Reconnecting with my theater roots

I am sorry to have missed the biggest gathering of who’s who in town for the 89th birthday of the Yanson matriarch, Tita Love, but the photos taken by good friend, Ronnie Baldonado, made up for the splendor of what I failed to enjoy in person.

It is not my fault but that of Philippine Airlines that cancelled our flight from Los Angeles to Manila last January 20. I got rebooked to fly out two days later and missed the festivities here, not to mention, bonding with former theater colleagues who came to perform for Tita Love’s birthday bash.

Dinner at Gina’s Seafood restaurant with National Artist Ryan Cayabyab, wife Emy and the RCS singers and production assistants.*

Nevertheless, it wasn’t all bad as my flight cancellation allowed me to attend my sister’s surprise wedding in LA and dabble in helping direct the show of comedienne AiAi delas Alas and former husband and dear, dear friend, balladeer Miguel Vera.

Gina Octavio of Gina’s Seafood with Ryan and Emy Cayabyab after a sumptuous dinner.*

I finally arrived home on the 24th and despite the jetlag, I shrugged off the drowsiness from close to 20 hours of travel by downing two cups of coffee upon getting home so I could bring National Artist Ryan Cayabyab and wife, Emy, with fellow Tanghalang Pilipino actors, Andrew Cruz and Rene Manlulu and the RCS group – Katherine Tiuseco, Anthony Castillo, Celine Beatrice Fabie, Poppert Bernadas, VJ Caber, Nica Tupas, and Myran Etorsa for dinner at Gina’s Seafoods. They were in town for Tita Love’s birthday celebration.

The cast of “Ang Dating Kami” (ADK) top-billed by AiAi Delas Alas and Miguel Vera in a sold-out gala performance in LA last weekend.*

Dinner at Gina’s was a special request of Mr. C who happened to eat there last year when he did a workshop at the Negros Museum with Joel Navarro. Fortunately, Gina Octavio who owns the place is my batch mate in Negros Occidental High School and I’m glad that she took my request to book a table for 12 because by the time we were done with the sumptuous dinner, the place was packed to the brim on a weekday at that. Kudos Gina!

AiAi and Miguel’s children (l-r) Nicolo and Sophia, me and Miguel’s son, Miggy Boy, jamming in between performances.*

I had the privilege of working with Mr. C and Emy when we staged his musical El Filibusterismo in the early 90’s at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and much later, toured it in Japan. Ironically, El Fili came before the staging of Noli Me Tangere that was a couple of years after the first of Ryan’s trilogy of Rizal’s work was made, the last of which was Illustrado.

The Teatro Pilipino USA family flank AiAi and Miguel after the show.*

I also had the opportunity of stage managing and directing the restaging of Noli Me Tangere in California in 2015 and 2016 under Teatro Pilipino USA which we formed with Miguel Vera, his wife Priscilla Salud, Bernie Kimmerle, and other former theater actors from the Philippines that migrated to the US.

ADK Director Jack Campano, Miguel Vera and my sister, Nenen.*

It was also TP USA that staged the AiAi and Miguel sold-out show entitled “Ang Dating Kami,” just last weekend in Los Angeles under the directorial debut of Jack Campano whom I worked with in the US staging of Noli along with my sister, Nenen, who was the musical director then.

My niece, Misha, sister, Mary Anne, and me as we await the filing of the marriage certificate outside the Norwalk City Hall in California.*

It was all about the story of AiAi and Miguel who were formerly married but parted ways eventually. Yet despite the travails and their individual successes, both found time to forgive each other and help build their respective families alongside one another. Their children, Nicolo and Sophie were there as well as Miguel’s son, Miggy Boy. Miguel’s children were part of the Noli musical in the US and they were like our children as well.

ADK performers and crew during rehearsals.*
Acting as witnesses to the marriage were Mary Anne and Francis Gonzales, longtime family friends.*

As his former director perhaps, Jack who was the show’s director, performer, seamstress all rolled into one, asked me to help out and I took that chance to dabble in theater work again, from helping block the performers, to the lighting design and even trying my hand on actual spotlighting work.

It was a fruitful experience and the best part was it brought laughter and tears all throughout the rehearsals to the performances as the actors gave it their all even amidst wardrobe malfunctions.

AiAi was definitely a professional and while I am not a fan then, I am definitely a fan now. Miguel is of course the ultimate balladeer who can croon his way into your heart, even while under the weather as he was sick during the two performances.

My family with our new brother-in-law, Bern Lepe outside the Habit Burger Grill in Norwalk, California.*

In between rehearsals, we rushed to Norwalk City Hall where my sister, Nenen, wed her boyfriend of 16 years, Bern Lepe, in a simple ceremony. Nenen did not tell me about the wedding because she knew I was going home on the 20th but when the flight was cancelled, we made plans to fetch our niece, Misha, who is now based in Southern California and together with another sister, Mary Anne, and boyfriend, Francis Gonzales, we celebrated their wedding with a spontaneous intimate lunch of hamburgers and fries at the Habit Grill nearby.

It’s not your usual wedding reception with the rings on top of burgers and fries.*

All in all, PAL’s cancellation was a blessing as we were there to be with Nenen on her wedding day and to share an evening with our US Noli Family.*

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