MANILA, Philippines -- Repertory Philippines' 2013 theater season mightily took off last Thursday night with the highly enjoyable French comedy "Boeing Boeing," sending audiences on flights of laughter.
|Giannina Ocampo as IItalian stewardess Gabriella and David Bianco as French playboy Bernard in a scene from "Boeing Boeing"
Despite encountering some pre-opening turbulence when it lost its two lead actors a little more than a month before opening night, Rep's production of the 1962 play moved smoothly with perfect comic timing, efficiently steered by director Miguel Faustmann, a veteran actor who appeared in numerous farces in his nearly 40-year career on stage.
When the play was first announced in October, TV and film actor Michael de Mesa and Rep veteran Michael Williams were originally cast in the lead.
“I was set to do this play, we scheduled it out, and on the first day of rehearsal, I am missing two men. I had the girls ...but the two boys suddenly, because of schedule problems, I lost both of them,” Faustmann recalled at a post-performance huddle with media.
“Luckily, thank God for everything, that the following day, we got these two. David and Topper jumped right in,” he added, referring to David Bianco who replaced de Mesa, and Topper Fabregas, who took over Williams’s role.
Faustmann explained that de Mesa is currently part of a TV series that shoots in far-off locations like Vigan and Pangasinan. “He wouldn't be able to attend rehearsals. How could we have a play without rehearsals? No way,” the director said.
As for Williams, Faustmann said the veteran theater actor couldn’t do one weekend of the play’s run. “I cannot just hire another actor to take over that one weekend. So it's either you do it or you don't,” Faustmann said. “I mean he's going to have to memorize, and all that work, for just one weekend. It's not fair, even if they half it. The actor has to do the whole run.”
Faustmann admitted that they were “scared” because of the limited rehearsal time. “We only had two weeks in December to rehearse then everybody had to go off to vacation, memorize their lines, and come back and we rehearsed from the 7th until today. And we pulled it through,” he said.
It's really just the nature of the business. This is not the first time I had to replace someone on short notice. This is not a special case that just happened. It happens like all the time. The show must go on,” Fabregas added.
Without a hitch
And go on it did with none of the pre-opening drama evident on Thursday's press preview.
Bianco and Fabregas proved to be well suited for their roles. Bianco, who earned praise for his portrayal of a gay Christian in Rep’s “Next Fall,” projected a laidback charm as Bernard, the French playboy juggling three air hostesses, while Fabregas as the far less sophisticated Robert once again showed the exact comic timing that made him to stand out in Rep’s cross-dressing comedy “Leading Ladies.”
|Topper Fabregas and Carla Dunareanu in a scene from "Boeing Boeing"
Indeed, Fabregas is fast becoming the go-to guy to play fumbling, boyish, slightly nerdish characters. With his winning performance in “Boeing Boeing,” he may be establishing himself as the actor to beat once Rep begins casting for “The Producers.” Fabregas should be a shoo-in for the role originally played by Matthew Broderick on Broadway.
It also helped that “Boeing Boeing” is one truly hilarious play.
Even without the ‘60s Mod setting that helped light up the play’s Broadway revival, the plot itself with its nutty premise is enough to glue the audience. When the flight schedules of the three women goes awry, thanks to a storm over the Atlantic, the sex-comedy romp goes full throttle, with doors closing and opening with perfect precision.
While the resolution appears too neat, even nearly romantic, audiences will likely erupt in spontaneous applause with the play’s smooth landing.
Let’s hear it for the girls
|Real-life couple Jennifer Blair-Bianco and David Bianco in a scene from "Boeing Boeing"
Although all eyes were on the two actors who were cast at the last minute, it quickly became apparent that the three actresses playing the flight attendants are the real stars in this production.
With their natural sensuality, confident allure and flirty, color-coded flight attendant uniforms, Giannina Ocampo, Carla Dunareanu and Jennifer Blair-Bianco owned the stage every time they make their entrance.
Written before the era of political correctness, “Boeing Boeing” can easily slip into cheesy territory but the three actresses wisely downplayed the stereotyped characterizations, even toning down their accents. They were definitely not bimbos on parade.
Indeed, one can understand why Bernard chose to keep his affair going with the three. More than being devastatingly attractive, they also each have lovable traits.
As a treat to the male members of the audience, the three girls were also shown wearing lingerie.
If only for that, “Boeing Boeing” could well be the hottest theater ticket as Valentine season nears.
“Boeing Boeing” runs until February 17 at Onstage, Greenbelt in Makati City.