Monday, January 9, 2017

Broadway’s ‘Aladdin’: One big happy Filipino family

From left, Bobby Pestka, Joshua Dela Cruz and Angelo Soriano being interviewed by The FilAm and Makilala TV’s Jen Furer at the New Amsterdam Theatre. The FilAm photo
Five of the “Aladdin” actors playing at least five distinct roles in this Disney musical are Filipinos. If we are to count Angelo Soriano juggling a dozen male parts, it does feel like an all-Pinoy cast, validating a popular notion that there is, indeed, an ethnic Filipino enclave on Broadway.
The lead role of Aladdin is played by California-born Adam Jacobs whose mother is a nurse from Pangasinan and whose ‘lolo’ was a World War II veteran. He credits his Filipino mother and Jewish father “for their whole-hearted encouragement (for him) to pursue a life in the arts,” according to his official website.
“My grandfather was a Philippine Scout,” he said in an interview with The FilAm and Makilala TV at the New Amsterdam Theatre where ‘Aladdin’ plays eight times a week. “He was granted permission to come to the US.”
Adam was grateful to President Obama for signing the parole program that would grant immigrant visas to families of qualified veterans in support of reunification. “We don’t have any more relatives coming over but that’s great what Obama did,” he said in an interview with this writer and Makilala co-host Jen Furer.
Actors Joshua Dela Cruz, Bobby Pestka, and Angelo Soriano play a variety of parts that have them dancing and singing to the back and front of the stage and sometimes stealing the show. Joshua is with the ensemble cast; he also understudies as Aladdin. In his Showbill bio, he dedicates his role “para sa mga mahal ko sa buhay.” (‘To my loved ones,’ in Tagalog)
He remembers the first time he played the thief who was smitten with the Middle Eastern princess. He had knee surgery a month and a half before. Within two days after returning to the set, he learned he was playing Aladdin.
“It was amazing,” he said, describing the flying carpet moment of Aladdin and Princess Jasmine as “memorable” and “magical.”
“Aladdin” is his Broadway debut, the result of a grueling audition process where he kept learning songs and dance routines, performing them in front of directors, learning more songs and returning for more auditions in front of more members of the production team. At that time, there was no indication that a role was waiting for him, except that, he said, “I knew I was doing well.” Joshua has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Montclair State University in New Jersey.
Philippine-born Bobby Pestka was first cast in the Seattle production of “Aladdin” in 2011. After two years, he moved to New York and joined the cast here.
“We have this sense of family,” he said of his Filipino castmates. “We are all close friends.”
Bobby considers himself a “working actor,” telling the how he supported himself through school. He appeared in one theater production after another and travelled where the roles were. He grew up in Arizona, and graduated at Point Park University in Pittsburgh.
As a swing, Angelo Soriano assumes many different roles (or tracks), including the principals Aladdin and the adorable villain Iago. This highly focused actor has the capability to jump in any of the 12 male tracks at any given time. As one of four male swings, he is officially told of his assignment ahead of time, say, two weeks in advance. But sometimes, he learns his fate just minutes before – when one of the ensemble players suffers an injury and can’t continue to perform.
“It’s live theater. Things happen,” he said.
“I make sure I’m in the right spot on stage,” he added, “make sure all the lines, the songs, the dance moves are in my body, in my head.”
Proud of his ethnic origin, he writes “Mabuhay” on his Showbill bio.
Like some Filipino kids, Don Darryl Rivera was born to perform. Born and raised in Seattle, he would be asked to sing or dance the ‘tinikling’ when he was child invited to family parties. He performed to a bigger audience in college, where he took to acting and dancing hip hop and folk as a member of numerous cultural clubs. He earned a BFA in Theatre at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. With this kind of homegrown training further developed in school, Darryl got accustomed to an audience.
But it felt different when “Aladdin” called.
“My hands went numb on the phone,” he was laughing as he relived the story. “I called my mom right away and then called my wife.”
With his knack for comedic timing, the role of the funny but villainous Iago was just perfect for Darryl. The comedic chops he learned as an acting student of the Italian comedia, he said. The actors would cover their faces and make the audience laugh using only their exposed limbs – their arms or feet.
He is grateful to his parents for encouraging him to immerse himself in his Filipino culture and at the same urging him to remain a typical American boy. “They gave me the best of both worlds.”
Darryl has been a theater professional for 10 years now as actor, playwright and composer and was part of notable theater companies such as The 5th Avenue Theatre, the Seattle Children’s Theatre, and The Shakespeare Theatre Company.
“Aladdin” is a different kind of experience altogether. “There’s tons of Filipinos here!” he said expressing his delight. The family vibe is “incredible” especially the part where they share the same experience growing up in America under Filipina ‘nanays.’
“We get to share stories and share recipes,” he said. —The FilAm

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