What you can look forward to in ‘Waitress’ Manila

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Bibo Reyes as Dr. Pomatter and Joanna Ampil as Jenna perform “It Only Takes a Taste,” at a rehearsal for the international premiere of “Waitress.” Photo by NIKKI BONUEL

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “It only takes a taste/When it’s something special,” Bibo Reyes sings. We’re at rehearsals for the international premiere of “Waitress,” which will be staged here in Manila at the RCBC Plaza this month, and they’ve prepared three songs for us visitors.

“It Only Takes a Taste,” his duet with Joanna Ampil, who plays the titular waitress Jenna, marks the beginning of their characters’ relationship, and, along with the irresistibly catchy number “Opening Up” and the kooky uptempo “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me,” it has left us craving for more. This is thanks in large part to the pitch perfect cast, who all radiate with the same infectious energy and charm found in Sara Bareilles’ equally sweet and soulful music. As Reyes sings in “It Only Takes a Taste,” “Sometimes one bite is more than enough/To know you want more of the thing you just got a taste of.”

The story of “Waitress” revolves around Jenna, whose only escape from her humdrum job and abusive husband is baking pies, and whose world is turned upside down when she learns that she is pregnant. The musical premiered in 2015, then made its Broadway debut in 2016 to much fanfare for a number of reasons — singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles had written music and lyrics for the musical, and together with writer Jessie Nelson, director Diane Paulus, and choreographer Lorin Latarro, made up a historic all-women creative team.

As of late, the cast and crew of “Waitress” Manila, mounted by Atlantis Theatrical and with Bobby Garcia directing, are making the final preparations for opening night on Nov. 9. At the rehearsals, we got to chat with Joanna Ampil, who filled us in on what we can expect come showtime.

IMG_7999.jpg Jenna, the titular waitress whose life is turned upside down when she realizes she is pregnant, is Joanna Ampil's first theatrical role since her return to the Philippines. Photo by NIKKI BONUEL

“Waitress” Manila is brought to life by a powerful cast

“Waitress” is Joanna Ampil’s first local theater production since she returned to the Philippines, following her award-winning role as Candida in the film adaptation of “Ang Larawan.” On the challenge of playing a character like Jenna, Ampil says the role is one of the more physical and emotionally demanding ones she’s had, especially since she is in virtually every scene.

“[The challenge is] just keeping in shape, making sure I'm in tiptop form all the time, [and] making sure that vocally I'm on top form also,” says Ampil. “And getting into the zone of Jenna, when she is meant to be down or when I have to psych myself down, making sure that everything is on point.”

Playing Jenna’s BFFs are Aliw Award winner Bituin Escalante as the sassy but sweet Becky, and musical theater mainstay Maronne Cruz (“Sa Wakas,” “Ang Huling El Bimbo”) as the eccentric Dawn. Singer-songwriter Nino Alejandro plays Dawn’s persistent suitor Ogie, George Schulze plays Jenna’s abusive husband Earl, Dean Rosen plays her boss Cal, and Steven Conde plays the ill-tempered diner owner Joe. Rounding out the cast is Bibo Reyes as Jenna’s gynecologist-slash-love interest Dr. Pomatter.

IMG_7898.jpg Aliw Award winner Bituin Escalante plays Jenna's sassy but sweet best friend and coworker Becky. Photo by NIKKI BONUEL

IMG_7938.jpg Even though Jenna’s relationship with her husband is a prime example of the darkness of domestic abuse, Ampil emphasizes that the musical makes Jenna’s story one of hope and positivity. Photo by NIKKI BONUEL

It’s a musical that resonates in the #MeToo era

Jenna’s relationship with her husband Earl, a violent and controlling man, is especially relevant in the #MeToo era. Critics of the Broadway musical have also commended the story for being female-centric and highlighting female empowerment.

“The story is something that happens now, not just in America but all over the world,” says Ampil. “And people need to be aware of this.”

But even though Jenna’s relationship is a prime example of the darkness of domestic abuse, Ampil emphasizes that the musical makes Jenna’s story one of hope and positivity.

“It's [about Jenna] trying to get her strength back,” says Ampil. “We show her journey but the journey on how to find her way back to positivity, to get out of an abusive relationship, not through other people but from her own strength … it’s from within Jenna. It's all that and it's very tangible when you watch the show.”

IMG_7946.jpg The persistent suitor Ogie (Nino Alejandro) serenades Dawn (Maronne Cruz) with the kooky uptempo number “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.” Photo by NIKKI BONUEL

IMG_7966.jpg “[Be prepared] to be transported to this diner which is full of positivity and good vibes,” says Ampil on the world of “Waitress” Manila. Photo by NIKKI BONUEL

It’s a completely different production from the Broadway run

Apart from being the first one outside of Broadway, “Waitress” Manila is a “completely different production,” says Ampil, who mentions that the set, designed by Tony-Award winner David Gallo, is much different from the one on Broadway.

“Just be prepared to be transported to a different world, which is so magical,” she says. “[Be prepared] be transported to this diner which is full of positivity and good vibes.”

It’s a story that everyone can relate to

“Waitress” is set mostly in a diner in the American South, but the story is one that is universal, and something that Filipino audiences can and will relate to. “I think wherever you put this show, people will be able to relate to it,” says Ampil. “The characters are so real that people can easily find it accessible. They will be able to relate to one or two characters in the show.”

“Sara Bareilles' music and her lyrics are so universal,” she adds. “Music in itself is so universal anyway.”

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Catch the international premiere of “Waitress” from Nov. 9 to Dec. 2, 2018 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. Contact TicketWorld at (632) 891-9999 or visit ticketworld.com.ph for tickets.