The Fil-Am Men of Broadway’s Aladdin

The Fil-Am Men of Broadway’s Aladdin

Their Journey to Broadway, holiday feasts and Filipino bonding through food

IT is rare to see a show on Broadway with a Filipino-American cast member, tougher to see a couple, and almost impossible to see three or four. But five cast members sharing the same ethnic background?

Although we’ve seen that happen before – particularly in Asian-centric shows such as “Miss Saigon,” “The King and I,” “Flower Drum Song,” “Allegiance,” and of course, off-Broadway hit “Here Lies Love.”

Aladdin on Broadway, produced by Disney, boasts of a diverse cast of 36 that includes five Fil-Am men, including Adam Jacobs as Aladdin himself, Don Darryl Rivera as the scene-stealing Iago and Joshua de la Cruz, Bobby Pestka and Angelo Soriano who are all members of the company.

The musical, adapted from the Disney film and centuries-old folktales including “One Thousand and One Nights”, is now on its third year on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street. It opened to critical acclaim on March 20, 2014 and quickly established itself as one of the biggest new blockbusters in recent years.

For lead star Adam Jacobs, working with the cast is a hoot and asked to describe the working dynamic with his fellow Fil-Ams, he remarked, “I love working with them, I love them all!”

“They’re fun, great guys. It is so great to be working with all of them. I feel very proud that so many Filipino-Americans are in the show and being represented on the stage,” he added.

Adam has had his wish granted to be playing Aladdin on Broadway.

The actor made his Broadway debut as Marius in “Les Miserables.” He was part of the 2006 cast that also include Ali Ewoldt, Lea Salonga and Rona Figueroa. He also played Simba on “The Lion King.”

“It is a testament to the talent of a lot of Filipino Americans, you know. It’s not just a stereotype that we’re really good singers, we are good story-tellers, too and it is great that we are getting recognized for that,” he explained.

A father of twin boys Jack and Alex, Adam is looking forward to the Christmas holidays.

“We tend to go to my wife’s family. It is going to be crazy this year, my boys are turning three in January and they’re expecting trains and cars and it is going to be crazy just to make sure they don’t pull the tree down,” he said laughing.

For funnyman Don Darryl Rivera, coming to work every day is a blessing he is thankful for, along with the fact that he gets to work with cast members, some of whom are Fil-Ams like him.

“They’re all incredible. What’s awesome is that we all have similar experiences growing up as Filipino-American kids so we get to share those experiences together and we can identify each other in ourselves. We eat out, we’ve been to Lumpia Shack and Maharlika,” Don Darryl shared.

The recent Christmas makes Don Darryl a little sentimental of his Christmases past, particularly those he spent in their old home in Seattle when he was growing up.

You see, he comes from a particularly large family so as a kid, he looked forward to the family gatherings and the presents that came along with them.

“One of my uncles has ten kids so I have many first cousins in the family. We would put the Christmas tree on the corner of our living room and since Christmas is usually in our home, the presents would literally be filling the entire room,” he said. “My sister Daisy and I and our cousins would each get a garbage bag and we would all fill it with our presents. It was always a big celebration back home.”

And what’s a Filipino gathering without food, right? At the Rivera household, there was always lechon, roast beef, pancit, lumpia, queso de bola and salad.

But there is one dish that symbolizes Christmas for Don Darryl.

“Eating champorado, specially with the stick fish. My mom would serve that Christmas morning, with the evaporated milk and sugar. That’s a big trigger for me, along with Filipino hot chocolate,” he said laughing.

Now a family man himself – he and his wife Kate are proud parents to 11-month-old Eloise – Don Darryl plans to retain many of the Christmas traditions he grew up having, along with new ones he hopes to make.

We also had a chance to talk to Joshua, Angelo and Bobby and we discussed their respective journeys and how is it like to live a life of a Broadway actor.

Let’s get to know them one by one.

Joshua de la Cruz

Aladdin is Joshua’s Broadway debut. He was previously seen at the Public Theatre doing Here Lies Love. Prior to that, he did Merrily We Roll Along at the New York City Encores! and The King and I at Kana City Starlight. He has a BFA from Montclair State University.

On making his Broadway debut with Aladdin:

It was Amazing. It is essentially like Zorro for kids and growing up, it is one of my favorite Disney movies of all time. To be able to do this show and make my Broadway debut with this musical is amazing. I also had knee surgery about two months before we opened on Broadway so I missed opening night. I came to the show two days later, did my ensemble check and then a week later with all my music rehearsal, I went on as Aladdin for the entire weekend.

To do my Broadway debut and a week later do the title role, my mind was blown. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to make it happen. Just ripped the band-aid off and have that experience with this family is just amazing.

On having to work with fellow Filipino-Americans:

It’s a huge family backstage and we all love to eat. If ever there’s a gathering, we know that there will always be lots of food.

Fondest memories of Christmases past:

One of my fondest memories is going around and caroling, with my sealed old coffee can with dry rice inside as my shaker. We would sing Ang Pasko ay Sumapit and we would receive all these loose change which we end up spending on snacks. We would celebrate all the way to the new year and having all those firecrackers and being really loud and eating a lot of food.

Family lineage:

Ilocano and Bicolano

What is one Filipino dish that triggers good memories of Christmas for you?

Lechon kawali, pork rib adobo and garlic fried rice

Angelo Soriano (swing, understudy for Omar and Iago)

Aladdin is also Angelo’s Broadway debut. He did the national tour of Flashdance: The Musical and among his Disney credits are Red Car Trolley News Boys (Disneyland AGVA), Christmas Day Parade with Justin Bieber (on ABC) and Debby Ryan and Disney’s Shake it Up!

On making his Broadway debut with Aladdin:

I made my Broadway debut a week and a half after I signed in. As a swing in Aladdin, I am in charge of knowing 14 different roles in the show – 12 male ensemble roles and two understudies. I was learning my first ensemble track on the first week and on the second week, we found out that one of our guys was injured so I had to learn his track in two days and so I went on my Broadway debut last minute, after learning that track in two and a half days.

It was fun, I did it, the rehearsals worked, nine days after I got hired. It was awesome.

On having to work with fellow Filipino-Americans:

We have that camaraderie, we break bread and talk together. It is wonderful.

We also go on little adventures sometimes. A little while ago, a bunch of us Filipinos went downtown to go find a Filipino restaurant – we’ve made that a habit to look for cool Filipino cuisine in Manhattan. We found Lumpia Shack, Jeepney and Maharlika.

I’m a big fan of Grill 21 on East 21st St., it is old school and delicious.

Fondest memories of Christmases past:

When we first immigrated here it was just my sisters, my parents, my lola and my aunt and my cousins. We have our entire family in the Philippines. My parents come from large families and more cousins. Some of them also were able to come here and we had a huge gathering.

I always end up gaining ten pounds during the holiday season because that’s when our families would hang around and there’d be plenty of food.

Family lineage:

Mom was from Leyte, Dad from Manila

What is one Filipino dish that triggers good memories of Christmas for you?

Lechon manok with Mang Tomas

Bobby Pestka (ensemble)

Bobby has appeared on Broadway in The King and I in Lincoln Center’s The King and I, Bombay Dreams and Flower Drum Song. Among his film credits are The Producers and Across the Universe. A graduate of Point Park University, Bobby also did the national tour of Roundabout’s Anything Goes, and The Radio City Christmas Spectacular in NYC.

How did you get involved with the show?

It goes all the way back in 2011 when Disney decided to see if the musical would work. They produced it first in Seattle with the 5th Avenue Theater and did it there for three months. It was mostly in previews and we only had about a week or two to run.

We didn’t know anything else, as far as we knew, it was done. We waited around and at that point, we had to go on with our lives. I went on tour and then later my agent informed me that the show will be done in Toronto. He was also told to hold on since they were auditioning different people.

They called eventually and asked if I wanted to be a part of the Toronto cast and eventually Broadway.

On having to work with fellow Filipino-Americans:

Somehow, some of us have worked together previously and we know how special it is.

Fondest memories of Christmases past:

I grew up as the youngest in the family so it was always my job to decorate the house and the tree. I would gather empty boxes and wrap them so I can place them under the tree.

Family lineage:

Mom was from Cebu

What is one Filipino dish that triggers good memories of Christmas for you?

I go to Woodside in Queens for my Filipino food fix. Ihawan serves great barbecue, lumpia and pancit. All the basics for me.

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