Transforming high art into entertainment

The Inbox

 By Pablo A. Tariman, VERA FILES

Filipinos are no strangers  to the music of  Andrew Lloyd Weber.

  "Don't cry for me Argentina",  "Memory", "I don't know how to love him" are standard numbers in musical extravaganzas in the country.

 But when Lunchbox Theatrical Productions presents "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber," on June 24 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines,it will be a different experience for the Filipino audience because they will be transported to a musical paradise created by James Cundall.

"We know people would see the (Webber) show for the music they remember," said Cundall, the prime mover of the Hongkong-based LunchBox Theatrical productions.

 "But when they hear 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina,' we make sure they also see the sights of Argentina and when the singers sing songs from 'Phantom,' we should be able to make them feel they are inside the Paris Opera, " he promised.

The show's director Stuart Maunder, who as artistic director of Opera Australia has produced such opera favorites as Tales of Hoffmann, Manon,  Don Pasquale, Die Fledermaus, Nabucco, Romèo et Juliette, among others, said "We want to celebrate the extraordinary variety of Andrew Lloyd Webber's output and the emotional force of his songs by presenting an intimate affair with all the emotion, all the tunes whilst taking you on a musical journey---one that is stylist, inventive, and surprising and also offers some rare insights into the mind of this genius creator."

 "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber," is a perfect example of the big multi-media production in Cundall's global entertainment portfolio, which covers a wide range from classics to Hollywood fare.

A former banker in Australia, Cundall has gained credits for  movie blockbusters  "Saturday Night Fever," "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," and "The Full Monty."

He has successfully packaged several classical artists as global brands (read: famous names worldwide) in live entertainment, among them Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano Renee Fleming, and baritone Bryn Terfel.

"My job is basically to sell and produce brands that will sell," Cundall pointed out. "What I do is bring these famous names in places where they are not likely to be seen and heard."

He produced the first concert of Fleming and famous tenor Jose Carreras at the Sydney Opera House, as well as the recital tour of pianist David Helfgott, whose life story was made into a powerful  film called, "Shine."

"Carreras and Fleming have become brands through their excellence," he shared. "Their concerts at the Sydney Opera House are the main highlights of my career."

The Manila show,which is being produced  with Bambi Verzo of Concertus, boasts of 13 theatrical performances.

Cundall  said entertainment brands outside the classical turf like Webber's music is easier to sell than other brands. "Here, you are talking of music that is listened (to) and seen by more people in the world than any other composer---living or dead," he said.

Cundall said Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992) is actively involved in this coming musical production.

 "He (Webber) even suggested what the opening number should be and it has to have a message of love, which is just what his 'Love Changes Everything' is all about. He wanted it to be a love story. He believes that his work is about love and that indeed, love changes everything," he revealed.

Webber has received seven Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards, seven Laurence Olivier Awards, a Golden Globe, an Oscar, two International Emmys, the Praemium Imperial of Japan, and the Richard Rodgers citations. He has composed 16 musicals (including "Cats" and  "The Phantom of the Opera"), several film scores, and a Latin Requiem Mass.

With years of box office hits to his credit, Cundall said that part of the fulfillment in his kind of job is not about revenues but how the audiences are transformed by his productions.

 "Some ticket buyers probably dragged their hesitant husbands or boyfriends to the shows expecting total boredom," he observed. "But when their faces light up and finally go with the story and the music, that is really the fulfilling part of being impresario."

He said that since their tickets are expensive compared to that of other shows they are compelled to deliver a great night of music.

He believes that even with the onset of recorded entertainment the market for live shows will remain lucrative.

"The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber" is just the beginning of  the partnership of  Cundall and Verzo  to make the vibrant music scene in Manila more exciting. They hinted they might bring to Manila other exciting musicals like "Stomp," "Mama Mia," "Jersey Boys" and "Phantom of the Opera."

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")