and tops of your feet, as in nibble the tiny spaces between your toes... which we did. Truly, one of the most bizzare feelings in my life. And I've felt some bizarre things before.


-Four week run at the CCP and it was just wonderful. The audiences were great and the show was a hit. Backstage, Charlie Parker (the Godmother and my dressing room-mate) and I became very fond of our dresser, Ellen. She just loved being involved in this experience and was completely on top of things... like I would come in and she would have organized all my bobby pins according to shape, size, and color. In some ways, she represented for me the very best of the Filipino people... so hard-working, always smiling, and when we said good-bye, openly sobbing.... just so warm-hearted and full of feeling.

Overall, our Manila stay was very special... Most of it was spent getting the show up and on its feet, but two months is enough time to get a feel for a place and its people... and reading the daily paper helped too...
We will miss:
-Daily Mango consumption.. like, EVERYDAY, fresh or dried.
-English everywhere
-People understanding the verbal jokes in the show
-Spa treatments at crazy cheap prices
-Cheap food.. in all ethnic cuisines
-Our stage crew
-Halo-halo (see previous blogs for definition)

BYE BYE MANILA! Thanks so much for sharing yourselves with us!

Oh, and if you are wondering, "Where are the pictures??" please bear with us... we are having some technical difficulties getting pics uploaded... I think it's a China obstacle...

And just in case you are anxiously awaiting our Xian, China impressions, please know this.. WE ARE GETTING OUR SOCKS BLOWN OFF!!!! Stay tuned. :)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Taal Volcano trip

On Monday August 11 we headed south to visit the Taal volcano in Taal Lake, about 2 hours south of Manila. This is the worlds smallest active volcano and has a lake inside of it, even as it sits within a lake which is itself a volcanic Caldera! After an hour and a half on a bus we were dropped in Tanauan. Not knowing the going rate for a ride to Talisay where you embark for the volcano, we agreed to pay this guy 200pesos to take us to Talisay in the most beat up Jeepney I have yet seen. That is about how much he probably makes in a half a day. The good part was that we basically had the jeepney to ourselves for the whopping price of $5 U.S. ! he dropped us at the town hall where they assisted us in getting a room for the night at a nearby resort with a pool and told us how much we should pay for everything. And then they promptly overcharged us for a ride to the resort!!!
The resort was a place that sold time share condos and was undergoing lots of construction and restoration. Unfortunately our room was in a cellblock of a building which time, housekeeping, and hot water had forgotten. But the bed was okay and the A.C. worked even if it did blow mouse turds onto the bed when we switched it on! All for $57. The best part was this pool. We played in it and the water slide even when a pouring rain storm blew in.
It was the best time we had had in quite a while. That is one of the volcanoes to the right. The still active volcano which we climbed is the flat top island at center.
The storm was powerful and beautiful. We sat in the poolside restaurant and had beer and a club sandwich. When the rain stopped it left clear skies.
And the fishermen did not even pause for the rain.
These are laborers ending the days work. It was really hot this day and these guys were working hard in the blazing sun.
Next up. Our climb of the Taal volcano and local culture pictures!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Opening Night!

Me, Lea, Imelda Marcos and Julia after the show. Imelda was presented with a glass slipper.

With Renato Belestra the designer and his assistant Piero.
Our wedding costumes, minus my cape.
With our last minute replacement lighting designer Paul Miller
Apologies to those of you have given up on new entries. I promise to be more regular with our posts. We’ve settled into a show schedule now. There is always a period of transition when you open a show. For four weeks we rehearsed 6 days a week from 10AM until 6PM.
Then we had 7 days straight of Technical rehearsals from noon or 1PM until 11PM or Midnight. This was followed by 2 days of double show runs some with audience, and this dovetailed into regular performances for paid audiences. In all we worked for 14 days without a day off and performed the show in full costumes for an audience 10 times in 7 days. Those of you reading this that are in the Biz know how exhausting this is.

After a day off which included seeing a movie and attending a birthday party for Sheila Valderrama, we started our regular show schedule week, which we are about to finish tonight. Now we stay up until 1AM and awake at 9am to get the hotel buffet breakfast and then the rest of the day seems to fly by and suddenly it is time to get on the bus to go to the theater. I am trying to get to the gym regularly and still do some sightseeing and catch up on e-mails, facebook and yes, this blog. I am also very aware that in two weeks we leave Manila for Xian, China. I feel like I have barely experienced the Philippines!

We are planning a getaway to the Taal Lake region tomorrow. This is a lake within a volcanic caldera that has a volcanic island in it that has a lake inside the cone and an island in that lake! We plan to take a boat to the island, climb the volcano, maybe go down to the inner lake and back. If all goes well we will spend the night on the big lakeshore and the next morning we will take a boat upriver to Pagsanjan Falls and then ride the rapids back down and be back at our Manila hotel by 3PM. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

Much has happened since my last entry. Obviously, we opened the show. Our audiences leading up to the opening taught us how to play the show and our opening night audience was very responsive and enthusiastic. We have had fans thronging at the stage door asking for photographs and autographs, we have had dignitaries in attendance (the Vice President of The Philippines was in the audience the other night, and Imelda Marcos last weekend, more on her later) and we have all felt the chills go down our spines and a tear well up when the crowd roars as Lea steps downstage for her bow. It is an amazing feeling just to be near it. I have experienced crowds raising their volume for my bow before and it is gratifying to know that the extra cheers are in acknowledgement of my work, but nothing has ever compared to the roar that comes forth and the huge smile it brings to Lea’s face. She shines and the audience loves her. I’m getting a little misty just remembering it.

Now, Imelda Marcos. She came backstage to have her picture taken with the Glass Slipper insert shoe joke here) and Lea. Julia and I stayed in costume and boldly asked her if she would pose for a picture with us. And here is the proof. She graciously posed for several pictures and we talked about the fact that she had dressed in a shade of blue that corresponded to our royal blue and white finale costumes. She informed us that it was one of her older “Belestra’s”, designed by the same man who designed all of our costumes. Here in the Philippines she conjures mixed reactions. I have heard the Marco’s blamed for the current state of rampant government corruption, and of embezzling millions from the country, and yet, the power of celebrity is indomitable. She was an icon of the Philippines for many years, and notoriety is still as thrilling as Fame. For my part she seemed to be an elegant women with poise, and still able to command attention. I think it is pretty cool that we got to meet her.

That’s it from me for now. I’m sure Julia will share her thoughts on the last few weeks.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Countdown to OPENING NIGHT

It’s Bloggin’ Time! To quote a song from the Disney film, CINDERELLA, “Cinderelly, Cinderelly, all I hear is Cinderelly, From the moment that I get up, Til early in the morning…”

But first, some catch up:
(over (2 weeks ago)
**As promised, my report on… The Cast Album Recording- During the first two days, the orchestra recorded their tracks… that is, the Filipino Filharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gerard Salonga, Lea’s bro. Then, Lea, the step-family (me), the Prince, and Godmother came in on the second day. I don’t sing much in this show, but two of the songs I DO sing are with Cinderella (Lea) and my daughters (Brandy and Jen.) Generally, we would have one rehearsal, listening to the orchestra track on our headphones (“cans”) and then record (“lay down”) a first take. Of course, they actually recorded the rehearsal version. Gerard told us the following day that they were actually planning on using the REHEARSAL TAKE on several parts of Lea’s songs. Why? She was spectacularly prepared, warmed up and ready from the first note… Hence, the “One Take Wonder” I mentioned in a previous blog. Gerard said that she was so fresh on the rehearsal takes, that the spontaneity of hearing the orchestra for the first time added such a perfect quality that they ended up choosing those! Of course, we still had to re-do sections that needed tweaking, whether energy-wise or note-wise. I have a funny part of the song, “A Lovely Night” where I sing, “Darling, I love you” with the deepest most Harlequin Romance-y stylings that I can muster. Gerard later laughed saying, “That’s gonna be my new ring tone!” The next day, I returned with the rest of the ensemble to record my vocals and spoken parts in the song, “The Prince is Giving a Ball.” It was overall a wonderful experience! People have asked if it will be available for purchase in the States. The answer is yes, in regards to Itunes and I don’t know about record stores yet.

(1.5 weeks ago)
**A press event with my “daughters” at the Dusit Thani hotel. The idea was to walk around in character and visit the various gourmet Sunday Brunch buffets at all the restaurants (It’s one of those hotels that has like 5 restaurants in the building.) At first I was kinda dreading it, but then the fun kicked in and I realized that the Stepmother is pretty cool to improvise with. Basically, I yelled at the sushi chefs for not cooking their food. I yelled at the lobby musician (a beautiful Thai girl playing some string instrument), telling her that she had no rhythm. I asked men (eating their buffets) if they were rich or single and then tried to introduce them to my daughters. I ordered everyone around, much to their delight.

**An open rehearsal and interview session with the Fillipino press. Articles can now be found online. just google one of our names with the tag words, “Cinderella” or “asia” and something will probably come up… some of the questions asked were pretty amusing: “Is the cast worried about the Fillipino audiences, since we are so discriminating and care about good singing?” “What do you think about the shopping here?” “Where did you get your earrings?” “What do you think about working with such a famous star and what’s it like to be mean to her?”

(This week)
** Sitzprobe: The rehearsal where the orchestra and the singers merge for the first time.
I couldn’t help but think of my Dad the whole time. He would have just loved this!! It’s a 16 piece orchestra (Filipino Filharmonic) and we were invited to walk around, in front of, and sometimes THROUGH the musicians so we could really hear the music and be inside of it. It is always fascinating to hear how the various instruments provide so many colors to the music, and how the arranger (in this case, our Musical Director, Michael Duff) creatively decides, “This part should be the oboe, this other melody will be the strings…” During the songs or underscoring, we would just step up to a mic to voice OUR parts.

(July 29)
** TECH and PERFORMANCES: As I write this we are on Day 9 of technical rehearsals. This is the time where all the elements of the production are combined: The costumes, wigs, sound, magic effects, lighting, sets, musicians… it takes hours and hours, like 12 hour plus days for days on end. We go into Preview performances tonight, after a video shoot and invited dress rehearsal/matinee during the afternoon. We officially open on August 1. Our first day off is Aug 4, after 14 straight days of rehearsals and performances! Whew! Now, I’m going to nap.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Our bus, and some of our ladies.
Sweet Sleeping Kit.
The Throne.
Aaron Galligan-Stierle, my dressing room mate, in our dressing room. Nice socks Aaron!
Costumes and my dressing table.

Julia, and Peter Saide chat it up by the Call Board.
Julia and Janet(our lead keyboardist) after dinner in the courtyard a CCP.
Momma Cat and Kittens in courtyard.

So…long time, no blog. Sorry, we are in tech week and even though I actually do have time to blog, I have not because…well, because its TECH WEEK!!! Historically this is the time for which all theater professionals gird their loins because it is supposed to be such a despised ordeal. The reality is that we work 11 hours out of a 12, with an hour meal break in the middle. The hardest part is the waiting and keeping yourself focused on the show over this stretch of time. So we tend to get mentally tired. But I’m going to call this rut a groove and go with it.

On Monday we moved to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, which was built by Imelda Marcos in the 70's?. It is a big hunk of concrete near Manila Bay where Lea has been performing since she did Annie here at age Nine; and she is in the same dressing room now! The theater seats about 1800 people and tickets range from 500 pesos to 70,000.00. That is US $10 to $140.00. As with most of Manila, there is this somewhat opulent theater next to a rundown amusement park called Star City, people are living on nearby sidewalks, and by US standards, the backstage areas are a bit busted. I emphasize “by US standards”, because I have to be continually conscious of the fact that US standards do not apply here. It is challenging not to judge by those standards. Judgment goes hand in hand with criticism and nobody likes that. Things are done differently here and that does not mean that it is any less valid or good, just different.

Okay, that sounds like politically correct bullshit.

Do I think things could be better run in this country? Hello, have you known me long? Of course I do! Do I have the solutions? Of course I do! If only the world was run the way that I thought it should be we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now.

How many times have I heard someone say, “It’s easy to criticize”? (DUH) Meaning, I guess, that it is easier than coming up with solutions and implementing them. So does that mean I should hold my opinions on what I observe unless I am willing to roll up my shirt sleeves and go to work on it? Was my Mom right when she said, “If you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all”?

I think that sometimes we see things that are not nice, or fair, or right. Of course these are judgments based on standards developed by our family and culture. But does that make them wrong or bad? Don’t we all think that the world would be a better place if we wiped out the causes of poverty and avoidable human suffering? Should we be silent when we see injustices against human kind because it is “not nice” to criticize?

All right, I know that’s a lot of palaver to justify saying that the backstage areas at the theater lack a certain “je ne sais quoi”! I’m trying to not insult anyone from here, but I think they would all agree with me that the joint is a little run down at the heels.

On the plus side, my dressing room, which I share with Aaron Galligan- Stierle, (see photo) is rather large and we have our own bathroom with a proper toilet seat (see photo) and plentiful (so far) toilet paper (both lacking at the rehearsal space) and a shower. I did trip the circuit breaker on my first day here by turning on the makeup lights. There were even dramatic sparks from the light fixture that was shorting out, but they have since fixed that. Overall it seems as if the AC has been turned off for long periods of time and the humid climate has moldered walls, rugs and furniture. But there aren’t many bugs! (Okay, now I’m just being a smart ass.)

Another good feature is the presence of feral cats in the courtyard where we eat our meals. (See photos) Two adult cats and a Mother cat with three kittens. We have been feeding them table scraps and dry cat food and hope to have them all fattened up by the time we leave and at least give the kittens a good strong start on what is probably a tough life on the streets of Manila. I love Kitties!!! And I miss our kitty Tooey.

I do look forward to our next day off and perhaps relaxing on a beach near by. Right now our schedule has us going 14 days without a day off until after opening weekend. We have only three days off left here before we close the show and I want to see as much of the Philippines as I can. After all, one of the main reasons we sought this job was for the travel experiences. We may have three days here after closing before we travel to China, and we hope to make good use of them as well. There are lakes within volcanoes within lakes, rice terraces in the mountains, beaches, Snorkeling, subterranean rivers, Tarsiers (Bush Babies), and Whale Sharks (sadly out of season). I wish we had the time and the equipment to back pack up into the hills where one can still stay with traditional tribal people.

I can’t wait until I am cleared to post pictures of our costumes. They are spectacular. You gotta know that I am working the robes with the five-foot trains. My buttons are Swarosky crystals, everything is trimmed in gold or silver and the fabrics are rich and patterned. I’ll post pics as soon as we are opened.

That’s all for now.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Julia is covered with rats!!

Okay, so that was an intentional teaser headline. I am sitting at rehearsal and they are working the moment when Julia is chased off stage by rats. It is a fairy tale after all.

Today's rehearsal marks the beginning of our fourth week in Manila. This is our halfway point. One more week in the rehearsal space and then on to the Cultural Center of the Phillippines for 10 days of Tech, previews and finally opening night. We are in very good shape and right on schedule for a great opening.

Yesterday (Sunday) Julia and her partners in crime (the stepsisters) did a meet and greet and photo op at the Dusit Thani Hotel in costume. I'll let Julia tell you all about it but from what I observed of it, it was a hit. Sales are already looking good for our run here, which is extraordinary in that most events in Manila are not reserved in advance but on the day of performance, so a healthy advance ticket sale is especially good news here.

I realize we haven't said much about our recording studio experience. On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week we recorded the Cast album. Since this was originally conceived and produced as a televised special, the only recordings were lifted directly from the TV show. So this is the first time that a Studio Recording has been made of the cast of the show. It will be sold in the lobby at the show of course, but will also be for sale all around the world. That's a pretty big deal for this Minnesota farm boy!!

For the last 30 or so years I have been making jokes about my singing. "I may not be good, but I am loud!!" I have always felt a lack of confidence in my ability to sing. I never got the solo's in high school choir or the Musicals in high school and college. I avoided auditions for Musicals, I did not seek out further vocal training because " I am not a singer". All this because I decided that a couple of critical comments made early on discourage me from thinking that I could sing. And I loved to sing. I wanted to be Davy Jones from the Monkees when I was a kid. And I don't mean LIKE Davy Jones, I mean BE him. I traced his face off of an album cover, colored it, cut out eye holes and wore it as a mask!! I really wanted to be a singer.

So fast forward to last Wednesday. I sing on a couple of big choral numbers with the rest of the cast, I speak sing on another song that is mostly comic operetta, and then The Queen and I sing a very sweet duet called "Boys and Girls". Boys and Girls is only difficult for me because I can hear when I am off pitch or out of rhythm but I don't always know how to fix it. So here I am in the studio with Janna who plays the Queen and has an AMAZING voice, and we listen to the first playback and I am amazed at how good I sound but of course there are a few bits that need to be fixed. Enter Anxiety. But thanks to the kind and patient encouragement of our musical director Michael Duff and Gerald Salonga the Conductor, I got through it and when we were invited into the booth and sat down to hear the rough cut I had to fight back tears and say, "You sure made this farm boy sound good" It was a dream come true. I am singing on a cast album of a musical that is going to be sold all over the world. Wow!

So,at age 46 I have finally decided to stop making excuses and self deprecating jokes about it, and instead apply myself to learning how to use my singing voice. That is just the first of what I hope will be many profound transformations that I will experience on this tour. I owe a great deal of appreciation to all those who got me here, most of all Julia for getting me to audition, and Bobby, Michael and the rest of the production people who saw some potential in me that I had lost belief in long ago.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

And more

Oh how nice it could have been. This is the Mercedes of Kalesas. Notice the cool dude driver.
Seaside shanty town. The Senator's and Congressman's transport buses park right next to this place. That's a goat in the center.
Our pool side shanty at the Dusit Thani Hotel.
Me at Fort Santiago.
What not to wear to a costume fitting. Apparently I did not get the memo. Although the costumers were surprised, I wasn't taking any chances given the recent Ferry disaster. Always be prepared. That's my Motto.

New Pics from Manila

Fish Market in downtown Manila. Everyone seemed very happy to see us and they also wanted us to give them 5 Pesos. I got a little nervous here. We were the only white people here and we didn't even know where here was. And people were crowding around the Kalesa and asking for money. But it was also cool somehow.
Mango seller setting up for days work outside Fort Santiago.
The steeples of Santa Cruz Church. As if by miracle, more cold beers awaited us in the Kalesa.
A cold one. Number three of four.
The steeples of Manila Cathedral in the distance.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dos Pesos from Shrinky

Well, There you have it. Julia did a great job of describing our "Mr Toad's Wild Ride". It really was quite an experience. And the poor horse. Hopefully the bonanza of cash we paid will allow Rambo a day or two off and some extra oats.

Seeing the level of poverty here everyday really is a revelation. I've started reading the newspaper here everyday and it seems to be filled with stories of corrupt officials and good old buck passing and finger pointing. Fuel prices are strapping everyone here and food prices are also rising and there is a rice shortage to top it all off. Add to this the Missile tests in Iran and the "Country Club" meeting of the G8 and it is hard for me to feel optimistic about our future.

Here in metro Manila, the high gas prices have caused commuters to leave there cars at home and overload the LRT and MRT, the only commuter trains here (thanks Imelda!). This is clean transport running on electric power. A godsend in this very smoggy city. So the oil companies in there great wisdom and generosity (yes, that is sarcasm you smell) reduced the price of gas by one Peso. Whew!! Big oil to the rescue. One problem. Only cars and taxis run on gas here. Buses and Jeepneys, what the poor who have no cars and can't afford to ride the train or taxis use, run on Deisel. For which the price has remained the same. Simply put, the oil companies are trying to lure people off of the train and back into their cars while continuing to take advantage of those who have no choice. Business as usual!! Add to this the terrible air quality caused by the burning of this low grade diesel and no emissions control. And guess who is out in this air everyday riding around in open transports? Bingo, the poor. Meanwhile the G8 can only manage to agree that it is a good idea to cut emissions by 50% by 2050!!

Sorry, this is supposed to be an exciting chronicle of our adventures, but one thing about seeing the world is seeing how similar it is everywhere. The poor get poorer and sicker and the wealthy and powerful keep a firm foot on their necks. Maybe the world would change if we could all see this level of poverty everyday. I'm not offering any solutions here, but I do know that change begins within ourselves. Simply being aware of these conditions alters your point of view on the global situation. I urge you all to seriously ask yourself this question. " What can I do right now, every day, to effect a positive transformation in the world?"
It could be as small and simple as conserving energy, recycling, volunteering in your community to help those less fortunate than yourselves on an ongoing basis. Giving money to charity is great, but how many of us live in a daily awareness and active involvement in ending poverty? I don't. But I could.... I could.

The Kalesa Tale...

So, first of all, APOLOGIES! We leave you with some cool pictures and a dangling reference to a "kalesa from hella" and then you don't hear from us in days. It might have been a tactic to build the suspense (what's a 'kalesa' and why was it hell?) or perhaps the fact that we've both been too busy/exhausted to blog. Whichever case, it all happened last Sunday, our day off... It's a tale of excitement, tension, terror and intoxication.

Upon my leaving the bathroom of the National Museum of the Fillipino People, Jefferson (who's been waiting for me) suggests, "why don't we take a kalesa ride around the park? It's only 30 pesos and the guy is waiting for us over there." Note: a kalesa is a two wheeled horse carriage with barely enough room for two passengers in the back and a driver in front. So I say, "sure, who not." We squeeze into the thing, which is driven by the scraggliest looking horse I've ever seen (named Rambo) and we're off. Only he doesn't take us in the direction of the Park. No, we are heading for the open road, which in this case, means a busy street with cars, jeepneys and buses whizzing by. We find out that we are now on "Reynaldo's Tour" with the realization that this is going to be much more than we had originally realized. Me: "Are you sure he said 30 pesos??" Jefferson: "Maybe he meant 30 minutes. Let's just be flexible and see what happens." Now, he's pointing out sites to us... "Look there's George Washington statue!... Where you from?!... This is important church!.. I don't like Japanese- they kill my father in War... (makes bayonet slaying motions)".

As we are heading down a small hill on a cobblestoned road and heading for an underpass, an incoming jeepney (a jeep re-fashioned to be used as public transportation) comes right at us. This startles the horse, who rears, thus directing the carriage wheel into the side of the wall, which causes the carriage to FALL OVER... with all of us in it! Yes, we are in our first ACCIDENT in Asia and my adrenaline is surging. Jefferson and I peel ourselves out of the carriage (he was on the bottom and cushioned my fall.. Thanks, Jeff) and Reynaldo is shaken but trying to free poor Rambo who is somewhat tangled in his harness. To speed my story along, after we've secured the horse, righted the carriage (with the help of passerbys), checked for damage, it is decided... that we should just CONTINUE THE TOUR. Basically, Reynaldo is feeling so bad about it, and Jefferson and I are trying to lighten the gravity of the situation, that we find ourselves back on the darn thing. (Granted, we now have horse manure on us, a few bruises, I'm shaking... but we suspect that we are the biggest catches in Reynaldo's net and we can't deny him his tourist dollars.)

To make it up to us, Reynaldo now drives us through the back streets of Manila. There is much to be told about what we are seeing... lots of homeless people, markets, everyone smiling at us, laughing children ("Give me 5p!"), colorful neighborhoods. Every time we stop to take a picture, Reynaldo somehow produces cold beers and INSISTS that we drink them! Basically, he runs into any cantina nearby when we are not looking and buys the beers. He says, "I give you these beers. I feel such shame about the accident." He's drinking the beers too, probably to drown the great shame. He says, "Do you have children? If you want to adopt, I can arrange it. I have good friend at the orphanage. You can have baby in 2 weeks. But do not tell. It is a secret."

The entire tour ends up taking THREE HOURS. We decide to end the madness by instructing him that we must be at the Bay by sunset. Now it's pay the piper time. We realize this undeniable fact: we had experienced a bonafide adventure and seen parts of the city that we never would have discovered on our own. Reynaldo says, "You can give me $100." We laugh and then he laughs. Jefferson gives him the equivalent of $50 dollars which is still an exorbitant amount... but it feels right to us. Plus, we're drunk. Reynaldo is quite pleased with the exchange (especially since he almost killed us) and waves merrily at us as he clip clops away.

[My only sad feeling was about Rambo. I wondered about him the whole trip. Was it bad for us to take the ride with such a pitiful creature? Would it change his lot in any way, whether we did or didn't ride the kalesa?...hmmm, hard one...]

Oh yeah.. and one more thing... this week we recorded the original sountrack album for Rodger and Hammerstein's CINDERELLA. As in the VERY FIRST ONE... the other recordings were from tv specials and there hasn't been an offical soundtrack... until NOW. It will be released internationally in September by Sony BMG and in Asia earlier than that. In my next blog I will comment about the recording studio experience, share thoughts on Lea "One Take Wonder" Salonga, and fill you in on other events and happenings!

Much love,

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More Manila Mania

Our director, Bobby Garcia, Julia, Vince Pesce (Choreographer)
Happy 4th of July. Under shelter poolside from the rain (of course). Clockwise from lower left:
Allison, Matthew, Michael Sag, Gags, Jefferson, Kristen, Jen, Michael, Abby.
Our Calesa with Rambo the horse. Little did we know what was in store for us!!
Julia in the Calesa in front of Binondo Church in China town.
Okay, more homeless people. I had the driver pay her though. This is actually a regular stop on his tour and he has an arrangement with this woman. My rule now is to pay for posed photos of the poor.

Monday, July 7, 2008

More pictures from Manila

(Left) The happy couple celebrating 11 years of an adventurous union at Peoples Palace Thai Restaurant.

Julia and the Syndicate Urchins whom I paid to pose for this picture.

(left) Outside St Augustine Church. Showing the strength of the Chinese influence. That's a Chinese Lion in Foreground.

A fighting Cock.

from left: Jen, Janna, Jefferson, Willow,Julia and Brandy.
Our first Jeepney ride.
Bayside living in Manila. Literally a stones throw from the Philippine Senate Building.
Happy recyclers! Pounding Aluminum off of Refrigeration coils. This is a big industry here. I saw other people in our cab ride this day stripping wire for copper as well.
The gateway into Fort Santiago. The 16th Century fortress built by Spain under the reign of King Philip. Hence the Philippines. The carving depicts King James(Santiago) beheading 4 Moors as he tramples them with his horse. Since the Spaniards took this place from a Muslim Sultan this must have really endeared them to the natives!
Julia reenacts the expression of the corrupt Spanish priests who truly ruled the Philippines, and helped introduce European bloodlines into the mix. So much for celibacy! This is also Julia's face for the evil Stepmother.
Mangoes. Philippine gold!! So yummy.