by Joe Regan Jr.
A year ago Philippines-born Jose Llana did an autobiographical show at Jazz at Lincoln Center, which he recorded and has since released on CD. On May 16 at Joe’s Pub he repeated that show with the same musicians: Kimberly Grigsby, music director/piano; Jack Bashkow, woodwinds; Peter Donovan on bass, Kevin Garcia on drums, Simon Kafka, guitar; and, on background vocals, three singers from Manila—Jaygee Macapugay, Jeigh Madjus and Enrico Rodriguez.
Llana was particularly happy to be back at the Public Theatre where a lot of his career has taken place. He saluted his parents, including his mother and father who brought him to America to escape the dictatorship in the Philippines. While he was a student, he went to an open call for the first revival of The King And I. When he heard an Equity player’s named called and the man did not show, Llana went out and impressed the casting people with his beautiful voice. After correcting his identity, he auditioned several more times and was cast as the young lover. He showed those same chops when he sang “I Have Dreamed” and “We Kiss in A Shadow.” Most recently he replaced Ken Watanabe as the King at the current revival, which explained his strange pigtail haircut. Llana also did several Adam Guettel songs from the show Saturn Returns: A Concert, explaining that when they were rehearsing it, he and the pianist sneaked into Joe’s Pub while it was being renovated use the piano there. Other Guettel songs he sang were “Icarus,” and the story of “Hero and Leander.” Llana next told how he left his Broadway show to audition for Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town and gloriously sang “Lonely Town.”
Being a protester against the Philippines dictatorship he wanted to play a protestor in the Public Theater’s Here Lies Love but was cast as the Dictator! He called co-star Ruthie Ann Miles up on stage and, with the three singers from Manila, sang “Child of the Philippines.” It was a spectacular highlight.
In a touching moment, Llana told the audience how he had to take the midnight to 6AM nanny shift for his sister’s twins. Demonstrating how he caressed the twins, he sang a moving “Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel),” by Billy Joel.
Of course, his penultimate number was “A Puzzlement” in full King action.
Llana’s next performance is tonight in Alvin Ing’s “Got A Lot of Livin’ To Do” at 7 PM at The Duplex (61 Christopher Street at Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village), www.theduplex.com