Theater Review: Dani Girl by The Sandbox Collective

Terminal diseases and a patient's impending death are among the sensitive topics people tend to avoid during normal conversations. And yet, they are stark realities that families of people with grave medical conditions face every day.

Thus, watching the off-Broadway musical Dani Girl, for me, was unexpectedly a different experience. Instead of full-length drama, the story provided comic relief that eased the heaviness I think would otherwise might have overwhelmed the audience because of the theme.

Dani Girl, staged by The Sandbox Collective and directed by Toff De Venecia, is the story of young Danica Lyons, played by Rebecca Coates (with Mitzie Lao as alternate), whose leukemia has come back after three years.

The very imaginative girl interacts with her ultra funny and quirky guardian angel Ralph (I love his pink wings made out of hospital name tag bracelets!), played by Reb Atadero (with Lorenz Martinez as alternate). The two play games that tackle Dani's sickness and its many issues such as "Why is cancer?" and growing back her hair. In a way, those helped her to gradually accept her situation and prepare her for the inevitable.

Sheila Valderrama-Martinez (with Pam Imperial as alternate), plays Dani's mom. Her character is very relatable to moms like me (especially since I have a special child with fragile health) because she remains her daughter's best cheerleader who provides much needed encouragement and reminds Dani about having faith and staying hopeful. Still, it was heartbreaking to watch her, more so towards the end of the show.

Dani's geeky hospital roommate Marty, played by Luigi Quesada (with Reb Atadero as alternate), became a friend and ally who joined Dani and Ralph's adventures along with Dani's teddy bear Mr. Fritz. I love how they were able to convincingly project the innocence of childhood in their scenes.

I am likewise amazed at how the writers, Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond, who happen to be winners of the 2010 Jonathan Larson Grant (creator of the amazing musical Rent), were able to craft a beautiful story that pierces the heart with touching messages about faith, love, friendship, and acceptance despite the realities of pain and loss.

All the actors were terrific and played their roles very well. But, I'd have to say that two of the best scenes, for me, would have to be when Dani's mom sang a hauntingly sad song and when she had to finally say goodbye to her daughter. I tried to hold back the flood of tears that I knew would not stop falling if I give in because I might end up sobbing out loud. Still, my eyes were wet as the cast took their final bows.

Although it will make you cry, Dani Girl is a feel-good show that will delight you with it's wonderful songs, cute dance numbers, very nice set, and unforgettable characters. It will also leave you musing about living life to the fullest long after you've left the theater. 

Prepare to laugh out loud at the dialogues, song lyrics, and the various personalities (13 in all!) that Ralph plays. Expect to be touched at the beautiful friendship between two kids who totally "get" each other and the tender bond between a caring mother and her daughter. My 15-year-old son who watched the show with me said this is, so far, one of the best theater productions he's ever seen … and he has watched quite a lot since he was in preschool!

Catch Dani Girl starting tonight, July 11 until July 27 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC Plaza, Makati. For the complete list of show times and dates as well as ticket prices, please visit

Congratulations cast and artistic team of The Sandbox Collective
for doing such a great job with Dani Girl!
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