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People look at Jett Pangan and think that all aspects of the music business — from singing to songwriting — come so naturally to him. But Jett, lead vocalist of the iconic Pinoy pop-rock band The Dawn, says there was a time when he experienced a “creative block” that left him high and dry.
This is the same situation faced by filmmaker Guido Contini, his character in the Tony-winning musical Nine, which will have its Philippine run from Sept. 21 to Oct. 7 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati City. Nine is based on Italian director Federico Fellini’s comic masterpiece of biographical filmmaking titled Eight and a Half. It follows Contini’s life as he prepares his latest picture and balances the relationships he has with the numerous women in his life, including that with his muse, film star Claudia Nardi, who will be played by Eula Valdez.
Jett describes his character as a passionate man who just wants to make movies, but he also struggles with his passion for women. “He had an early sexual awakening, got married, had a mistress and was romantically linked to his muse. The tragedy of the story is he hits a creative block. He needs to write something, but he can’t think of anything because of the problems he’s having.”
He himself has been in that situation “more times than I can count,” says Jett. Maybe not in terms of the personal stuff, but certainly, in terms of struggling creatively. During its heyday, The Dawn released more than 10 albums, and there were many instances where Jett started to write a song and then gave it up midway through the process.
The situation eventually righted itself over time (and after he got married and had children, “I just needed change,” he says) but many artists go through periods like that. Jett identifies with the dilemma faced by his character, and adds that while Nine is a musical and he is a singer, he still has to exert extra effort to live up to the vocal demands of the role.
“Mahirap ang music dito,” he says. “You really have to get the feel of the songs. When I did Rock of Ages, it was easier, because that was rock, balwarte ko ‘yon, dun ako galing. With Nine, iba ang demands pagdating sa placement ng boses, iba rin ang sensibility ng kanta.” The only male in the cast, he will also have no alternate and will have to play the role all the way to the end. It is Jett’s 10th year of performing with Atlantis Productions and Nine, his biggest and most challenging role to date, marks his 11th musical with Atlantis. Jett has become the country’s most sought-after musical theater leading man.
Starring in stage musicals has helped him in many ways, especially as a performer. “When I get up onstage, iba ang tayo ko, I’m more centered, and I don’t have to do a lot of things to get (the people’s) attention. Unlike during my early days with The Dawn, na nag-tu-tumbling pa ako sa stage. Ang hindi ko lang yata nagawa, mag-crowd surf. But doing all these musicals, I learned that it’s enough na maganda ang presence mo sa stage. It’s all about presence.”
Doing a musical like Nine — which is set in ’60s Italy — will challenge him in many different ways. The role of Guido was originated onBroadway by Raul Julia, played in the revival by Antonio Banderas and in the film version by Daniel Day-Lewis. He didn’t watch theBroadway run, but did watch the film, and thought Day-Lewis was “very good.”
To help him get into the character, director Bobby Garcia suggested that he watch as many Italian movies as he could. On YouTube, Jett has been watching movies starring Italian leading men like Marcello Mastrioanni, and it has helped him understand the psyche of the character he plays. “There’s a certain swagger, a certain confidence, that comes with their personality,” he says of his early attempts to understand the role and the character. “I want to be able to channel that.”
Slowly, Jett has built up a solid reputation for himself as a theater actor. Although it’s not really what he set out to do in the beginning, his love for theater became a happy accident and turned into a love affair that is still ongoing. “I guess things just fell into place. The offers came, and these people, they trust me, they believe in me — who am I to say no?”
Having worked with him in several musicals, Bobby believes Jett is the perfect choice for the role. “Nine is a musical that I have loved for a very long time and something that I have wanted to do for many years. Now the time has come, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have assembled what I believe is the definitive cast and creative team for this. I myself cannot believe the stars aligned as they have and that all the pieces fell into place so effortlessly. Needless to say, I don’t think it can happen again as it is extremely difficult to get all these people in the same room at the same time so this production of Nine will really be a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
Jett, of course, feels a certain degree of pressure — it comes with every new role he takes on — but I am sure that as he has triumphed in so many roles before, he will emerge victorious from this new creative challenge.