By Rica Arevalo
Over dinner last week, stage actor Bobby Martino, who has acted on West End and Broadway shows, tells us he is back for good in Manila after 28 years of performing abroad. He was part of the original cast of Cameron Mackintosh’s Miss Saigon in 1989.
His passion for musical theater started with Nestor U. Torre and Gines Tan’s Magsimula Ka. “It tells a story about a young man’s ambition to be a singer while his parents wanted him to pursue a more stable career,” recalls Bobby. “Exactly my story—I was studying Architecture and competing at schools’ singing competitions, joining choral groups, and wanting to pursue a career in the music industry.”
His perseverance led him to get his biggest break. “I read an audition notice in the Manila Bulletin,” says this method actor. He cut classes so he could go to the audition at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). “I was armed with two verses of the song, Magsimula Ka, when I was cast as part of the ensemble and later bagged the lead role of the singer. The story is parallel to my own life.”
“I am the very first scholar of the Organisasyon ng Mga Pilipinong Mang-Aawit!” he proudly stated. He was mentored in voice lessons by Celeste Legaspi, Kuh Ledesma, Dulce, and Louie Reyes. “It took a whole village and good blessed destiny to get here.”
In Miss Saigon, he climbed from being part of the ensemble to landing the lead role, the Engineer.
“I stayed in London for 10 years, studied at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and did other West End shows,” said the Shirley Bassey fan.
He also performed in South Pacific, Peter Pan the British musical, Godspell, The Life of Carmen Miranda, and the Last of the Mohicans, among others.
His favorite play is Designed for Living. “It was restaged by Sam Mendes. Lahat ng unexpected nagawa (We did some pretty unexpected things! Hindi siya predictable (It was not predictable),” recalls Bobby.
To survive, he made use of his architectural background. “I practiced Interior and Retail Design and Architecture, and that saved me from getting hungry,” he added. “So yes, I designed Lea Salonga’s NYC apartment, as well as Bjork’s, Mariah’s, and the Yurmans’, who have been my design clients.”
Why did he come home after his long, colorful musical theater career?
“Broadway becomes very limited because very few musicals are open to color blind castings,” mused this actor who played Emilio Aguinaldo in a History Channel biopic. “Although we all fight for it, every time, most especially when they cast Asian roles with white people doing the white face and prosthetic Asian eyes.”
He reminds playwrights to write original Filipino musicals. He confessed, “Wala kasi nagsusulat. Mahirap din magsulat ng musical, it’s an American form.” (No one is writing. It is difficult to write a musical because it’s an American form). The ultimate goal is for the musical to be funded by loyal local patrons and let the foreigners and international market discover our local talents.
Bobby is currently writing his one-man-show. “Let’s create jobs by creating works that will employ more Filipino creatives,” exclaims this Judas from Godspell. “Let’s collaborate, let’s coop this industry that creates original works and shares its profits and benefits to its creative members. The only way we can develop this craft of creating an original musical is to write our own stories in our own language, with our own musical inspirations, and define how Filipinos listens to its own musical self!”