Filipino Wave Hits Chicago Theater Shores

It started in January 2022, when Filipino-American actor Van Ferro won 2  BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards, the first time an actor in Chicago had 2 acting  BroadwayWorld Chicago awards in the same season. The next year, Ferro and three  other Filipino theater artists, Eugene Dizon, Jay Españo, and Courtney San Pedro  were nominated for Best Music Direction and Orchestra Performance, Best Director  of a Musical and Best Performer in a Musical, respectively, with Ferro winning again; and Dizon and Espano having runner-up finishes.  

This year, a whopping 22 BroadwayWorld Chicago Award nominations have been  garnered by Filipino-American actors working in Chicago theater. 

Six-time Jeff Award-winner (the Chicago theater’s equivalent of the Tony Awards)  Eugene Dizon remembers the time when he was the only Filipino in the room, “Back  in the early 90s when I started my career, I was one of very few Filipinos in our  theater industry. Finally, it is humbling to see after foI encounter many Pinoys on and off  the stage working in various roles. It is nice to srging a path for us to work and  be respected as theater professionals that now ee us across the table and on the  stages of Chicago theater.” He is twice nominated this year for Best Music Direction  and Orchestra Performance and is now the artistic director and producer at Mercury  Theater Chicago. 

In a different part of the Chicago theater-verse was Ginger Leopoldo, now the artistic  director of CIRCA Pintig. Ginger, herself nominated for Best Supporting Performer in  a Play this year, founded CIRCA Pintig with her husband Larry in 1991. It remains as  the only Filipino-American theater company in the American Midwest. CIRCA Pintig is  nominated this year for its production Dario’s All-American Diner in eight categories:  Best Play, Best New Play/Musical, Best Ensemble, as well as acting nominations for  Heather Jencks (Best Performer in a Play), RJ Silva and Leopoldo (Best Supporting  Performer in a Play); and Luis Pascasio (Best Director of a Play). Finally, it is also  nominated for Favorite Local Theatre.

This year’s roll of nominations did not stop with Dizon and Leopoldo’s theater  companies. Van Ferro, for his part, is back to defend his usual category, Best  Supporting Performer in a Play for A Theater in the Dark’s A Murder in the Court of  Xanadu. Another Filipino musician, Daven Taba, representing Surging Film and  Theatrics, is nominated for Best Music Direction and Orchestra Performance for Catch  Me If You Can and The Wedding Singer

In the Best Director of a Musical category, Jay Españo is batting for his second  nomination for Gay Card, which is produced by his theater company, Pride Arts. Jay  ended up as a runner-up last year at the 2023 BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards for  the same category. With him is Rockford-based director Mychall Cornejo, nominated  for Starlight Theatre’s In The Heights

The most striking nominations are the four acting nominations by Courtney San  Pedro, who has three Best Performer in a Musical nominations, as well as a Best  Supporting Performer in a Musical nomination. She has now become the most  nominated actress in a single year in the history of BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards. 

The sudden floodgates of nominations for Filipino-American artists this year at the  BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards had lead the community to call this year as the year  of the Filipino Wave, “It is an exciting time for people of color to be in Chicago  theater. I remember when I was starting out, I was usually the only Filipino in the cast.  I am glad that now, just 10 years later, I’m starting to see Filipino faces on one of the  biggest stages in the world,“ Ferro muses. Ferro also spearheads the Artist Auxiliary  Board of the Chicago Artist Guide, a non-profit which helps promote diversity and  Chicago theater casting. RJ Silva is the vice president of the Board as well. 

In recent decades, Filipino-American actors have made waves in foreign theaters all  over the world. Lea Salonga, being the prime example, was the first Asian actress to  win a Tony Award, the highest award in American theater, as well as the Laurence  Olivier Award, the highest award in British theater, for her role in Cameron  Mackintosh’s Miss Saigon. On the other hand, Eugene Dizon, in Chicago, remains to  be the only Filipino to win Jeff Awards as of date.  

Filipino-American actors have started making big waves a few decades later, with  Rachelle Ann Go being a toast of the West End for Miss Saigon and Hamilton

winning three BroadwayWorld UK Awards, a record number for Filipino-American  actors that Van Ferro, in Chicago, tied last year. Stateside, Eva Noblezada has garnered 2 Tony nominations for Miss Saigon and Hadestown. Other Filipino American theater luminaries, such as Jose Llana, Conrad Ricamora, Paolo Montalbán,  and Jon-Jon Briones have also been steadily working in American theater within the  past 10 years.  

On the Chicago front, Ferro recently joined Actors’ Equity, the actors’ union in the  United States, joining only a handful of Chicago-based Filipino-American theater  actors, such as Jeff Award-nominee Christine Bunuan (who is currently appearing on  the national tour of Hello, Dolly!), Chip Payos, and Mary Ann de la Cruz. “Christine  and I had a very long talk about joining Actors’ Equity, and being that there are more  opportunities available for Filipino actors at this time, I decided to make the leap. I  think the door is now open, and people are finally walking in,” Ferro quips. 

The question of whether the Filipino Wave in Chicago theater can last is an open one.  At this time, Ferro is optimistic, “I don’t like to view this as the crest of the Wave, but  rather just the beginning. I hope when people look back at this time in our history,  they can see that we were here when it all began.” 

Here is a full list of nominations by Filipino-American artists in Chicago theater for the  BroadwayWorld Chicago Awards. Voting ends December 31, 2023. To vote for these  Filipino-American artists, please click on this link:

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