Lea Salonga’s Backstory: Murphy’s Law

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Backstory
Murphy’s Law

By Lea Salonga
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 19:13:00 11/26/2008; On Paper 11/27/2008

MANILA, Philippines—Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

Murphy’s Law seems to govern a lot of what can (and does) happen in a theatrical production. That’s even after long and thorough preparations when all the technical aspects are tested — microphones, costumes, lighting, sets, props, and whatever else (miniscule or monumental) can throw a show berserk.

It can be as simple as a mic being “sweated out” (when an actor perspires so profusely, that his or her body mic is rendered useless), a costume piece missing during an onstage change (this has happened to me a few times), a prop being misplaced, an actor’s voice cracking, a bit of dialogue forgotten, a teleprompter running the wrong lyrics…

Getting caught with one’s proverbial pants down (or off)… and still forging ahead without letting the audience be the wiser… that’s what live performance is about.

Where’s that set going?

The set of the Manila production of “Miss Saigon” employed an interesting bit of technology that I hadn’t heard of prior to that mounting. Our humongous sets were going to move using infrared technology. I can’t remember exactly how it worked, but I know this much: If any of the receivers was blocked or off by even a fraction of an inch, the sets would go awry or stop completely, requiring a total reboot. Which meant the show would have to stop, too.

Thanks to this technology failing almost on a regular basis, scenes that were supposed to take place at the Dreamland bar ended up on the bar stage. During show stops, I’d find myself playing volleyball with a few of the other girls using a paper prop ball. Good times, really good times.

Drip, drip, drip

In early 2007, in the dead of winter in New York City, I was working on “Les Misérables” at the Broadhurst Theatre. High above the stage was a skylight… in the winter, the melting snow found its way through the openings in the skylight, and dripped onto the stage. On one matinee, some of the ensemble had to carry rags to wipe up wet spots on stage.

Why am I not moving?

In China, “Cinderella” had a few mechanical problems. At the end of Act I, the carriage is supposed to take Cinderella off to the ball via a nice slow exit stage left, with singing horses, a coachman and a footman. Twice in Shanghai, the carriage had some trouble going. At one time, it didn’t move forward at all; at another, it fishtailed to the left before coming to a full stop. So much for magic!

(Personally, I blamed the horses.)

Scary statue

At the final rehearsal for the original London production of “Miss Saigon,” the Ho Chi Minh statue rolled downstage after the cables holding it jumped a drum, which meant it went past the stop point. The actors in front of the statue were puzzled about why they had hit their marks, but Uncle Ho kept pushing them forward. Thankfully, they got out of the way quickly.

We canceled the first two previews in order to troubleshoot each and every set change, going through everything with a fine-toothed comb.

Drip, drip 2

It’s a supposed no-no to perform with animals and children. In “Miss Saigon” we shared the stage with quite a lot of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds, one of whom still didn’t have full control of his bodily functions.

As I was singing “I’d Give My Life for You,” I spied a trickle from my Tam of the evening, and since the stage was inclined, the trickle headed straight for the orchestra pit, onto the head of a keyboard player. I think it became standard practice from then on to make sure the Tams went to the bathroom before going on stage.

I dropped the stick!

In the Los Angeles production of “Flower Drum Song,” the character Mei-li is supposed to have been trained in the Peking Opera tradition. This meant I had to learn a routine that incorporated acrobatics and dance, and it had to be impressive in my warrior dance with a stick.

The stick was about my height. I had to twirl it, fight with it, and do consecutive barrel turns in a circle. Fine and good, and I did okay enough… for the most part.

Toward the end of the routine, I was to blind-catch the stick after a twirl that had it going around my neck. My hand missed the stick a few times, sending the stick to the floor. Great, I thought; the last thing this audience would remember would be me, not catching this piece of bamboo.

One last…

Only last Sunday did this one happen, at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre:

The evening performance began uneventfully enough, with “The Sweetest Sounds” and the Fairy Godmother’s speech. But an air current pushed our black drop, which came crashing down— the system along with it. We stopped for 10 minutes, then resumed from the very top, which meant singing “The Sweetest Sounds” again. And then, “rewriting” her speech, Charlie Parker, our Fairy Godmother, had the audience in the palm of her hand. It was charming.

Technical snafus come with the territory—every performer and crew person comes to expect them. It’s great when nothing goes wrong, but at least we all have our heads in place when something does.

Shameless plug

My brother Gerard is headed back to the HK Cultural Centre, this time to conduct the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra for singer Leehom. Performances are set Dec. 22, 23 and 24 at 8 p.m., with an added matinee on Dec. 24 at 4 p.m. Visit http://www.hkpo.com.

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