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 Amazon.com. 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.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Odds and Ends from Juria

Ahhh... day off...nice! You see, cuz all week we've been WORKING (as I do believe Shrinky has reported). It's interesting to have these "working vacations." I think, "why am I tired today and why would I rather sleep than sight-see??" And then I tell myself, "cuz lady, you've been WORKING..." But let me tell you the amusement and delight in sharing a work situation with Jefferson! Yes, we work in the same business and the context is familiar to both of us ( the rehearsal room, the process) but it is unique to SHARE it. I am enjoying finishing a scene and having Jefferson say, "I watched that, and it's really working" or to beam with pride at his clever, funny choices as the King. It is such a kick to watch him during the opening group dance number as well... so much so that I am conscious of missing my cue to cry, "Cinderella!" I have appreciated on a daily basis, the reality of doing this show together. I will not take it for granted! Even having the same day off feels like a luxury... we don't always get that.

Ok.. so let's talk about MY costumes now... they are ridiculous in their splendor. I have 4 "coutour" gowns, each one spectacularly made, full of details and designer trim. The petticoats alone are layers of fluffy ruffles, then you add on a dress, corset piece, etc. All the hats, purses are designed to match. There was a point where I thought, "we better have some good dressers cuz there is no way I am getting into this on my own." I'm sure we will have local dressers in each city (although probably not always English-speaking.) I haven't seen my wig yet... I'm told it's Medusa-inspired (curls instead of snakes?) Pretty frackin' cool.

I hope all you Americans had a Happy 4th of July... In honor of our fine country, the Mall of Asia, had a huge Statue of Liberty on display. Ahhhh, how sweet of them!

Apparently there was a coup attempt in the Phillipine government this week... just reminded me that we are living in a relatively unstable country right now. The senate meets in the building next to where we are rehearsing. So, we have "Impossible things... happening every day" in one building while "Let's overthrow the President" is happening in the other one. (Ok... maybe the coup attempt wasn't quite like that, but it makes for an interesting paradox!) By the way, I am pretty fascinated with the whole Imelda Marcos part of Phillipine history and look forward to seeing more of her contributions... like the Coconut Palace, built for the Pope's visit in the '80's. Only it was so opulent that he refused to stay in it! We watched the documentary, "Imelda" in the USA before we left. Her philosophy on the meaning of life is one of the most humorous, screwed-up logic, crazy-talking things I've ever heard. I do however, stand by her decision to own 1500 pairs of shoes... THAT sounds perfectly normal to me.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The King has arrived

I had my costume fittings yesterday. Wow!! I've had a few nice costumes in my day, but these really take the cake. They are exquisitely detailed and tailored. Fantastic fabrics and design. By the weding scene at the end I am a mountain of majesty in Royal blue and White. With a fur lined Cape with a five foot train!! After my fitting I told Lea she would need to tip the follow spot operator a little extra when she is beside me to give her some extra illumination. I have since been assured by the director that her costume is even more spectacular than mine which is only fitting. But I am 6' 3" in Royal Blue Cape!!!

I'll attach pictures after we open. We are not to divulge too much about the show until then. I can say that this show is looking very good. The talent pool here is deep. Performers and production team alike are committed to excellence and it shows.

On the tourism front, Julia and I plan to go to the Mall of Asia today during a 3 hour break from rehearsal. This is the third largest mall in the world behind the Canadian one and of course the Mall of America in lovely Bloomington, MN; land of my birth.

I'm working on posting some photos. I should have them up soon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Things that make ya smile...

So I'm learning that it's fun to read the blogs of my co-workers... you know, to see what they have to say about what we're all experiencing... Jefferson and I dined last night with Cinderella's Godmother, Charlie, and she was cleverly describing our very Fillipino meal on her blog. When she got to the part of the desserts I chuckled out loud and decided to just cut and paste her remarks here:
"For dessert, I had myself a cocktail - I've yet to find Makers Mark anywhere here :( - and picked at a bit of Jefferson's "mango slice" (which seemed to be mango ice cream sandwiched between layers of granola) and Julia's gelatin phantasmagoria (actual name is completely different and gone from my head). I've no idea, really, what was in that besides bits of gelatin, but she loved it; my reaction was more lukewarm since I'm not really into eating horse hooves. It seemed to be bits of green gelatin in coconut milk along with other stringy bits of white gelatin, or possibly some kind of noodles - ???"
It's true... I love weirdo desserts. Today I tried HALO-HALO, a traditional beloved Filipino sweet, icey treat. So picture this... shaved ice, floating in coconut milk, covered with 3 kinds of sweetened beans, lumps of pudding, 3 kinds of gelatin/taro balls, ice cream & candied fruits...and then a pot of condensed milk to pour over the whole damn thing. YOWSAH! Can you say, "Dericious!" or at least, "I thought you were going to lose weight eating some healthy Asian cuisine!" or maybe "Did it come with a toothbrush to eliminate the furry coating probably left on your teeth?" The odds are very good that I will consume another one of these delicate concoctions before my time here is thru... like, maybe... TOMORROW. :)

During rehearsals I watched the scene where the Prince and Cinderella first see one another at the Ball... and it was so delightfully charming and even sexy. I realized that I had a sappy grin stuck upon my face... at which point I glanced over at the creative/management team sitting there and without exception, every one of them had the same sappy, ear-t0-ear grin. This is a good sign. (I would say that it's rather important for these two characters to have some chemistry...)
By the way, you non-theatre folk might not realize how many people are involved during the rehearsal process (not to mention how many people it takes to put on the actual show.) There's the director, the assistant director, the musical director, the assistant musical director, the choreographer, the dance captain, the production stage manager, the production manager and 2 additional assistants. And, in this case, the Prince and Cinderella understudies...ALL with sappy grins on their faces. What a great sight!

Here's a glass of Maker's Mark raised in honor of those things that just make ya smile,


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Where has the time gone? I'm on Filipino time.

So I'm still trying to get the hang of this. Our days are typically ten hours long and then I've been too tired at night to write. But I have some extra down time at rehearsal today so I'm going to try to catch up a bit.

When last we saw them, our heroes were in rehearsal for Cinderella. Julia was shouting and being mean to our star, Lea Salonga, and Jefferson was sweating like a one legged man in a butt kicking contest. (think about it!). That was Friday June 27.

Saturday June 28 was our 11th anniversary (wedding that is). Julia had the afternoon off while I honed my comic skills at such time honored classics as pants dropping, double-taking, and bursting a vein in my forehead in my ineffectual male rage at the shenanigans of my over spending wife the Queen. Great fun, I had a great day playing with my fellow cast and production team.

We had reservations for the People's Palace Thai Restaurant for dinner. Upon arrival we were given a bottle of champagne on the house and congratulated on our anniversary. Curious. We suspected our director, Bobby Garcia of being behind this and that turned out to be the case. No wonder he was so keen to know if we had in fact made reservations. A very kind and thoughtful gesture. We had a great meal and toddled home tipsy on Champagne and Crispy Pork. I know I talk a lot about Pork; but come on! This stuff was incredible. Basically Pork belly(fat; and a little meat) fried crisp and smothered in a sour onion and garlic vinegarette. Yum Yum. Only sour note to all this was one bad shrimp in the Pad Thai. One bad shrimp is all it takes, as I was to find out at 4am.

The next day was Sunday, and our first day off. We took a cab(that is an adventure in itself) to Intramuros which is the old city center. A Spanish fortress built on the foundations of the Muslim city that existed before it. We had a great walking tour led by Carlos Cedran. Who it turns out was childhood neighbor to our director Bobby, and his father is Lea's Pediatrician. As he said, "Manila's a small town." 12 Million Small!!

The tour shed a lot of light on how Manila got to it's current state of overcrowding and widespread poverty. Colonization and wars over the past five centuries have left behind a true multicultural melting pot, but in the melting process, the flavors have run together and the individual tastes have been blurred. Finding the center or base note of the Filipino culture can be difficult for an outsider. We have a lot to learn yet and we hope to come away from here with a better understanding of the people and their culture. That is what makes travel so great. Experiencing cultures that seem so different on the surface, and getting to know the people well enough to see that they are just like us. They have the same fears, the same desires, the same challenges as we do. They love as we do, and they struggle to survive just like you and me.

As Americans, we seldom experience poverty at this scale. I have seen many people here living in the street. Whole families seeking what shelter they can and struggling to stay fed and clothed. And my first thought on seeing this was how picturesque it was. And I'll post the pictures to prove it. Why are we so fascinated with people on the street? It reminds me of the famous dust bowl portraits of the Great Depression in America. The faces of these people tell a compelling story. Their resiliency in building a makeshift shelter and getting through each day
draws your attention. It is so alien to me.

We had an experience on our tour that raised several ethical questions for me. As we walked from the fort to the oldest church in Manila, we were beset with children begging for money.
I don't understand Tagalog, but it sounded like the adults in the square were setting the children on us. They looked up at us pleadingly with their big brown eyes and innocent faces. They called us Mommy and Daddy. They wanted just 5 Pesos each (about a dime). When we reached a suitably photogenic location I told them that I would take their picture with Julia and then give them all money. They gleefully posed for the picture and then I was surrounded by a sea of upturned palms and little voices saying, "Me,Me, Me!! " (This may be the universal language of want. It reminded me of feeding Koi in Japan. They are beautiful as they swim around the pool until you arrive with your bag of bread crumbs, and then it is all mouths.) I fumbled with my coins, trying to get one in the hand of each child, finally dropping some which caused a mad scramble at my feet. I feared for the safety of the smaller children, some only two years old. And then as quickly as they had arrived they were gone, as was all of my change. I had given out about 20 Pesos (50 cents). Though I felt I had done something noble, I also felt like a fake. What had I really done? Did I make any real difference in these children's lives? Basically I had paid them for posing for a picture. " See Julia with the quaint third world children!"

Now I'm told that these children are sent out by a syndicate which takes all the money and the kids get a small amount. I'm told that the woman who knocked on our cab window with a baby in her arms is a sham and the baby is most likely not even hers! I'm told not to give money to them because they are not actually helped by it. I should give food instead. So now do I carry some sort of portable snacks with me wherever I go?

I don't feel cynical about this racket. People do what they can to get by. They do this. I am not sorry that I gave money to these kids. How can I feel conned when I hired them to pose for a picture?

Later that day we luxuriated in great massages (75 minutes for both of us for about 60 bucks total!!!) and had pizza and beer in front of the TV in our 5 star hotel 6 floors and miles away from those Dickensian urchins. Whew!!! It's almost like being in America.........