A couple of years ago I was thrilled to hear that a new musical about Marco Polo will be on the London stage this summer. As a young girl I was quite familiar with the story of Marco Polo because I’ve heard from my father stories about this 13th century Venetian explorer. Marco Polo’s adventure captured my imagination, and I began to read books about him when I was about 9-10 years old. So my love for history aroused my curiosity for this particular theatre production, and I was really excited to watch it.
Marco Polo: An Untold Love Story is the very first West End musical show written and composed in its entirety by a Filipino, Roger Saldo Chua, who came up with an imaginary episode in the life of the great adventurer. The international cast of 30, some of them are the finest musical talent in theatre, have been hand-picked by Mr Chua himself from different countries namely the Philippines, France, Belgium, US and UK. It had an international preview performances in Manila last year and was also presented to a limited audience in Paris and New York.
I was particularly impressed with the lead actors, David Bianco and Stephanie Reese — both were well matched in their roles as Marco Polo and Princess Kogajin. Pinky Marquez-Cancio played Empress Wu, and was my favourite among the cast. But in my humble opinion, the whole production is a little bit disappointing. There’s a lack of big, gripping numbers, and the period costume and the cast gives a general air of safeness. Tickets were priced at £40, £60 and £80 each, and although I got a complimentary ticket (thanks to my good friend Vic Casim), it really was too costly for a small production. I love the theatre and have watched quite a lot of West End musicals. With so many musical productions in London, it’s very competitive and straightforward. Very few people, except possibly those who truly love the theatre and have the budget, are willing to pay that much money for a low-budget production. Generally, people (especially tourists in London and particularly our visiting family and friends) would rather see The Phantom of the Opera or Les Misérables or any of the long-running musicals, and they make the reasonable high expectation that the show will have been cast to the highest possible standard.
Although I was very impressed with the performance of the lead actors, the staging wasn’t fantastic. Clearly, the production had a very limited budget and I was disappointed that it wasn’t as imaginative or fanciful as I had expected. In saying that however, I have nothing but admiration for the actors who tirelessly gave it their all night in and night out for a whole month. They obviously love what they do and have given the best performance they possibly could while they know it’s a low-budget and short-running production. And of course, it is always a special occasion for the audience in the house to watch the show at any particular evening. The good thing is, the smaller roles in the production played by actors brought in from countries like the Philippines had a chance to present themselves to an international audience and hope that may be one day they will step up from out of the chorus to play a main role.
Overall it was a unique theatrical event and was a delightful evening of entertainment. The actors came out to meet the audience after the show (I heard they do this after each of the performances), and it was wonderful to meet some of them. Marco Polo: An Untold Love Story really proved that small productions can dream big. I must say, it has the potential of realising this dream if its creator, Mr Chua, can make some changes in the whole production, and if he can find an investor who would be willing to bring it to New York and some other European countries.