Philippine pride on Broadway: Red Concepcion’s ‘Chicago’ triumph

Joining the cast of Chicago holds personal significance for Concepcion as the first Filipino in the role. Delving into his approach to the character, he expressed a desire to incorporate his Filipino identity into Amos. Inspired by the history of Filipino immigrants in the 1920s, Concepcion aims to mirror their experiences of invisibility and resilience within the narrative.AJPress Photo by Momar G. Visaya

MEET Red Concepcion, a seasoned actor from the Philippines and the newest sensation under the dazzling lights of Broadway’s Great White Way.

In an interview with the Asian Journal, Concepcion talked about his Broadway debut and shared his unique journey and approach to portraying the character of Amos in the musical Chicago.

“It’s surreal, I almost couldn’t believe it,” he told us. “But I am starting to find my groove.”

Red’s first performance was last January 15 and his first rehearsal with the cast was a short ten days earlier.

Recognizing the significance of being the first Filipino to play the role, Concepcion delves into his connection with the character. He draws inspiration from the history of Filipino immigrants in the 1920s, a period when Chicago was set, and emphasizes the importance of bringing his Filipino identity into his performance.

Amos, a mechanic in the show, represents an unseen figure, someone overlooked, and Concepcion wanted to reflect the Filipino immigrant experience through this character.

Exploring the struggles and triumphs of Filipino immigrants during the 1920s, particularly the workers’ strike, he aims to mirror the resilience and strength of the community. Amos becomes a metaphor for breaking free from being unseen and having a voice, reflecting the broader theme of standing against injustice.

Concepcion’s journey intersects with Amos’s story, highlighting the collective experience of Filipinos as immigrants and their tendency to navigate challenges with a resilient and accommodating spirit. His portrayal seeks to challenge stereotypes and celebrate the Filipino identity, showing that even those taught to blend in and avoid rocking the boat can also have a powerful voice and make a stand.

When asked about envisioning Broadway in his earlier years, Concepcion revealed, “I feel like my whole life kind of led up to this. I had been prepared by everything, all my experiences in theater.” Despite his debut status on Broadway, Concepcion is no newcomer to the world of theater, having honed his skills and garnered acclaim in various productions.

Concepcion initially pursued Organization Communications at UP Manila but received a scholarship to study musical theater in Singapore after two years. Despite the scholarship covering only tuition, he started the program but couldn’t finish due to financial constraints.

Returning to the Philippines, Concepcion began working. While performing in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” in Manila, the show extended to Singapore. During his day off, he stumbled upon his old school La Salle College of the Arts’ new building, recalling how he once felt his life was ending for not finishing his studies.

Concepcion’s parents were both musical theater actors in the Philippines, associated with the Metropolitan Chorus before its closure in Manila. Concepcion initially started working as a voice actor at the age of 10, dubbing voices for commercials. His first paycheck, earned from a McDonald’s commercial, went towards buying a Bible.

Although performance and music were inherent in his upbringing, Concepcion’s parents were initially reluctant about him pursuing a career in the performing arts. They were concerned about the challenges, heartaches, and difficulties associated with the profession, having experienced them during their own time as actors. Despite their reservations, Concepcion continued to navigate his path in the performing arts.

In 2017, Concepcion participated in the UK and Ireland tour of Miss Saigon for about a year and a half before being transferred to the United States to open the national tour. However, the pandemic disrupted these plans.

Concepcion was in a transitional phase between agents when he decided to audition for the role in “Chicago.” Despite feeling down and questioning his recent move to New York, he attended an open call for the musical. Initially uncertain about securing a slot, he decided to take the chance. During the audition process, he was asked to sing another song and later received material for a callback. After a work session, he unexpectedly received the news of landing the role just three days before Christmas.

The experience was both a rollercoaster of uncertainty and a joyous surprise for Concepcion.

The whirlwind experience began with quick rehearsals, leading up to his opening night on January 15. Concepcion faced the challenge of mastering his role in just ten days, making every moment a discovery.

“It’s a constant learning, improving, discovering,” he added, emphasizing the excitement and continuous evolution that theater brings.

Having built a robust foundation in the Philippines, Concepcion seamlessly transitioned to Broadway. His extensive experience, spanning over 15 years, prepared him for this moment. From his first professional performance in Singapore and Hong Kong to national tours and collaborations with major theater companies, Concepcion’s journey led him to the pinnacle of Broadway.

In the context of increasing Filipino representation, Concepcion acknowledged the camaraderie among Filipino actors, both on and off Broadway. He cited instances of connecting with fellow Filipino performers in Chicago, and previously in Miss Saigon where he logged more than 800 performances, creating a sense of community and shared identity.

With Chicago being one of the longest-running American musicals, Concepcion recognizes the significance of contributing to its rich history. He aims to make the role of Amos his own, finding new nuances and joy in each performance. The open approach to interpretation encouraged by Chicago’s creative team allows Concepcion to bring his unique perspective to the character.

As for the future, Concepcion remains dedicated to acting as long as the opportunity allows. While contemplating potential paths, he expressed an interest in producing, considering it a logical next step in his career. However, he remains open to the unpredictable nature of life, emphasizing his love for pottery and envisioning a tranquil life surrounded by nature someday. n

Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at [email protected].

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