Paolo Montalban in 'Mamma Mia!' Seattle production

Jan. 19, 2018
USA and Canada Section,

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

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

Jan. 11, 2018
USA and Canada Section,

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

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, 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/

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 Visit link:


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

Dec. 28, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

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

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

Dec. 21, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

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 ( and on her Facebook page 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 or visit Contact Bles Carmona at or visit

Fil-Am ballroom dancers at the heart of new play

Dec. 9, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

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

Carlos Bulosan Theatre raising funds for 35th anniversary book

Dec. 7, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

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

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."


Chuck Marbella: 9 going on 10 years in 'Miss Saigon'

Dec. 2, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Several Filipino actors joined the "Miss Saigon" global network of productions for the first time this past July. Making their "Saigon" debuts via the United Kingdom and Ireland tour were Red Concepcion (Engineer), Joreen Bautista (Kim alternate), Aynrand Ferrer (Kim cover-"cover" is the British term for "understudy") and Gerald Santos (Thuy).

Chuck Marbella

Welcoming them into producer Cameron Mackintosh's universe was longtime "Saigon" actor Christian "Chuck" Marbella, who has been alternating as the Engineer, and is approaching his 10th year, collectively, as part of the "Saigon" machinery.

Marbella started out in the ensemble in the 2000 Manila staging (for six months) and graduated to playing Thuy and the Engineer as he went on to join the Asian tour (six months) and the first two UK tours (five years). During the recent 2014-2016 West End revival, he alternated with Jon Jon Briones as the Engineer. (Briones plays the same role in the current Broadway revival.)

Favorite subject

Marbella took up medical technology and was about to enroll in medical school when he decided to audition.

"Parasitology was a favorite subject in college," he says. He still remembers the scientific names of some of them. "The great triumvirate of enteric nematodes are Ascaris lumbricoides, giant roundworm; Trichuris trichiura, whipworm; and Enterobius vermicularis, pinworm."

While his academic training might not have come into play during the auditions, everything else he'd done in his youth led him to his seize-the-moment opportunity.

Marbella collects Marvel action figures and Monchhichi dolls.

"I started singing quite young," he says. "Weddings, Christmas parties, fiestas and every event you can imagine, you name it, I've done it," he adds, laughing.

It was because he wanted to look physically better that he got into dance as well. "I got offered free ballet training after being spotted at a jazz dance group competition. I was a very lanky college freshman. I said yes because I was convinced it would help me tone my muscles."

As is the usual case with male dancers who come into ballet training in their teens, he went through an accelerated curriculum. "You're supposed to start at age three or four to gradually improve technique one level at a time. I did an intensive five-year course from elementary ballet to intermediate partnering just because there weren't any boys interested in ballet."


In between "Saigon" productions, Marbella appeared in "The King and I" and "Cinderella" for Resorts World Manila, and in Ballet Philippines' restaging of "Rama Hari." He has also done several musicals for Village Theater Washington in Seattle, where both his sisters live.

He also collects action figures.

When he's not busy performing, he takes photos of his travels and his collection of Monchhichi dolls. Inspired by his father ("He was into photography and bought a lot of photography books. I used to flip through them to admire the pictures"), Marbella developed some of his skills as a photographer for his high school paper.

These days, he uses his iPhone. "I invested in good lens attachments like super wide angle, fisheye, macro and polarizer. I also bring my GoPro Hero4 Black whenever I travel," he says.

Monchhichi dolls

He first became enamored with the monkey dolls while living in London. "I saw a Monchhichi in a hobby shop that looked so adorable."

He started searching for more online and now has about 22. "I even have an original 1974 doll from Japan. I also have Marvel action figures. I'm friends now with other collectors all over the world."

He has separate Instagram accounts for his travel photography (@CRMarbella) and Monchhichi shots (@chuckiemonchhichi). "I wanted to share them with the world. And it's always fun to look back at photos from time to time."

For "Miss Saigon" UK and Ireland 2017-18 tour schedule, visit link:


Filipino chefs around the world to star in new cookbook

Nov. 30, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

SAN FRANCISCO  Filipino chefs, restaurateurs and food writers will be included in the forthcoming book The Migrant Filipino Kitchen, an anthology of personal stories and recipes from Filipino chefs around the world.

Pinakbet by Leo Fernandez.
Food photos by Rowena Dumlao-Giardina, courtesy of Agate Publishing

Spearheaded and edited by restaurateur and food writer Jaqueline Chio-Lauri, the book is scheduled for release in the fall of 2018.

"Each contributor shares segments of their lives examined through a Filipino dish. Each dish has a personal twist to reflect the contributor's transformation or journey," explains Chio-Lauri.

Jaqueline Chio-Lauri is editor of The Migrant Filipino Kitchen. CONTRIBUTED

Popular Filipino American chefs featured in the upcoming publication include White House chef Cris Comerford, cable channel TLC's "Food Buddha" host Rodelio Aglibot and former TV cooking competition shows "Top Chef" and "Chopped Grill Masters" contestant Chrissy Camba, among many others.


Born in the Philippines and currently based in Norway, Chio-Lauri has opened and operated several restaurants for Shangri-la Hotel in Manila and Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Dubai.

Filipino American chefs to be featured in the book include
(from left) Cris Comerford, Rodelio Aglibot and Chrissy Camba.

She eventually added writing to her plate, with pieces published in and in anthologies such as the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

The book began as a personal project. "I wanted to write a food memoir revolving around the food I grew up eating, my childhood and my Lola, who was a storyteller and cook extraordinaire with an incredibly colorful personality," she said.

Jacqueline Chio-Lauri.
Photo by Henriette Time, Studio Hjelm.

"My intention was to immortalize the memories, reflections and lessons I've learned to pass on to family members and relatives. But a voice in my head bugged me, `What have you done for your country?'

"So, I decided to go broader and include kababayans from around the world since I have always wished our that our food was more accessible worldwide.

"Most of the places where I've lived didn't or still don't have a single Filipino restaurant. Hardly anybody knows the cuisine. It's always a struggle to make others understand what it really is all about."

Global team

She created a proposal that ended up being more than a hundred pages long. Though she landed a book agent (in Texas) quickly enough, she spent months sending proposals and receiving rejections from publishers.

Kilawin by Cristina Quackenbush.

Fortune favors the persevering. She received two offers in succession and ended up with Agate Surrey, a publishing company based in Evanston, Illinois with marketing offices in San Francisco, that has worked with Food Network chefs and James Beard Award winners.

Rome-based Rowena Dumlao-Giardina will handle food styling and photography. The foreword will be written by two-time James Beard Award-winner writer John Birdsall.

"By doing this book, I hope I can help raise awareness and memorability for our food and culture. And hopefully silence that voice in my head nagging me to do something for the motherland!"

Across borders

Other featured Filipino American chefs include Paolo Dungca (Restaurant Eve in Washington, DC); Cristina Quackenbush (Milkfish, formerly a restaurant but now only pop-up dining events, in New Orleans); Ray Espiritu (Isla Pilipina in Chicago); Robert Menor (Bonifacio in Columbus, Ohio); and Alexa Alfaro (Meat on the Street food truck in Milwaukee).

Kare-kare by Vanessa Hangad.

Writers and organizers include Dalena Benavente (author of Asian Girl in a Southern World), Marilyn Ranada Donato (author of Philippine Cooking in America), and Joanne Boston-Kwanhull (co-director of Filipino Food Movement).

Filipino Canadians include Allan Pineda (Manila Nights pop-up dining events in Winnipeg) and food writer Nastasha Alli.

To preorder or for updates on The Migrant Filipino Kitchen, visit

Mom’s Filipino recipes in new cookbook-storybook

Nov. 21, 2018
USA & Canada Section,

NEW YORK  "This cookbook is for the novice who wants to learn how to cook classic Filipino dishes, or for the culinary pro who needs traditional inspiration," says Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino, who has released her new cookbook My Mother's Philippine Recipes.

Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino.

"I wanted to demystify the notion that 'mom's cooking' is an impossible feat," she adds.

But more than just a cookbook, it's also a storybook, with vintage pictures to boot. (It's available at Amazon both in print and Kindle editions.)

And despite the title, there is at least one recipe that's pretty current: for foodies who want to partake of Asia's latest trend in salted egg-flavored potato chips, Besa-Quirino has a homemade version. The relatively new recipe is borne out of her family's ingrained hospitality, of taking care of guests by nourishing them.


The book compiles a collection of her mother's recipes that were cooked with produce grown by her father in their backyard and farms. The dishes were often served to family and friends who stopped by their home in Tarlac, which was about three hours away from the capital, Manila.

Besa-Quirino (right) with her mother Lulu Reyes (center) and sister.

In addition to instructing how to prepare dishes, Besa-Quirino recounts the memories created and evoked by the transmittal of love through food among family.

Besa-Quirino tells the love story of her parents and shares vignettes of her family's connections to each recipe she presents in the book. Along with photographs of the completed dishes, family pictures accompany her anecdotes.

Some her family's favorites in this cookbook: Pancit Palabok, Carne Asada Kapampangan, Spanish Cocido, Beef Kalitiran Pot Roast, and Crispy Pata (which Besa-Quirino points out can be done without deep frying, but roasted in an oven instead.)

Sinigang na Baka with Lemongrass prepared by Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino.

For sweets, there are recipes for Pastillas de Ube, Pastillas de Leche, and Ube Puto-Leche Flan.

The dishes are categorized as soups and appetizers, vegetable dishes, rice and noodle dishes, fish and seafood dishes, meats (chicken, beef, pork), and, of course, desserts.

She gives suggestions for ingredient substitutions for readers who may not have access to Filipino or Asian grocery stores in the US or would like to try new twists to classic recipes.

More recipes

This is the second in Besa-Quirino's series of Filipino Cookbook Recipes from Asian in America. The first installment, How to Cook Philippine Desserts: Cakes and Snacks, was released just last year.

My Mother's Philippine Recipes, available at Amazon both in print and Kindle editions.

"After all, life is short. Make it sweeter with dessert!" says the author who's also illustrated and published the coloring book Color and Cook Food Coloring Book, which includes bookmarks and gift tags.

"For years, I have been cooking Filipino and Asian dishes almost every day," says Besa-Quirino, who moved to the US more than two decades ago.

Prior to her leaving the Philippines, her father worried about her well-being in a foreign country. "I assured my father I was going to be fine because Mom taught me how to cook. Cooking was what I knew best."

Aside from her books, Besa-Quirino also has a blog, Asian in America (, which she started in 2010. There she has other recipes not found in her cookbooks.


Peta to restage its landmark production 'Galileo' for 3 nights only

Bertolt Brecht's take on Galileo Galilei-when real science was considered fake news
Nov. 18, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) is bringing back one of its landmark productions, "Ang Buhay ni Galileo," on Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, as part of its 50th anniversary season.

Peta first staged the material in 1981.
Joel Lamangan (left) will reprise his role as Galileo.

Even more significantly, the play will be mounted in Peta's original home, the open-air Rajah Sulayman Theater in Intramuros.

Translated by Alan Glinoga based on German playwright Bertolt Brecht's "Life of Galileo," the play is about the titular Italian scientist's problems with authorities when he attempts to deliver scientific truths to the masses.


Peta first staged the material in 1981 with young actors who are now stalwarts in the profession: actor Bodjie Pascua, composer Lutgardo Labad, playwright Manny Pambid, and current Tanghalang Pilipino artistic director Fernando "Nanding" Josef, just to name a few. Current Peta artistic director Maribel Legarda was part of the production's publicity team.

Reprising his role as Galileo is current Gantimpala Theater artistic director Joel Lamangan.

Rody Vera, who is directing the new production, was also already a member of Peta at the time. He recalls Peta inviting Weimar National Theater's Fritz Bennewitz from Germany to direct the show simultaneously with a children's/street theater version of "Hatol ng Guhit na Bilog" (Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle").

"I was involved in 'Hatol,' but I attended a number of rehearsals of 'Galileo.' I saw the play a few times during its Fort Santiago run," he says.

Vera admits he was quite apprehensive when asked to direct this revival. Soxie Topacio had been originally assigned as director, while Vera was to be the dramaturg.

"My job was to provide him with as much material as possible to restage the play as it was first staged at Rajah Sulayman. But when he passed away, the job fell into my lap."

Resonant as ever

More than just simply reproducing the 1981 staging, Vera is focused on what messages the play can convey to 2017 audiences.

"The play was written just before Hitler invaded Europe. It became even more resonant when the atomic bombs were dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The apolitical stance of scientists who are dedicated to only achieving scientific discoveries without realizing the political implications to mankind is devastatingly presented by this play."

The relevance of the play, he notes, goes deeper than just merely comparing Galilei's problems to modern-day issues of fake news and fighting for truth.

"The play also shows how the power that authority wields, whether religious or secular (the State or those who control the economy), can also control the direction and philosophy of science and its pursuit of truth.

"Even in the digital age of information, advances in science and technology have benefited only those who see the immense potential of power and influence these advances can wield for them.

"More advancements in science can only mean more suffering, not just because a scientist like Galileo can give up his control of truths he's discovered, but also because he has to relinquish that control to other people in power."

"Mabigat ang play na ito (This play is grave)," he says. "Probably Brecht's most important play."

"Ang Buhay ni Galileo" runs Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at Rajah Sulayman Theater, Fort Santiago, Manila. link:


Fil-Ams star in Chicago thriller on fake news, media manipulation

Nov. 17, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

CHICAGO  Christine Bunuan and Karmann Bajuyo are playing the leads in Silk Road Rising's staging of "Wild Boar," a "turbulent thriller about media manipulation and fake news," which runs until December 17 at Chicago Temple Building.

Karmann Bajuyo plays Ruan.

Written by acclaimed Hong Kong playwright Candace Chong, "Wild Boar" depicts a student and her editor's quest to publicize the truth when a controversial professor goes missing.

Originally staged in Cantonese, "Wild Boar" is an adaptation by playwright David Henry Hwang (Trivia: Hwang's mother was born in China but grew up in Cebu before immigrating to the US.)

Windy City

Christine Bunuan, who plays Tricia, was born in Vallejo and raised in Vacaville, both in California. Growing up, Bunuan saw other Filipino girls her age singing in talent shows.

Bunuan (left) and Bajuyo.

"I wanted to sing just like them," she said. "Then I saw children's theater production of `The Wizard of Oz' with a bunch of kids and thought, if those kids can do it, then I can do this, too."

The four-foot tall mezzo-soprano has worked with Chicago theater companies such as Steppenwolf, The Goodman, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, among others.

Six-foot tall bass-baritone Bajuyo plays Ruan. He was born in Peoria, Illinois and moved to Chicago in the late '90s. Originally involved in athletics and pursuing a career in law, he became interested in acting while attending an acting class in college.

Aside from working in productions at Porchlight Music Theatre and Timer Lake Playhoues, Bajuyo has acted in Danny Bernardo's play "Mahal" for Bailiwick Theater.

Research and reflections

Both actors prepared for working on this play by holding discussions on and reviewing the background of the story's milieu.

"The research I did consisted of reading up on the history of Hong Kong and asking questions of our director Helen Young, who is very familiar with the city," says Bajuyo.

Christine Bunuan plays Tricia.

Bunuan adds, "With the help of our dramaturg Carol Ann Tan, who is from Singapore, we discussed the culture, the political climate in Hong Kong as well as China's influence"

When it comes to accessing news and information, Bajuyo follows business and sports news as well as Chicago's PBS affiliate WTTW. "I am on Facebook and Instagram but certainly not consumed by either. I am not a social media nor TV addict."

"I have actually stepped away from Facebook quite a bit because of the cyberbullying that I have seen out there," reveals Bunuan.  "Now, I mostly just post about shows or events that are happening in the community and then I leave."

For her news sources, Bunuan reads articles from the New York Times or Washington Post. "I also listen to NPR. Our current political climate can be depressing at times so I turn to John Oliver for some humor about our news."

She adds, "It can be difficult to know what is real or fake news. I do hope that this play will educate people to dig deeper to find the truth, understand the importance of doing their research and consider who their sources are.

"Social media seems to be the source of news for many people. They have become so quick to judge and state things as fact but don't take the time to step back and really see the big picture and dig for the truth."

"The play hopefully challenges the audience to apply their critical thinking skills to the news they hear or see on social media," says Bajuyo. "I think we have to be especially discerning when seeing 'news' on social media that corroborates our own point of view.

"In these instances, we must be diligent about researching and validating a story before we just post the link onto our social media account. Snopes, FactCheck, Politifact, PunditFact are all great websites to check the veracity of a statement, report, or article. Assuming they themselves can be trusted."

"Wild Boar," previews until Nov. 18, runs Nov. 19-Dec. 17 at Silk Road Rising, Chicago Temple Bldg., 77 West Washington St., Chicago. Visit

Justin Huertas' new musical, 'Howl's Moving Castle,' to open in Seattle

Nov. 16, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

SEATTLE  Justin Huertas has composed music and written songs for the musical "Howl's Moving Castle" for Book-it Repertory Theatre to be shown starting November 29.

Composer/lyricist Justin Huertas (right) with adapter/director Myra Platt.
Photo by John Ulman.

Huertas first worked with Book-it, whose ethos is adapting books for the stage, as an actor in its production "Welcome to Braggsville" earlier this year, for which he received a nomination at this year's Gregory Awards for Best Actor in a Play.

It was during that show when founding co-artistic director Myra Platt assigned him to write songs for "Howl's."

Huertas recalls, "When she told me they had secured the rights to adapt the book, I literally fell on the floor with a 'Yaaaas!'" Platt is adapting and directing the show.

"Howl's Moving Castle" is by British author Diana Wynne Jones, first published in 1986, wherein Sophie Hatter is turned into an old woman by a witch and seeks the notorious wizard Howl and his fire-demon Calcifer to help her break the curse.

The role of Sophie will be played by Filipino American actress Sara Porkalob, who recently concluded her one-person play "Dragon Lady," about her Filipino gangster grandmother, for Intiman Theatre. (Read about it here.)

Book and movie fans

The book had been previously adapted by Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli into a film in 2004, directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

He's excited for Miyazaki-philes like himself ("I'm a huge fan of the Studio Ghibli films," he says.) to come watch the musical. "It's cool that there's this whole amazing fanbase for the movie, and a large portion of those fans have never even read the book, so this musical will have a lot of plot points and characters they've never seen."

Seattle boy

Huertas was born and raised in Seattle. "First generation Filipino on my dad's side, second on my mom's." He studied theater at Pacific Lutheran College and has not stopped working since graduating in 2009.

Sara Porkalob (left) as Sophie Hatter with Michael Feldman as Howl.
Photo by John Ulman.

He started off with acting gigs at Seattle Repertory Theatre, then playing cello in the national tour of the Broadway musical "Spring Awakening" for eight months, then back to Seattle Rep to play Rod in the staging of "Avenue Q" (Seattle premiere), then writing and acting in his first musical, "Lizard Boy."

Seattle Rep artistic director Jerry Manning knew Huertas as an actor first. When he found out Huertas also played the cello and was a fellow comic-book lover, a commission for the musical was assigned. Huertas went on to develop his coming-of-age love story cello-rock musical about a young gay boy who develops lizard superpowers, which premiered in 2013.

Pop folk-rock

"The way I write can vary," Huertas says of his composing style. "Sometimes I find a melody by noodling on a guitar, but most of the time, I free-write in character, then some magical line will appear to me."

He always composes songs using a guitar. "My writing style fits somewhere in between pop-musical theatre and folk-rock. It's an easy access point emotionally for me, because it's the kind of music I grew up listening to."

For "Howl's," Huertas found inspiration from the book itself. "The awesome thing is that Diana Wynne Jones has done all of that work for me! I find a magic sentence in her book and, boom, I've got a song!"

"Howl's Moving Castle" runs Nov. 29-Dec. 30 at Center Theatre, Seattle Center Armory, 305 Harrison St., Seattle. Visit

Don Darryl Rivera wins Seattle’s Gregory Award for best supporting actor

Nov. 9, 2017
USA & Canada Section,

SEATTLE  Broadway actor Don Darryl Rivera won Best Supporting Actor at the recently held 2017 Gregory Awards for playing Sancho Panza in 5th Avenue Theatre's "Man of La Mancha," which ran late last year.

Don Darryl Rivera as Sancho Pancha in "Man of La Mancha."

"When they called my name, I think the first word that came out of my mouth was a curse word because I was so pleasantly surprised!" says the Seattle native.

Named after Gregory Falls (1922-97), founding artistic director of A Contemporary Theatre and a former chair of University of Washington's School of Drama, the awards are administered, funded, and produced by Theatre Puget Sound.

"I was so not expecting to win that I didn't even prepare a speech. The talent in Seattle is so immense that it is a privilege and an honor to even be nominated among my colleagues. I love the Seattle theatre community so much."

Rivera previously won the 2009 Gregory Award in the Person to Watch category.

Several other Filipino American theater artists were nominated this year. Corrina Lapid Munter in the Best Actress in a Musical category for playing Mrs. Lovett in ArtsWest Playhouse and Gallery's "Sweeney Todd;" Ben Gonio in the People's Choice for Best Actor in a Musical category for playing Sweeney Todd in the same production; and Justin Huertas in the Best Actor in a Play category for playing Louis in Book-it Repertory Theatre's "Welcome to Braggsville."

Hosting the awards ceremony at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall were Huertas and Sara Porkalob, who recently concluded her one-person play "Dragon Lady," about her Filipino gangster grandmother, for


Rivera currently plays Iago in Disney's "Aladdin" on Broadway, which he's been doing since the show opened in 2014. Iago, a parrot sidekick to the villain Jafar in the animated film, is human in the musical.

Sara Porkalob (left) and Justin Huertas hosted the awards show.

Rivera originated the role in the musical's world premiere in Seattle and through its developmental run in Toronto prior to opening on Broadway.

Princess Jasmine's singing voice was done by Lea Salonga in the animated film that the musical is based on.

Other Fil-Ams in the "Aladdin" machinery include Reggie de Leon who plays Iago in the US national tour together with Adam Jacobs as Aladdin, who originated the role on Broadway. Jacobs' sister Arielle opened the show in the Australia production, where Fil-Australian Aljin Abella (Blue Ranger in TV's "Power Rangers Jungle Fury") plays Iago.

Rivera and his wife have moved to New Jersey, after a brief stay in Brooklyn, because of the job, which he is contracted for until next year. Disney management allowed Rivera to join "La Mancha" last year.


"I was gone from 'Aladdin' for about seven and a half weeks. Alan Muraoka, who you might know as Alan from `Sesame Street,' took over the Iago role while I was gone and he was fantastic! He's a Broadway vet and one of the sweetest, most humble people I know," says Rivera.

Corrina Lapid Munter (left) and Ben Gonio in "Sweeney Todd."

Rivera's parents immigrated to the US in the '70s and his father, Danny, became a founding member of Filipino folk dance group Kultura. It's no surprise that he grew up learning to dance tinikling and itik itik; and eventually joining kaSAma, a hip-hop dance group.

Rivera, whose acting credits stretch from Shakespeare to children's theater, was bitten by the acting bug in high school and took up acting at Cornish College of the Arts.


Rivera is also a playwright and composer. He's written the book for children's musical "Harold and the Purple Crayon," adapted from the children's book; and he's co-composed and co-written children's musical "Adventures With Spot."

Rivera as Sancho Panza in "Man of La Mancha."

For Philippine history buffs, one of the musical's songs, "The Impossible Dream," is associated with anti-Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship activist Evelio Javier and politician Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino.

Rivera's favorite song from "La Mancha" is "To Each His Dulcinea." "Nick DeSantis, who played the Padre, sang it so beautifully every night," says Rivera. "There is always something worth fighting for. There is always beauty in the world."

READ previous coverage of Seattle-based Filipino American theater artists:

Actress Sara Porkalob stages the story of her gangster lola

Fil-Am actors play homicidal couple in musical thriller "Sweeney Todd" in Seattle

Anti-beauty pageant Fil-Am teens to be depicted on stage