Consider yourself charmed as Pinoys with British accent conquer ‘Oliver!’

The all-Asian cast of 'Oliver!' Photos by Elton Lugay

The all-Asian cast of ‘Oliver!’ Photos by Elton Lugay

By Elton Lugay

Ten Filipino American actors give life to the restaging of “Oliver!,” the musical reinterpretation of Charles Dickens’s classic novel about an orphan with frisky hands.

Eleven-year-old Bonale Zohn Fambrini plays the lead role of Oliver, a young pickpocket, in this National Asian Artists Project’s (NAAP) production featuring an all-Asian cast. “Oliver!” is playing June 5th to 7th at The Pershing Square on 42nd Street.

“I don’t wanna sound like I’m self-absorbed or anything but I felt happy that I got the role,” he told The FilAm in an interview after the dress rehearsal following a media preview. “I felt happy that I got the role but I don’t want my friends to be mad at me.”

The lighthearted Fambrini is born to a Filipino mother and an Italian father. He has an older brother who, by his account, “sadly tortures me.”

“I’d be singing in the shower and he’d go ‘Bonale shut up!’”

Fambrini is not new to the stage. “Oliver!” is his sixth musical. He has appeared in stage hits as “Les Miserables,” “Ragtime” and “South Pacific.”

He never thought he would be in theater because his first love is sports, mainly soccer, Taekwondo and baseball.

But deep inside he nurtured thoughts of becoming a Broadway singer someday. “I felt strong and good about acting, performing so I said, Mom I wanna do this.”

Baayork Lee, president of the NAAP, said her organization exists because Asians need to be more visible on Broadway.

“We have the talent but we don’t have the opportunity unless we’re doing ‘King and I’ or ‘Miss Saigon,’” she lamented when interviewed by The FilAm. “We just need to educate the producers, the casting directors and the writers (not to look only at) color or gender, just talent.”

She said Asian actors can competently perform in such Broadway classics as “Oklahoma,” “Carousel,” “Hello Dolly,” and “Oliver!” She recalled how the first Asian actress who played Eliza Doolitle in “My Fair Lady” has landed a lead role in “Oklahoma” in Washington D.C.

Anthea Neri is another FilAm in the “Oliver!” cast. She plays Nancy, still a teenager but considered a ‘veteran’ in Fagin’s gang of thieves. Her character is that of a nurturing woman who wants to save Oliver.

Anthea described her role: “From love to figuring out what love is, I’m like the glue for everything. You, I need you, you’re family. Don’t hurt him, I love you.” Her theater credits include, among other productions, “Here Lies Love” and “Hair.”

She urges fellow Asian actors to go where the opportunities are and to break boundaries.

“I say I’m an Asian but I’m trying to do this, I love music, I love to sing, to perform and I sell it to them as me, not the color of my skin, just me,” she said.

Anthea came to the U.S. with her family when she was 4 years old. A graduate of Clinical Laboratory Sciences (Genetics), she said her passion for singing is “what’s keeping me in this job.”

She owes her start in theater to Baayork Lee, herself a stage actress and singer.

This was how she remembered their first meeting: “I wanted to sing. I brought her a big headshot like the size of the poster board. She sat there and her assistant was the one who told her to listen to my CD. One day she finally found time to listen to it. She brought me in and told me about NAAP and she was like, ‘Alright girl, I’m gonna help you’ and she did.”

She considers herself blessed to be part of NAAP network and to have Lee as her “mentor, friend and inspiration.”

James Ignacio, 11, is another young FilAm actor who believes in “chasing your dreams.” Like many in the cast interviewed by The FilAm, he subscribes to the notion that one can do anything “if you believe you can.”

The rest of the FilAm cast includes Raul Aranas (“Miss Saigon,” “King and I,” “Flower Drum Song”), Robyn de Guzman (“Miss Saigon,” “Little Shop of Horrors”) Loresa Lanceta (“Miss Saigon,” “My Fair Lady”) Mel Sagrado Maghuyop (“Miss Saigon,” “King and I”) Tony Romero (“Miss Saigon,” “Anything Goes”), Allen Lucky Weaver (“Miss Saigon”) and Brian Jose.

Anthea Neri plays Oliver's friend, Nancy.

Anthea Neri plays Oliver’s friend, Nancy.

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  1. […] 10, 2014 7:04 pm Leave a comment By Voices of NY  | Via The FilAm   Go to original story A+ / […]

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