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Review: A Rejuvenated 'Dani Girl'

A sobering, yet uplifting off-Broadway musical about children struck down by cancer, and how Hope is what you take for whatever journey; 'Dani Girl' is back, and it’s a show that shouldn’t be missed

The off-Broadway show, Dani Girl is being revived by The Sandbox Collective, along with 9Works Theatrical, and if you’ll take my word for it, it’s an even better and brighter, rejuvenated version! First staged here in Manila five years ago, and masterfully directed by Toff Venecia, Dani Girl runs from August 10th to September 1st at the CPR Auditorium in RCBC Plaza, Ayala Avenue, Makati. 


Set in the early 1990’s, in a Pittsburgh hospital, the play chronicles the journey of Dani, a feisty 9-year old with leukemia. Sharing her hospital room in the pediatric cancer ward is Marty, who’s battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And if you’ve never watched Dani Girl, fasten your seatbelts for a rollicking ride of imagination and whimsy.


The play flits between the gravity and seriousness of cancer, while somehow touching on the indomitable spirit and bold imagination of children. Between Dani and Marty, their “imaginary” friends, and Dani’s mother, you basically have the full cast of the musical, but be prepared to be regaled by a variety of characters (take a long bow, Lorenz Martinez) who inhabit the precious imagination of both Dani and Marty, as they face the grimness of their medical conditions.


The press night I watched had the cast of five years ago returning, and if anything, Becca Coates as Dani is even more impressive. Her pristine voice, her tackling of the song’s nuances is staggering—and while it’s obvious that we now have to suspend disbelief in her transformation into a 9-year old; Becca at 21 is still a joy to watch. Luigi Quesada as Marty, Sheila Valderrama-Martinez as Dani’s mother, Katherine, are all great; but the scene-stealer prize goes to Lorenz Martinez as Dani’s guardian angel, Raph. Never breaking stride, he gives us several characters with matching accents, and takes on the cudgels of bestowing outrageous humor, while also bringing us back to the edge of the precipice, and reminding us of how serious the conditions of the two children are.


The references to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Back to the Future, and so on are all wonderful fabric for bringing home how they’re just kids at heart. So I’ll be interested to also catch the new cast assembled for some of the performances. Felicity Kyle Napuli will play Dani—and for those who watched Matilda or remember the young Nala in The Lion King, you’ll know just how big a voice Kyle has in such a small moppet frame, plus she’s all of 12 years of age. Her Marty is Daniel Drilon, who’s 15, and we’ve seen him in Fun Home and Newsies.


Whichever cast you end up catching, I’m certain you’ll be entertained. If I have to level a criticism of the musical, it takes too long to wind down; and personally, there were touching moments earlier on which I felt would have been a far more effective last scene. But that’s just me, as I prefer the audience to be left to figure things out or leave the theater pondering. As it is, the musical drags on as it tries to tie up loose ends and give closure. But yes, this is a very minor gripe.


It’s great to welcome Dani Girl back; as audiences today need this reminder of Hope, in the face of the most dire of situations.



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