Sense of urgency
By Lea Salonga
Philippine Daily Inquirer
July 12, 2018 at 12:10 am

It’s official: I have returned home. However, I’m not home to stay, as my suitcases will be packed once again. I’ll be heading to Los Angeles to play Grace Farrell in “Annie” at the Hollywood Bowl.

Directed by Tony nominee Michael Arden, the play also stars David Alan Grier as Daddy Warbucks, Ana Gasteyer as Miss Hannigan, Roger Bart as Rooster, Megan Hilty as Lily St. Regis, Steven Weber as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Amir Talai as Bert Healy, Ali Stroker as Star-To-Be, and introducing Kaylin Hedges as Annie. Todd Ellison will be our musical director and Eamon Foley our choreographer. Show dates are July 27 and 28 at 8 p.m., and on July 29 at 7:30 p.m. More information can be found at

As my time on the “Island” was coming to an end, I was driven to see as much theater as I could, either on Broadway or off. I can go without certain creature comforts, but I need to see shows. It also helps that public transport and my walking feet are quite reliable modes of getting from place to place (subtext: it doesn’t take me three hours to get anywhere).

However, there were two shows in particular that I absolutely needed to see, not only for their excellence and critical acclaim, but also because they’re closing next month. There was a sense of urgency to see them before trying to see anything else.

‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, while we were having merienda during her last visit to New York, highly recommended this play. “If you’re a theater person, you’ll be able to relate to what you’re going to see: everything and anything that could go wrong in a play actually does.” She was absolutely right. It’s a good thing that I had already left “Once on This Island” when I went to watch it, as I found myself howling at what I was seeing, vocal rest be damned!

“The Play That Goes Wrong”

When you enter the house at the Lyceum Theatre, a preshow will most likely already be under way. The character of director Chris Bean (played by Mark Evans, who also plays the Inspector in this play within a play) is in the house trying to find his dog, asking random audience members about the lost canine.

Trevor, the stage manager (Akron Watson) and crew member Annie (Ashley Reyes) are onstage checking the set, trying to fix with duct tape what already looks hopelessly broken.

The play within the play is a murder mystery, but it’s what happens in the attempt to put on the play that results in hilarity: wrong sound cues, forgotten lines, wrong entrances, hammy performances, last-minute cast substitutions, numerous injuries, dead people that don’t stay dead and a set that just keeps breaking down as the play goes on. And it’s all so wrong that it’s right!

The members of the entire company look like they’re having a blast, and every single performance is on point and hilarious. It’s nothing short of genius, and the audience is undone by the time the cast takes its curtain call.

If you have the chance to see this play, run. You only have until Aug. 26 to catch it.

‘Sweeney Todd’

They had me at “meat pie.”

The Barrow Street Theater in the West Village is currently playing host to one of Stephen Sondheim’s darker creations, “Sweeney Todd.” Many of us are familiar with the original production starring Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury, the recent film starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter, the recent Broadway revival with Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone, or the last Manila staging starring Audie Gemora and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo.

Whichever version you know, you’ve seen this tale of revenge, bloodshed and delicious meat pies. For this scaled-down production, I opted to dine on a delicious chicken pie and truffle mash, created by former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses, who serves the pies in person.

The cast, who includes Sally Ann Triplett as Mrs. Nellie Lovett, Stacie Bono as the Beggar Woman (she also plays Adolfo Pirelli … trust me, she’s brilliant) and DeLaney Westfall as Joanna Barker, then arrives in costume, but out of character.

They each say hello to audience members and make beelines for friends who happen to be watching. A few minutes later, the show begins … and that’s when Sweeney Todd (played by the magnificent Thom Sesma) makes his first appearance.

Thom Sesma in “Sweeney Todd”

The performance space is incredibly intimate and, at times, the space is right in front of you. It’s a master class in how to transform what is essentially a small cafeteria into dark 18th-century London.

What I remember as a musical with a big cast has been scaled down to employ only eight actors. But this production is nothing short of excellent, and because of how immersed you are in the story, you don’t really miss anything.

This is another “go, run and see this show” recommendation. But, you have only until Aug. 26 to do so. You’ll get chills up your spine, an earful of wonderful music and a belly full of “God, that’s good” pie.

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