Asian Artists Perform Scenes from Les Miz to Dreamgirls and Carousel for Thrilling NAAP Extravaganza

News   Asian Artists Perform Scenes from Les Miz to Dreamgirls and Carousel for Thrilling NAAP Extravaganza
The National Asian Artists Project is on a mission. It’s a mission to assert equal treatment for Asian performing artists of all kinds, but especially Asian performers in the world of musical theatre.

The main strategy of the group’s founder and executive artistic director Baayork Lee—an original cast member of The King and I, Flower Drum Song and A Chorus Line—has been simply to put on a show.

NAAP has been putting on shows for five years, but Oct. 5 saw its biggest yet—a 150-performer extravaganza revue titled Past, Present & Future: 5 Years of National Asian Artists Project at the Skirball Center in Greenwich Village.

The idea is to quell forever the attitude that there is a shortage of trained Asian-Americans who can do any job in musical theatre. Supervised by Lee and Richard Jay-Alexander, the Oct. 5 show featured an ambitious lineup of 20 classic Broadway musical numbers, most of them highlights from NAAP productions of the past five years, but some added to just show off the performers’ virtuosity.

She show was conducted by Broadway’s Kevin Stites, with numbers staged by Lee, Bob Avian, Lee Roy Reams, Margo Sappington, Kari Baker, Matthew Couvillon, Kyle Garvin, Nina Zoie Lam, Diana Laurenson, Michiko Sasaki and Luis Villabon. Samantha Duthler was production manager. Here are some of the memorable moments:

  • The evening opened with the sight of NAAP veteran Lori Tan Chinn from “Orange Is the New Black” working a butter churn with Josh Dela Cruz serenading her in a recreation of the original staging of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma!, which also was the inaugural NAAP production, produced with special permission from the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, a steady corporate supporter of NAAP’s goals.  

  • Kyle Garvin’s reinvention of the classic teens-on-telephones number “The Telephone Hour” from Bye Bye Birdie had the contemporary teens (members of the NAAP Kids troupe) singing on cell phones, which freed them up for more complex choreography.  

  • One of the show’s highlights was a recreation of Michael Bennett’s head-snapping choreography for the Christmas-themed trio “Turkey Lurkey Time” from the musical Promises, Promises staged by two of the original dancers, Margo Sappington and NAAP’s Lee, one of the few Asian-Americans who worked regularly from the 1960s forward. Chosen to leap through the complex steps were Robyn DeGuzman, Gillian Munsayac and Emily Stillings.  

  • Sappington made a cameo at stage center for “Big Spender” with a corps of dancers in an homage to Bob Fosse’s broken-dolls-on-a-dance-barre staging of the Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields classic.  

  • Jung Kim gave New York perhaps its first Asian-American Mrs. Anna in her rendition of “Getting To Know You” from The King and I, accompanied by the NAAP Kids.  

  • The NAAP Kids were kept busy throughout the evening. Several dozen brandished empty bowls in “Food, Glorious Food” from Oliver!, followed by Bonale Fambrini reprising his NAAP performance in the show’s title role for “Where Is Love?”—though in a lower key to accommodate his changed voice.  

  • Caroline Leung and Aaron Wang led a chorus of youngsters performing military moves in “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan Jr.  

  • Lee Roy Reams, who directed the last Broadway revival of Hello Dolly! , staged the Jerry Herman title song featuring Christine Toy Johnson as Dolly, Kevin Schuering as Rudolph and a brace of galloping waiters, Stephen Mark, Enrico Rodriquez, Mark Garner, Eric Badique, JP Morgage, Rommel O'Choa and Allen "Lucky" Weaver.  

  • But the evening was not just about choreography. Toy and Raul Aranas performed Michael Stewart’s comic dinner scene from Dolly!
    Raul Aranas and Christine Toy Johnson
    Photo by Tristan Fuge



  • Nita Baxani and Kent Overshown showed off their opera chops on “I Loves You Porgy” from Porgy and Bess, while Josh Dela Cruz and Shoba Narayanan demonstrated their more pop-Broadway skills on “A Whole New World” from Aladdin.  

  • One of the most joyful moments of the evening arrived with a breezy recreation of the title song of Dreamgirls, directed by Bob Avian and choreographed by Luis Villabon, performed by the trio Robyn DeGuzman, Jaygee Macapugay and Jonelle Margallo.  

    Robyn DeGuzman, Jonelle Margallo, Jaygee Macapugay
    Photo by Tristan Fuge


  • It was followed by Anthea Neri’s volcanic rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from the same show.  

  • Sean MacLaughlin and Devin Ilaw performed Billy Bigelow's "Soliloquy" from Carousel as a surprise duet.
    Sean MacLaughlin and Devin Ilaw
    Photo by Tristan Fuge
  • Richard Jay-Alexander, the associate director of the original Broadway production of Les Miserables, recreated the Act I finale, the stirring anthem “One Day More” with Eric Badique as Javert, Brian Kim as Enjolras, Andy Danh as Jean Valjean, Ali Ewoldt (currently in Broadway’s The King and I) as Cosette, Devin Ilaw as Marius, Rebecca Lee Lerman as Eponine and Carla Ogden and Viet Vo as the Thenardiers. NAAP principles Baayork Lee, Steven Eng and Nina Zoie Lam came out to thank the crowd, to look back on the progress of the group’s first five years, and to look to the future. Not to be untheatrical for very long, their speech turned into the Cy Coleman song “It’s Not Where You Start (It’s Where You Finish”) from Seesaw, with Lee leading a chorus of youngsters dressed in balloons—another tribute to the original staging.


  • The evening ended the way it began, with a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. The whole company filled the stage with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel, staged by Jay-Alexander. The choreography added two dramatic steps forward for the company, illustrating its plans for the future.  

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