Lea Salonga’s Backstory: Sleepless in wonderful Zhengzhou

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Backstory

Sleepless in wonderful Zhengzhou
By Lea Salonga
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:30:00 09/24/2008; On Paper 9/25/2008

ZHENGZHOU, China— It’s a late Monday night—no, early Tuesday morning. Just hours ago, we finished the third performance of “Cinderella” here… we’re back in our hotel and everyone is in high spirits, because of the incredible way that the last two shows were received by local audiences.

This leg of the tour has been an interesting experience, for three reasons: One, I don’t have an interpreter joined to me at the hip, unlike in Xi’an, where Lynn Zhang proved valuable beyond words, and she was so sweet besides. Two, there’s barely any English spoken in this city. And three, the native-Mandarin speakers on tour with us (1 associate company manager, 2 wardrobe heads, 1 associate stage manager, 1 production manager, 1 associate merchandising manager) are themselves, in varying degrees, having trouble getting their points across to local counterparts. If they are having a difficult time, where does that leave the rest of us?

Beautiful airport

Only days earlier, we landed at the beautifully designed airport here. I must say that most of the airports I’ve seen in China so far are spanking new, efficient and well-designed, not to mention gargantuan.

This has become a regular conversation subject for my mother and me since the tour started. First thing I do when I land or leave is call to let her know that I’ve arrived or that I’m leaving, and to say, “The airport is fantastic!”

It’s the truth, and it makes her worry a bit less to know that the airport is modern, clean and well put together. I know, an airport isn’t always an accurate reflection of the city I’m about to enter, but a good first impression helps.

Landing with a thud

The flight to Zhengzhou was not the smoothest in the world, though. There was quite a bit of turbulence en route (much of which I slept through)… in fact, I don’t remember the plane taking off because I was pretty tired), and even more as we landed. The weather wasn’t great, either. It wasn’t raining, but there was quite a bit of cloud cover, which affected our entry. We landed with a thud. Getting off the plane and retrieving our luggage was uneventful, but the car ride to the hotel would be a feather-ruffling adventure.

Merita Huang, associate company manager, was in the greeting area to welcome us. We rolled our carts out to the waiting van and met our driver. He would also be my driver the whole time here. (I never got his name, he doesn’t speak English, but he is a nice enough fellow, and cheered when I’d count from 1 to 10 in Mandarin on the way home from the theater.)

Speeding backwards

On the freeway, we missed our exit. The usual resort would be to take the next exit— that’s what I was taught to do, and what I’ve always done. However, our driver decided to drive backwards. On the freeway. Peter Saide (Prince in “Cinderella”) expressed his disapproval. The rest of us, perhaps used to wacky-crazy driving in Asia, were not as perturbed. But truly, I don’t think any Manila driver would attempt that stunt on the SLEx!

Movie and dumplings

Finally at the hotel (thankfully, we had been checked-in ahead of time) I was shown to my room, a beautiful suite with a wonderful view. The best part: a poker table in the corner, and free broadband Internet access. A close second was the bed. I fell deeply in love with that bed. I stayed up late Sunday night watching a film called “Blood and Chocolate” on Star Movies (that, and CCTV 9 were the only English channels I could get) while eating delicious steamed pork dumplings! I fell asleep at around 2:30 a.m.

The next day, Sheilla Habab (my personal assistant) and I walked to the theater. We passed a row of optical shops (as if Sarabia and Sabater had turned into Starbucks; there were so many). Across the street were quite a few mobile phone stores. The walk, on that very humid day, took less than 10 minutes.

Do not touch

A few more things needed to be done at the theater but it was ready enough for a sitzprobe (seated rehearsal for the singers with the orchestra) with the local musicians that were joining the core touring group. Also, rehearsals for some technically complicated scenes.

The local crew turned out to be quite efficient. The wardrobe people had a different experience, though, and the touring heads ended up rather frustrated. On more than one occasion, KaLing Yiu had to tell the locals, “You’re not doing your job!” I never ever want to be on the wrong side of that woman.

An example of instructions not followed took place backstage. Prop trays with fake food were placed on a table on stage left. The locals were told to not touch the props, or the table. Well, someone thought the instructions were merely suggestions, and leaned on the table, sending the trays crashing down to the hard wood floor. No one, as far as I could observe, went near that table again.

Sensational audience

As I said, we did three performances here. Sunday’s matinee audience was pretty much what we had gotten used to in China— conservative during the show, but very demonstrative at curtain call. However, the evening audience was nothing short of sensational! Most of the punch lines were followed by generous laughter, and songs were almost always anticipated by applause. We couldn’t believe it! I thought it was a fluke and that the Monday show would elicit the more usual response. But it was even better than Sunday night! It was wonderful!

Poker night

How did we celebrate? Sunday night, a few of us got together for poker. I won second place, with Stefanie O’Connell in third and Abby Baum winning. Last night, we played a few dice games and watched snippets of “Terminator” and “28 Weeks Later” on Star Movies.

***

By the time you read this, I will have spent a few days at home with my family, and/or started packing for a press trip to Thailand. The next China stop is Guangzhou, where we open Friday, Oct. 3. I can’t wait!

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