By Melissa Reanne De la Cruz
His story of success on Broadway and unparalleled achievement will continue to be an inspiration for the younger generation.
New York City — I was often told in many of my workshops at school that what matters is the output and not the battle to get there. It is the numbers and the outcomes that sell in today’s world. This is what people want to see in your resumes. As a Filipino, however, the story is not just as straight forward as it is for the rest of the world. The arduous task of having to change careers and find greener pastures where none exists is a gamble that just a handful of courageous souls are willing to take every year.
I often find myself in awe of people whose journey is as exciting as the destination that they have reached. Meeting and conversing with Jhett Tolentino, Filipino Tony-award winning Broadway producer has been one of the highlights in my short time here in New York.
Jhett shared the story of his arrival to the United States to the Fil-Am Press Club of New York on September 22, 2015, at the Philippine Center in Manhattan. He had arrived in the country in January 2004 with an accounting degree and his black leather jacket. As an escape from his 9-5 job, first in real estate and second with the Jewish community, he would watch Broadway shows.
An accountant by profession, Jhett would nitpick on the production as a way to measure its value for himself, a frugal theater-goer, wanting to save both time and cash. He started a blog to document the various shows that he attended with the help of post-show debriefings with his friends. Written to appeal to the masses of theater-goers looking for the best deals in town, his blog and comments were unknowingly picked up by various news outlets and published in the greater New York area.
Jhett, together with his partner Joan Raffe, opened their production company Joan Jhett Productions in 2012. They have since produced 16 shows together, invested in 18 other theatrical productions and are present internationally with Here Lies Love, a biopic of the journey and rise of former First Lady, Imelda Marcos. Their production A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder helped the company win 4 Tony Awards in 2014.
Jhett credits watching Miss Saigon in 2000 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines for sparking his interest in theater. Coupled with his keen sense of detail and passion for theater, he continues to expand the limits of what can be done by Filipinos in the performing arts. The Philippines is home to a many set of social backgrounds but his story of success on Broadway and unparalleled achievement will continue to be an inspiration for the younger generation. It is a reminder that we, too, can succeed in whatever we put our minds into doing. Passion, hard work and commitment – these are just a few of the lessons I got out of that short time with Jhett Tolentino.
With new movies like Heneral Luna coming out of the box office, there is a growing sense of commitment to bring back the performing arts scene in the Philippines as a way of restoring a greater sense of nationhood among the younger generation. The future of Philippines performing arts, cinema and theater are in good hands especially with people like Jhett, who is living proof that you can be anything and anyone you want to be.
About the writer: Melissa Reanne dela Cruz is a student at the New School of New York taking up Master’s in International Studies. She is an intern at the OSM! online magazine.