Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Jose Llana

Jose Llana and Jaygee Macapugay as Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in HERE LIES LOVE. Photo by Lia Chang

Jose Llana and Jaygee Macapugay as Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in HERE LIES LOVE. Photo by Lia Chang

Photos: David Byrne, Alex Timbers, Jaygee Macapugay, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Adam Guettel, Sarah Saltzberg and More Celebrate Jose Llana’s Lincoln Center American Songbook Debut

Jose Llana’s recent star turn as Marcos in David Byrne & Fat Boy Slim’s Here Lies Love at The Public Theater (dir. Alex Timbers), was his most charismatic and seductive to date, and garnered him a Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.

Jaygee Macapugay, Jeigh Madjus, Enrico Rodriguez, Simon Kafka and Jose Llana. Photo by Lia Chang

Jaygee Macapugay, Jeigh Madjus, Enrico Rodriguez, Simon Kafka and Jose Llana. Photo by Lia Chang

Jose Llana. Photo by Lia Chang

Jose Llana. Photo by Lia Chang

Jose Llana’s Broadway credits include Chip Tolentino in William Finn’s The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee (Drama Desk Award, dir. James Lapine), El Gato in Wonderland, Wang Ta in David Henry Hwang’s adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, Angel in RENT (dir. Michael Greif), Jessie-Lee in Streetcorner Symphony and his debut as Lun Tha in the 1996 Revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King & I opposite Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Phillips. Off-Broadway appearances include Adam in Falling For Eve (York), Gabey in On the Town (dir. George C. Wolfe, Delacorte) and Adam Guettel’s Saturn Returns (dir. Tina Landau, Public Theater). Regional appearances include Bill Sikes in Oliver! (Papermill), Guillaume in Cameron Mackintosh’s Martin Guerre (Guthrie Theater), Tin Man in Ballad of Little Jo (Steppenwolf Theater, dir. Tina Landau, Jefferson Nomination – Best Supporting Actor) and Candide in Candide (Prince Theater, Barrymore Nomination – Best Actor). TV/Film appearances include HBO’s “Sex and the City opposite Margaret Cho and Hitch with Will Smith. Appearing on numerous cast albums Jose is also a best-selling recording artist on the VIVA Philippines label.  Training from Manhattan School of Music. Jose is a constant advocate for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and serves on the Advisory Committee for Broadway Impact for Marriage Equality.  www.josellana.com

Jaygee Macapugay, David Byrne, Jose Llana and Conrad Ricamora of Here Lies Love at the Apple Store Soho in New York on October 25, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Jaygee Macapugay, David Byrne, Jose Llana and Conrad Ricamora of Here Lies Love at the Apple Store Soho in New York on October 25, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Apple Video Podcast: New York Post Writer Michael Riedel Interviews David Byrne, Jaygee Macapugay, Jose Llana and Conrad Ricamora of Here Lies Love

Below are excerpts from my interview with Jose.

Lia: What is your lineup for your Lincoln Center “American Songbook” debut?
Jose: The program will be a celebration of my 19 year career that will include R&H, Adam Guettel, Leonard Bernstein, William Finn and, of course, David Byrne. There will also be a Tagalog song from my Filipino album along with some pop music for fun.

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.

Backstage at HERE LIES LOVE with Jose Llana at The Public Theater's LuEsther Hall in New York on December 31, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Backstage at HERE LIES LOVE with Jose Llana at The Public Theater’s LuEsther Hall in New York on December 31, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

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 was it 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: Your activist, Filipino parents once vehemently opposed the Marcos dictatorship and fled to America to escape it. How has playing Ferdinand Marcos and performing in Here Lies Love changed or impacted your life?
Jose: Playing Marcos has been nothing short of life-changing and life-affirming as a Filipino-American. I never realized how much I took for granted how my parents educated my sister and me about martial law in the Philippines. The truth is not all Filipino-American kids grow up with any knowledge of it, let alone any Americans do. I’m most proud that our show inspires people to go home and Google or Wikipedia the Philippines or martial law and that they learn a little something more about our history and culture than those damn shoes Imelda hoarded with stolen money.

Jose Llana and Jaygee Macapugay as Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in HERE LIES LOVE. Photo by Lia Chang

Jose Llana and Jaygee Macapugay as Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in HERE LIES LOVE. Photo by Lia Chang

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.

Backstage at HERE LIES LOVE with Enrico Rodriguez, Billy Bustamante, Jeigh Madjus, Jose Llana, Conrad Ricamora, Tobias Wong and Aaron J. Albano at The Public Theater's LuEsther Hall in New York on December 31, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Backstage at HERE LIES LOVE with Enrico Rodriguez, Billy Bustamante, Jeigh Madjus, Jose Llana, Conrad Ricamora, Tobias Wong and Aaron J. Albano at The Public Theater’s LuEsther Hall in New York on December 31, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

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.

Jose, his mother, Regina, and his sister Patricia on the beach in 1981. (Photo courtesy of Jose Llana)

Jose, his mother, Regina, and his sister Patricia on the beach in 1981. (Photo courtesy of Jose Llana)

Lea Salonga, Jose Llana and Alvin Ing in rehearsal with David Henry Hwang's revisal of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song at 890 Broadway Studios in New York on September 22, 2002. Photo by Lia Chang

Lea Salonga, Jose Llana and Alvin Ing in rehearsal with David Henry Hwang’s revisal of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song at 890 Broadway Studios in New York on September 22, 2002. Photo by Lia Chang

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.

Jose Llana with his sister Patricia Llana, his partner, Erik Rose at his niece, Veronica's baptism in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Jose Llana)

Jose Llana with his sister Patricia Llana, his partner, Erik Rose at his niece, Veronica’s baptism in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Jose Llana)

Lia: What are you most passionate about?
Jose: Doing good work. My family and partner. Amazing food.

Jose Llana sings “A Perfect Hand” at the Here Lies Love Apple Store Soho Event in New York on October 25, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Jose Llana sings “A Perfect Hand” at the Here Lies Love Apple Store Soho Event in New York on October 25, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

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?

Photos: Celebrating with Jose Llana, Ruthie Ann Miles, Kelli O’Hara and Company after THE KING AND I’s Special Performance for The Actors Fund
Playbill.com: Hugs, Laughs and Photobombs By Tony Winners! Go Backstage at the Special Actors Fund Performance of The King and I
The Actors Fund Special Performance of THE KING AND I starring Jose Llana and Tony winner Kelli O’Hara on September 20
AsAmNews.com: The King and I’s Jose Llana, Ruthie Ann Miles and Betsy Morgan Perform Concert in the Park 
AsAmNews.com: A Chat with Broadway’s New King of Siam, Jose Llana 
AsAmNews.com: Jose Llana and Hoon Lee to play King of Siam in Tony Award-winning THE KING AND I
Q & A with Jose Llana, the new King of Siam in LCT’s Tony Award-Winning Revival of The King and I 
Jose Llana Set for Lincoln Center’s American Songbook Debut on March 12
Up Close and Personal with Jose Llana; HERE LIES LOVE Star Set for Lincoln Center’s American Songbook Debut on March 12, 2015
Photos: Late Night at HERE LIES LOVE with Jaygee Macapugay, David Byrne, Jose Llana, Conrad Ricamora, Melody Butiu and More
Photos: Harriet Harris, John Tartaglia, Christine Toy Johnson, Alan Muraoka, James Saito and More celebrate Ann Harada’s Debut at Lincoln Center in the American Songbook Series
Photos: Maurice Hines, Jonathan Groff, Mercedes Ellington, Charles Randolph-Wright at The Laurie Beechman for André De Shields’ I PUT A SPELL ON YOU
Photos: Tonya Pinkins, André De Shields, S. Epatha Merkerson, Billy Porter and George C. Wolfe at 54 Below
Up Close and Personal with Jose Llana; HERE LIES LOVE Star Set for Lincoln Center’s American Songbook Debut on March 12, 2015
Apple Video Podcast: New York Post Writer Michael Riedel Interviews David Byrne, Jaygee Macapugay, Jose Llana and Conrad Ricamora of Here Lies Love
Six Questions for Melody Butiu, Currently Appearing as Estrella in David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim’s Here Lies Love at The Public
Photos: The 58th Annual Drama Desk Awards and After Party
Photos: André de Shields, Adam Chanler-Berat, Jose Llana, Kevin Mambo, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Kyle Beltran, Kim Brockington and More at The Fortress of Solitude
Photos: Christine Toy Johnson, Baayork Lee, Jose Llana, Ann Harada, Dodie Pettit and More at Charles Randolph-Wright’s “Three Voices” concert series at Stage 72
Lucille Lortel Awards for Here Lies Love, Fun Home, The Open House, Good Person of Szechwan
Jose Llana, Ruthie Ann Miles, Melody Butiu, Conrad Ricamora and More Open in David Byrne- Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love on May 1
Nov. 25: David Byrne and the Cast of The Public Theater’s HERE LIES LOVE including Jose Llana, Ruthie Ann Miles, Conrad Ricamora, Melody Butiu and More to Host Benefit Concert for the Philippines at Terminal 5
Here Lies Love, Starring Jose Llana and Ruthie Ann Miles, Extends at The Public through July 28, 2013
Christine Toy Johnson, Thom Sesma, Ali Ewoldt, Jose Llana, Ann Harada, Telly Leung and More Set for The Asian American Composers and Lyricists Project at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
Jose Llana, Ruthie Ann Miles, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Conrad Ricamora, Kelvin Moon Loh and More Set for World Premiere of David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love at The Public, April 2 – May 19, 2013
NYMF: Prison Dancer starring Jose Llana, Jeigh Madjus, Marc delaCruz, Catherine Ricafort, Moses Villarama, Cosmo Clemens, Enrico Rodriguez, Albert Guerzon, Andrew Eisenman and Nathan Ramos at Theatre at St. Clement’s, July 20-28, 2012
Tony Award Winner Lea Salonga Leads Stellar Cast in First All-Filipino Concert for Philippine Development Foundation, “PhilDev Celebrates Broadway: Suites by Sondheim” at Alice Tully Hall
Alan Ariano, Rona Figueroa, Jose Llana, & Orville Mendoza in Long Season Ayala Foundation USA Gala in SF on 9/25/10:
Photos: Jose Llana, Stephanie Umoh & cast of Falling for Eve
Christine Toy Johnson’s PAPER SON at Queens Theatre in the Park Studio Theatre
Harada, Leung, Llana, Johnson, Takara Sing Once On This Island on May 16 at Theatre at Saint Peter’s
The Making of the Flower Drum Song Cast Album
Flower Drum Song, An American Story

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