Monday, May 5, 2008

East West Players Navigate Home on their 42nd Visionary Awards

by Jay Fermin

Los Angeles: ‘Life Imitates Art’ or is it the other way around? Artists and supporters of the East West Players (EWP), the longest running theatre organization in the United States, came out to the Universal Hilton for the 42nd Anniversary Awards Night and Silent Auction last April 28, 2008.

Photos by Albert Vargas PINOYWIRED.COM

After more than 42 years of blending a cultural mix of Asian, Pacific and American culture in theatre, film and television, with distinct alumni from the likes of the late Pat Morita, (Mr. Miyaki in ‘The Karate Kid” tetralogy), to George Takei (the helmsman Hikaru Sulu) of the ‘Star Trek’ TV series, to our very own Fil-Ams, ‘The Three Filipino Tenors’ who were Master of Ceremonies of the evening’s event, as well as Alec Mapa, past EWP Visionary Awardee and actor in several TV series including Ugly Betty, Friends, Seinfeld and in film where he acted in Bright Lights, Playing by Heart and Super Sweet 16 just to name a few; EWP celebrated more than four decade of contribution to the performing Arts.

Jolene Purdy opens the 42nd EWP Awards with 'The Three Filipino Tenors'

Fil-Am Alec Mapa disclosed to Pinoywired that EWP has given him the ‘perseverance to continue in acting.’ Also the anxious anticipation for the night’s Breakout Performance by no other than the U.S. Best Dance Crew – the ‘JabbaWockeeZ’ the newest hip dance sensation which also include Fil-ams Rynan ‘Kid Rainen’ Paguio, Chris ‘Cristyles’ Gatdula and Phil ‘Swaggerboy’ Tayag would lend a different twist to the yearly gala. Indeed, EWP feels like home to Asian, Pacific, and American actors and have given them the venue to lend their visibility in theatre, TV and film.

Hundreds of guests and supporters came out to participate in the silent auction including a kababayan I have not seen for so long, Ms. Marissa Moncada, who has supported EWP for the past 5 years. I cruised the silent auction tables before dinner, checking if somebody would ‘bid’ for the autographed poster of “Imelda: A New Musical”, an EWP 2005 production based on the life of Madame Imelda Marcos. There were no takers. The dinner and silent auction benefits East West Players (EWP) education and artistic programs.

Jolene Purdy (movie Donnie Darko) opened the dinner gala by singing “Good Evening EWP” and joined onstage by the master of ceremonies, ‘The Three Filipino Tenors’ who belted out the lovely tagalong song “Dahil Sa Yo” (Because of You) interspaced with a fast recognition of the event sponsors in between the lyrics. And what’s so amazing, with a huge list of sponsors including Edison, NBC, CBS, Fox, Disney ABC and others, ‘The Three Filipino Tenors’ did not miss mentioning one, all in a song.

Playwright Velina Hasu Houston, author of more than 20 internationally acclaimed plays, accepted her ‘Made In America’ award from former ‘Reading Rainbow’ host Levar Burton. ‘Dancing with the Stars’ judge and dancer / choreographer Carrie Ann Inaba was awarded the Visionary Award. Inaba reminded the audience that ‘whether you are talking to one or many, whether you act, sing or dance, remember that you have a voice.’ It was a touching tribute to the talents as well as to the support given to artists by EWP for making the Asian, Pacific and American voices be heard in theatre, movies, or TV. Inaba’s positive vibe carried over when we talked to her later and I told her I cannot dance, and she quipped pointedly that ‘everyone can dance, but not everyone knows it.’ I now believe.

The cast of the upcoming EWP rendition of the Stephen Schwartz play “PIPPIN” (coming May 8 to June 8, 2008) presented a hip hop infused performance of “Magic to Do”, a song which is close to me and my wife since our high school days. Ahh. I cannot wait to see this play produced by Tim Dang of EWP.

Other performers for the gala included Alex Chester Iwata rendering ‘Ease on Down the Road’ while Keo Woolford performed a Hula Kahiko piece entitled ‘Kahikilani’ choreographed by Robert Cazimero.

The JabbawooKeeZ receives the EWP Breakout Performance Award

However, even upon arrival and chatting with MTV VP for Communications Ariana Urbont before the gala, and having met Kevin ‘Keibee’ Brewer and Jeff ‘Phi’ Nguyen giving high fives to the hotel’s front desk receptionists when they checked in, nobody can deny that the highlight of the evening are the winner of MTV’s ‘America’s Best Dance Crew’, the new hop sensation, the ‘JabbaWockeeZ’.

The ‘JabbaWockeeZ’ received EWP’s Breakout Performance award and was handed over by MTV President of Programming Brian Graden, who revealed that he himself was a fan of the group even during audition for the TV dance contest. The dance crew accepted their award with ‘America’s Best Dance Crew’ executive producer Randy Jackson showing up and cheering them on. Randy Jackson is also a judge on the famed TV show ‘American Idol’.

The ‘JabbaWockeeZ’ composed of Rynan Paguio, Ben Chung, Chris Gatdula, Kevin Brewer, Jeff Nguyen and Phil Tayag entranced the crowd on their amazing synchronized dance moves and the now famous white happy face mask and white gloves which makes the audience concentrate more on the fluid and energetic gyrations of the group rather than on the individual dancers. Together their movement form a cohesive whole.

The JabbaWokeeZ performs "Enter The Rabbit Hole", the highlight of the evening

Together, art does mimic life. As East West Players has shown for the past 42 years, navigating home where talents are enhanced and encouraged has kept the voice of Asian, Pacific, and American performers heard in the fast paced speed of today’s entertainment medium. Talking to ‘The Three Filipino Tenors’ (Lito Villareal, Randy Guiaya, & Antoine Reynaldo Diel) to recap the night, they have expressed that EWP, although they came onboard at different times and at different phases in their career joining East West Players, they feel it is a very high privilege to have their voices heard. Yes, indeed. After 42 years, because of the effort of East West Players, Asian, Pacific and American voices still ring loud in the arts and the United States and the world are still listening.