A book detailing the histories of Filipino American theater groups and artists is now available. Barangay to Broadway: Filipino American Theater History includes information on Tony Award winners such as Lea Salonga (“Miss Saigon”), Clint Ramos (“Eclipsed”), Lena Hall (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) and Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q,” “Book of Mormon”).
The book profiles groups and individuals that have comprised Filipino American theater across the country from the 1900s to the 2010s. It provides snapshots of the tribulations faced by these artists such as inequities in casting and lack of opportunities due to stereotype roles and pervasive racism, as well as their triumphs such as creating positive and productive changes in the industry and establishing organizations that have faced the odds and continue to thrive.
The ‘barangay’ (pronounced buh-rung-guy) in the book’s title is a Filipino term used to designate districts. “It serves to symbolize the Philippines and the term ‘Broadway’ serves to symbolize the US. Both terms symbolize all the different kinds of Filipino American theater communities listed in the book,” said author Walter Ang.
Ang writes about Filipino American theater for news site Inquirer.net (Philippine Daily Inquirer). The book includes some of his previously published articles, additional research and new interviews with Filipino American theater makers such as directors, playwrights, set and costume designers and actors.
Asian Americans on Broadway
Filipino American actors currently on Broadway include Ali Ewoldt in “The Phantom of the Opera” as Christine and Arielle Jacobs and Don Darryl Rivera in “Disney’s Aladdin” as Jasmine and Iago, respectively. Robert Brill designed the sets of “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” Lea Salonga just finished her stint as Erzulie in “Once on This Island” with costumes designed by Clint Ramos. Robert Lopez composed and wrote songs for “Disney’s Frozen.”
Filipino American actors in touring productions include Jose Llana (King of Siam) and Joan Almedilla (Lady Thiang) both who just finished “The King and I,” Isa Briones (Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds) in “Hamilton,” N’Jameh Camara (Nettie) in “The Color Purple,” Lissa deGuzman (Jasmine) and Jay Paranada (Iago) in “Disney’s Aladdin” and Emily Bautista (Kim) and Christine Bunuan (Gigi) with visiting Filipino actor Red Concepcion (Engineer) in “Miss Saigon.”
“Fun fact: Filipino Americans have been performing on Broadway since the late 1940s. Barbara Luna was in ‘South Pacific’ as Ngana, Neile Adams was in ‘Kismet’ as a Princess of Ababu and Patrick Adiarte was in ‘The King and I’ as Prince Chulalongkorn,” he said.
“And as early as the 1930s, there was already a Filipino American theater group. Baltazar Flor immigrated from the Philippines and founded the Filipino Catholic Club Drama Guild in Seattle and staged plays in English.”
Pioneers and trailblazers
The book includes profiles of Filipino American theater artists who either founded or were early members of the pioneering Asian American theater companies of the 1960s and 1970s such as Northwest Asian American Theatre in Seattle, Asian American Theatre Company in San Francisco, East West Players in Los Angeles, and Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in New York.
It continues with the establishment of trailblazing Filipino American theater companies in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Ma-Yi Theater in New York (which expanded its focus to Asian American works in the late ’90s), CIRCA-Pintig in Chicago, and Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco, and then follows the emerging groups and leaders of the 2000s and 2010s.
The book is an addition to publications that discuss histories of Asian American theater such as Esther Kim Lee’s A History of Asian American Theatre (2006) and Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns’ Puro Arte: Filipinos on the Stages of Empire (2012).
“Hopefully the book will be useful to Asian Americans, whether they be casual theatergoers, passionate theater fans, young or seasoned theater makers seeking information about the paths carved by their fellow artists, or parents and educators on the lookout for resources to increase awareness in younger generations about the rich heritage and artistic work that has been and continues to be created by their fellow Asian Americans,” he said.