Two of the lead players in Spotlight Artist Centre’s hit restaging of “Katy” who got exultant ovations from theater lovers were TV-film stars, Tirso Cruz III and Epy Quizon.
It isn’t easy holding your own while performing with experienced musical-theater talents, but Tirso and Epy did more than that because, instead of regarding themselves as specially privileged leads, they rehearsed as hard and long as everybody else. Despite their relative lack of experience in theater, therefore, they burnished their considerable talents—and shone!
We cast Tirso in the plum yet challenging role of Katy’s strict but loving father, because the choice was unexpected, and thus generated a lot of uncommon artistic excitement.
Truth to tell, some of the country’s best theater actor-singers also auditioned for the part, and would have done well in the key role—but Tirso won out, not just because of his stellar clout, but also due to the “unpredictability factor” that he added to the production. We felt upbeat about our “risky” choice because Tirso has become one of the country’s best TV-film thespians.
How did we know that his well-honed gift would also withstand the intense scrutiny and perhaps higher performing standards of musical theater? The assurance came really early at the auditions, when we asked Tirso our usual question, “How do you work with your director?”
Some actors say, “I listen to his ideas, but I have my own take, so we discuss everything and my performance is a composite or amalgam of our shared ideas.”
When this is the answer, we have to ask further, “Yes, but what if, after all the discussions, you can’t agree—whose decision will hold sway?”
If the answer to that is another qualification or prevarication, we sense that there could be a problem—because, when all is said and done, it’s the director’s unifying focus that should prevail, for the production to emerge as an organic whole.
In Tirso’s case, however, there were absolutely no qualifications. He replied simply, “I obey my director.” —And we knew that we were on the same page!
True enough, when we started rehearsing with Tirso, he was a joy to work with. Our only quibble: He still came across as Tirso Cruz III, the famous actor, playing Tatay.
We shared with him our view that, for a great performance to happen, the famous actor should “disappear” into his role. That is by no means easy to do, but exceptional actors like Laurence Olivier and Meryl Streep are able to pull it off. So, Tirso tried even harder, changed his appearance, voice and cadence, and by our press night performance, his thespic feat was hailed as a “revelation!”
Indeed, in the days to come, his TV-film colleagues and close friends made it a point to watch the musical, so they could savor his singular achievement.
Some famous theater icons even paid Tirso the supreme compliment of saying that the scene in which he bade good-bye to his dearest daughter, played by Isay Alvarez, was the most deeply moving part of the whole show for them.
Tirso feels gratified that his “disappearance” into the idiosyncratic character of Katy’s Tatay has impacted so deeply on viewers. And, with the humility of the true artist that he has become, he insists that it’s a collaborative and shared success.
Best of all, now that he’s savored the artistic satisfaction of doing full justice to an iconic character, he’s eager to do more—and even better!
For his part, Epy Quizon impressed other cast members with his own kind of humility, attending extra dance rehearsals, because he wanted to do justice to his dad’s—Dolphy’s—reputation as a good tap dancer.
Tap is one of the toughest dance styles to learn, but Epy was so committed to his goal to pay glowing tribute to his father that he made time to more than just pass muster in the show’s big tap finale.
Epy was such a committed performer that, aside from his scenes as Dolphy, which delighted theatergoers, he came up with different characters in the course of the musical, and thus underscored his versatility.
But, it was his comedy song and dance number with the sassy stripper played by Sheng Belmonte that amazed viewers and brought the house down.
By working so hard and creatively, some viewers marveled, Epy succeeded in making his much-loved father “live again!”
With Epy, our directorial inputs involved assuaging some of his apprehensions, and giving the musical-theater newcomer a clarifying context about performing before a live audience.
We also pointed out to him that, while he was the spitting image of his dad, Dolphy was a softer and more gentle performer in the way that he used his body, and thus had a fey and more gamin impact on TV-film audiences—and Epy dutifully made the physical and psychological adjustments required.
Now that they’ve both savored the pleasure of being warmly welcomed and embraced by theatergoers to the wonderful but challenging world of musical theater, we hope that Tirso and Epy will grace other productions in the near future.
One “revelatory” portrayal deserves another. —Encore!