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    Posted June 2, 2010

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An Equity Social


By Brian Jose

Jose Llana, Stephen Flaherty, Christine Toy Johnson and Lynn Ahrens

(photo credit: Bruce Alan Johnson)

In celebration of Asian Heritage Month, Councillor Christine Toy Johnson and Jose Llana in partnership with The Eastern Region Equal Employment Opportunity held a sold-out, all Asian American concert performance of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's musical "Once On This Island" in New York City on Sunday, May 16, 2010. The EEOC is co-chaired by Johnson and Julia Breanetta Simpson and ably supported by staff rep Pearl Brady.

"Once On This Island" in concert was directed by original Broadway company member Gerry McIntyre and was also made possible by a grant that Johnson received from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund.

Under the musical direction of Randy Redd, the concert cast included Broadway veterans Llana, Johnson, Alan Ariano Kylie Liya Goldstein Ann Harada, Telly Leung, Deborah Lew, Jason Ma, Paolo Montalban, Hazel Anne Raymundo, and Yuka Takara.

Johnson had this to say about the genesis of the project: "Jose and I are always looking to create opportunities for our fellow Asian American performers. He told me that 'Once On This Island' has always resonated with him because of his Filipino roots. I think I fell in love with the show because it speaks to my search for a community and reminds me of the love I've found in Asian American casts. Since the play is about the strength of community and love, it seemed like a perfect combination for us!"? Johnson also shared her thoughts on how to insure the future of Asian American artists working on and off stage: "We have to keep telling our stories! This is the only way we can insure that our voices will continue to be heard. It's why I started writing and producing events like this. Collectively, our cast for 'Once On This Island' has been in nearly 40 Broadway shows. With statistics showing that less than 1 percent of performers on Broadway last season were of Asian Pacific Islander descent, we feel like we are beating impossible odds! Things have certainly changed since I first started out; my first big non-traditional role was Julie in 'Carousel' at the Hangar Theatre in 1990. I was shocked to even get the audition. Now it's less unusual for theatre productions to see a diverse array of actors for auditions. Whether they get cast or not is what needs improving on..."

Wayman Wong of the New York Daily News, was also in the audience. He reported, "After the show, Ahrens and Flaherty, who were both in the enthusiastic audience, raved. Ahrens said, ''It's fantastic. I've never seen it with an all-Asian-American cast, but it works beautifully. I hope they do it again.''

And Flaherty told us:''This cast was so fresh. Gerry [McIntyre] knows this show like the back of his hand, and he brought out such lovely surprises. I really loved hearing my buddy Ann Harada sing 'Mama Will Provide.' Every one of them was just wonderful. It had moments of real delicate poetry, as well as passion. It was such a treat!''

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