Sweet Taste of Broadway

Mila Astorga-Garcia
October 16, 2009

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A scene from Sound of Music portion of Taste of Broadway, The Classics.

MARKHAM - It was a shining moment for the Markham Federation of Filipino Canadians (MFFC), when its musical production, “Taste of Broadway, The Classics,” received a standing ovation from the audience of a packed concert hall.

At the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts where the huge musical production was staged last Saturday, Oct. 10, the pride and excitement of the performers, organizers and the volunteers were easily discernible from their big smiles as they acknowledged the finale’s applause.

It was not an easy feat, after all, to create that kind of a show which had a daunting repertoire of major broadway hits, and a huge cast comprised mainly of children and youth belonging to the MFFC Youth Performing Arts Group.

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Producer/Director Karen Tan celebrates successful show with husband Ken.

Karen Tan, the show’s producer and director, had candidly revealed the challenges of the project in the concert souvenir program: kids juggling with meetings, rehearsals and school; adults coping with the project’s time demands amidst career, family and other commitments. And all of these happening through many months of long rehearsals - 10 hours a week — and sleepless nights.

Still and all, it was a success, which Tan attributes to the “interest and dedication shown by the youth and children of the MFFC,” as well as the commitment and dedication of the performers, volunteers, mentors and parents.

To the cast and crew and the MFFC itself, however, it was Tan’s able leadership in the producing and directing such an ambitious project that was decisively responsible for the successful outcome. A much sought after performer herself in major concert productions, Tan preferrred this time to stay behind the scenes, so to speak.

Tan, known for being a perfectionist in directing her shows, was the clear choice to handle this job, having successfully produced the first “Taste of Broadway” some years back. She also had mentored and worked with many of the children and youth at the MFFC’s own centre where her lessons have encouraged and enhanced the musical interest and enthusiasm of not a few young talents in the Filipino-Canadian community.

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From left: Councillor Alex Chiu, Malou de las Alas, Alice Chiu, Ramon Ombao, Ma- Anne Dionisio, Josie de Leon. PHOTOS: HG, MAG

“Taste of Broadway, The Classics,” featured many of these MFFC talents, as well as some of the Filipino-Canadian community’s favourite accomplished musical artists.

There was Emilio Zarris with the powerful voice leading the cast for CATS, which included the MFFC performing talents and the Fiesta Filipina dancers; Candace Santos with the beautiful voice, delivering Oliver favourites in her own refreshing style; Jason Nunez and Vonnie Beltran ably performing both the brisk jazzy numbers and the hauntingly sad melodies crooned by the West Side Story’s ill-fated lovers Tony and Maria; Alvin Alba, the enormously engaging performer who never failed to entertain and amuse his audience with his able lead rendition of the Fiddler on the Roof; Jasmine Ragual with her amazing voice and delightful portrayal of Annie; and Josie de Leon with her splendidly endearing interpretation of the Sound of Music’s Maria. All of these six act segments were enlivened by the musical magic of the MFFC children and youth, who amazed the audience with their vibrant voices and their choreographed dancing grace and agility. Noteworthy was the participation of the MFFC moms who gloriously sang their hearts out as nuns in The Sound of Music, one of the evening’s most applauded numbers.

Behind this great production were the MFFC mainstays - the Board of Directors headed by Chair/President Yolanda Ladines; the Fundraising Committee co-chaired by Alice Chiu and Ramon Ombao; the production team headed by Tan as producer director and Michael Ombao as musical director who doubled as primary keyboard player; the two other musical Ombao siblings, Russel — who, with Tan, Randy Muere and James Abanador (second keyboard) - were co-directors and Michelle, production /stage/manager;the parents and volunteers; the amazingly versatile band of talented musicians that included as well bassist Renato Buzon, drummer Mack Alphonso and guitarist Wayne Alfonso; costume designer Marian Cusi; set and prop designer Edgardo Cusi; video and photo artists Christopheer Chiu and Tyler McKeag; and Make-up experts Kay, WIlma and Joys Santos, and James Marbella. sponsors, donors, and the special patronage role of Alex Chiu, the father figure and perennial supporter of MFFC.

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VONNIE Beltran played Maria in West Side Story portion of Taste of Broadway

Last but certainly not the least was what made the show extra special: the participation of Ma-Anne Dionisio, she of the international musical theatre fame, having played the part of Kim in the Canadian Premiere production of Miss Saigon for which she was nominated the Dora Mavor Moore Award for “Best Actress in a Musical.” She went on to play other lead parts in major musical productions, such as Eponine in Les Miserables, Mei-Li in Flower Drum Song — roles which brought her to major theatres in Autralia, Singapore, Korea, Hongkong, the UK, and the US, and right here in Canada’s Stratford Festival where she played Maria in “West Side Story.”

At this musical event, organizers — MFFC and the Alex Chiu Charities — took the opportunity to call for help to assist the victims of the recent typhoons in the Philippines that have caused the death of over 600 people, and rendered so many homeless and bereft of food, medicine and other necessities.

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Members of MFFC Youth Performing Arts Group with Emilio Zarris and parents.

Monies collected in this fundraising will be coursed through Global Medic, an organization that provides relief supplies and equipment including medical programs for disaster victims.

From their group and inidividual feedback, it seemed the audience had indeed relished with gusto the pleasant taste of this broadway extravaganza.

“I’ll be back for your second show tomorrow,” one admiring Canadian told an MFFC organizer on his way out of the theatre.

That was wishful thinking, of course, for “Taste of Broadway, the Classics” was, unfortunately, only for one night.