The show is nothing if not ambitious. Featuring an international cast of thirty and ‘over twenty original scores’ Marco Polo the Musical is the brainchild of Rogelio Saldo Chua, a Philippino/Belgian singer/songwriter and businessman, who wrote the book, lyrics and music and produced the show as well.
The ‘untold story’ – so-called because it never actually happened – tells of the love affair between the famous Italian explorer Marco Polo and the eldest daughter of Kublai Khan, Emperor of the Mongols back in the 13th century. Marco first encounters Princess Kogajin when she confronts him wearing a helmet and battle gear, before removing her headwear to reveal her tumbling locks, and her gender. He falls in love with her before he realises she is royalty, and royalty – as the princess’ mother Empress Wu, who herself gave up her true love for duty explains (in a song of course) – cannot marry for love. The feisty princess thinks otherwise, and so the romance continues on its course with, surprisingly, the support of the Great Khan himself. To marry the princess Marco must first pass an exam to become a civil servant, and then prove his courage and peacemaking skills in order to become a baron. Exploring seems to go by the board as Marco focuses his entire attention on the romance. In a sweetly sensuous scene he strips to the waist while his princess tenderly washes him, singing all the while.
One cannot but admire the scope and ambitiousness of such an epic project. The songs – of which there are rather too many – are melodic and beautifully arranged chorally, and most impressively sung across the board. In fact it’s fair to assume the cast were chosen for their singing skills rather than for their acting. The cross-cultural mix of the cast, most of whom are from the Philippines and the rest from various European countries, including Britain, means there is a strange mix of accents, which makes some of the dialogue hard to decipher. And some of the acting is pretty over the top.
But it all looks very beautiful. Colourful costumes, especially for the Chinese ladies of the court, complete with fans – who shuffle on and off stage like a frantic chorus – a set made up of a tilted circular walkway and back projections of ancient maps and ships and so forth. The sound quality is dire, and the talented instrumentalists, tucked away out of sight – why do they do that? – often drown out the (miked) singers on stage.
As a whole it’s an astonishing achievement on the part of Mr Saldo Chua, and perhaps with tighter direction and some editing, and re-casting, it might have a future. There is some clunky exposition and the show as a whole takes itself very seriously. There are some excellent performances, especially from Pinky Marquez-Cancio as Empress Wu and Melisa Camba as her elder daughter and Stephanie Reese as the younger; who shows rather more passion for her lover than her lover, played by the American David Bianco, shows for her. (Marvellous voice, but much of his performance is delivered to the floor, and in his scenes with his lover to the audience.)
The musicians are not only hidden from the audience they don’t even get a mention in the programme. Nor does the musical director – who made a brief appearance in the curtain call, though nobody necessarily knew who he was. The modern preference for keeping musicians out of sight and over-miking performers is alienating, and does nothing to humanise the performance. But that is a personal beef.
You have to admire the grand vision of a man like Rogelio Saldo Chua, and his committed cast. The best of luck to them all.
Review by Patsy Trench
The world premiere of new musical – Marco Polo, An Untold Love Story – is taking place in London this Summer at the Shaw theatre. The musical tells the story of what could be one of the great, untold romances of all time.
Thirteenth century Venetian explorer Marco Polo travelling through Asia meets and falls in love with the beautiful, strong-willed Princess Kogajin, daughter of the great Emperor Kublai Khan.
Marco Polo, An Untold Love Story includes over 20 original scores, combining moving lyrics with haunting, memorable music. A hand-picked, international cast, includes world-renowned musical star Stephanie Reese in the role of Princess Kogajin.
A poignant East-West story of two lovers from different parts of the world, this is a timeless tale of power, destiny and true love, rich in historical significance.
Artistic Director Roger Saldo-Chua
Stage Director Preece Killick
Musical Director Paul Ooi
Scenography and Set design Mio Infante
Lighting design Dong Calingacion
Sound design Tony Gale
Stage Manager Jessica Thanki
Costume Design Raven Ong & Odit Sarte
Projection Designer G.A. Fallarme
Choreographer Remus Villaneuva
Martial Arts Wesley Pereira and Remus Villaneuva
CAST LIST – Wednesday 10th August, 7.30pm performance
Marco David Bianco
Princess Kogajin Stephanie Reese
Princess Toragana Melisa Camba
Empress Wu Pinky Marquez-Cancio
Lord Khogatal/Friar William/ Nicholas Lupu
Niccolo Polo Chinggoy Alonso
Maffeo Benoit Damberville
Kublai Khan/Doge Aidan Bradley
Irinchin/Ricci Remus J. Villanueva
Tegan/Achilleo Duncan Drury
Togacher/Illario Julien Salvia
Togana/Biaggio Ian Venida
Giorgio Alex Southern
Antonello Mark Irwin
Maurizio Sion Emyr
Friar Nicholas Michael Pinsker
Ladies In Waiting: Tanya Rae, Kate Leiper, Sigrid Macarena Balbas, Inge Westerlink
Countesses: Alexandra Matlovka, Elizabeth Bright, Melisa Camba, Perle Solves, Marie Glorieux
Learned men: Wally Tuyan, Bobby Superales
Ballet dancers: Wally Tuyan, Inge Westerlink
Marco Polo, An Untold Love Story
5th August – 4th September 2016