What better way to see and experience hope than through the eyes of children, as Marketing and PR Director Sab Jose mentioned before the show. Dani Girl is one such story, told through a little girl’s reimagining of her own struggles in reality into a whimsical fantasy. The Sandbox Collective staged it for the first time 5 years ago, and is now bringing it back, at a time where we need a little more hope in our world.
Dani is the titular girl, battling through The Big C (that’s cancer) by imagining a more fun, less bleak world. In her imaginary world, her parents are rulers of a fantasy kingdom, and her guardian angel, Raph, plays games and sings fun songs with her. Having been alone in the hospital for a long time, she meets new ward-neighbor Marty, who shares her depth of imagination. They embark on adventures to discover why they were befallen with the “curse,” and more profoundly why it even needed to exist in the first place. “Why is cancer?” is the question.
I watched the show on its first weekend, and as part of the production’s charity efforts, they matched every social media post with the hashtag #DaniGirlMNL with a financial donation to the show’s partners. That was a nice way to not only promote the show but also help save lives.
The show I watched featured the following cast:
- Felicity Kyle Napuli as Dani Lyons
- Daniel Drilon as Marty
- Juliene Mendoza as Raph
- Pam Imperial as Katharine Lyons
The whole cast was a delight to watch. Juliene Mendoza’s performance as Raph (one among many imaginary characters he played) was a metaphorical chameleon. One minute he’s the guardian angel to Dani, the next he’s a wig-donning French salon employee, and he even gets to play a menacing yet charming physical manifestation of Cancer.
Pam Imperial as Dani’s mother was a sweet reminder of the unconditional love of a mother to her child. Her worry at Dani’s worsening state was super touching. And that last scene almost, almost made me tear up.
Daniel Drilon as Dani’s new-found friend was equally a delight. His enthusiastic portrayal of fantasy/sci-fi nerd Marty made me smile all throughout. I almost didn’t recognize him from his last role that I watched him in, in Newsies, but he maintains the same childlike wonder and spark in him, which was very on point for the Marty character.
Felicity Kyle Napuli embodied the precocious Dani perfectly. She nailed the gamut of Dani’s emotions–from her happier, whimsical adventures with Raph and Marty, to her quieter, more somber moments of reality with her mother. Not to mention her pitch perfect performance in every number. She was on-stage the whole time, but you never see her energy drop or go out of character. I last saw her as Young Nala in the Manila leg of Disney’s The Lion King, and she is just as impressive, maybe even more, the first time I witnessed her talent. At just 12 years old, she already has a bright future in theater, in the Philippines or maybe even internationally.
The 2019 re-staging is very much a technical and visual upgrade from The Sandbox Collective’s original staging as their maiden offering 5 years ago. The new stage design doubles down on inviting the audience within the domain of Dani’s imagination. Projected colorful fantasy illustrations by local graphic artists on screen bring to life Dani’s, and later also Marty’s, imagined locales and characters. A live video segment adds to the frenzied, heightened emotions of the characters.
The architectural centerpiece of concentric circles, which we learned after the show was called the “Tunnel of Life”, serves as a portal where characters traverse between, and juxtaposes the worlds of fantasy and real life. It reminds me of a similar structure used in 9 Works Theatrical’s Tick, Tick… Boom (which was hung on the ceiling, like a chandelier, instead of as a wall piece) but it is used to different effect here in Dani Girl.
With this re-staging, The Sandbox Collective, collaborating with 9 Works Theatrical, hopes that Dani Girl will not just be a theatrical piece that the audience watches passively but that it will also inspire action by giving to a worthy cause. In that regard, every show will feature a local artist who will create live art before the show. The art pieces are auctioned afterwards, with proceeds going to the show’s institutional partners helping cancer patients. After every show, talkbacks will be held where the audience could ask questions about the show or the topic of cancer.
Dani Girl is a must-watch show, a great and much-needed respite from our presently bleak world. We need more positive, hopeful, yet grounded, stories like Dani’s to remind us to live the best life that we can imagine. Don’t miss it on its final weekend, until its last day on September 1, 2019!
Dani Girl: A Musical About Hope is co-presented by The Sandbox Collective and 9 Works Theatrical, together with our gold ribbon sponsor, Make-A-Wish Philippines. Special thanks to our silver ribbon sponsors: Privato Hotel Group, Toy Kingdom and St. Luke’s Medical Center; our institutional partners, Carewell Community Foundation, Childhaus, Philippine Cancer Society, Inc., CanHOPE and Cancervants; our community partners, Pineapple Lab, Classic Chef, K Best, and DC Superheroes Cafe; and our official media partners: Crossover 105.1, Pitchworks, Broadwayworld.com, Theater Fans Manila, Young Star, Uniquely Pinoy, and Art+ Magazine.