Looking the part: Filipinos can play anyone on Broadway

UniPro NYC
Filipinos weave through the many different roles on Broadway not just because they have to, but also because they can

NEW YORK CITY – I recently saw Aladdin on Broadway – a dream come true since it’s my favorite Disney movie and I’m a huge fan of Adam Jacobs, who plays Aladdin. As I always do after every show, I was looking through the Playbill on my train ride home and realized something interesting about the show’s casting.

You see, Adam Jacobs is half-Filipino, and amidst the slew of headshots smizing at me from the pages, I noticed at least 4 other sets of eyes that looked like mine and surnames that sounded similar to those of my titos and titas: Rivera, Dela Cruz and Cao.

Welcome to Agrabah. City of mystery, of enchantment…of Filipinos?

This got me thinking back on shows I had seen with Filipino actors playing roles that are non-Filipino or even non-Asian. The first time I saw Les Miserables on stage, it starred 3 Filipinos in lead roles: Adam Jacobs, Ali Ewoldt, and Lea Salonga. I had also seen Jacobs as Simba in The Lion King. Darren Criss was the lead in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Godspell starred Anna Maria Perez de Tagle and George Salazar.

I did some digging around and found other shows with Filipino actors playing lead roles: In The Heights, Rent, Newsies, Bombay Dreams, Wicked, West Side Story, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, just to name a few.

ETHNICALLY AMBIGUOUS. Adam Jacobs, a Filipino-American, has been playing ethnically ambiguous roles on Broadway for several years. Photo from Adam Jacobs' Facebook page.

Filipino actors have obviously been on Broadway for quite some time now, but when seeing them on stage, I saw them as actors. Not Filipino actors. And that is probably how the rest of the world sees them too. While many of these actors are of a mixed background and could easily look like the ethnicity of the characters they’re portraying, there are still a few pure-blooded Filipinos playing these roles. What Filipinos have to their advantage in this arena is the ability to appear ethnically ambiguous.

Broadway isn’t teeming with shows created for an all-Filipino or all-Asian cast, so until then, these actors play other roles (such as those in a Dominican-American success story). These are roles of people who finally made it out of the Heights, a man in the slums of Bombay daydreaming of becoming the next Bollywood sensation, or even a Middle Eastern boy with a magic lamp and a genie. And it’s totally believable.

Because they are a hybrid of different races and ethnicities, Filipinos have certain physical attributes that can either be played up or toned down depending on the role: skin color, hair texture, even eye shape.

One could have a complexion light enough to pass for a young Parisian girl in Les Miserables or have the voluminous curly hair needed to accompany the sequined gowns as one of the Dreamgirls. This versatile appearance is key for an actor. Filipinos weave through the many different roles on Broadway not just because they have to, but also because they can.

There’s also something about a stage production that makes it more acceptable for actors to not perfectly match the parts they’re playing. Perhaps it’s the lack of literalism, which is something you won’t find in cinema.

Everything in a stage production has a sort of temporary feel – the set, the lights, the costumes. Early Shakespearean plays had men starring in all roles – even those of women. And I don’t know about you, but townspeople don’t just randomly burst out into song and choreographed dance numbers (at least not in New York, we have trains to catch)!

It seems, though, that the Broadway landscape is shifting towards non-traditional casting. Thanks to recent productions such as Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom as Romeo and Condola Rashad as Juliet, audiences are seeing mixed casts where the issue of racial differences is not controlled, but celebrated.

To leave you with words from Wlliam Shakespeare: 

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.”

And for Filipino actors, they don’t just get to play many parts, they play all the parts. – Rappler.com

Edwin Raagas is a NYC-based brand and event management professional. This story is republished with some edits and with permission from Pilipino American Unity for Progress, inc. (UniPro).

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.