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Fondly called the Queen of Philippine Musical Theater, the award-winning stage actress Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo returns to the stage in two Atlantis shows, the Tony Award-winning black comedy God of Carnage in July and the Tony Award-winning musical Nine in September.
Last seen on stage in Atlantis Productions’ Next To Normalwhere she received critical acclaim and an Aliw Award for her heart-wrenching performance as Diana, Menchu has also gone on to become one of the country’s finest musicaltheater directors. Just recently, she directed the critically-acclaimed production of Jekyll & Hyde for Repertory Philippines where she is associate artistic director.
A few days ago, we had an interesting conversation with Menchu where she talked about her stage musicals, the various roles she had portrayed onstage and her work as associate artistic director of Repertory Philippines. Read on.
The unanimous opinion is that your Diana in Next To Normal was the finest performance by an actress in many years. What was it like creating that role and what was the Next To Normalexperience like for you?
“Next To Normal was an experience I will never forget. When Bobby Garcia first asked me if I’d be interested to play Diana, I immediately said ‘Yes.’ I had seen it in New York and fell in love with the show. Bobby and I met several times before rehearsals began, just to discuss how he wanted to approach the musical and my attack for Diana.
“It was a very difficult process as I had to open myself every day to the material and find the truth of the character. It was exhausting. But Bobby knew exactly where he wanted to take my Diana. I did a lot of research on how a person who was bipolar behaved. Tried to understand how life was like… my head felt like it was stuffed with cotton because of all the crying I would do. Bobby and I would discuss it even after rehearsals. But in the end, we developed a completely different Diana from the Broadway production. I remember early on, Bobby said to me, ‘Menchu, you are so used to doing strong characters, I want your Diana to be the total opposite, broken and vulnerable’ and that made perfect sense to me. I am so happy that Manila received my Diana so well.”
You will now be playing Annette in God of Carnage, a black comedy. What attracted you to doing God of Carnage?
“I love the script by Yasmina Reza. I also saw the show in New York a few years ago. I think it a wonderful piece… so well written. And it’s great to be re-united with Lea Salonga. The last play we did together was Proof.”
Do you think Manila audiences will enjoy God of Carnage?
“I think our audiences will be able to relate to the material… I think they will see themselves in the characters. It’s very universal.”
You’ve performed with Lea many times before. What is the best thing about performing with her?
“Her professionalism. Lea is a big star and yet she never behaves like one. She is always giving, prepared and very focused. A total pro. It’s inspiring to work with people like that.”
After Carnage, you will play Luisa in the musical Nine. Your thoughts?
“I have always loved Nine… the music of Maury Yeston is gorgeous. It is such a complex and well-written musical. I think it is about time that it is staged in Manila.”
What can you say about Maury Yeston’s music for Nine?
“The songs are not as popular, but I love the melodies. The writing is so clever, the script is so complex and stylized that it is a challenge to do. I am so glad and grateful Bobby asked me to be part of the cast. We have an amazing cast!”
You will be reunited on stage with Jett Pangan, your leading man in Next To Normal. How is it performing with him?
“Jett is definitely one of my favorite leading men. Jett is so giving as an actor on stage and he makes it so easy to develop chemistry and rapport. Not at all a selfish actor. So professional, supportive and focused. Jett just really makes you feel at ease. Not to mention his talent inspires me. It was such a wonderful and amazing experience to play opposite him in Next To Normal. I look forward to working with him again.”
What do you do as associate artistic director for Repertory Philippines?
“Planning the Repertory Season… going to New York and doing research. Having a hand at choosing directors, actors, musical directors, etc. It just excites me to be part of that process and to see a season come to life.”
What are your dream roles?
“Well, I would love to someday do Mama Rose in Gypsy, Norma in Sunset Boulevard, Dot in Sunday In The Park With George, to name a few musicals.”
Whatever role it is, we’ll be there to watch Menchu Lauchengco, one of the most brilliant and committed actresses this country has ever produced.
(For tickets and show-buying information for God of Carnage and Nine, call Atlantis Productions at 892-7078.)