Jose Llana sizzles as the former president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, in the Off-Broadway production of David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s smash hit musical, Here Lies Love at The Public Theater’s LuEsther Hall (425 Lafayette Street, New York City).
Ben Brantley of the New York Times writes, “Take special note of Mr. Llana’s chillingly seductive relationship with the television camera in his big opening number as Marcos.”
In this dark political tale of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos with a disco spin, Llana’s clear, beautiful tenor haunts his performance, seducing the audience as Marcos once seduced the people of the Philippines.
Under the direction of Alex Timbers, Here Lies Love played a critically raved-about, sold-out run last year at the same space, which was extended by popular demand four times.
This commercial run, which also features fellow rock stars Jaygee Macapugay as Imelda Marcos, Conrad Ricamora as Ninoy Aquino, and Melody Butiu as Estrella, is produced by Joey Parnes Productions and EMURSIVE (Jonathan Hochwald, Arthur Karpati, and Randy Weiner, principals), and will play its final performance on January 4, 2015.
Here Lies Love features, in alphabetical order: Renee Albulario, Aaron J. Albano, Carol Angeli, Billy Bustamante, Melody Butiu, Natalie Cortez, Debralee Daco, Kristian Espiritu, Rob Laqui, Jose Llana, Jaygee Macapugay, Jeigh Madjus, Diane Phelan, Conrad Ricamora, Enrico Rodriguez, Janelle Velasquez, and Tobias Wong.
On March 12, 2014, Llana will make his Lincoln Center “American Songbook” debut in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, 165 West 65th Street, Rose Building, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10023. Showtime: 8:00 pm. Call CenterCharge at 212.721.6500 (10:00 am–9:00 pm) for ticket availability.
I’ve known Jose since 2002, when he was starring as Ta opposite Lea Salonga in David Henry Hwang’s revisal of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, but as Ferdinand Marcos in Here Lies Love, he commands the stage, and is at his most charismatic. It’s no wonder that he received a 2014 Lucille Lortel Award Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical for the role.
In the midst of his crazy schedule with Here Lies Love, he found time for an interview via email, where he talks about his path to Here Lies Love, David Byrne, family, favorite projects, influences, making his American Songbook Debut, and Stephen Sondheim.
Making His Broadway Debut at 19
Llana was born in Manila and raised in suburban Virginia. At nineteen, Llana was in his freshman year as a classical voice major at the Manhattan School of Music, when he made his Broadway debut as Lun Tha, opposite Joohee Choi’s Tuptim in the 1996 revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I, starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Donna Murphy.
No Stranger to Nontraditional Casting
His next two roles on Broadway were Angel in Rent, directed by Michael Greif; which was followed by the acclaimed Motown musical Street Corner Symphony (1997), where he originated the role of Jessie-Lee.
In 1997, director George C. Wolfe cast him as the lead role of Gabey in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of On the Town at the Delacorte Theater, and the following year Llana performed in Adam Guettel’s Saturn Returns, directed by Tina Landau, at The Public Theater. In 1999, Llana played Guillaume in Cameron Mackintosh’s Martin Guerre at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, and on a national tour to Detroit, Washington DC, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
Llana received a Joseph Jefferson Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal as Tin Man in Ballad of Little Jo, directed by Tina Landau (2000), in Chicago at The Steppenwolf; and a Barrymore Award nomination for Best Actor for the title role in Candide (2001) at The Prince Theater in Philadelphia.
In 2005, Llana created the role of Chip Tolentino in William Finn’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, directed by James Lapine, first at the Second Stage Theater, then on Broadway, and finished off with a sold-out smash hit run in Los Angeles. The show was nominated for both Tony® and Drama Desk Awards for Best Musical and won both Tony® and Drama Desk Awards for Best Book. As part of the cast, Jose Llana was a recipient of the 2005 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance.
In 2010, Llana starred as Adam in the Off-Broadway production of Falling For Eve, directed by Larry Raben at The York Theatre. In 2011, Llana returned to Broadway as El Gato in Frank Wildhorn’s new musical Wonderland, directed by Gregory Boyd at the Marquis Theater. Llana began his turn as President Ferdinand Marcos in David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim’s Here Lies Love at the Williamstown Theatre Festival prior to its World Premiere at The Public Theater in Spring 2013; and finished out the year as Bill Sikes in Oliver! at Paper Mill Playhouse.
Ben Brantley of the New York Times writes, “Nancy’s brutal lover, Bill Sikes, is menacingly embodied by a surly Jose Llana, who practically breathes fire in his voice and believably injects a much-needed sense of danger to the proceedings.”
Lia: What was your path to Here Lies Love?
Jose: I first heard of Here Lies Love in 2011 just after Wonderland closed on Broadway. I knew it was written by David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim and I was intrigued by how they would tell the Filipino story. Once I heard Alex Timbers, Oskar Eustis and The Public Theater were involved in a workshop, I knew I wanted in. I actively pursued the audition and was cast as Marcos for that first workshop in June 2011. That workshop focused on the first 8 songs or first 1/3 of the show, what we’ve called “Act 1”. We did it in the small black box theater of NYU and it was thrilling to put the songs to Annie-B Parson’s choreography and adding the lights and projection elements.
Lia: How has Here Lies Love and your portrayal evolved to now?
Jose: The biggest shift during the workshops, Mass MoCA and Public Theater productions has been the show’s focus around Imelda. The concept album was primarily a duet between Imelda and Estrella with Marcos and Aquino making mostly cameo appearances at best. As the workshops progressed it was clear that the story and audience both wanted more of the male characters around Imelda, and David and Alex went to work at beefing up both characters in terms of songs and stage time. For Conrad and me, it was great to feel like David and Alex wanted more of our characters in the show.
Lia:What has it been like to work with David Byrne?
Jose: It’s been one of the coolest experiences of my career. I mean, how many people can say they’ve worked with a real rock star? But beyond that, David has been truly one of the kindest, most generous composers I’ve ever worked with. He’s completely without ego and makes everyone in the room so comfortable and collaborative. He even made the cast ginger tea when he heard we were vocally under and tired at Mass MoCA. He said it was what he drank on tour when he was vocally tired. You know, on his rock star tours. 😉
Lia: How did your parents react after seeing Here Lies Love?
Jose: Pride and sadness. Pride that their son was telling a dark but very important part of Filipino history and sadness that the Filipino government hasn’t gone as far as it could’ve in the decades since martial law ended. Mistakes are being repeated and history forgotten.
Lia: What do you hope audiences will take away after seeing Here Lies Love?
Jose: That Filipinos are a fun, proud people who staged one of the most peaceful demonstrations in history to overthrow a selfish, powerful dictator and his delusional wife.
Lia: You made your Broadway debut at nineteen as a freshman at the Manhattan School of Music. What were your professional goals then, and how have they changed given all that you have done since?
Jose: I’d say my shallow goals at 19 were to be rich and famous. After 19 years of working and having the honor of working with some very cool people, my goals have shifted slightly more to the deeper side. Some jobs pay more and some shows circulate your name around faster, but if you’re proud of the work and feel like you are growing and learning from it, than you’re on the right path.
Lia: Who are your role models?
Jose: My immediate role models have always been my parents and my older sister who all taught me the meaning of hard work and allowed me to live the life of an artist. Professionally, there are people I look up to and dictate my taste and opinions about theater. Audra McDonald and Adam Guettel were two artists that definitely shaped my first opinions about what new theater could be when I started working 19 years ago. As an Asian-American I look to people like B.D. Wong, Alvin Ing and the late Kevin Gray who paved the way for Asian-American men in theater.
Lia: What artists have inspired you?
Jose: My short list of artists today, who I also have the honor of calling friends, would be Alex Timbers, Kimberly Grigsby, Michael Friedman, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Gavin Creel, just to name a few. Anything they do, I want to be there to see it.
Lia: What roles or projects have been your favorites and why?
Jose: King & I started it all for me and broke me into the business, so I will always be thankful for that. Adam Guettel’s Saturn Returns at The Public Theater in 1998 was the my first taste of what new theater could sound like, it changed my life. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was the funnest, silliest time I had at work. Here Lies Love connects me more with my Filipino heritage in a way I never knew I needed to until it happened.
Lia: What are you most passionate about?
Jose: Doing good work. My family and partner. Amazing food.
Lia: Are there any directors, producers or writers that you would like to work with next?
Jose: Stephen Sondheim is still at the top of my list. I’ve come close a couple of times and actually spent a week with him last year for a new workshop version of Company. But I’d love to work on an original piece and part with him. Get in line, right?
Lia: In March, you are making your American Songbook debut. Any idea what the program will be?
Jose: The program will be a combination of songs from my career and songs that have inspired me. Kimberly Grigsby, my musical director, and I are shaping the concert now. I promise a fun night of good music and a few stories from my checkered Broadway past.
Lia: Any other projects that you might be working on?
Jose: There’s an independent film that may be happening in early 2015 and I’ve been involved in some workshops of new musicals that may see full productions in 2015 but none that I can talk about yet.
Sunday, December 28 @ 5 PM
Monday, December 29 @ 7 PM
Tuesday, December 30 @ 7 PM
Wednesday, December 31 @ 5 PM & 9:30 PM
Friday, January 2 @ 5 PM & 9:30 PM
Saturday, January 3 @ 5 PM & 9:30 PM
Sunday, January 4 @ 5 PM
Tickets for Here Lies Love range from $99-$139. A limited number of $40 day-of-performance rush tickets will be available at The Public’s Taub Box Office (425 Lafayette Street, NYC) one hour before the start of each performance. Tickets subject to availability, and the offer is good for two tickets per person, cash or credit cards. For more info and tickets to Here Lies Love, please visit http://www.herelieslove.com/.
The New York production will close on January 4, 2015. The show is also currently running at London’s National Theatre through January 8, 2015. A production will open in Sydney in May 2015 as the theatrical center piece of the Vivid Festival.
Llana has appeared on television in HBO’s “Sex and the City” and on film in Hitch, starring Will Smith. He is an advocate for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Broadway Impact for Marriage Equality, and several other charities.
In addition to the cast album recordings for The King and I, Flower Drum Song, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Wonderland, and Here Lies Love, Llana has been a guest artist on half a dozen benefit recordings for Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS. In 2003, Llana flew to the Philippines to fulfill his lifelong dream of performing in his homeland; his debut solo album, Jose (VIVA Philippines label), primarily in Tagalog (Filipino), peaked at number two on the Manila industry charts. The album is available in the U.S. at www.CDbaby.com.
Photos: Late Night at HERE LIES LOVE with Jaygee Macapugay, David Byrne, Jose Llana, Conrad Ricamora, Melody Butiu and More
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Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. She is profiled in Jade Magazine.
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