The show must go on. From a stalled turn to worthy introductions, meet the Filipino and Filipino-American actors making their Broadway debut soon.
Representation, for all its tepid progress, is still a necessary conversation, period. Sure, one will argue that considerable strides have been made in that regard, but bookended with all the injustice, racism, and inequality that continue to course through the systems of society, this is something that should not only be talked about it, but acted on now more than ever. Seen and felt across many industries, this is the most apparent in media and entertainment where to this day, the struggle to level with and have the same opportunities as the predominant bias, which let’s be real, is mostly still a white supremacy, persist. For every bannering of diversity or commitment to inclusion, there still remains a deep-seated prejudice, which bold and brave people are working to not only break, but eliminate altogether. On Broadway for example, roles for Asians are far and in between, much more Filipino actors.
Let’s be real, unless you’re really into the theater scene, which is arguably a robust fraction of pop culture in itself, your perception of Filipino representation on Broadway is limited to Lea Salonga. There is no discounting the trails blazed and opportunities carved out by the indefatigable living legend, because at a time when it was unheard of, she showed the West End and Broadway audiences, as well as of the rest of the world that the Filipinos are not only racially ambiguous ensembles, but stars who can headline and hero a show. Together with Lea Salonga on the groundbreaking stage of Miss Saigon, Isay Alvarez, Monique Wilson, Pinky Amador, Joanna Ampil and many other Filipino theater greats, they stormed the stages of the West End and Broadway with an underlying subtext to their roles that resonated far and wide: we are here.
The Matter Of Representation
Since then, many Filipino theater actors have taken to the West End and Broadway, their names rightfully decorated by marquee lights and met with thunderous applause after every performance.
In the enduring history of Miss Saigon alone, we’ve seen the likes of Rachelle Ann Go, Jon Jon Briones, and Eva Noblezada flourish to international acclaim. Singers like Aicelle Santos, Mark Bautista, and Gerald Santos have had successful and critically acclaimed turns on international tours and stages, and Red Concepcion in a particularly thriving turn in the star-making role as the Engineer on the US and UK tour of Miss Saigon. Many more have been raising the Philippine flag on these critical and commercial stages such as Christine Allado (Hamilton, Prince of Egypt), Marc dela Cruz (Hamilton), Nacho Tambunting (Felix Starro), and even Clint Ramos, Tony Award nominated costume and set designer (Slave Play, The Rose Tattoo) and Jessica Hagedorn (playwright, Felix Starro).
Not that it was ever argued, but clearly, when it comes to talent onstage, especially the Broadway and West End kind, Filipinos will always deliver, and then some. Trust us, there a lot more names and dreams to go around in the Great White Way, and the rest of the audience is starting to pay attention. Already a force to be reckoned with, more Filipino actors, both of pure and mixed decent, are stepping into the light as the curtains are set to finally rise on Broadway after the theater district went dark due to the onslaught of the pandemic.
Let it be known, that while the journey of representation and prominence is slow and steady, these names will be occupying their rightful places in the hall of legends as some of the many greats that have thoroughly entertained and affected. Sure, they may be telling someone else’s stories, but perhaps soon enough, we will be seeing these actors bring the house down in a Filipino original singing our songs, in our language, on the big, bright, and brilliant Broadway stage.
From a stalled turn to worthy introductions, meet the Filipino and Filipino-American actors making their Broadway debut soon.
Natalie Mendoza, Moulin Rouge
“May we present to you, the Sparkling Diamond. The unique, the indomitable…Satine,” and so writes the official Instagram page of Moulin Rouge the musical before introducing its new star, Natalie Mendoza who steps in the role originated by Karen Olivo. Born in Hong Kong to an English and German mother and Filipino and Spanish father, Mendoza holds the show close to heart as she was actually cast in the award-winning film starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman as China Doll. “This rare jewel of an opportunity to play a character like her on Broadway feels like a full circle moment,” says the proudly Filipino artist, actor, and teacher. “Love is the eternal healer, and there truly couldn’t be a better time to share in the frequency of love and joy that this musical specifically exudes and that ew and the world need to remember this unique moment in history.”
Andrea Macasaet, Six
Certainly no new name in theater, Filipino-Canadian actress Andrea Macasaet is set to make her official Broadway debut as Anne Boleyn in the delightfully delicious retelling of the lives of the wives of Henry VIII in Six. Realized as a pop concert, the laugh out loud funny cult favorite West End original has charmed both in the critical and commercial success, which officially made its way to the Great White Way on the day the lights went out due to the pandemic.
Far from being a stranger to the material, as she had already assumed the role of Anne Boleyn in various productions of Six, Andrea Macasaet had to wait for her time to shine on the dream stage. Keeping herself busy in the interim, she joined the ensemble of the TikTok production of Ratatouille The Musical, and now she is set to capture more hearts in what is bound to be her star-making turn, officially.
Vince Ermita, The Lion King
Ahead of the September opening of Broadway, it was announced that one of the theater district’s mainstays, The Lion King, is getting a bit of the Filipino flourish. One of the most successful productions in recent memory, there is a lot of eyes trained to the show, but young Filipino-American actor, Vince Ermita, just like Young Simba, cannot wait to be king. Already a dream of role of his, he actually wasn’t initially cast the first time he auditioned as he was deemed to young and small for the role, his mother said in an interview. But since the unraveling of the pandemic, the opportunity presented itself and even if he was already starring in a regional production of School of Rock, he took the chance again, and this time, he was crowned the prince of pride lands.
BONUS: Justin Viz and Dorothea Gloria, Romeo & Juliet
In the city of New York, Broadway isn’t the only place where theater exists, and many Filipinos know that, occupying spaces in professional productions and yes, Off Broadway. Such is the surreal situation for Filipino actors, Justin Viz and Dorothea Gloria, who are starring opposite each other in the classic cautionary tale of love and sacrifice in iambic pentamer, Romeo & Juliet. In the State Island Shakespearean Theater Company’s undertaking of the star-crossed lovers, there is significant swell of Filipino pride, especially for the two leads. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity to bring life to such a wonderful character as Juliet. I also can’t help but feel a lot of Pinoy pride since theater professionals here in New York have chosen two Filipino talents. I cannot wait to show them what we have to offer,” says Dorothea Gloria to Rappler. Meanwhile, Justin Viz shares the sentiment, especially of Filipinos still struggling to break out of casting stereotypes, expressing, “The thought of two Filipinos landing the lead roles of Romeo and Juliet in a professional [New York City] production felt surreal because it’s rare, but here we are defying the odds and breaking barriers.” Talk about the light through yonder window breaks.
BONUS: Joaquin Valdes, Heathers: The Musical (West End)
Over at the West End, the part of the world that has seen many theater careers take off, especially for Filipinos, a fairly familiar name has made his debut on Heathers: The Musical. Talented and tenacious, as evidenced by his theater and film career in the Philippine, Joaquin Valdes has been hard at work in London, carving out a name for himself. From the UK and international touring productions of Miss Saigon and The King & I, as well as of his turn in hi first musical in the city, Fanny and Stella, the Filipino theater actor has been enjoying his biggest break as Ram Sweeney, the jock in the cult favorite film turned musical.
As evidenced by his journey on Westerberg High School, which he generously shares on Instagram, he is clearly having a lot of fun in what could very well open many more doors for him in the city. Ultimately thankful, he says, “At the state of the world is in, I am absolutely grateful for every single opportunity to do what I love, however it comes my way.”