How ‘Changing Partners’ musical opened doors for Anna Luna - Kaidul

How ‘Changing Partners’ musical opened doors for Anna Luna

Anna Luna reprises her role Cris with co-actor Sandino Martin in Vincent de Jesus’ musical ‘Changing Partners.’ Photo by author

MANILA — Anna Luna is in cloud nine nowadays. But it’s not about a man or a single partner in her very youngAnna Luna reprises her role Cris with co-actor Sandino Martin in Vincent de Jesus’ musical ‘Changing Partners.’ Photo by author

MANILA — Anna Luna is in cloud nine nowadays. But it’s not about a man or a single partner in her very young life.

She’s ecstatic and blooming as she tells the good news that she’s going to reprise the role of Cris in Vincent de Jesus’s stage musical “Changing Partners.” But this time, it will be staged in a bigger venue, the 400-seat Philippine Educational Theater Association’s PETA-Phinma Theater.

“Bumaba lang po kami, kasi dati nasa taas kami sa third floor,” she said, referring to the 115-seat PETA Theater Center Studios, where “Changing Partners” was first staged from September to October, 2016, directed by Red Turnip Theater co-founder Rem Zamora.

“Kami-kami lang po noon. Pito lang kami sa set. Apat na actors, si Kuya Vincent, isang director at isang stage manager. Kami kami lang nagpinta-pinta sa mga set namin, pero sobrang saya namin,” she said.

Luna starred with Agot Isidro, Jojit Lorenzo and Sandino Martin in the musical that runs a little more than an hour without intermission. Isidro and Lorenzo play Alex, the older lover of Cris, who is also played by Martin.

It was later made into a movie by director Dan Villegas with the same cast for the 2017 Cinema One Originals Film Festival, where it won eight awards, including the Champion Bughaw for Best Film.

The movie was indeed a breakthrough considering it was the only musical among the entries. It was also well-received by the general public when it had a nationwide commercial run in January this year.

For those who haven’t seen the film and the play, “Changing Partners” is the story of couple Alex and Cris. It is a May-December affair that tackles the joys and ills of a relationship, infidelity—thus the title–and how one survives its crashes and burns. It may sound as simple as that but De Jesus’ brilliant storytelling will surprise the first-timer, especially with the songs he composed that explore heartbreaks in all angles. Or let us just say, dissecting heartbreaks that only De Jesus can.

In its review, ABS-CBN News described the 2016 run as “that rare musical that’s perfectly suited for today’s hugot-obsessed audience yet has found a brilliant, creative way to tell another story of a love that has turned sour. It’s theater that feeds both the mind and the heart.”

Anna Luna (right) reprises her role as Cris, younger lover to Alex, played by Agot Isidro. Handout

Many of those who’ve seen the film didn’t know there was an earlier stage version and when they found out, they requested for a rerun.

“Kaya nga po we’re staging it now and we’re very happy because we’re in a bigger venue,” said Luna, who calls “Changing Partners” their passion project.

Moreover, composer-musician-librettist De Jesus, who used to do solo piano accompaniment, will be joined in by cellist Poch Gutierrez. Production designer Ben Padero, who recently did PETA’s “Night, Mother,” will create a bigger set that would fit the PETA-Phinma Theater stage.

Serious actress

Zamora and De Jesus both agree that they have found a gem of an actress in Luna.

“I first met Anna in the PETA play ‘William.’ She struck me as a very intense actress. Brooding and mysterious onstage yet crazy and hysterical in person,” said De Jesus, referring to the 2011 award-winning rap musical about teenagers who learned to love William Shakespeare and his works. Luna played Estella, a brilliant schoolgirl battling family issues.

In 2015, Luna played the Nina, the pretty, young heir of a hacendero family who is the only one ready to let go of old traditions in PETA’s “Arbol de Fuego,” an adaptation of Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard.”

The following year, she played Nazty of the rebel group called Tropang Gising in PETA’s “Three Stars and a Sun,” a tribute rap-rock musical for the late Pinoy music icon Francis Magalona.

“In both plays (‘William’ and ‘Three Stars and a Sun’) she never got to sing anything because both were rap musicals. It was when we went out with friends one night and she started singing during the jam that I realized, ‘Hey, she can sing! And what a dramatic mezzo soprano voice,’” said De Jesus.

When he was writing “Changing Partners,” de Jesus said he wasn’t thinking of a particular actress to play the female Cris. Repertory Philippines’ regular Giannina Ocampo was the one who played the role during the stage reading for the 2016 Virgin Labfest at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Anna Luna with Jojit Lorenzo. Handout photo

“Giannina was adorable. But she unfortunately couldn’t join the full mounting because of prior commitments. Then I turned to Anna and she immediately accepted the project,” De Jesus said.

Working with Luna, De Jesus discovered that for someone so young, she is very serious in what she’s doing. During the first run, Luna had just turned 20.

“Anna is a very inquisitive actress. Because of her young age, she asks a lot of questions — which is good. But when she’s sure about something she’ll fight for it until the end,” he said.

De Jesus admired Luna so much as an actress, it sounded like he’s about to fall in love with her. He continued: “She’s smart, funny, and very amiable. She’s rarely in a bad mood and even if she is she doesn’t let others feel it. She’s very sensitive with her co-workers. Very professional and always a delight to collaborate with. In a few years I won’t be surprised if she becomes one of the most sought-after actresses in the industry — in fact, she already is.”

Zamora has the same nice words for Luna. Besides being able to follow direction very well, he found her very natural. “She’s got great instincts. To her I would say that she should trust those instincts more,” he said.

As a person, Zamora said, “Anna is wonderful, inside and out. Always with a ready smile and great cheer. I would definitely recommend that she do more theater.”

De Jesus agreed. “I will work with her again anytime, anywhere.”

Which brings us to “Changing Partners” the sequel. De Jesus said he is already trying to write the story on what happens next to Cris and Alex, about two or three years after the breakup. He has plans of staging it early 2019.

TV offers

Meanwhile, Luna had just been included in the latest Star Magic Circle. She started in March and has a lineup of projects already. All these because of “Changing Partners.”

“Noong pinalabas ‘yung pelikula (‘Changing Partners’) noong January, parang naririnig na rin daw ako ni Mr. M and then may mga tao nagsasabi sa kanya na ‘uy ipasok niyo ‘yan,” Luna told ABS-CBN News, referring to Johnny Manahan of Star Magic, the talent arm of ABS CBN Network.

She added it was also Rahyan Carlos, Star Magic Workshop head, who pushed for her inclusion in this year’s batch. But prior to that, she was already part of the ABS-CBN telenovela “Hanggang Saan,” which ended April 27 this year.

Out of excitement, Luna almost screamed when she broke the good news that she’s going to be part of a new project under Dreamscape Entertainment. “Abangan na lang po natin.”

“Changing Partners” runs for only two weekends starting May 11 to May 20 at the PETA Theater Center.

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