Filipino-American Ali Ewoldt is first Asian to play Christine in 'Phantom of the Opera' on Broadway

Filipino-American Ali Ewoldt is first Asian to play Christine in 'Phantom of the Opera' on Broadway
Aug. 27, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Ali Ewoldt.
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Filipino-American Ali Ewoldt is currently playing the role of Christine Daaé in the Broadway production of "The Phantom of the Opera," and it marks a milestone: She is the first actress of Filipino descent and first woman of color to portray the role on Broadway since it opened in 1988.

"It is incredibly exciting!" she says. "I have loved 'Phantom' and dreamt of playing Christine since I was a child, so to get to play Christine is literally a dream come true."

Ewoldt, whose mother hails from Pangasinan, was born near Chicago and raised in Pleasantville, a short distance from New York City. She's been performing the role since June.

"Being the first Asian-American Christine on Broadway is an honor and, also, I believe, comes with a bit of responsibility. I want to demonstrate that this incredible story can be told regardless of my personal ethnic background."

Ewoldt recently played Tuptim in the Chicago Lyric Opera production of "The King and I" opposite Fil-Am actor Paolo Montalban as the King. She previously understudied the role as an ensemble member in the 2015-2016 Broadway revival.

To prepare for the role, Ewoldt revisited the Gaston Leroux novel the musical is based on. "And, of course, I spent many hours learning all of the songs," she says.

She credits "many, many years" of vocal training and ballet classes in honing her skills. She also praises the musical theater program of her high school, Pleasantville High School.

Her pre-show preparations consist of putting on her costume and wig then warming up vocally. "I then stretch and run through all of the opening choreography and the 'Think of Me' song in my dressing room."

She then enjoys the first part of the show as an audience member with a special vantage point: "I watch and listen to the other amazing performers sing the first number from the wings."

Ewoldt is still connected to her Filipino roots. Though she has become a pescatarian and finds choosing Filipino dishes a bit tricky now, she's still able to enjoy sinigang and turon.

"Growing up Filipino, music was always a part of my family gatherings," she adds. "My eldest aunt, my Tita Myrna, took me to some of my first Broadway shows and my parents continued that tradition when they realized how much I loved watching them.

"My parents were always incredibly supportive, shuttling me to dance classes and voice lessons, etc."

Ewoldt with Adam Jacobs
and Lea Salonga, backstage at "Les Miserables."
Photo from
While a psychology student at Yale University (she later graduated cum laude), she auditioned and got cast in a minor role for one of the school's opera productions.

An agent saw her performance and started working with her to land professional jobs.

One of her first jobs was "Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular" at Disney California Adventure theme park, where she was the Jasmine body double.

Ewoldt made her Broadway debut as Cosette in the 2006 revival of "Les Miserables." She was able to share the stage with Lea Salonga when the latter was cast as Fantine in 2007 (Salonga was the first Asian to play this role on Broadway).

Other credits include Maria in the national tour of "West Side Story," chosen by the musical's book writer Arthur Laurents to play the part, and Luisa in the off-Broadway production of "The Fantasticks."

Co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's production company The Really Useful Group, the musical has music by Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart and book by Richard Stilgoe and Webber.

In 2012, Concertus Manila produced the Manila leg of a touring production from Australia.

"The Phantom of the Opera" runs at Majestic Theatre, 247 West 44th St., New York, New York. Visit Digital lottery for $28 tickets at link:

Meet Bonifacio anew--in a Pinoy noh play

Meet Bonifacio anew--in a Pinoy noh play
Aug. 20, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

One of Noh Theatre Ensemble's
previous productions, "Okina," in 2006.
Photo by Joseph Uy 
The Noh Theatre Ensemble (NTE), a resident theater group of University of the Philippines' Center for International Studies (UPCIS), will stage "Cedula sa BGC: Isang Kontemporanyong Noh," on Aug. 26-27 at University Theater, Villamor Hall, University of the Philippines.

"This noh is set in a mall in BGC [Bonifacio Global City]," says NTE's founding artistic director Jina Umali. "It's about Andres Bonifacio, so meet the 'B' of BGC, the Father of the Philippine Revolution."

NTE members have received continuous training since 2005 from Naohiko Umewaka, a noh grand master whose family's involvement in noh dates back 600 years.

Umali explains that centuries-old noh is the oldest form among the Japanese performance traditions, characterized by the use of masks, controlled physical movements and abstracted choreography such as sliding steps, and lines that are sung.

"One of the differences between noh and other art forms is that noh deals more often with ghosts and the afterlife," she says.

"I [wanted] to make Bonifacio return as a ghost through noh," says Umali.

"Cedula" is her adaptation of Ericson Acosta's play "Moñumento," staged in the mid-1990s by Alay Sining, into the noh format.

What is a Filipino noh, exactly?

"Most of the elements come from Noh theater, except the text [script and language] and the performers," she says.

"'Cedula sa BGC' explores Bonifacio's life and death, and his many roles such as thespian, nationalist, husband and leader of the revolution; it's a distillation of the struggle and process to become Bonifacio and for the Philippines to become a nation."

The production will be in Filipino with Filipino performers, in collaboration with noh grand masters Umewaka (expert in noh acting for principal roles), Shigeji Omura (expert in noh drum) and Isso Yoji (expert in noh flute).

"We train using the noh repertoire and transpose the shodan, the structural segments of noh, into Filipino."

"The costumes of the major characters are real noh costumes provided by the noh grand masters. Some of the costumes are from the UPCIS collection of Japanese kimono and hakama (pleated trousers). Additional costumes are recreated by Darwin Desoacido," she says.

Andrew Cruz plays Bonifacio. The cast also includes Diana Alferez, Tess Jamias, Derrick Gozos and Al Gatmaitan.

Otto Hernandez handles set and lighting design.

The production commemorates the 120th anniversary of the 1896 revolution led by Bonifacio against Spain, which began with revolutionaries symbolically tearing their cedula (community tax certificates).

The production also celebrates the 60th year of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Philippines and the 20th anniversary of the Japan Foundation in Manila.

Umali points out that she isn't directing the production in the Western sense of the word.

"The three noh grand masters are my collaborators as there is no director in noh. 'Giving direction' in this particular production means asking their opinion and involving them in the artistic decisions when it comes to their specializations."

"We are in this together in the way that the Filipino performers and musicians are equally my collaborators. I present the concept and structure of the play to them, and the artistic details of the noh tradition is interwoven into it-tailor-made, so to speak."

Umali has codirected "Kanjincho" with Tony Mabesa for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas and has directed Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio's "Ang Paglalakbay ni Sisa: Isang Noh sa Laguna" for NTE.

She founded NTE to introduce Asian performance practices to Filipinos. Students who've joined the ensemble come from diverse backgrounds, with courses ranging from engineering to library science; no performing background is necessary.

The public is welcome to audition for future productions or to join the (usually free) training sessions. Schedules of upcoming sessions are announced on the group's Facebook page.

"Cedula" is twin-billed with UPCIS Bunraku Ensemble's staging of Andres Bonifacio's "Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa," featuring coloratura soprano Luz Morete, music by Restie Umali and choreography by Joanne dela Calzada.  ("Bunraku" is traditional Japanese puppet theater.)

Discounts are available for public high school and college students. "Cedula sa BGC" runs Aug. 26-27 at University Theater, Villamor Hall, University of the Philippines, Quezon City. Call 0918-9286398, 426-7573, 981-8500 loc. 2460 or Visit or link:

Farewell, Jonas Sebastian, theater pillar and Temptation Island's Joshua

Farewell, Jonas Sebastian, theater pillar and 'Temptation Island' 's Joshua
Aug. 13, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Jonas Sebastian.
Photo courtesy of Juno Alexis Rosales
Director and actor Jonas Sebastian passed away on July 31 at age 73. He died of cardiac arrest after contracting pneumonia.

Born in Quiapo to a family who owned the movie studio Oriental Pictures, Sebastian entered the performing arts in 1967 as an actor in productions directed by Inquirer columnist Nestor Torre at Ateneo de Manila University, and Joey Gosiengfiao at De La Salle University.

He later joined Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) as an actor and set designer; and Repertory Philippines as a set designer, eventually directing the company's inaugural production of "Sleeping Beauty" for its Repertory Children's Theater. He also acted and directed for Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas, helming "Asyenda Animal" for the group's inaugural season.

Dinner theater
His directorial debut was "Hello Soldier" for Peta in 1971. His directing scope would grow to encompass comedies, classics, Filipino works, and foreign material. He went on to direct dinner theater and opera in the late 1970s and 1980s, and drama classics in the 1990s.

In a Facebook post, actor and director Bernardo Bernardo recalled being directed by Sebastian in several productions: "[When] dinner theater fare in posh hotels was all the rage, Jonas Sebastian was the undisputed King of the Classy Sex Comedy Romps!"

Sebastian formed or cofounded a number of theater groups: Voyage Theater Group, focused on experimental plays; and Babaylan Theater Group/Dulaang Babaylan, focused on the revival of traditional theater forms such as senakulo, in the 1970s.

In the 1990s, he directed for Tanghalang Pilipino ("Ginintuang Bayan," "Orosman at Zafira" with John Arcilla and Allan Paule alternating as Orosman) and for Bankard Ticketcharge (Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance").

Sebastian (seated center, second row from top, with eyeglasses)
with the cast of Bankard Ticketcharge's
"All's Well That Ends Well," 1999.
Photo courtesy of Aries Alcayaga
He cofounded Actors Classic Ensemble, which staged Shakespeare and world classics from 1994 to 1997. Cofounder Joshua Spafford, a former actor with Repertory Philippines, said, "He's an important cornerstone Filipino theater artist and a teacher to so many people who have come of age today. Those who knew him closely knew what a kind, loyal and loving friend and ally he could be.

"His passion for his craft and his passion for sharing this knowledge had no bounds. He went out of his way to help procure scholastic papers, studies and other valuable resources on studying classics which, in the pre-internet time, was hard to come by. More and more the culture of mentorship is vanishing, so someone like Jonas, who shared knowledge with urgency, was rare."

In a Facebook post, Spafford wrote, "He spent countless hours, years even, not just directing but teaching a good number of younger artists how to study a text, how to deepen a role, how to find comedy in tragedy and tragedy in comedy, and sharing his belief that the theater was worthy of a lifetime of love and worthy as a calling."

Actress Adriana Agcaoili said, "Whenever we'd emerge from one of his intensive and very rewarding table sessions (he was a firm believer in textual analysis, especially when we were doing Shakespeare), his actors liked to joke that Jonas treated Shakespeare like the 'Matrix'--he could crack the code for you."

Math and movies
Sebastian as Joshua in the 1980 film "Temptation Island."
Before he entered theater, Sebastian put his undergraduate and master's degrees in mathematics from University of the Philippines to use as a teacher there for five years. He was known to wear white gloves in class, as he claimed he was allergic to chalk.

In the 1980s, along with his theater contemporaries who were shifting to film, he wrote scripts for television and film. He also forayed into film acting, and is well-known to fans of the 1980 cult film "Temptation Island" as the character Joshua, the pageant coordinator.

On stage, he essayed lead roles in plays such as "Cyrano de Bergerac," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "Peer Gynt," "In My Father's House," "Largo Desolato," "The Cherry Orchard," "The Chairs" and "The Merchant of Venice."

Eccentric, colorful
Theater colleagues paying their respects at Sebastian's wake.
Back row (from left): Jacques June Borlaza, Lorna Lopez,
Mona Katigbak. Middle row: Miguel Vasquez, Allan Palileo,
Weng Lopez, Adriana Agcaoili, Richard Cunanan, Charlton
Villanueva. Seated: Jeremy Domingo, Andre Tiangco,
Gwyn Salazar Guanzon, Apollo Abraham.
Photo courtesy of Adriana Agcaoili
Spafford said, "To not acknowledge that he could be eccentric, and I say that fondly, would be doing him a disservice. At the end of the day, all he cared about was the theater and his extended `real' family: theater artists."

Agacoili added, "Jonas was temperamental. The size of the bump on his forehead grew according to his frustration over a play, or a scene, or an actor.

"But he was also the most loving and generous director, laughing the loudest in the theater during a performance, never mind if he was the only one, or embracing you with tears in his eyes, very vocal about having loved a scene you just did.

"When he was pleased with a run, he would grin and literally twist in his seat, looking absolutely gleeful. He was a genius, no doubt about that, both as an actor and a director."

Bernardo said, "Bowing in respect to one of my favorite stage directors. Also, one of the most colorful. Geniuses in theater are notoriously quirky and difficult to work with, but what amazing inventiveness, fearless choices  and titillating logic spring from their unbridled imagination. Jonas was the only director who made me cry out of frustration; but, more often, from sheer joy of watching him create magic on stage."

Sebastian's wake was held at Heritage Park in Taguig City, where he was also interred. He is survived by four siblings: Jehu Sebastian, Jonathan Sebastian, Joseph Sebastian and Janet Santos; and their respective families. link:

Rachel Alejandro in an 'unromantic comedy for imperfect lovers and dreamers'

Rachel Alejandro in an 'unromantic comedy for imperfect lovers and dreamers'
Aug. 6, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Rachel Alejandro
Upstart Productions' "Love/Sick," a show with nine short plays written by John Cariani that explore romantic relationships from first meeting and dating to disillusionment and divorce, opens this weekend at the Mind Museum Auditorium in Bonifacio Global City and runs until Aug. 20.

Artistic director Joel Trinidad directs, helming a cast that performs double or triple roles each to thresh out 18 different characters. Among them is Rachel Alejandro, who has been friends with Trinidad since they were cast together in Musical Theater Philippines' "Alikabok" in the mid-'90s.

"But it wasn't until we did 'Avenue Q' (for Atlantis Productions, now Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group) that we became close," says Alejandro.

"We've been talking about doing more shows together and possibly producing them ourselves for quite some time. 'Love/Sick' is the result."

Strange and surreal
It's serendipity that Trinidad chose to mount this play, since it's billed as "a darker cousin" to Cariani's earlier play "Almost, Maine," which was staged early this year by Repertory Philippines.

In a YouTube video of Trinidad's meeting with Cariani in New York earlier this year, the playwright jokes that "Love is a serious mental disease, remember that when you watch 'Love/Sick.'"

In previous interviews, Cariani acknowledged that his work has been described as an "unromantic comedy for imperfect lovers and dreamers."

"It's set in an alternate. reality. You'll meet people. who may believe in love but they're terrified it won't last. You'll meet people diagnosed with obsessive-impulsive (sic) disorder, a woman who has cold feet on her wedding day, a couple who are so busy they forgot to have a baby, and a bunch of others.

"[The play] should feel like a realistic and naturalistic play, until it's not. Everything is strange and surreal and absolutely not normal."

Despite the quirky description, Alejandro says she was struck by the play's "sincerity and raw emotional power and its unexpectedly light comedic touch. It's rare enough for something to be so real and true, but, somehow, this show is funny as well!"

Alejandro played the Witch in Upstart's production of "Into the Woods" last year. Joining her in the "Love/Sick" cast are Teenee Chan, Mica Pineda, Nicky Triviño, Noel Rayos, Bibo Reyes, Onyl Torres and Trinidad.

"It's a mini-reunion for us because Joel, Teenee, Bibo and Noel were all my cast mates in 'Avenue Q,' and the rest were my cast mates in 'Into the Woods.'"

While Alejandro has been in numerous musicals, this is only her second play. "The first one I did was in the early 2000s. It's really a challenge because there is so much more to memorize. I find singing and dancing a lot easier because those are what I have been doing in the past."

Even more challenging, she's tasked to play three different characters. "What I have to find is how to make the three roles distinct and still be true to my objective in each story."

In addition to acting duties, she's also coproducing the run. "Audiences are going to be surprised and delighted by the show," says Alejandro. "I know I was."

Upstart Productions' previous productions include "SOS: Showcase of Original Shorts," "Forbidden Broadway" and "Much Ado About Nothing."

Set and costume design by Clarisse Co; lighting design by Daniel Cortezano.

"Love/Sick" runs Aug. 5 to 20 at Mind Museum Auditorium, Mind Museum, 3rd Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Contact 0917-8116516 or Visit or link: