Isay, Tirso lead stellar cast of ‘Katy’

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ALVAREZ, CRUZ AND SANTOS. Portray pivotal roles in landmark musical’s anticipated revival.

Early this month, I visited the rehearsals of Spotlight Artists Center’s eagerly anticipated restaging of Ryan Cayabyab and Jose Javier Reyes’ “Katy,” under Nestor Torre’s direction, and was pleasantly surprised at how powerful and entertaining the iconic stage production has remained to this day.

Truth is, the original Filipino musical based on the life of bodabil queen Katy dela Cruz (played by Isay Alvarez) isn’t just another theater production for me—in fact, “Katy” was partly responsible for my decision to pursue a career in the performing arts! So, now more than ever, its enduring tunes (“Minsan Ang Minahal Ay Ako,” “Ang Mundo Ay Entablado,” etc.), which eloquently describe a theater practitioner’s life, hold an even greater resonance!

Touching moments

I didn’t stay long enough to watch the whole rehearsal, but Katy’s touching, tender moments with her doting father (Tirso Cruz III) and her parting scene with her broken husband, Peping (Gian Magdangal), still moved me as they did in the ’80s, when the pivotal roles in the landmark production—also directed by NUT—were portrayed by Mitch Valdes, Marco Sison and Bernardo Bernardo.

For its 12-show run from Jan. 17-27 at the CCP (call 891-9999 or 0922 898-6644), Isay leads a stellar cast that includes Tirso, Gian, Dulce (as fading star Olivia), Aicelle Santos (as Katy, in her teenage and young-adult years), Epy Quizon (as the young Dolphy), Lou Veloso (as a theater impresario), and Tricia Amper-Jimenez, Celine Fabie and CJ Mangahis as Katy’s best friends, Hanna, Patsy Patchochay and Mary Walter, respectively.

Also cast in special roles are Andy Bais, Poppert Bernadas, Sheng Belmonte, Sheenly Gener, Enteng Evangelista, Neomi Gonzales, Astarte Abraham, Jeyvi Castillo, Gimbey dela Cruz, Aaron Ching, Carlon Matobato and China Cojuangco.

Isay is famous for originating the role of Gigi in the pioneering production of “Miss Saigon” at the West End, but she has also played some of local theater’s most popular characters—from Monina (“Magsimula Ka”) to Sita (“Rama Hari”) to Cory Aquino, in “Cory, The Musical.” She beams, “Rehearsing “Katy’ has been such a thrill—and it’ll show in our performances! I enjoy exploring new things about her, because I trust my director completely.

“But, I admit I’m not very pleased about the turnout of sponsorship—or lack of it. I thought sponsors and patrons would be more supportive and welcoming—but, despite ‘Katy’s’ reputation, hindi nila kami pinapansin! That’s why I’m thankful to SM president Annie Garcia, because she agreed to help us promote our Original Filipino Musical! What could be sweeter than having the backing of the country’s biggest department-store chain?”

About a month ago, Isay stumbled into another “challenge”—cancer. She reveals, “I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia after a fainting spell during rehearsals—and I was in and out of the hospital last November.

“But, performing brings me so much joy and happiness—and strength! I went straight to rehearsals after the doctor told me I had cancer. I prayed, ‘Lord, you gave me this, so please allow me to do the role well.’ God works in mysterious ways—and I’m very happy, because I thought I wouldn’t be able to do the play anymore!”

Like Isay, the formidable cast isn’t just tasked to sing and act well—they also had to learn to tap dance, among other terpsichorean requirements! As Hanna, Tricia had to find her loud and “uncouth” side, while 6’1” tall Gian had to shed off more than 15 lbs and three inches of his 36-inch waistline to credibly depict Peping’s physical decline.

Vocal trio

Aicelle is the power alto of La Diva, GMA 7’s show-stopping vocal trio. You can feel her excitement when she talks about winning one of the theater industry’s most coveted roles: “I’ve never acted before, so imagine my surprise when I was cast as the young Katy—I was in daze for a week! And, I’m learning a lot! The first time I read my name on the flyers, I couldn’t contain my excitement, and I said, ‘Artista na talaga ako (laughs)!’”

Dulce and Tirso’s characters are also hotly anticipated, because the portrayals of Celeste Legaspi and Bernardo Bernardo in the original were highly lauded by critics and theatergoers alike. —With Dulce onboard, if you think you’ve got Olivia figured out, think again!

Playing Katy’s loving father is Pip’s big comeback to the legitimate stage: “I’ve been missing the discipline of the theater. I knew that the physical requirement and memory work would be heavier! But, after reading the script, what truly struck a chord was the beautiful relationship my character shares with his stubborn daughter, Tale (Katy’s moniker)—and every loving father can relate to it!”

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