By Marivir Montebon
New York – Filipino actors of Aladdin on Broadway exude an attitude of gratitude as they embrace the opportunity given them to perform their electrifying roles on stage.
Such feeling is shared by Don Darryl Rivera (DDR), who performs Iago, the funny-but-mean sidekick to Jafar, Angelo Soriano, who swings as Omar or Iago understudy or part of the 12-male ensemble as need be, and Heather Makalani, who understudies for Jasmine and likewise part of the female ensemble.
“I am lucky to be on Broadway, and grateful to have the prestige of having a magical job,” said Soriano.
DDR has carved a lovable repute as Iago. With him, the audience gest a double dose of laughter that’s equally necessary as the Genie tickles spectators.
“I thought I’d be doing Shakespeare in my entire life. But I am glad the role of Iago came. Comedy is my go-to. It is fun to be naughty and mean. Also, I love to hear some 1700 laugh together,” DDR said.
The Filipino cast was interviewed in the digital show Issues & Inspiration (produced by the MarieGraceMedia) on January 11, 2021 for its Facebook and YouTube audiences.
Racially diverse Broadway shows make a hit
Beyond that magnificence, the greatest add-on to the actors’ experience is being ‘at home’ in the multicultural cast consciously put together by Disney.
Since 2015, racially diverse Broadway shows have flourished with staggering gross earnings. Hamilton, The Lion King, and Aladdin – all well-written – have remained the top three musicals with a multicultural cast.
Clearly, diversity drew audiences in, which meant huge incomes for the industry. For actors, diversity meant equalizing opportunity, a reputation which Broadway had come much later than Hollywood.
For this, hard-core, magnificent Filipino actors couldn’t be much happier – and secure.
Representation is Important
For Makalani, being part of the theater is an experience of a lifetime. “Theatre is nothing without the audience. We have a relationship with the audience. We wanted to share this electrifying experience with them. And to feel represented on stage is important for me,” she said.
Makalani comes from Guam and her mother is Ilocano. She is a graduate of the Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts, and Aladdin on Broadway is her debut in the Big Apple.
“To represent (my heritage) in the show and be part of the vast array of colors and multitude of culture, so diverse, and ultimately being part of the family in Agrabah is such an honor,” quipped Soriano, who’s born in Manila and lived in the US at the age of nine.
Aladdin is Soriano’s debut performance on Broadway. He was part of the national tour of Flashdance: The Musical.
Soriano had produced and sang a Filipino version of Aladdin’s “A whole new world” alongside Makalani in honor of the Filipino American Heritage celebration in 2021.
A Come-back after the Lockdown
When Aladdin reopened after an 18-month hiatus because of the lockdown, the cast had a great reunion of sorts.
“There was so much joy when we reopened. To have that comeback after the pandemic, I felt lucky,” said DDR.
“It was great to be reunited with my kuyas (big brothers) on stage,” beamed Makalani.
She said that life had been uncertain during the lockdown. “I had no job. I was doing my hustles to survive. I was working in a nail salon when I got a call on my birthday. I couldn’t answer it because I had my nails done. Later, I checked my email. I am cast for Aladdin.
“My heart dropped to my pinky toe when I learned that she was part of the cast. I was so grateful and realized that my worries ended up to nothing. Everything was going to be okay,” she recalled.
Living the Filipino heritage
Originally from Seattle, DDR moved to New York in 2013 to be part of the original cast of Aladdin for show’s opening in 2014.
He admitted feeling some ‘culture shock’ and among the ways to cope with it was to reconnect with Filipino friends and eat Filipino food. “I would call my mother every other week to ask her to teach me how to cook mechado,” he fondly remembered.
DDR said he was grateful for his parents who were supporting his heritage from a young age. “My father founded the Filipino folk dance group in my school. And on Fridays, I would practice folk dance and basketball. I had the best of both worlds.”
For Soriano, meanwhile, living in the Big Apple meant “bringing a little piece of home to New York.” This meant hanging out with Filipino friends and family and going to Hell’s Kitchen for Filipino food.
“We don’t forget that we are Filipinos. It is part of us. It is part of daily living,” he said. # (The cast of Aladdin. Photo by Disney on Broadway)