By RICARDO F. LO
The Philippine Star
Two Fil-Am actors are set to shine on Broadway as stars of the Cameron Mackintosh hit musical Les Misérables which will be restaged starting on November 9. Here's the full report from The Filipino Reporter news editor Edmund Silvestre, Funfare's New York correspondent:
Alan Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's smash hit musical Les Misérables is back on Broadway four years after the show ended its 15-year run, with seven Tony Awards including Best Musical (1987). And this time, two Filipino-American actors – Adam Jacobs and Ali Ewoldt – are cast in major roles as lovers Marius and Cosette in the show's limited six-month engagement.
The third longest running show on Broadway history, this Victor Hugo musical set during the French Revolution – produced by Cameron Mackintosh and directed by John Caird – will officially open on Nov. 9 at the Broadhurst Theater.
Les Miz is continuing its non-traditional casting – believed to have started when Lea Salonga, months after leaving Miss Saigon (another Mackintosh hit musical) was cast in 1993 as the first Asian actor to play the street waif Eponine.
Alexander Gemignani, a Caucasian in the role of Jean Valjean, leads the new multicultural cast that also includes Norm Lewis, an African-American, as Javert; and Daphne Rubin-Vega, a Latina, as Fantine.
This is Adam Jacobs' Broadway debut, after playing Marius for over a year on tour.
Aaron Lazar, who co-stars as the stirring Enjolras, told Playbill, "Adam looks like Superman playing Marius. He brings a lot of heart and passion to it. He's fantastic."
Adam, 27, grew up in Half Moon Bay, California, and was raised by his Filipino mother and his Russian, Dutch, Jewish and Polish father.
At age five, he saw Yul Brynner in The King and I. "I was mesmerized," he said. "Because I sat through it and didn't cry, my mom says she knew I'd become an actor."
The NYU grad got his big break on the tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella; there, he took over the role of the Prince from another Fil-Am leading man, Paolo Montalban.
Just three months ago, the 5'10" Adam was married to Kelly Kohnert, a singer-dancer who's appearing in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Asked what attracted her to Adam, Kelly says, "His totally electric smile and beautiful teeth. He's also got a great bod. And I love his voice. When I first heard him sing, I just melted."
This is also Ali Ewoldt's Broadway debut as Cosette.
The 25-year-old Fil-Am joined the national tour in the ensemble last September and was invited to audition for the Broadway return. Before long, she was at a second audition, with Cameron Mackintosh present. Ali says she had a feeling she was in good shape at the callback when she was the only Cosette in the room. She remembers Mackintosh was very quiet, watching events unfold. When the callback was over, she recalls, "He got up and gave me a hug and a kiss."
"I grew up listening to Les Miz," she told The Journal News (NY). "That was the big show when I was younger. It was the first show I ever memorized. My brother Greg and I would act it out."
Ali (or Allison Anolin Ewoldt) starred in the regional staging of West Side Story as Maria, Beauty and the Beast as Belle, Fantasticks as Luisa, The King and I as Tuptim, and Aladdin as Jasmine at Disney's California Adventure. Her family lives in Pleasantville, New York. Her mother, the former Leah Vergara Anolin, is from Pangasinan, who married Robert Ewoldt.
When she was at Yale University, Ali said she was free to get involved in productions of all stripes: classical, contemporary and even opera. When the Yale Opera was looking for another soprano for The Marriage of Figaro, Ali got the call. She took the next step toward making theater a career when an agent came to see a friend perform and liked what she saw when Ali took the stage.
She says she finds her psychology degree, which she earned in 2003, "surprisingly relevant," particularly as she's reading Les Miz and trying to get inside the head of Cosette – Fantine's daughter and the ward of Jean Valjean – who falls in love with a student leader.
"I love Ali. She's such fun to work with," said Adam Jacobs. "She's like a little bird. Ali's delicate and beautiful and everything I think Cosette should be."
"Adam has the perfect voice for Marius, and he's a really warm and great guy," Ali responded.
Adam said being half-Filipino is "definitely a plus" in helping him land roles.
"When I was 15, I played a Native American," he shared. "I've also played Latinos a lot. Sometimes, you do fall through the cracks or you're told you look too ethnic. For example, I've always wanted to play Tony in West Side Story, but I look too much like I could play Bernardo. Maybe I could play Tony in the winter because I'm not as tanned then. (Laughs.)"
When Les Miz's previews opened on Oct. 23, theater critics described the chemistry of Adam and Ali as "mesmerizing," and their performance "magical."
The action in Les Miz begins in 1815 as Jean Valjean, a man condemned to 19 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, finds only hatred and suspicion when he is released on parole. Meeting one man who believes in him, Valjean breaks his parole to begin a new life. The story truly begins as Jean Valjean crosses the landscape of early 19th century France, always pursued by the righteous police inspector Javert. From his adoption and love of the orphan Cosette, to the darkly funny plots of the thieving Thenardiers, from the soaring revolutionary fire of the student rebels who fight on the barricade in the streets of Paris to the final confrontation between Jean Valjean and Javert, the story of Les Miserables is one of love, courage and redemption.
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