Joel Trinidad on ‘Breakups’ musical, stepping out of famous dad’s shadow | Inquirer Entertainment

Joel Trinidad on ‘Breakups’ musical, stepping out of famous dad’s shadow

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:20 AM March 26, 2023
Cast of “Breakups & Breakdowns” (clockwise, from top left): Sarah Facuri, TanyaManalang, Nelsito Gomez, Joel Trinidad, NIcky Triviño, Reb Atadero and Rachel

Cast of “Breakups & Breakdowns” (clockwise, from top left): Sarah Facuri, Tanya Manalang, Nelsito Gomez, Joel Trinidad, NIcky Triviño, Reb Atadero and Rachel Coates —PHOTO BY JAYPEE MARISTAZA

Actor-producer Joel Trinidad may have thoroughly enjoyed staging “Company,” “Spamalot” and other Broadway-originated musicals for Philippine theatergoers to savor. But the seasoned multihyphenate explained to Inquirer Entertainment why he also felt the need for his theater group, Upstart Productions, to produce more original works.

Joel is codirecting (with Nicky Triviño) an updated version of Upstart’s musical debut, “Breakups & Breakdowns,” which begins its run on April 15 at the Creative Arts Centre of British School Manila at BGC in Taguig on April 15 (call 0917 811-6156 or e-mail


“I strongly feel that the local theater industry needs to produce more original works; otherwise, it runs the risk of stagnating,” said Joel when asked about the brave decision to “restart” Upstart with original material after the lengthy pandemic lull.

He further explained, “While there’s certainly a lot more original material out there now than, say, a decade ago, ‘unknown’ shows remain a big risk for producers, because they don’t have the same kind of draw as shows from, say, Broadway or the West End.


“And although I’ve created several original musicals and plays, only a few of them have ever been produced—even by my own company! But at the height of the pandemic, I figured that after such a long period of isolation, audiences might be more willing to take a chance on something unknown, just to experience live theater again.

“The musical stars Reb Atadero, Tanya Manalang, Nelsito Gomez and Nicky Triviño as the principal characters, with Rachel Coates, Sarah Facuri and myself playing various supporting characters.”

Big, bold choice, indeed. But having worked with Joel in a string of very diverse projects, I wouldn’t say that this comes as a surprise.

Nostalgia inducing

In fact, I can’t look at Joel’s body of work without getting thrust into fleeting moments of alternately heartwarming or amusing nostalgia. After all, Joel was already playing the lead actor when I ventured into my first foray into theater in 1995 via the Ryan Cayabyab musical “Alikabok,” directed by Leo Rialp.

Thereafter, I worked with him in a string of plays and musicals that deftly demonstrated his range and versatility. In 2002, we portrayed principal characters in a New Voice production of William Finn and James Lapine’s sung-through production, “Falsettos The Musical.”

Then, I directed Joel in Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret,” starring Monique Wilson in her award-winning, out-of-the-box portrayal of Sally Bowles.

Years later, a play that I wrote and directed found itself in a pretty pickle when it lost one of the lead actors less than two weeks before opening night! But Joel graciously stepped in and agreed to take over the role right there and then, sight unseen.


Theatrical evolution

Having said that, it’s always been a joy to see Joel “nitpick” on the characters he brings to life because the situation becomes part of the learning process—as much for him as it is for his coactors in the production.

So, I was only too happy for Joel when he decided to spread his artistic wings and began writing, producing and directing shows for his Upstart theater company. But I’m digressing.

“Breakups & Breakdowns” premiered more than a decade ago. What compelled Joel to revisit the musical with an updated version?

“In 2019, my creative partner Nicky [Triviño] and I were heading the community-based theater company called the BGC Passion Collective,” he answered. “We needed a contemporary musical comedy, and ‘Breakups” fit the bill … except it was a four-hander.

“The company had about 20 members, and almost all of them wanted to be in the show! So, with Nicky’s expert dramaturgy to guide me, I expanded the material to include new characters and deepen the old ones, which inevitably led to new scenes and songs. Luckily, the show’s original cocreator Rony Fortich was available not only to compose the new songs, but also to act as musical director for the piece.

“Nicky and I kept working on the material through the years—especially at the height of the pandemic—and we feel that this present version, with seven actors playing more than a dozen characters in total, is the definitive one.”

In the Q&A below, I also asked Joel to share with Inquirer readers helpful advice he has gotten from his famous dad, Noel Trinidad, recently seen in the blockbuster Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) entry, “Family Matters”—a movie that we feel should have won acting awards for its exceptional cast.

dad Noel

4-yearold Joel (left) with dad Noel Trinidad

Our Q&A with Joel:

Are the scenes in the play based on your own dating experiences?

While not autobiographical as such, much of “Breakups & Breakdowns” is based on my own experiences in the dating world. I wrote the first draft in 2001 or so, at what I suppose was the height of my dating life, and hired the extremely talented Rony Fortich to compose the music.

A few years later I presented some show excerpts in one of the small CCP venues to a group of possible producers and investors, all of whom I fully expected to start lavishly flinging money at me as soon as they saw what I had created.

When that didn’t happen—what a shock—I realized that even though I got a lot of positive feedback, no one would ever care as much about this material as I did. So I decided to produce it myself; and thus, in 2010, Upstart was born.

What do you want viewers to take away from the musical?

As with everything I write, direct and produce, I just want to make an audience feel happy for a few hours. I want them to laugh and cry (but mostly laugh); I want them to get “kilig”; I want them to see themselves in the characters; I want them to hum the songs as they leave the theater.

I don’t do angst, I don’t do issues, I don’t do “depressing.” Those things have their place, of course, but let’s face it: Sometimes, life can be depressing enough.

Which is more fun and satisfying to produce…a popular Broadway production or an all-original?

There’s a thrill in taking a decades-old show that everyone knows and finding something new to say about it. But there’s an even bigger thrill in watching something onstage that you literally willed into existence.

When you hear an audience laugh or gasp or applaud something that once only existed in your mind, there’s absolutely no feeling like it. Let’s not talk about how it feels when a joke you wrote falls flat (laughs).

If you could stage any production you want, which three plays or musicals would make the cut?

So many of my favorite shows from abroad have already been produced here. And since I want to focus on original works, why not start with some of my own? After all, if I’m going to dream, why not dream big?

Here are my top choices:

1) “After Ever After” (story by Nicky, book and lyrics by me, music by Jon Vera Perez), a Cinderella story in which she inadvertently undoes the magic of her first wish and finds herself in a reality where she has never met the prince and her stepsister is engaged to him;

2) “My Suite Princess” (book and lyrics by me, music by Rony), an old-fashioned diamond heist caper in which a chambermaid pretends to be a princess and a photographer pretends to be a hotel manager; and

3) “Attack of the Shakespeare Fairy” (book and lyrics by me, music by Nyoy Volante), in which some high school students unleash a magical being to help them with their Shakespeare homework—with disastrous results.

Which musicals/plays you’ve acted in bring you the fondest memories?

“Avenue Q” remains the most fun I have ever had onstage. The show is hilarious, but it’s at least 10 times more fun to be in it than to watch it. Then, there’s “Defending the Caveman,” my first and only solo show so far. It’s essentially a 38-page (single-spaced!) monologue, and remains the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced onstage.

I also have to add to the list the first incarnation of “Breakups & Breakdowns,” which I wrote, acted in, directed, produced, marketed, found sponsors and show buyers for, and sold tickets to— despite never having done half of those things before!

Your dad, Noel Trinidad, is one of Philippine show biz’s most respected actors. Which advice of his has helped you navigate the theater/entertainment scene as an actor, director and producer?

When I first thought of being an actor, my Dad said he would help me… by not helping me. He could have very easily pulled strings, or put in a good word for me, or introduced me to people in the industry.

But he believed that it was important for me to pursue this career on my own, without his help. That way, whatever success I eventually achieved, he said, I would have achieved on my own merits and not as “Noel Trinidad’s son.”

As a teenager, I wasn’t thrilled by this idea. But I now realize it’s the best thing he could’ve done for me. It’s one reason, among countless others, that he is—and will always be—the most influential person in my life.

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