LOS ANGELES—She was pinched by a show biz legend, almost sank in the Philippines’ famed rice terraces, walked out crying because of her perfectionist mentor’s strict performance standards and laughed uncontrollably while acting with the country’s beloved top comedian. These are just some of the interesting reminiscences that singer-actress Lirio Vital shared with us recently.
It was all thanks to a recent LA show, “The Power Voices,” that we got to reconnect with several US-based Filipino artists, including Lirio. In our subsequent interview, we asked her about the Philippine show biz legends she’d had the honor of working with—from Dolphy, Fernando Poe, Jr., Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos to Patsy and Lopito and Atang de la Rama. Of course, we also asked about her mentor, Armida Siguion-Reyna, whom she fondly calls “Tita Midz,” and whose popular TV musical show, “Aawitan Kita,” she became a part of.
In that recent LA concert, Lirio charmed the audience with her trademark Filipino classic songs. She also showed her maturity as an artist with a nuanced, deeply felt interpretation of an English ballad, “If I Could.”
“I started singing in ‘Aawitan Kita’ as a permanent guest artist from 1972 until the time I got married in 1989,” recalled Lirio. She is now based in Texas, married to Robert Arredondo, Jr., a former senior chief operations specialist in the US Navy. They have two sons, Roland, 23, and Christopher, 20.
Lirio related, “I left Manila in October 1990. I have been in the US for 20 years now.”
You got to work with two late giants, Dolphy and Fernando Poe Jr. What are your outstanding memories of them?
Working with Fernando Poe Jr. (in “Anak ng Araw”) was a dream come true. He was so thoughtful and kind to everyone on the set. I remember being so giddy that I had to pinch myself and ask, “Is this really happening?” I played a young barrio lass. It was also memorable because it was Phillip Salvador’s debut movie, and I was his first love interest.
I guested a couple of times in Tito Dolphy’s hit sitcom, “John en Marsha.” In person, he was gentle, quiet. Pangiti-ngiti lang. But the moment the cameras rolled, it was an entirely different ball game. I played a nurse and he was my patient. We always needed multiple takes because we couldn’t stop laughing. I was also a part of the “John en Marsha” tour in the United States and Canada.
Please share with us your memories of the following Philippine entertainment legends:
Atang de la Rama
I will never forget National Artist Atang de la Rama. I met her a couple of times with Tita Midz when we did the Atang de la Rama TV special in one of the “Aawitan Kita” episodes. She made it a point to visit us during recordings in the ABS-CBN studio. I could tell she was a very meticulous artist; she listened to every note. I was much younger, and very nervous. I was thinking, between her and Tita Midz, wala akong karapatang mawala sa tono.
Atang attended our gala night for “Ang Kiri,” the remake of the three-part zarzuela written by Servando de los Angeles in 1926. She came dressed up in an authentic Filipino outfit.
Patsy and Lopito
I met Tita Patsy and Tito Lopito when I joined the singing contest, “Tawag ng Tanghalan,” at 11 years old. I won second place with my rendition of the standard, “As Long as He Needs Me.” Later, I joined them in personal appearances in town fiestas. Their stand-up routine was very funny. Tita Patsy’s Pampango accent is unforgettable. She was very sweet and motherly. Tito Lopito had that famous bigote and always had a genuine smile for everyone.
Sylvia La Torre
I fondly call her Tita Sylvs. I played her teenage daughter in the top-rated ABS-CBN show, “Oras ng Ligaya.” I love her. She is so sweet, just like my mom. She always helped me with my dialogue because, before the live telecast, our director Leroy Salvador would discuss only the theme of the night’s drama section. Without a script, we all had to come up with our own lines of dialogue. So, little inexperienced me, I tried my best to catch up and be sharp, to know what things to say. Mahirap! I always got a kurot from Tita Sylvs on live TV every time my punchline was off.
Simple lang si Tito Oscar Obligacion. Away from the set, he was so fatherly, too. He played my dad in that show. He always brought his wife Myrna and children to the set, so his kids and I practically grew up together.
Naiiyak ako. Recalling my experiences with these legends makes me so nostalgic. I was afraid of Tita Chichay. She always scolded me after every edition of “Oras ng Ligaya.” She was my lola on TV. I got pingot naman from her. Kasi mali lagi ang punchline ko! I thought she was mean. I realize now that I loved her.
The last time I was with Tita Chichay was when we did a show in Honolulu in the 1980s. I will never forget that former First Lady Imelda Marcos came to the show and asked Tita Chichay and me to ride with her in the limo. Tita Chichay was older by then and nicer to me—I think because I had become a better artist. I miss her!
In the sitcom “Tomodachi,” Tito Panchito played my very strict dad, who violently disapproved of Jimmy Morato’s character, who was courting my character. Tito Panchito was a bit formal and serious, quiet and observant. But when he was onstage with Tito Dolphy, they never failed to bring the house down. It was an honor to have worked with both of them.
Guy, as I’ve always called her, has one of the best voices the Philippine music industry has ever produced, if not the best. Her timbre is unique, and she has a beautiful tone. We became close during our Alpha Records days. Nora has a big heart. I played her cousin in the movie, “Tapat na Pag-ibig.”
It was such an honor to do shows with Guy around the Philippines. She was mobbed everywhere we went. We needed an armored vehicle to get to each venue. In fact, there was a time I got so scared because I was claustrophobic.
One memorable show we did abroad was in New Jersey. While waiting for the show to start, she saw me about to leave and asked, “Sa’n ka pupunta mare?” I said, “Liligid ako, to see the vendors.” She said, “Sama ako.” We started walking. I held her hand tightly, kasi baka mawala siya. Then people saw her—pinagkaguluhan na siya! Parang movie na I lost her! I wondered how hard it was to be a superstar like her, and how she must long for spur-of-the-moment adventures like that one, na gusto niyang mag-shop around with a friend, but she couldn’t.
I was fortunate to do a hit movie with Vilma Santos, “Sweet Sweet Love.” I played her cousin in the movie, with Walter Navarro as her leading man. Vilma was a people person, always smiling. Later, I remember, I bumped into her in a studio, at the time she was making “Darna.” She was in costume. She was so sweet; she said hello.
What memories did performing in “Aawitan Kita sa Amerika” stir in you? How has your mentor, Armida Siguion-Reyna, changed?
“Aawitan Kita sa Amerika” reminded me how much I missed singing our very own traditional music… how much I loved wearing Filipino costumes by Patis Tesoro. It reminded me how comfortable it was to be in my own skin, a Filipino artist.
I miss performing with Tita Midz. I’ll be forever grateful to her, for her selflessness in training me.
How did she become your mentor? What are your best memories of her as mentor and inspiration?
When I was a teenager, I always explored the studios during breaks. I was always running around. Accidentally bumping into Mama Purita, the mother of Tita Midz, on the set of “Aawitan Kita” changed the course of my career. Tita Midz started making me a guest in the show, which started the nerve-wracking recording sessions. Tita Midz, the perfectionist, expected me to know every note of every song. If I didn’t, she would get upset and scold me. Once, she asked, “Do you want to be a singer? Bakit hindi mo makuha ang tamang nota?” I ran out of the studio in tears.
But I thank her with all my heart. I learned to be more disciplined, and committed to my music. On location tapings, she expected everyone to be consistently punctual and prepared. The crew, director, cameramen and artists were up at 5 a.m.
There was one time when Tita Midz was very upset after a duet with Diomedes Maturan. Napatagal ayusin ang tamang lighting for the two of them, kasi Diomeng was maitim. Tita is maputi, so ang tagal na-balance ang ilaw. Nagalit si Tita sa lighting director. Canceled ang scene! One thing I am sure of: Everyone she has worked with loves and respects Tita Midz. She is one of a kind.
What are your best memories of performing on “Aawitan Kita,” the TV show?
Tita Midz personally checked my costumes and let me wear her favorite expensive jewelry. She always reminded me to carry myself like a Pilipinang mahinhin. She taught me how to move my hands, especially if the scene required me to hold a pamaypay.
The most memorable episode was the one we shot in Banaue for two weeks. I wore a native Igorot costume. I was told, “This is going to be a panoramic, one-take-only shot, so do your best. Your lipsync should be perfect.” Al (Quinn) said I should start walking a few seconds into the song to the other end of the rice terraces. Nanay ko po! Action! I started walking while singing and emoting. I started sinking. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. By the time the song finished, I had sunk waist-deep. I started freaking out. Somebody had to carry me out of that deep palayan.
What do you consider the most beautiful Filipino song and why?
“Ang Tangi kong Pag-ibig,” by Constancio de Guzman. For me, that song is a true Filipino classic, from the melody to the lyrics. It brings out the sentiments of a Filipino who has fallen in love.
What are your five most memorable performances ever?
My performances in “Anino ng Araw,” a movie I did with Fernando Poe Jr.; and “Indio,” with Dante Varona, for which I was nominated best supporting actress in the Metro Manila Film Festival. Charito Solis won.
I consider my stage appearances the most memorable part of my singing career—my first solo performance at the Metropolitan Theater in the lead role of the remake of “Ang Kiri,” originally played by Atang de la Rama (she graced our opening night); also “Pilipinas Circa 1907,” a period musical at the Rajah Sulayman Theater in Intramuros with Ric Segreto as my leading man. It was directed by Soxie Topacio. I loved it because it was open-air theater and we had no microphones. We had to project. I learned to act with the audience so close to us.
My first “Balik Saya Tour” in the US, Canada and Europe in 1979. A buena mano because, after that, I lived out of a suitcase. There were times we planed back to Manila for just a few days to reload fresh costumes, and then left again for the next stints abroad.
The release of my very first album, on A&W Records, titled “Lirio.”
“Aawitan Kita sa Amerika,” a 10-city tour. I will never forget this tour. I grew up in this television show. All those years, Tita Midz always talked about bringing the show abroad. In April 2011, when Tita Midz was 80 years old, it finally became a reality. In our very first show in Vancouver, the moment the curtain was raised and the “Aawitan Kita” theme song was played, the audience started crying. I cried, too. It was so memorable!
After you got married, at which point did you miss performing the most?
When we moved to Katy, Texas, in 2004, because my husband retired from the US Navy.
Didn’t performing in the recent “The Power Voices” whet your appetite for performing more often?
Yes. But it was my Canadian five-city tour in May 2013, that truly inspired me. “Aawitan Kita sa Amerika” triggered my desire to sing again. Thank God, the wonderful opportunity came this year. I want to sing and perform for the rest of my life.
Did any of your sons inherit your musical talents?
Yes, my second son Christopher Aaron Arredondo, my bunso. He amazes me! He can sing, play instruments and compose his own music and lyrics.
What has being a realtor made you appreciate about the value of hard work in America?
When we moved to Houston in 2004, I thought of going to a real -estate school. I started work as a realtor in 2005. I was so fired up that I became rookie realtor of the year in 2006.
It’s hard work. You have to sweat for every cent … My show biz experience helped me a lot. I love talking to people.
What are your current projects? What other dreams do you have?
I have been busy since May. Always on a jet plane. Thank God the shows have all been well received.
I still have big dreams for myself and for my family. I dream of relocating to California. I pray that my children Roland and Christopher will fulfill God’s plan for them and be successful. I dream of doing more shows … go back to acting, be it on television or onstage. Lastly, I dream of doing a new album!
(E-mail the columnist at [email protected] Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.)