Published on Inquirer.net
Early this year, the Inquirer’s Los Angeles correspondent Ruben Nepales wrote about a few of my colleagues in New York as they prepare for something very special on Nov. 7: a concert titled “PhilDev Celebrates Broadway: Suites by Sondheim” for the benefit of the Philippine Development Foundation.
It’s special for several reasons. First, the music is by Stephen Sondheim, famous for his witty, heady, clever and urbane musicals such as “A Little Night Music,” “Company,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Sunday in the Park with George,” as well as for writing the lyrics to “Gypsy” and “West Side Story.”
Second, every single artist who will perform on that stage is Filipino or Filipino-American—many of them toting some serious Broadway credits (for example, Jose Llana has performed in “The King and I,” “Spelling Bee” and “Flower Drum Song,” all on Broadway, and Adam Jacobs had his Broadway debut in the 2006 revival of “Les Miserables” and is the current Simba in “The Lion King”).
Third, our director is Victor Lirio, who has garnered rave reviews in the New York Times as artistic director of the Diverse City Theater Company. He also produced my Carnegie Hall debut in 2005.
Fourth, the concert will be held at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.
Yes, I’m very excited to be part of this event, as it falls on the same date and day of the week as my Carnegie Hall debut (Monday, Nov. 7), with one of my best friends directing and coproducing it, and with many of my friends performing, too. It’s also an incredible opportunity to dip my toes in Sondheim’s work—or should I say dive in, head first, praying as I watch my entire life flash before my eyes.
The prospect of performing Sondheim can be intimidating and, at times, terrifying. Sure, I’ve done one Sondheim musical in my lifetime, sung excerpts of yet another one, and performed pieces of his music in concert. It drove me crazy each time.
I have only the deepest admiration and respect for those who are able to navigate their way through and around Sondheim’s work while keeping their wits, and at the same time making the experience an emotional and visceral one for the audience.
I’ll point out Bernadette Peters’ heartbreaking turn as Desiree Armfeldt in the recent run of “A Little Night Music” on Broadway, where “Send In the Clowns” wasn’t just a pretty song, but more an ode to lost love and opportunity, which broke the the onlookers’ hearts.
Victor assigned all of our pieces for performance, which include “One Hand, One Heart” (“West Side Story”), “Another Hundred People” (“Company”), “Not While I’m Around” (“Sweeney Todd”), and “Send In the Clowns.”
I got “Send In the Clowns,” “What Can You Lose” (“Dick Tracy”), “Not a Day Goes By” (“Merrily We Roll Along”) and “Move On” (“Sunday in the Park with George”). My insides are officially going numb.
I’ve performed “Send In the Clowns” before in concert, and it turned me into mush. It also happens to be one of the favorites of my husband Rob’s late mom.
When I got my song assignments, I started checking out previous renditions on YouTube, going first through specific references that Victor had given me. However, I couldn’t get past “Not a Day Goes By”—specifically, Bernadette Peters’ performance of it. If I’m not mistaken, she sang this particular version soon after her husband Michael suddenly passed away. In her eyes, voice and face, you could clearly see (and watch) a life lived with her man, and the heartbreak over his death. Right after the final note, I started cursing Victor for assigning this song to me.
So, yes, I am officially intimidated.
But then I could just be over thinking things. It’s not just about being able to keep time, or stay in tune; it’s also about finding the right emotional place in which to reside, a truthful place in the heart from which I can authentically perform this music, and keep my head.
Maybe it’s just one of those moments when you’re face to face with your insecurities, thinking that there’s no possible way you could ever do what’s being asked of you—but you know you’ll try anyway.
To quote one Sondheim song: “Stop worrying where you’re going/ Move on / If you can know where you’re going / You’ve gone / Just keep moving on…”
And so I shall, with new, good, better and best friends with me. We will all dive in, head first, going into something truly special, together.