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.

Inquirer.net link:


Chef Anton Amoncio shows off morcon, bistek, sinigang at Canada beef event

Dec. 28, 2017
USA & Canada Section, Inquirer.net

CALGARY, Canada  Filipino chef Anton Amoncio presented Filipino dishes using Canadian beef at "Let It Snow," a chef exchange program organized by the Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence.

It's the first time a Filipino chef was featured in the program.

Deconstructed Beef Shortribs Sinigang in Green Mango by Anton Amoncio.

Amoncio prepared Beef Morcon Sliders, Bistek Tagalog on Green Onion Blinis, and Deconstructed Beef Shortribs Sinigang sa Mangga. For dessert, he made leche flan.

"Let It Snow" had three installations held in different luxury resorts to highlight Canada's different seasons: Fairmont Banff Springs (early summer), Fairmont Royal York Toronto (harvest season) and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (winter), which served as the finale.

Working with Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise's executive chef Jean-Francois Fortin, Amoncio prepared his recipes during the "Beef Beyond Borders" dinner.

Canada beef

According to Marty Carpenter, president of the Canadian Beef Grading Agency, Canadian beef is classified by its flavor, which comes from the predominant use of barley in their cattle feed. Combined with the almost vineyard-like culture of their cattle industry, this puts Canada beef in a league of the world's premier beef products.

Chef Anton Amoncio explaining his dishes
at the "Let It Snow" program in Calgary.

Amoncio says chefs should never stop learning. During his visit, he went over the finer points of how to prepare the best beef cuts with Carpenter and Abe Van Melle, technical manager at Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence.

His grandmother's cooking, including her signature dish, tinola, sparked his love affair with the kitchen.

Amoncio won the top prize on Asian Food Channel's cooking competition show "Food Hero Asia" last year. As part of his prize, Amoncio was able to host the show "Home Cooked Asia: Philippines" and has since become a regular guest chef for various daytime television shows in the Philippines.

Amoncio graduated from the Center for Culinary Arts in Manila and owns Antojos, a Filipino specialty restaurant in Quezon City.

The "Let It Snow" chef exchange program was part of "Canada 150," the country's series of events celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding.

Chef Anton Amoncio is a talent of Asian Artists Agency. Visit Fb.com/asianartistsagency.

Astrologers on 2018: Dollar drops, robots and sex rise, Bitcoin swings, etc.

Dec. 21, 2017
USA & Canada Section, Inquirer.net

SAN FRANCISCO  Astrologer Resti Santiago divines many things from the stars about the year 2018, from politics to business, to sex and technology. Throw in bitcoin, too.

Astrologer Resti Santiago (right) being interviewed
by Star Santo on her radio talk show.

"The value of the US dollar (USD) will likely drop further against other currencies as measured in US Dollar Index. Key periods to watch are January and early March, for a drop in the value of the USD," Santiago forecasts.

US President Donald Trump will likely continue to face more protests against his policies in 2018, he says.

"His popularity will dip but may be saved by some trade deals that will be seen as beneficial to the country," Santiago says. "The political opposition will be more vocal, especially regarding his approach to foreign relations."

Santiago gleans a relational connection between Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. "There's some form of compatibility if we base it on their Sun Signs."

Duterte is an Aries, a fire sign. Trump is a Gemini, an air sign. "There is fire and air compatibility. There's also the possible bond that springs from the Uranian influence highlighted in both of their birth charts. Uranus' energy is that of the unorthodox."


For businesses or industries that may do well next year, Santiago advises, "The best businesses in 2018 are those symbolized by Scorpio. Scorpio is a water sign, hence liquids in general are good.

Other liquids include oil, beverages in general and alcoholic drinks in particular. Scorpio is also power and power-generation or power storage. There will be more demand for these."

"Other good businesses to be in are insurance, security, including internet security, recycling and pollution control."

He also pointed out the continuing awareness of sex-related matters. "After Jupiter entered Scorpio in October 2017, sex scandals hit the headlines. Businesses related to robots and technology as sex objects may take off big time within this period."

For speculative investments, he says, "The value of Bitcoin will likely rise further, however, there will be wild swings in 2018."

In the cards

For her part, Bles Carmona offers tarot card consultations, aside from astrological consultations.\

Astrologer Bles Carmona.

"The card drawn for 2018 is Strength," she says of her tarot card impressions for 2018.

"It is about discipline and control. The true strength demanded of us for the entire year of 2018 must come from within, our internal compass."

For this forecast, Carmona used the Tarot ng Daigdig sa Balintataw deck designed by Lynyrd Narciso.

"Overall, the crystal for 2018 is Jade. In Chinese culture, jade is the crystal for good luck, good fortune and good health. It helps attract prosperity, happiness, well-being and longevity."

Her recommended mantra for the year is: "As I am grateful for all the good fortune that I have, more blessings flow into my life."

Diwata Oracle Cards

Carmona's tarot divination for each month of 2018 and her weekly astrological forecasts can be found on her website Spiritual Rx (Pilipinasblitz.blog) and on her Facebook page Stargazer Bles (Fb.com/stargazer.bles).

Tarot card spread for 2018 by Bles Carmona.

Based in San Francisco, Carmona says, "Aside from my Fil-Am clients, I see Americans who are white, Latino, African, Vietnamese, Polish, Czech, among others." She also has Filipino clients who live in Europe and the Middle East.

She's also currently designing the Filipino Diwata Oracle Cards. "It will be a 44-card deck of deities from the multi-regional pantheon in the Philippines, with illustrations by Leandro De La Rosa and scripts by baybayin speller Leo Emmanuel Castro."

Auspicious timing

Santiago, who is based in Manila, also accepts clients from the US. His other forecasts for 2018 are in his Filipino Astrologer 2018 ebook.

Resti Santiago's Filipino Astrologer 2018 ebook has a US edition.

He has written a US edition that specifically uses Pacific Standard Time for forecasted timing schedules, i.e. hours and days, to maximize and to avoid for major activities in 2018.

"Filipino Americans in the other US time zones should have an easier time re-computing the times that apply to them from PST/PDT versus re-computing from Philippine time," he says.

The US edition ebook is available as a subscription series and will come with several installments, including a feng shui guide for 2018. The first installment is already available for emailing to subscribers.

Contact Resti Santiago at filipinoastrologer@gmail.com or visit Fb.com/FilipinoAstrologer. Contact Bles Carmona at stargazer.bles@gmail.com or visit Fb.com/Stargazer.Bles.

Fil-Am ballroom dancers at the heart of new play

Dec. 9, 2017
USA & Canada Section, Inquirer.net

NEW YORK  Linda Faigao-Hall's new play about Filipino American ballroom dancers in Queens, New York, "Dance Me!," will have a staged reading this December by Ensemble Studio Theater (EST).

The play is about a man and his daughter who have opposing views on what to do with the financially troubled dance studio left behind by his deceased father.

Linda Faigao-Hall (center) with writers Francisco Sionil Jose (left) and Mario Miclat.

The play was inspired by Faigao-Hall's exposure to the ballroom dancing culture in Manila, which she became aware of when she visited after many years of living in the US.

Directing the staged reading is Joe Barros whose recent credits include assistant direction for the Broadway revival of the musical "Gigi," starring Vanessa Hudgens.

Faigao-Hall has been a member of EST since 2006. Recent stagings of her work include "The A-Word" in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and San Luis Obispo, California; and "The Female Heart," by University of the Philippines Playwright's Theatre in Manila; both last year.


Faigao-Hall is one of the pioneering Filipino American women playwrights, together with Jeannie Barroga, whose works started being staged in the '80s. Faigao-Hall's works have been produced across the US.

When asked how she became involved in playwriting, she mentioned that her father Cornelio Faigao was a fiction writer, poet and journalist in Cebu City. "It seems there was no choice. It's in my blood. I was exposed to literature in English and Pilipino when I was growing up," she said. "I grew up appreciating Jose Garcia Villa and Charles Dickens."

She immigrated to the US in the early '70s and ignored theater agents who claimed they could never sell plays about Filipinos. In a talk she gave at the 2015 Cebu Literary Festival, she said, "I foolishly proceeded to write my first play. It wasn't even a musical, it had no dancing girls, and nobody sang."

That play, "State Without Grace," about an immigrant Filipina who carries a secret when she visits her strict, conservative grandmother in Manila, was premiered by Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in New York in 1984, then staged by Asian American Theater Company in San Francisco the following year, directed by Dom Magwili. "It was the beginning of a foolhardy career as a Filipino playwright," she said.

Giving back

Faigao-Hall continues to write plays. Some of her works were premiered by Filipino American-founded theater companies Ma-Yi Theater Company in the '90s and Diverse City Theater in the '00s.

She released an anthology of her works, "The Female Heart and Other Plays," in 2013.

Faigao-Hall subsidizes the Terence G. Hall Memorial Award, in honor of her late husband, open to members of Ensemble Studio Theatre for a travel grant to Dublin, Ireland for research or study.

In 2012, she added and has been subsidizing the acting and playwriting component of the Cornelio Faigao Memorial Annual Writer's Workshop in Cebu, a fiction and poetry workshop that has been in existence since 1983.

Another one of her plays, "Dying in Boulder," is scheduled for a full staging at La MaMa Experimental Theater Club for its 2018-19 season.

"Dance Me!" staged reading, 7pm, Dec. 19 at Ensemble Studio Theater, 545 West 52nd St., New York, New York. Visit Ensemblestudiotheatre.org.

Carlos Bulosan Theatre raising funds for 35th anniversary book

Dec. 7, 2017
USA & Canada Section, Inquirer.net

TORONTO  Carlos Bulosan Theatre (CBT) has launched a fundraising campaign for its forthcoming book A New World Being Born: 35 Years of Carlos Bulosan Theatre at Gofundme.com/cbtanthology.

Posters from past productions were part of the exhibition at the fundraiser kick-off.
All photos by Bo Fajardo

"The anthology is being created by CBT, its artists and alumni to document Filipino Canadian theater," said artistic director Leon Aureus.

The book will include plays written by CBT's current and past artists and were developed or staged by the company. It is scheduled for publication and launch to the public in late 2018 or early 2019.

"Within these pages are our aspirations and dreams, meaningful and authentic stories, sometimes a reflection of the worst of us, but more often a shining inspiration, a commemoration of the best of us, who we are and who we can be, as individuals and as a community," Aureus stated.

"Be a part of preserving our artistic history and help us say 'We are here' to help the next generation of Filipino Canadian artists and storytellers orient themselves in their journeys," he added.


CBT kicked off its fundraising campaign at the Tarragon Theatre Workspace with an exhibition of past production posters, photographs and props celebrating over three decades of original works.

Carlos Bulosan Theatre artistic associate Belinda Corpuz (left)
and artistic director Leon Aureus.

Guests were also presented with a showcase of an all-Filipino Canadian ensemble of actors reading excerpts from past CBT plays and productions, including "If My Mother Could See Me Now," "People Power," "In the Shadow of Elephants," and others.

The group was founded in 1982 by the late Fely Villasin and Martha Ocampo originally as the Carlos Bulosan Cultural Workshop to serve as the cultural arm of the activist organization Coalition Against the Marcos Dictatorship.

The group is named for Carlos Bulosan, who immigrated to the US in 1930 and worked as an agricultural laborer before becoming a writer, becoming one of the first published Filipino American novelists.

Staged readings of excerpts from past CBT productions were performed.

The group has since staged plays and musicals with Filipino Canadian themes and issues, and eventually evolved to a full-fledged theater group.

"For 35 years Carlos Bulosan Theatre has produced theater that reflects the social and political issues affecting the Filipino community in Canada. Through the creation and production of new innovative work, the development of emerging and professional artists, and community engagement, our work is a reflection of the ever-growing, vibrant artistic voice of Filipino Canadians," said Aureus.

Reasons to support

Belinda Corpuz, artistic associate, said, "Filipinos are one of Canada's fastest growing cultural groups. It's the third largest Asian Canadian group.

Guests viewing props used in past productions at the exhibition.

"Canadians need to have a resource that reflects and celebrates the Filipino Canadian community's rich history in and contributions to Toronto and the rest of the country," she added.

"This collection of all-original work will add to a growing pool of Philippine and Canadian theater publications," said anthology co-producer Isabela Palanca.

"Celebrating diverse stories and voices that work within the mosaic of the multi-cultural country that is Canada."

She added, "The book will allow Filipino-Canadian artists and storytellers will see themselves reflected in the work they access in libraries and schools. They need this to be able to stand on the shoulders of artists who have already blazed trails and cleared paths."

Visit Gofundme.com/cbtanthology.