Emily Bautista is Eponine in touring 'Les Miserables'

March 17, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

NEW YORK  Emily Bautista is playing Eponine in the current North America touring production of "Les Miserables."

Emily Bautista plays Eponine in North America
touring production of "Les Miserables."

This coming March 20 to 25, it will run in Appleton, Wisconsin at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

It will then go on to tour cities in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Iowa, Texas, Arizona, and California, among others.

Lea Salonga played Eponine on Broadway in 1993. Filipino American actress Eva Noblezada, who played Kim in the recent "Miss Saigon" revivals in the UK and on Broadway, played Eponine in the 2016 West End production.

Bautista joins "Les Miz" straight from concluding her stint as the Kim understudy in the 2017-18 Broadway revival of "Miss Saigon."

Long journey

Bautista was in the middle of her schooling at Ithaca College for Theatre Studies when she was cast for "Miss Saigon." She landed the job after ten auditions, each time taking a six-hour bus ride from Ithaca to New York City.

Emily Bautista was born in Massachusetts.
Photo from Facebook.

Since she will be traveling across the country for the show, were those early bus trips for her "Saigon" auditions the universe's way of preparing her for this current job?

"The trips I took from Ithaca to Manhattan were definitely an adventure!" she says, laughing.

"Everything we do in life prepares us for something later to come. Every experience and encounter you have is an opportunity to learn something about yourself or your career and can help you in the future.

"I definitely grew during the 'Miss Saigon' audition process and I completely believe it has helped me get to where I am today."

And now, not only is she a professional actress, she also technically gets paid to travel and see the sights. "So far we've been to Montreal and Ottawa. It was my first time in Canada!" she says.


Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, the musical is set in the early 1800s France-for reference, the US purchased Louisiana from France in 1803; and Alexander Hamilton was shot to death by Aaron Burr in a duel in 1804.

WATCH: Trailer of "Les Miserables" North America Tour.

The musical is about how Jean Valjean is relentlessly tracked down by a police inspector as he rises in society with a fake identity to escape his parole (after being imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving relatives).

The tragic Eponine falls in unrequited love with Marius, a student who is, in turn, in love with Valjean's adopted daughter Cosette.

Filipino Americans Ali Ewoldt and Adam Jacobs have played Cosette and Marius, respectively, on Broadway. (Ewoldt currently plays Christine Daae in "Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway and Jacobs currently plays Aladdin in the national tour of "Disney's Aladdin.")


After Bautista announced to her family that she had landed the role, they celebrated by having dinner together. "Then we spent the night watching movies-just hanging out with all my loved ones before I hit the road.

Scene from "Les Miserables" North America Tour.
Photo by Matthew Murphy

"My family loves this show, so they were over the moon!"

Bautista was born in Massachusetts. "Both my parents are Filipino. My mom was born and raised here. She is half Filipino and half European descent. My dad moved here from the Philippines when he was 18 years old," she says.

She had actually played the same role back when she was in high school. Now that she is part of the official touring production, she has had to approach the role differently.

"The Eponine I play today is vastly different from the young girl I played in high school-for the very reason that I am a vastly different person now than the person I was in high school," she said.
But it's also because she never stops honing her craft. "I definitely had to unlearn some habits I had grown over the years and had to let go of some assumptions I had made about the character."


"My process to finding my Eponine began," Bautista says, "as early as the auditions for the show."

"Every time I go into an audition, I try and write down everything that happens in the room. Anything the director says goes into my journal."

She would then spend time processing all the notes and channeling them into her characterization of the role.

"Our resident director Liam McIlwain gave me the book with pages marked out that gave a little insight on the kind of girl Eponine was. It gave me a more detailed look into the daily life of Eponine and the relationship she had with Marius."

And it's the scenes where the two characters establish their relationship that are Bautista's favorites.

"They're such fun acting moments, getting to play off your acting partner. Every night I feel like we're discovering new moments on stage, learning even more about the characters every time we do the show."

Visit Lesmiz.com for schedule of "Les Miserables" North America Tour.

Errol Isip to choreograph this year’s LA Fashion Week

March 13, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net
http://usa.inquirer.net/10789/errol- isip-choreograph-years-la-fashion- week

LOS ANGELES  Filipino American Errol Isip is the casting director and choreographer of Los Angeles Fashion Week (LAFW)'s Fall/Winter 2018 presentation this month.

Fashion choreographer Errol Isip.

Filipino fashion designers Pia Gladys Perey and Michael Leyva are among the bevy of award- winning designers from around the world who will be featured in this installment.

Leyva and Perey's collections will be presented on March 18.

The runway shows will be held in the heart of Hollywood, at the modern and stylish coworking space NeueHouse.

The designs to be showcased will include California and international labels, women's wear and men's fashion.


For LAFW, Isip regards diversity in casting as "very important!"

"LA is a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures," he says. "We make sure we cast models that cater to all markets."

Michael Leyva (left).
Actress Anne Curtis in (right) a Michael Leyva-designed gown.

Isip is a fashion show choreographer and fashion model coach with over 18 years' experience. He has directed shows for brands such as Armani, Moschino, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Bulgari, Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach, among others.

"We are a big team composed of around 30 people," Isip says of the group he is in charge of-which handles model selection and choreography, as well as the lighting design and music scoring for all the shows for the event.

Pia Gladys Perey (left).
Model and actress Egith "Iggy" van Dither (right)
in a Pia Gladys Perey-designed gown.

He recently relocated to LA after working for several years in Dubai. He managed the appearances of celebrities in that city such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Stella McCartney and Tinie Tempah.

"To this day I am still so proud of our hard work for the Dolce and Gabbana show in 2016 because it was praised as The Gulf's biggest fashion event."

Isip is originally from Manila, where he choreographed and directed fashion shows and events, working with such clients as Adidas, Kodak and Chivas Regal. He also founded model management agency The Velvet Rope.

Filipino designers

Michael Leyva (Instagram.com/michaelleyva) began his career in the early 2010s and has become known for his designs in the wedding circuit as well as his celebrity clients such as TV host Kris Aquino and TV and film actress Anne Curtis.

Levya dreams of one day having actress Jennifer Lopez and former First Lady Michelle Obama wearing his creations.

Pia Gladys Perey's (piagladysperey.com) PGP label debuted in 2007 and is now sold in West Hollywood, New York, Florida, and Texas as well as UK, Sydney, Queensland, Perth, Adelaide, Dubai, and Singapore.

PGP launched in the US in 2010 and received a standing ovation when it showcased its Fall/Winter 2013/2014 collection at LAFW.

PGP has been worn by Hollywood celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, Eva Longoria, and Carrie Underwood.

Isip during rehearsals at a previous fashion show.

LAFW executive producer Arthur Chipman says, "LA is going through a cultural and we are excited to be a driving force behind its development into the premier hub for fashion, art, design and entertainment. Our city is surging with energy and artistic talent, and we cannot wait to unveil this season's offerings."

The caliber of the designers, the strength of their collections and the attendance of high-profile guests all contribute to LAFW's media coverage. Its recent show for Spring/Summer 2017 generated over 600 million impressions in Instagram alone.

LA Fashion Week's Fall/Winter 2018 presentation runs March 16-18. Visit LAFW.net or Instagram.com/LAFW.

Blood and aswang return to Los Angeles at a block party

March 1, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

LOS ANGELES - "Bloodletting," a play that involves two Filipino American siblings and their encounter with the supernatural creature aswang, will kick off this year's Block Party program at Kirk Douglas Theatre.

From left: Myra Maracine, Boni Alvarez, Alberto Isaac,
Jon Lawrence Rivera and Anne Yatco.

The program, organized by Center Theatre Group, highlights Los Angeles theater work and encourages collaboration by presenting three recently-staged productions from local theater companies. Each production will be staged for a two-week run.

The play is written by Boni Alvarez and directed by Playwrights' Arena founding artistic director Jon Lawrence Rivera.

"Block Party will shine light on the diversity of our programming at Playwrights' Arena and further showcase our work," said Rivera.

The play was premiered in 2016 by Playwrights' Arena and proved popular enough with audiences that its run was extended until 2017.

The original cast will reprise their roles for the 2018 staging. Included are actors Alberto Isaac, Myra Maracine and Anne Yatco. Playwright Boni Alvarez is also part of the cast.

Edgy and unexpected

Maracine plays Farrah, the sister. The first time she read the script, she found it "exciting and edgy and unexpected."

Scene from 2016 staging of "Bloodletting."

"I remember thinking wow, this is some crazy Filipino folklore taken to another level," she says.

Born in Manila, Maracine's family moved to Canada when she was three years old. She moved to the US after high school to attend the acting conservatory program at American Academy of Dramatic Arts in California.

Yatco, on the other hand, plays Leelee, a character that the siblings encounter in the Philippines. The first time she read the script, "I was immediately struck by the brother-sister relationship between Bosley and Farrah."

Yatco has a master's degree in acting from the California Institute of the Arts and also does improv and voice-over work.

The siblings' relationship to the Philippines as Filipino Americans also resonated with Yatco, who was born in Phoenix, Arizona.

"I've visited the Philippines once, while I was in high school, but I can relate to that dual feeling of recognizing something familiar about the country, but also feeling completely foreign at the same time."


Both Maracine and Yatco are excited to revisit the roles they inhabited previously.

Cast of this year's staging of "Bloodletting," (from left)
Myra Maracine, Anne Yatco, 
Boni Alvarez (also the playwright) and Alberto Isaac.

"Last year, I joined the production for the final three weeks of the extension, replacing the awesome Evie Abat. I had to learn a lot in a very short amount of time," explains Yatco.

"I'm looking forward to have the opportunity to dig a little deeper and really get to play around with the character for this run!" she adds.

Maracine says there are layers to the Farrah character that she wants to explore some more this time around. "And there will be new layers that I know I will discover in this process," she says.


One Filipino mythological creature that stands out to Yatco is the tikbalang. "I find it amusing that there's this half-man, half-horse that just pranks travelers and makes them get lost."

In "Bloodletting," two Fil-Am siblings return to the Philippines
to scatter their father's ashes--a scene from the 2016 staging.

For Maracine, she finds the manananggal (creatures who look like women whose torsos can split at the waist and fly off into the night) the most fascinating and scariest creature.  "I know they are a special breed of aswang that Boni writes about."

"The duwende itim (black elves) kinda cracks me up, and sounds more mischievous and vengeful when you anger them. The boogeyman's got nothing on these Filipino creatures!"

Maracine adds, "In the end, this play is not just about the Filipino culture and folklore with aswang, it's about these people and their relationships with one another."

"Bloodletting" runs Mar. 29-Apr. 8 at Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, California. Visit CenterTheatreGroup.org.

READ about Boni Alvarez' inspiration for writing "Bloodletting" here.

READ about director Jon Lawrence Rivera here.

Justine Moral plays Belle in 'Disney’s Beauty and the Beast' in Boston

Feb. 21, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

BOSTON  Justine "Icy" Moral is portraying Belle in "Disney's Beauty and the Beast" in Wheelock Family Theatre's production until March 4.

Justine "Icy" Moral in a scene from "Disney's Beauty and the Beast."

Belle is a young woman who doesn't quite fit in with the rest of her village. In order to save her father from the Beast, she agrees to become a prisoner in its castle.

Tinola and sisig are the two Filipino dishes Moral would add to the menu, if she could, in the number "Be Our Guest"-where the castle's enchanted staff serve Belle a welcome dinner.

"They are my favorite!" says Moral.


"The energy from the audience at the end of every show is so palpable and wonderful," Moral says.

This stage version of the animated film has music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.

Justine "Icy" Moral plays Belle in Wheelock
Family Theatre's "Disney's Beauty and the Beast."

We have had audience members say that this is a very moving production, that they felt the heart and depth that the cast brings to this show.

Direction is by Jane Staab with musical direction by Steven Bergman.

"One of the things said to me that I will always hold dear in my heart is 'Thank you for showing that any girl can be a princess.'"

Old favorite

"Disney's Beauty and the Beast" was actually the first theater production that Moral had seen as a child.

Moral having some fun backstage with a cast mate.

Though she had already been introduced to the animated version, watching the national touring production at the Kennedy Center enchanted and inspired her. She found it magical and beautiful.

Moral is based in Maryland and New York City. She was recently in Ford's Theatre's "A Christmas Carol."

Other credits include national tours of "South Pacific," "Elephant and Piggie" (including the Off-Broadway production) and "Les Miserables."

Regional credits include Constellation Theatre Company ("Avenue Q," "Journey to the West") and Imagination Stage ("The Little Mermaid," "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," "Peter Pan and Wendy"), among others.

Musical family

Born and raised in Maryland, Moral grew up in a musical family. Her father would play guitar, her grandmother would play Broadway soundtracks, and she would wrestle the karaoke microphone from her mother.

Jordan Moral (second from left, back row) plays Nassim
in "The Princess and the Pauper: A Bollywood Tale."

When she was 14 years old, she was signed up by a recording company in Manila and came out with a pop album "Dream Away." She eventually took up classical voice at Johns Hopkins University Peabody Conservatory.

She's not the only sibling who now works in theater. Her brother Jordan is currently in the cast of Anu Yadav's "The Princess and the Pauper: A Bollywood Tale" at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland.

Inspired by Mark Twain's story "The Prince and the Pauper," this children's musical is about a spoiled princess who switches identities with a shy dressmaker's daughter and learns how unfairly her kingdom's people are treated.

"He plays the character Nassim, a family friend to the dressmaker's daughter and her family. I am very excited for him!"


Wheelock Family Theatre also has Brunch with Belle and Friends on Sundays prior to the 2 p.m. matinee until March 4. Belle and other characters from the show visit diners as they partake of an all-you-can-eat buffet at Wheelock Dining Services (2nd floor, 150 Riverway).

Featured menu items include a make-your-own waffle station, pancakes and French toast, scrambled eggs and breakfast potatoes, bacon and sausage, a pizza bar, a made-to-order sandwich station, a full salad bar, and more. Vegetarian and gluten-free options will be available.

"Disney's Beauty and the Beast" runs until March 4 at Wheelock Family Theatre, Wheelock College, 180 Riverway, Boston. Visit Wheelockfamilytheatre.org.

"The Princess and the Pauper: A Bollywood Tale" runs until March 18 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda, Maryland. Visit Imaginationstage.org.

A musical on friendship in the time of an eviction

Feb. 15, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

LOS ANGELES  A new musical about two men-one Filipino and the other Irish-who form a friendship as eviction looms for the both of them, will be performed at the Sanctuary, Pico-Union Project this month.

From left: Andrew Shubin, Charmaine Clamor,
Winston Raval and Sal Malaki at rehearsals.
Photo by Rick Gavino.

Written by Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier and Reme Grefalda, "Warrior" is about two fictional residents of the International Hotel in San Francisco.

"They decide they have one last fight left in them. This is it. They will not leave," says Bonnivier.

"The musical is deeply inspired by the nine-year struggle, waged by 150 old-timers who lived in the International Hotel-the last vestige of what had once been a vibrant community in San Francisco's Manilatown."


The hotel was a single-room-occupancy accommodation for many Chinese and Filipinos, some of whom had immigrated to the US as early as the 1920s.

Because of existing laws upon and after their arrival, Filipino immigrants were not allowed to marry white Americans, own businesses nor land-as such, some of the Filipino men grew into old age as bachelors with little savings and lived in working-class hotels such as the International Hotel.

Protests were held from 1968 to 1977 to fend off the eviction of the residents, most of whom did not have family support and had nowhere else to go.

"We have a very dramatic story. At one time, there were 8,000 protestors surrounding the hotel, locked arm-in-arm as a human shield, protecting the old-timers from the authorities," says Bonnivier.

Sing with outrage

"The musical is about the astonishing struggle against all the political and legal power a city can bring to bear, but you won't leave the theater in tears. You'll leave singing with outrage and filled with love," she says.

The production will be a "musical reading" or a concert-style performance, similar to a staged reading of a play.

"Combining cadenced dialogue and songs, the actors will move dynamically on the stage, and sometimes off, near the audience," she says.

Opera singer Sal Malaki will play Gabi, the titular warrior, a World War II veteran from the Philippines.

Andrew Shubin will play Ian, the Bard of Hannigan's Irish Pub-an actual pub at the hotel's basement.

Also in the cast are jazz singer Charmaine Clamor, who plays an activist lawyer, and poet Oscar Peñaranda, who handles narration duties.


Though the musical is about an incident from the past, it addresses current (and recurring) issues.

Playwrights Reme Grefalda and Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier.
Photo by Paul Tanedo

Bonnivier says, "We are performing in a neighborhood that is undergoing gentrification, where eviction notices are served daily to people who have lived in their homes there for decades."

The characters in this musical have been percolating in Bonnivier's mind for over 20 years. The Gabi character, in particular, is a composite of the men from her childhood.

"I grew up in what is now called 'Historic Filipinotown' in Los Angeles. The manongs then were still young and were called `the boys.' They came over to our house because they didn't have any family here.

"My father died before I was born, so they were collectively my father. Most of them were farmers or bartenders or house boys/chauffeurs."


Bonnivier has edited the anthology "Filipinotown: Voices from Los Angeles" and has authored fiction novels "Autobiography of a Stranger," "Seeking Thirst," and "Okinawa 9/11: Six Lives Breaking Symmetry."

Co-writing the musical is Reme Grefalda, who is a playwright and director, and was previously artistic director of QBd Ink, a Filipino American theater group based in Washington, DC that was active in the 1990s to the early 2000s.

The music, by jazz musician, musical director and film composer Winston Raval, will incorporate gongs and flutes from the Banaue region of the Philippines.

"The music moves fluidly to the reeds and drums of ancient Ireland, to the music of the '60s and '70s, and to both smooth and searing contemporary jazz," she says.

The reading will be directed by Nenita "Tita" Pambid and Ferdinand Galang.

Pambid has trained with Philippine Educational Theater Association in Manila and the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in Los Angeles. She works in theater, television and film.

Galang has worked in film and television in the Philippines and is currently developing several films under his production company Third Millennium Projects.

Part of the proceeds of "Warrior" will go to the Philippine Heritage Collection of Echo Park Public Library.

"Warrior" runs Feb. 24 and 25 at The Sanctuary, Pico-Union Project, 12th St. and Valencia, Los Angeles. Tickets at Tickettailor.com. Fundraising page is at Gofundme.com/warrior-the-musical-reading.

Ogie Zulueta stars in not your grandma's 'A Streetcar Named Desire'

Feb. 12, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

SAN FRANCISCO — Ogie Zulueta plays the male lead, Stanley, in Ubuntu Theater Project's staging of "A Streetcar Named Desire," running at Alice Collective until Feb. 25.

Ogie Zulueta in a scene from "Streetcar Named Desire."

Written by Tennessee Williams, the play is about Blanche, who, having lost her finances, moves in with her sister, Stella, and brother-in-law, Stanley. Envy, secrets, rumors and revelations lead the trio to clash violently.

Zulueta plays opposite Ubuntu's associate artistic director Lisa Ramirez, who essays the role of Blanche, and Sarita Ocon, who plays Stella.

The first thing Zulueta did to prepare for this role was to stay away from the classic 1951 film version of the play starring Marlon Brando (Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather") as Stanley.

Partly because the film shifted the focus to the Stanley character. "The stage script delves into Blanche's past in more detail that makes her a richer character on stage," he says.

And partly because the film version casts an indelible shadow on the play. "Those performances were legendary, and Brando's was considered groundbreaking."


So how can a current staging of this material written in 1947 strive to have its own interpretation?

Zulueta (right) during rehearsals. 

This staging employs a cast of diverse backgrounds to fill the characters, "which is Ubuntu Theater Project's mission," he says. (On the page, the sisters are of French heritage and Stanley is of Polish heritage.)

"This is not your grandmother's `Streetcar' for sure," he adds.

"Our director, Emilie Whelan, has a very muscular vision for this play, setting it on a bare stage surrounded by the audience."


"All my preparation for the role came during the rehearsal process," he says.

Zulueta plays Stanley.

For assault scenes, the cast rehearsed under Dave Maier. "He's one of the best fight choreographers in the business. In stage fights, he always stressed the story we're telling and worked off of the actors' instincts to craft the best and safest way to tell the story through the fights and assaults."

Given the current #MeToo movement and increased awareness of abuse and power inequality against women, how did he flesh out the role of an abusive, violent man?

"We were all aware that the type of male Stanley is in this play is one who is not always popular today. But these males do exist.

"We wanted to stay true to what Tennessee Williams laid out in his beautiful, poetic and savage script. And acknowledge the more complex and difficult question of what it means to be a man.

"Williams did not write Stanley him to be a one-dimensional caveman. Williams was perhaps also pondering this question what it means to be a man."


"I'm hoping audiences take home a different version of the play. So far, our audiences have been very open to our take on this iconic American classic. And our production is also what America looks like," he says.

Zulueta's rendering of the character has received praise. The San Francisco Chronicle notes his ability to imbue his character with unpredictability and building up Stanley's jocularity to contrast with "something sinister." The Daily Californian describes his work as "exceptional" and "remarkable."

For his work in Ubuntu's "Rashomon" (an adaptation by Japanese American playwright and director Philip Kan Gotanda) last year, Zulueta has been named as a nominee for Best Principal Actor in a Play in a Theater with 100-300 Seats in the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Excellence in Theatre Awards for 2017. The award recipients will be announced and presented in March.

In June later this year, Zulueta will be performing in Ferocious Lotus Theater's staging of Leah Nanako Winkler's "Two Mile Hollow."

READ about Ogie Zulueta's work in the 2016 staging of "Dogeaters" here.

"A Streetcar Named Desire" runs until Feb. 25 at Alice Collective, 272 14th St., Oakland, California. Visit Ubuntutheaterproject.com.

Fil-Am actresses reap Ovation Awards in Los Angeles

Feb. 9, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

LOS ANGELES  Actresses Deedee Magno Hall and Isa Camille Briones have won the 2018 Ovation Awards for Lead Actress in a Musical and Featured Actress in a Musical, respectively, for their work in East West Players' staging of the musical "Next to Normal."

2018 Ovation Award winners (from left)
Deedee Magno Hall for Lead Actress in a Musical,
Nancy Keystone for Direction of a Musical,
and Isa Camille Briones for Featured Actress in a Musical--
all for East West Player's "Next to Normal."

Magno Hall and Briones played mother Diana and daughter Natalie, respectively, in the musicalwhere the mother's mental health conditions affect her family.

The Ovation Awards are the only peer-judged theater awards in Los Angeles, created to recognize excellence in performance, production, and design in the Greater Los Angeles area.

Organized by the Los Angeles Stage Alliance, the awarding ceremony was held at Theatre at Ace Hotel.


"I am still pinching myself about winning the Ovation award!" said Magno Hall.

Deedee Magno Hall won the
2018 Ovation Award for Lead Actress in a Musical.

"To be able to do what I love for a living is already a blessing, and I feel so honored and grateful to the LA Stage Alliance and Ovation voters to have been recognized for my work. But I wholeheartedly share this award with the entire cast and crew of `Next to Normal' at EWP, especially my stage-husband and real life-husband, Clifton Hall!"

Briones had the difficult task for competing against herself, three times over. She was nominated for three roles she had done, with two nominations for the same role for different theater companies: the Natalie role for EWP and for Triage Productions/Standing Room Only Productions, which she had performed prior to the EWP staging.

She was also nominated for her work as "Mistress" in Cabrillo Music Theatre's production of "Evita."

"It was all so surreal," Briones said of being nominated thrice in the same category. "It's just such an honor to be recognized for shows that had such a huge impact on my life. I cherish each of them and what they taught me.

"And on top of that, East West Players being so highly rewarded for their great work is amazing."


The winners celebrated with their colleagues at the after-party. However, the Hall couple had to leave early to relieve their babysitter.

Isa Camille Briones won the
2018 Ovation Award for Featured Actress in a Musical.
Photo by Megan Briones.

"It was a school night which meant an early next morning, so we hurried home and scarfed down leftover pizza," said Magno Hall.

"However, Clifton is taking me and our kids out for crab legs this weekend to celebrate again! I'm very excited!"

Isa Camille Briones, on the other hand, is now based in New York and returned to Los Angeles to attend the ceremony. "Just being able to be back in LA with my family for a few days was one big celebration," said Briones.

Other nominations

EWP's "Next to Normal" also won Best Production of a Musical in a Large Theater and Best Direction of a Musical (Nancy Keystone).

Filipino Americans involved with East West Players' "Next to Normal" at the awarding ceremony,
(from left) Clifton Hall, Isa Camille Briones, Deedee Magno Hall, Randy Guiaya, and Marc Macalintal.

It received nominations for Best Acting Ensemble for a Musical and Music Direction.

The cast included Clifton Hall, who is of Filipino heritage, and Fil-Ams Anthea Neri (Diana understudy) and Randy Guiaya (Doctor Fine/Madden/Anesthesiologist).

Musical direction was done by Fil-Am Marc Macalintal, who is also handling musical direction for EWP's upcoming production of the musical "Allegiance."

Fil-Am playwright Boni Alvarez's play "Bloodletting," which was directed by Fil-Am Jon Lawrence Rivera for Playwright's Arena, received a nomination for Sound Design in an Intimate Theatre for Howard Ho.


Briones' father, Jon Jon, has just concluded his Broadway debut as the Engineer in the 2017-2018 revival of "Miss Saigon."

Daughter and father recently played the sister and father of Andrew Cunanan on television series "American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace."

The Hall couple will be performing at the Outdoor Pops concerts in May in Florida where they will be singing with the Sarasota Orchestra.

Magno Hall also voices the character of Pearl in Cartoon Network's animated series "Steven Universe." "We will start recording again for the next season in a couple of weeks," she said.


READ about Deedee Mango Hall and Isa Camille Briones' work in "Next to Normal" here.

READ about Boni Alvarez's play "Bloodletting" here.

READ about Jon Jon Briones' Broadway debut in "Miss Saigon" here.

READ about East West Players' upcoming production of "Allegiance" here.

Leviathan Lab to stage dramedy on racism, xenophobia

Feb. 2, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

Ron Domingo (far right) and the rest of the cast of "Trigger,"
from left: Christina Pumariega, Susan Hyon, Anna Ishida.

NEW YORK  Leviathan Lab will stage Sam Chanse's "Trigger," to be helmed by the group's artistic director Flordelino Lagundino.

Aside from Lagundino, other Filipino Americans in the production include actor Ron Domingo. Leviathan Lab was founded by Fil-Am Ariel Estrada.

The dramedy is about Lee, who must deal with a friend's racist rant, a deteriorating domestic situation, ancient goddesses, and house flies.

The play aims to ask theatergoers "How can we connect people in a time of heightened fear and anger?"

Also an actor and photographer, Lagundino is a recipient of the 2017 Drama League New York Directing Fellowship.

His recent directing credits include a reading of John Kim's "Un (a completely true tale of the rise of Kim Jong Un)" for Pan Asian Repertory Theatre and a staging of David Henry Hwang's "FOB" for the Drama League, both in New York.

He recently acted in "Vietgone" for Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Chanse wrote "Trigger" shortly after the presidential election in 2016.  "I was thinking a lot about anger, wrestling with it, wondering about it, how to understand it, where it comes from, and what to do with it," she said in a fundraising video for the play.

"This play came out of that place, a lot of anger and a lot of uncertainty about how to handle that anger. For me, this play feels raw, personal and urgent.

"I'm really excited and grateful to be developing it with Leviathan."

Chanse, who is of Chinese and Pennsylvania Dutch (Swiss-German) heritage, has worked with other Filipino American-led theater groups such as Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco and Ma-Yi Theater in New York, where she has been a member of its Writer's Lab, a support group for playwrights, since 2010.


Lagundino cofounded Tsunami Theatre in Washington, DC, and was founding artistic director of Generator Theater Company in Juneau, Alaska.

Flordelino Lagundino.

"I was really blown away by the play," says Lagundino of the first time he read Chanse's work.

"I was immediately taken by its energy, audacity and intelligence and how it speaks honestly about the situation that the country finds itself at this moment.

"The play deals with the divisiveness and misunderstandings people have when coming from polar opposites of the political spectrum. Sam has found a way to make it personal by putting two old friends together who hold these differing views."

Lagundino also notes that the play deals with social media and how it affects our daily lives.


Lagundino and Chanse worked together last December on a staged reading of the play to test the material.

Ariel Estrada (standing left) and Sam Chanse (standing right)
looking at costume designs for "Trigger."

Chanse ended up cutting out 20 pages from her draft.

"The staged reading was essential for the development of the play," said Lagundino. "We had some remarkable actors as part of it. What we came away with was a lighter, more hard-hitting script."

And now, the next step in this play's growth is actually staging it.

"I really love being in rehearsals and seeing what everyone brings to the production. I get really excited with the discoveries that we find in the room.

"The biggest challenge is staying open to how we're responding to the material. It's important to always be listening and evaluating how the material is landing on us all."

Their rehearsal process echoes what Lagundino believes is at the core of Chanse's work: "The value of her play is the action of having a conversation with people that don't agree with you and being able to open up a space for that to happen."


Leviathan Lab was founded by actor, singer and producer Ariel Estrada in 2009 to provide a space where Asian American artists can find a home, grow and experiment.

In March, the group will hold "The Living Room Series," its annual site-specific laboratory.

"We ask five writers to write on a topic," says Lagundino. "This year, we're focusing on Asian American sexuality with the theme 'Sexy Beast.'"

"How are Asian Americans sexy? How are we oversexualized? How are men treated in the media? It is an exciting topic and goes into a question of why isn't there more visibility of Asian Americans in media."

Other plans this year include continuing the development of writer and performer Joe Ngo's one-person show "Words Words," which looks at his relationship with his native Teo Chew language and the genocide that caused his family to immigrate to the US from Cambodia.

The group will also collaborate with Theater Akimbo and Filipino American actor/director Orlando Pabotoy on a new commedia dell'arte piece.

"Trigger" runs Feb. 23-Mar.11 at IATI Underground Theater, 64 E. 4th St., New York. Visit Leviathanlab.com.

Filipino Canadian performers to join ‘Fringe Manila 2018’ festival

Jan. 26, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

TORONTO — Filipino Canadian performers will join Fringe Manila 2018 this February.

This annual multi-arts festival for independent artists, which runs February 7 to 25, is scheduled to coincide with the Philippines' National Arts Month.

Maylee Todd.

Now on its fourth year, Fringe Manila is presented by arts organization Pineapple Lab.

The festival line-up so far has 182 events across 24 venues with 300 artists. Several Filipino American performers are included in the line-up as well.

Filipino Canadian Jodinand Aguillon is the creative producer of Fringe Manila.

"It's so important for these types of festivals to exist," he says. "By bridging independent creatives with small businesses and working with cultural institutions, Fringe works closely with its communities to make the arts a vehicle for meaningful collaborations and a safe space for ideas and expanding networks."

Born in Meycauayan, Bulacan, Aguillon moved to Alberta, Canada when he was four years old. He was previously based in Toronto as a visual artist, production designer and choreographer.

Currently based in Manila, Aguillon was an Artist-in-Residence at Pineapple Lab from 2016 to 2017 before being appointed as its executive director. He was appointed creative producer of Fringe Manila last year.

He co-founded Toronto-based dance group Hataw in 2014 and is its former artistic director. Hataw performed "Ang Pagdidiwata ni Maria Clara" at last year's Fringe Manila.


For Fringe Manila 2018, performances from Toronto-based Filipino Canadian artists include music acts "Panqueque" (Feb. 15) and "Acts of Love" (Feb. 22).

"Panqueque," an electropop music show, will be performed by Filipino Hungarian musician, dancer and fashion designer Tala Kamea. Her music influences include electronic, R&B, pop and indie. A member of Hataw, Kamea has studied and performed classical, contemporary and folk music and dance.

"Acts of Love" will be performed by Maylee Todd, who is a musician (soul, R&B, electronic and experimental) and multimedia artist (film, performance art and 3-D projection mapping) whose works explore science fiction, human development, psychology and unconventional thinking.


Dance performances include "Hinkypunk" (Feb. 15), to be choreographed and performed by Ralph Escamillan.

Ralph Escamillan will choreograph and dance "Hinkypunk."
Photo by David Cooper.

Escamillan has danced with Gadfly Collective, Inlayers, Kinesis Dance Somatheatro, Out Innerspace Theatre and Kidd Pivot. He is currently based in Vancouver and works with companies such as Co. Erasga Dance, Company 605 and Wen Wei Dance.

Kaye Peñaflor will meld dance and yoga in her yoga workshops on February 17 and 24.

Based in Toronto, Peñaflor is the founder of yoga lifestyle brand kaye.yoga. She is also host and producer of yoga-instructional show "Live Breathe Yoga."

She's also a dancer and was formerly the executive director of folk dance group Folklorico Filipino Canada.

She combines both passions in her signature class "Pineapple Flower Yoga", where yoga poses are complemented with movements from Philippine folk dances.

From the US

From the US, artists will be performing music ("`Til The Break of GONG") and dance ("Pagbalik" and "Gayborhood Night").

Kaye Peñaflor.

Detroit-based queer disco pop songwriter RV Mendoza performs "Gayborhood Night" on February 15, a show that "engages conversations on sexuality, gender, and diasporic experiences."

Mendoza's work has been heard on MTV's "Teen Wolf" and is currently an Artist-in-Residence with Pineapple Lab.

San Francisco-based artists Kulintronica and Lydia Neff will perform "`Til The Break of GONG" on February 17.

Kulintronica, the stage name of musician Ron Quesada, focuses on kulintang electronic dance music. Also a kulintang musician, Neff has danced with groups Kulintang Arts (more popularly known by its nickname KulArts), Jay Loyola Dance Collaborations, Alleluia Panis Dance and Parangal Dance Company. Neff directed and produced Kulintronica's "Through the Breeze" music video.

Also on February 17, San Francisco Bay Area choreographer-dancers Jonathan Mercado and Kimberly Requesto will perform "Pagbalik," with music by Joshua Icban.

Icban is currently taking up a master's in ethnomusicology at California State University-East Bay. Mercado has worked with choreographer Alleluia Panis, while Requesto is a principal dancer with Parangal Dance Company.

Visit FringeManila.com.

Paolo Montalban in 'Mamma Mia!' Seattle production

Jan. 19, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

SEATTLE  Paolo Montalban will play one of three men who might be the father of a young lady in the romantic comedy musical "Mamma Mia!" this February.

Paolo Montalban will play Sam in
5th Avenue Theatre's "Mamma Mia!" in Seattle.

Featuring songs by Swedish music group ABBA such as "Dancing Queen," "Take a Chance on Me," and "Money, Money, Money", among others, this jukebox musical has been staged on Broadway (14 years) and has toured the world for nearly 20 years.

The musical is about soon-to-be-married Sophie, who wishes for her father to walk her down the aisle, except she doesn't know who he is.

Montalban will play Sam, an architect who is one of the candidates-all three of whom are invited by Sophie to her wedding.

Pierce Brosnan played Sam in the 2008 movie version alongside Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried. ("Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again," a movie sequel to the 2008 film, is scheduled for release later in the year.)


Before rehearsals began, Montalban wrote to the show's director Bill Berry: "Everyone I've told that I'm doing this production says it's a huge deal to have a Filipino American playing Sam. I am honored to have been considered."

"It's particularly significant," Montalban explains of his casting, "because 5th Avenue Theatre is widely regarded as one of the most respected regional theaters in the country that mounts top-notch productions of both new and classic musical theater works."

"Throughout my career, I have always been a huge proponent of multi-racial and non-traditional casting," says the actor who rose to public attention when he was cast as Prince Christopher in the 1997 made-for-TV film version of the musical "Cinderella" with singer Brandy in the title role and Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother.

Montalban's recent credits include "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" at St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre (commonly known as The Muny) in St. Louis, Missouri, and the world premiere of "Benny and Joon" at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California.


"Dancing Queen" is Montalban's "absolute favorite" song from the musical.

"My reasons are twofold. First of all, from a purely sonic standpoint, hearing our talented 28-person cast sing the harmonies of the chorus is easily one of the most satisfying things I've experienced in 2018 so far.

"My second reason borders closer to the divine," he says. En route to Seattle for this production, he had a layover in Vancouver airport. As he was purchasing pasalubong at one of the shops, the song started playing over the airport sound system.

"It was like a sign telling me that I was in the right place, heading toward an incredible experience. Check out my Twitter account @paolomontalban to see the video of it happening in real time."


As the winter season is in full swing, there are two dangerous elements waiting to strike actors: cold and dry air that can affect their voices and the current flu epidemic.

Montalban in rehearasals with Kendra Kassebaum (right),
who plays Sophie's mother. Photo by Jeff Carpenter.

Montalban has a battle plan in place.

For his voice, "I have a bedside humidifier and a sinus rinse squeeze bottle. I warm up my voice with steam in the shower. I drink upwards of a least two liters of water a day. I avoid loud places where I have to speak over the din of the room."

As for avoiding any possible viruses, "It's all about frequent hand washing and sanitizing, getting a flu shot, eating well, working out, and getting enough rest and sleep."

He adds, "And if someone in the company is sick, my last-ditch effort is trying to actually catch what they have early enough in the rehearsal process, so I'm inoculated for the run of the show!"

Audience power

For encouraging and promoting multiracial and non-traditional casting in theater, Montalban says theatergoers have a say in the matter.

"As an actor, what I do is only a small part of the equation," he says.

"I believe the local community and the public at large play an important role in influencing the casting landscape in entertainment."

"If my kababayan would like to see more of themselves, or even Asians as a whole, being represented in large-scale professional theatrical productions, they can help out by coming down to 5th Avenue Theatre for a fun-filled family friendly night or matinee of `Mamma Mia!' Let your ticket be your voice."

"You probably know many of the ABBA songs, so there will be many opportunities to sing and party along with us. And we all know Filipinos love to sing and party!"

READ about Don Darryl Rivera's acting award 
for 5th Avenue Theatre's "Man of La Mancha" here.

"Mamma Mia!" runs Feb. 2-25, 2018 at 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Ave., Seattle. Visit 5thavenue.org.

Fil-Am artists join George Takei's 'Allegiance' in LA staging

Jan. 11, 2018
USA and Canada Section, Inquirer.net

LOS ANGELES  Filipino American theater artists Marc Macalintal and Cesar Cipriano will be part of East West Players' staging of the musical "Allegiance," which opens in February.

Cesar Cipriano.

Lea Salonga played Kei Kimura, the sister in a Japanese American family forced to stay at an internment camp during World War II, in the musical's Broadway run in 2015.

George Takei reprises his role as the brother in this staging, to be helmed by EWP's artistic director Snehal Desai, at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center's Aratani Theatre.

With music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and book by Kuo, Marc Acito, and Lorenzo Thione, the musical is inspired by Takei's own experiences.

Takei was five years old when his family was removed from their Los Angeles home, forced to stay at converted horse stables, then at an internment camp in Arkansas, then relocated again to an internment camp in Tule Lake, California.

Takei's family returned to LA after the war; he then rose to fame in 1965 because of his role as starship helmsman (spaceship pilot) Sulu in the TV show "Star Trek." The character's name was inspired by the Sulu Sea in the Philippines.


Fil-Ams in the cast of "Allegiance" include Eymard Cabling and Cesar Cipriano, who also handles fight choreography.

Born in Toronto, Cipriano's family moved to Brooklyn when he was a year old. "When I was fifteen, I joined a Filipino dance company for a girl. We only lasted about two weeks, but remained friends," he said.

The romance may not have lasted, but his relationship with dance, movement and performing did.

"I've also studied martial arts all my life." He's versed in eskrima (Filipino weapons-based martial art), tae kwon do (Korean martial art), and jeet kune do (Bruce Lee's Chinese-inspired martial art), among others.

After relocating to LA, Cipriano considers himself fortunate to have "worked on some of EWP's most successful productions."

Cipriano first learned about the intricacies of stage combat from Ron Baliki and Diana Inosanto when he was cast as the Ghost of Bruce Lee in EWP's "Be Like Water." "They're experts in dynamic sequences that propel scenes forward while constantly wowing you and still remaining realistic."

"Then I was lucky enough to assist Ed Douglas, another talented fight choreographer. I feel I hit the jackpot twice when it comes to having mentors in the fight choreography world."

This isn't Cipriano's first time to share the stage with Takei. He understudied the role of Alan Strang in EWP's "Equus," his first production with EWP, where Takei played Strang's psychiatrist.

"I'm excited to be in `Allegiance' in a career-nostalgia kind of way," says Cipriano. "This cast has people I've known from my years of working as an actor. I'm looking forward to reuniting with them."


Marc Macalintal handles music direction. Born and raised in LA, his interest in theater began in high school when he was asked to be a pianist for a school production of "The Music Man."

Marc Macalintal.

"That show actually made me want to perform on the stage more than being in the pit," he says. "Those actors looked like they were having so much more fun!"

Though he began performing for local theater groups after graduating from college, managing music soon became part of the package. "Directors noticed that I also played piano and they would ask if I could music direct the shows that they were working on."

Macalintal first became involved with EWP as part of the cast in its staging of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."

His most recent collaboration with the group was as musical director for its staging of "Next to Normal," which featured Fil-Am actors Deedee Magno-Hall and Isa Camille Briones.

"I feel incredibly honored and excited!" says Macalintal of his involvement with "Allegiance." "It's going to be surreal having this story be told here in Little Tokyo very close to where many Japanese Americans were gathered before being forced into internment camps.

"I know that there'll be people who went through those camps be in the audience, and that's going to be a totally unique experience. I hope we honor them and their experiences with this show."

The musical is being coproduced by EWP with the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. The center's Director of Performing Arts and Community Engagement Alison de la Cruz, who is Filipino Japanese American, is executive producer for this production.

Fil-Am actor Reggie Lee (TV shows "Grimm" and "Prison Break," films "The Fast and the Furious" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End") was appointed as a director of the EWP board this past December.

READ about the Filipino American actors in EWP's 2017 staging of "Next to Normal" here.

READ Lea Salonga's interview about the 2015 Broadway production of "Allegiance" here.

"Allegiance," previews Feb. 21-25; runs Feb. 28-Apr. 1, 2018, at Aratani Theatre, Japanese American Cultural Center, 244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles. Visit EastWestPlayers.org.

Two Filipinos design for Broadway's 'Once on This Island'

Dec. 30, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Two Tony Award-winning Filipinos are involved in the Broadway revival of the musical "Once on This Island."

Costume design of "Once on This Island" by Clint Ramos.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Lea Salonga plays Erzulie, deity of love, while Clint Ramos designed the costumes.

Variety praised Salonga for her "meltingly sung" role. Hollywood Reporter also commended her voice as being of "ageless purity and light," a compliment echoed by TheWrap.com, which opined that her "singing voice retains a vocal purity that continues to astonish."

Salonga was last seen on Broadway in the musical "Allegiance" in 2015. She won the Tony for best actress as Kim in the Broadway premiere of "Miss Saigon" in 1991-the first Asian and Filipino to win in this category.

READ an interview with Lea Salonga 
about her work in "Allegiance" here.

Surprising places

Ramos, on the other hand, won a Tony last year for his costume design for "Eclipsed" (for which he also designed the set), a play that starred Lupita N'yongo. He is also the first Asian and Filipino to win in this category.

READ about Clint Ramos' Tony win here.

For "Once on This Island," Ramos said his research for the costume design was "mainly of Haiti, which is the French Antilles, a culture that is deeply informed by its relationship to nature and its wrath. I hoped to capture the resilience of a people after a natural disaster like a hurricane. Then, we are hoping that it will veer off to surprising places."

Tony award winner Clint Ramos.
Photo by Dimitrious Kambouris/ClintRamos.com

Ramos said being raised in the Philippines allowed him an informed perspective for designing "Once on This Island."

"Having grown up in the islands and living life under the constant presence of natural calamities made designing for it easily accessible for me. Like Haitians, the Filipinos are one of the most resilient people in the word. Also, the idea that we can tell each other stories to buoy each other's experiences and to catapult us to action is a very Filipino thing."

Off-Broadway beginnings

Before Ramos, another Filipino was involved in "Once on This Island." The musical's Broadway premiere in 1990 had costume and set designer and director Loy Arcenas doing its set.

"It premiered Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons Theater before it moved to Broadway at the Booth Theater," recalled Arcenas. "The brilliant La Chanze created the role of Ti Moune"-the lead peasant girl who falls in love with a boy from the wealthy set of the island.

Arcenas' design was composed of a backdrop and wings (panels at the sides of the stage) that were painted with imagery of hills and palm trees against a blue sky. The backdrop was actually a scrim that would reveal actions behind it.

The New York Times described the imagery as "Chagall-goes-tropical" with inspirations from "Rousseau, Matisse, Hockney, Mexican and Filipino Christmas ornaments, American weather vanes and Haitian metalwork."

Arcenas, who received an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Set Design in 1993, recently directed the film version of Ryan Cayabyab and Rolando Tinio's "Ang Larawan," a musical adaptation of Nick Joaquin's "Portrait of an Artist as Filipino." The movie is part of this year's Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) and won Best Picture at the festival's Gabi ng Parangal.


Arcenas has also collaborated with Ramos. "I love working with Clint. He is a fellow Cebuano. He designed the clothes in my production of Han Ong's `Watcher' for Ma-yi Theater Company in New York," said Arcenas.

Meanwhile, "I also designed the costumes for his staging of `The Romance of Magno Rubio,'" said Ramos, who received the Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Costume Design in 2013. "He's a dear friend and mentor and a fellow Cebuano. I would say, Loy is the Filipino designer I look up to."

Ramos moved to the US in 1993 and has designed sets and costumes for over a hundred theater, opera and dance productions. Recent credits include costumes for "Here Lies Love," a musical about Imelda Marcos, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" for The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park series, and Broadway productions of "Six Degrees of Separation" with Allison Janney and "Sunday in the Park with George" with Jake Gyllenhaal.

READ about the 2017 Seattle staging of "Here Lies Love" here.

"Once on This Island" runs at Circle in the Square Theatre. Visit OnceOnThisIsland.com. Visit ClintRamos.com.

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