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After ‘Gitling,’ Gabby Padilla makes her theater comeback in REP’s new musical

By Lé Baltar Published May 18, 2024 5:35 pm Updated May 21, 2024 2:08 pm

Whether onscreen or onstage, Gabby Padilla has long been forging her own route as an artist and storyteller. Some feathers in her cap are films like Billie & Emma (2018), Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral (2018), and Kalel, 15 (2019), alongside roles in local theater, like those in A Little Princess, Matilda, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, just to name a few.

But it is arguably in Jopy Arnaldo’s Cinemalaya feature debut Gitling, perhaps local cinema’s Past Lives, that Padilla’s artistry coheres into something more dynamic and revelatory. In the film, flawed as it is, Padilla flits between languages and takes us to many inner lives, in all its friction and tenderness. She excels and captivates for a host of reasons, most notable of which is how she extends so much intention and emotional heft to her character.

For her work in the film, Padilla scored huge wins at the 2nd Paragon Film Lokal Choice Awards and the 4th Pinoy Rebyu Awards by the Society of Filipino Film Reviewers, alongside a nomination at this year’s Gawad Urian. For the second year in a row, Padilla will also be part of Cinemalaya’s latest iteration, with a role in Kono Basho, Jaime Pacena’s directorial debut, alongside Arisa Nakano, of the Oscar-nominated Japanese drama Perfect Days.

Her career’s momentum certainly doesn’t stop here, as she embraces the stage anew in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, the latest adaptation put on by Repertory Philippines (REP), steered by director Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo. Dubbed the second longest-running off-Broadway musical, with Joe DiPietro originally working on the book and lyrics, alongside Jimmy Roberts for the music, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change centers on a quartet playing 40 characters, whose stories are captured through a series of vignettes, highlighting relationships in its many forms and love always in flux.

The role marks a homecoming for Padilla, after her previous work with REP in A Little Princess and Hansel and Gretel, just as it does for the rest of the cast: PHILSTAGE Gawad Buhay awardees Gian Magdangal and Marvin Ong, alongside Krystal Kane, of The Sound of Music and Spring Awakening. Serving as swings are emerging artists Barbara Jance and Davy Narciso. 

In this exclusive sit-down interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, Padilla details the success of Gitling and how it feels to be back onstage.

How have you been since Gitling?

It feels like it hasn’t ended because we’re still bringing it around. Back in March, we brought it to Osaka. So we did our first international premiere as a group there. So that was nice. And then to come back again for Cinemalaya this year, it just feels like nag-full circle ‘yung Cinemalaya. It hadn’t stopped since Gitling. So, I’m still so  overwhelmed by all the love that people have shown Gitling. And as a team, we still are in this belief that we got to make this film. We’re in this belief that people loved it. So, yeah, it’s still so surreal. 

You already mentioned being part of Kono Basho, Jaime Pacena’s directorial debut at this year’s Cinemalaya. Can you talk more about that?

Kono Basho was shot in Japan. It’s basically about a daughter who comes to Japan after she finds out her father has passed away. And the story is about her navigating her grief, of course. Also navigating the life that her father lived without her. The life that she didn’t really know about. So grieving those two things, her relationship with her father, and grieving the kind of life she never had with him because they were kind of estranged, and then in the process meeting her stepsister and developing a relationship with her.

Let’s walk down memory lane for a bit. What was your first introduction to theater?

I think a lot of Filipinos kind of grew up listening to Miss Saigon and because of that, Les Miserables. But for me, my first talaga na show that made an imprint on me was this concert series called Hey, Mr. Producer!, which was a tribute concert for Cameron Mackintosh, who was the producer of all these big musicals. 

And then I saw Lea Salonga play Kim in that and then she also played Eponine. And just seeing an Asian woman onstage, on an international stage, really shifted my mindset. Just to see someone who looks like you playing these roles that are not originally written for you, that really changed something in me and I think that really fueled my love for performing. 

Now let’s talk about your theater comeback. How does it feel to be working with Repertory Philippines again?

It’s always great to come back to theater. I was a theater major in college. So my foundation and my upbringing felt like it was in theater talaga. So it’s always a joy, it’s always so comforting. It’s great to come back to REP as well. And for it to be a new experience naman with Tita Menchu and the rest of the cast. So it feels familiar, but it’s a nice, fresh thing. And especially coming from the pandemic, I feel like all of us have missed being on stage. We miss watching things on stage. So all in all, it’s just we’re all so excited to share this with a live audience.

About the role, did you audition for it?

Yes. I auditioned for it. My mindset was just, I’m just going to try this out. If it doesn’t work, that’s totally fine because I didn’t think that I would be doing a musical this year. But then when it started, things just started falling into place and I just remained open. And yun! So it’s only four roles, plus the two understudies. So I really thought that it wasn’t going to happen, but it did and I’m really grateful. 

The musical features a quartet playing 40 characters. So how challenging and different is the preparation for each character, or for the entire staging?

It’s a challenge, not only acting wise, but just like the stamina and the physicality of this whole thing. We’re still in rehearsals now, so it’s still a work in progress. But we’re so blessed to have someone like Tita Menchu, who sees clearly what she wants to happen onstage. So navigating all these different roles doesn’t feel so daunting when you have someone leading the team, who sees it so clearly, and you’ll see it later on. It’s very stylized in a way that the changes aren’t literal.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change revolves around "the unspoken truths of love."

Let’s talk about your castmates. What are some of the theater acting lessons you’ve learned from them so far?

Just how important it is to be generous and open onstage. You can really tell when someone is, because we have such little time to get to know each other, and we have to have this like lived history in each character, right? Like we play couples who’ve been married for a long time, and that’s not something that you can fake. So it’s so important to have people, who are so open and so generous with their spirit and with their time, and that makes a difference and so much easier. 

What are some specific roles you’re hoping to work on, either onscreen or onstage?

I always say that I would love to work in a Floy Quintos play. But sadly, he has left. I remember we did an interview prepping for this, and they asked me what my dream was, and I really did write to work with Sir Floy, and then the news came out. 

But on film, maybe to work with Sir Ricky Lee. He’s one of the few people that when I see him I’m really starstruck because he’s like a living legend. So anything by Sir Ricky. And then in general, I feel like it would be fun to play a person who exists just for the challenge of playing like a real person. That’s something that I really want to try. 

What are your hopes for local theater?

Just for it to get back on its feet, especially since the pandemic and for the local audiences to really support it the way that they support international theater and to find that there’s so much richness in our own like Philippine theater culture. Because if we support, our actors will be given the support, and it will translate into making it a more sustainable thing for everyone.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change will run from June 14 to July 6 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC Plaza.