Sep 222014

Mark points to the sign leading to the rehearsal stage for Here Lies Love at the sprawling National Theatre where the musical is scheduled from October to January next year – Photos by RICKY LO  

LONDON — First, a little clarification: Unlike Rachelle Ann Go (who’s a smash as Gigi in Miss Saigon, currently playing at the Prince Edward Theater) and the other Filipino talents before her (led by Lea Salonga who originated the role of Kim in the same musical), Mark Bautista will take a bow on world stage as Ferdinand Marcos in the musical Here Lies Love not at the West End but at the National Theatre at the south side of this city.

“I would say that the National Theatre is like our CCP back home,” said Mark as he welcomed me into the sprawling theater complex. “Only, it’s much, much bigger.”

I could have walked from the Strand Palace Hotel (where journalists invited to the junket for Universal Pictures’ Dracula Untold, starring Luke Evans, were billeted…but more on that later) but I didn’t want to miss my appointment with Mark set before I left Manila, so I took a cab (fare was 20 pounds, roughly P2,000).

Mark and two castmates (one a Filipino dancer from  Repertory and the other an artist from Hong Kong who performed in Disneyland) are staying at a three-room house 40 minutes by train to National Theatre, paid for by the producer.

“Come,” he gestured toward the NT complex, “I’ll take you on a quick tour.”

After a peep into the stage where Mark and the rest of the cast have been rehearsing daily since August, the canteen, the props room and other sections (for wigs, for haircut, etc.), we ended up at Mark’s dressing room. He promptly showed me a copy of a book about Dovie Beams (remember the Hollywood starlet who got involved in a controversy linking her to Marcos?), which he’s reading as part of his research, and two lunchboxes (no rice, please!) which, he revealed, he himself prepares every day. He looks fit, thanks to a regular workout that involves jogging around the complex.

A rock musical that spun off a concept album co-authored by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, Here Lies Love traces the life of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos and former First Lady Imelda Marcos (played by Natalie Mendoza, a Fil-Australian actress who was with Cesar Montano in the Hollywood movie The Great Raid) along with the woman who raised her (Estrella Cumpas) from the time the First Couple met until 1986 when People Power forced to leave the Philippines. Dean Wilson, a Briton, plays the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino, with Christine Allado, a London-based Pinay as Dovie Beams. After a preview on Sept. 30, the musical will start its formal run on Oct. 9 at, yes, the National Theatre.

Excerpts from our free-wheeling chat:

How have the rehearsals been going so far?

“We started rehearsing a day after I arrived in London. The rehearsal starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. daily, with only Sunday as our day-off. During the first week, puro music and the second week, nasa set na kami. I said, ‘Wow, ang bilis dito!’ It’s a sing-and-dance role kaya medyo madugo. Aw shucks, matindi ang pressure!”

How are you adjusting to life here?

“It’s my first time to be living with companions na hindi ko dating kilala. Kanya-kanya kaming laba, luto at linis ng aming rooms. Kanya-kanya ring punta sa grocery. On Sunday, after hearing Mass, I do the laundry and other household chores.”

As Marcos, do you have a love scene with Christine as Dovie Beams?

“Yes, we have. During the rehearsal, we had to do it three times because the director said masyado akong friendly-looking, he wanted me to be ‘lusty’. I wore boxers during the rehearsal, but I don’t know if I would be doing it with nothing on during the actual performance.” (Adding with a laugh) “That’s why I’m working out so hard para physically fit ako.”

You had dinner with Madame Imelda (arranged by Marichu “Manay Ichu” Maceda) before you left Manila. What tips did you get from her?

“Madame Imelda was all praises for Marcos at sobrang in love nga daw siya sa kanya. That was all. Then she borrowed a book I was carrying, about her and Estrella Cumpas, autographed by the author. It was the only copy I had so I requested her to return it. Actually, there are so many books about Marcos at the library here and I’ve been trying to read as many of them as I could. By the way, she said that she is scheduled for a speaking engagement at Oxford, kaya sana manood siya ng show.”

Do you bond with Rachelle and other Filipino actors in London?

“We meet up on Sundays. I attended her birthday party at her pad. I talked to her when I watched Miss Saigon. Most of the time, pa-Viber-Viber lang kami. We exchange notes. She knows about my activities, and vice-versa. She’s very good in Miss Saigon, very daring. Dito sa London, competition is very stiff kaya kailangan walang inhibitions. You do whatever is required by your character. By the way, I will be doing a brief scene as another character only in trunks, sexy ang dating, pero naka-mask ako so you will have to look hard to check out kung sino ako doon.”

It’s a good thing that you have done a nude scene on stage.

“Yes, in Full Monty at the end, but nothing was seen because we were back-lighted. I’m glad that I did that musical, kasi nakatulong sa conditioning ko for theater. Before that, I also played the lead role in Noli Me Tangere at the CCP. But Here Lies Love is different. World stage na ito…at dito pa sa London!”

Matindi ba ang opening jitters?

“Matindi talaga! It helps that during the rehearsals, may production people na nanonood as audience. I told myself, ‘Ganito pala, iba-ibang lahi ang manonood ng musical, ganito pala ang feeling!’ Kaya kailangan talaga galingan ko.”

No regrets about leaving your career back home?

“Of course, I also have this fear about it. I will be in London until January next year at worried din akong baka makalimutan ako ng mga fans ko. I didn’t have a new album at wala rin akong ibang projects na naiwan sa atin.”

After Here Lies Love, are you open to other offers here?

“If there are any, why not? But they told me that I should have an agent here. I’m thinking about it. I still have four months to go before my contract with GMA expires. On-hold ang contract ko. You know, my doing Here Lies Love is an answered prayer. Sabi ko, ‘Lord, sana kung magti-theater man ako, sana sakto sa akin.’ Perfect! At sa ibang bansa pa!”

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