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Filipino wave hits Chicago theater shores

Van Ferro
Van Ferro

The 2024 BroadwayWorld Chicago Award features 23 nominations from Filipino-American theater artists.

Chicago, IL – 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 forging a path for us to work and be respected as theater professionals that now I encounter many Pinoys on and off the stage working in various roles. It is nice to see 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.

Ginger Leopoldo
Ginger Leopoldo

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.

Eugene Dizon
Eugene Dizon

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.”

2023 BroadwayWorld Chicago Award

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: https://www.broadwayworld.com/chicago/voteregion.cfm.

Best Play
Daryo’s All-American Diner (CIRCA Pintig)

Best Musical
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical (Mercury Theater Chicago)
Rock of Ages (Mercury Theater Chicago)

Best New Play/Musical
Daryo’s All-American Diner (CIRCA Pintig)

Best Ensemble
Daryo’s All-American Diner (CIRCA Pintig)
Clue (Mercury Theater Chicago)

Best Performer in a Play
Heather Jencks, Daryo’s All-American Diner (CIRCA Pintig)

Best Performer in a Musical
Courtney San Pedro, The Addams Family (Metropolis PAC)
Courtney San Pedro, Disney’s Newsies (Summer Place Theatre)
Courtney San Pedro, Rent (Theater 131)

Best Supporting Performer in a Play
Van Ferro, A Murder in the Court of Xanadu (A Theater in the Dark)
Ginger Leopoldo, Daryo’s All-American Diner (CIRCA Pintig)
RJ Silva, Daryo’s All-American Diner (CIRCA Pintig)

Best Supporting Performer in a Musical
Courtney San Pedro, Little Women (The Home Creative Co.)

Best Director of a Play
Luis Pascasio, Daryo’s All-American Diner (CIRCA Pintig)

Best Director of a Musical
Jay Espano, Gay Card (Pride Arts)
Mychall Cornejo, In The Heights (Starlight Theatre, Rockford, IL)

Best Music Direction and Orchestra Performance
Eugene Dizon, Avenue Q (Pride Arts)
Eugene Dizon, The Producers (North Shore Center for the Performing Arts)
Daven Taba, Catch Me If You Can (Surging FiIm and Theatrics)
Daven Taba, The Wedding Singer (Surging FiIm and Theatrics)

Best Favorite Local Theater
CIRCA Pintig
Pride Arts

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