The auspicious American Songbook debut of a rising Filipino-American musical theater star.
by: Joel Benjamin
Jose Llana, the Filipino-American singer has had a string of musical theater successes, most recently a starring role in Here Lies Love at the Public Theater. He is tall, boyishly handsome, well-built and blessed with a strong pop tenor. He made an impressive debut on March 12th at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook in a program filled mostly with songs from his shows, including several from Adam Guettel’s Myths and Hymns. “Saturn Returns” dealt poetically with the loss of beauty and the insecurity of getting a bit older. “Icarus” soaringly retold that Greek myth about the folly of too much ego.
From On the Town, “Lonely Town” (Bernstein/Comden/Green) was a sweet lament while “Sunday” (Rodgers & Hammerstein) from Flower Drum Song was hitched to “Sunday Morning” (Jesse Carmichael/Adam Levine) to paint a portrait of that day off as combination of sweet domestic bliss and sensual pleasures. He displayed a straight-forward, lovely theatrical voice in two songs from Rodger and Hammerstein’s The King and I, “We Kiss In a Shadow” & “I Have Dreamed” finding the yearning, dreamy quality in each.
He told of returning to the Philippines to record an album in the native Tagalog language and of experiencing homophobia. Thereafter he resolved never to hide his gayness.
The sweetest moment of the evening was his rendition of Billy Joel’s “Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel)” which he had sung to his two infant nephews. You could feel a palpable “awww” in the Kaplan Penthouse.
Here Lies Love (David Byrne/Fatboy Slim) also figured prominently in the program. “Child of the Philippines,” sung with one of his backup singers, Jaygee Macapugay, was a mini-lesson in the rise of the Marcoses while his last song, “A Perfect Hand” used the metaphor of card playing as an anthem for a rise to power.
This was a generous program. He was accompanied by a terrific band led by Kimberly Grigsby on piano. Each instrumentalist had solo moments that created mood and texture. Along with Ms. Macapugay, Jeigh Madjus and Enrico Rodriguez made up an energetic trio of singers adding harmony and heft to the vocal lines.
Mr. Llana has talent to spare. He’s not yet a heavy-weight artist, but is well on the way. His charisma is still on the boyish side, but the package is attractive and has the potential to thrill in the future.
Lincoln Center’s American Songbook
Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse
[One of Several Performance Venues]
165 West 65th St., 10th Floor (between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave.)
New York, NY
Tickets: 212-721-6500 or www.AmericanSongbook.org