14 Filipino musicians in ‘Chicago’ orchestra
It only took four hours for 14 Filipino musicians to get “All That Jazz” together.
“A four-hour rehearsal, yeah, that’s all we were allowed. I knew from the very beginning [that we’re well covered with the Filipino talents we found] as soon as we played the overture. We met for four hours together on Tuesday (Dec. 2) and that was it! We did the dress rehearsal the following day and the opening that night (Dec. 3). So they came a long way in two days, pulling this show together,” said Robert Billig, the musical’s conductor who joined Chicago three months into its original run in 1975.
Billig performed with 14 Filipino musicians he selected from 25 submitted video auditions prior to Chicago’s Manila debut at The Theatre-Solaire Resort & Casino. Billig is part of the performance alongside the touring cast led by Terra MacLeod (Velma Kelly) and Bianca Marroquin (Roxie Hart) who have performed for Manila media and members of Smart Infinity since the start of the musical’s Manila run last Dec. 3.
Billig was sure he would find the kind of musicians he was looking for in the Philippines. It took only a few notes for him to get this affirmation during the one and only rehearsal the band had before show time.
“Our associate general manager from the show who is from New York was there and she was standing in the back of the room when we started orchestra rehearsal. So when we started playing, I looked at her and she looked at me and we knew! Sounds like Chicago! Yes! It truly sounds like the show.
Billig knew he was in good company even before he searched for musicians in Manila because he worked with Lea Salonga and the Broadway cast of Miss Saigon.
Among the Filipino musicians jazzing it all up on stage are Lester Dematillo (banjo, mandolin) and Jayson Rivera (ukulele, woodwind). Dematillo said it wasn’t easy at all rushing into rehearsals. “For us it was really hard. Last time, I also performed with the Manila staging of Phantom of the Opera and Wicked and we did at least 10 rehearsals to tackle everything. So for this one, you can just imagine because it’s just one big rehearsal and only for four hours. Also I play classical music most of the time. This is my first time to play more modern, jazz type of music.”
It was however worth all the trouble because the band and the All-American cast have been earning standing ovations in almost every performance from the audience, some of whom are Smart Infinity members who are able to watch Chicago because of complimentary VIP tickets, discounts and privileges received through Smart Infinity, co-presenter of Chicago alongside Visa.
Rivera gauges audience reaction through “the clap after every number, because it more or less provides a ‘thermometer’ that tells us if it’s going well.”
“Just like the successful local runs of other world-class stage spectacles like Cats, Mamma Mia, The Phantom of the Opera, and Wicked, bringing Chicago to the Philippines is again a very special treat for our subscribers,” said Julie Carceller, department head of the Smart Infinity Business Group at Smart.