By Kathleen M. Dijamco

Special to the Filipino Express


As a kid, I remember being fascinated with illustrated children's books. The pages were filled with colorful pictures of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and of course, their handsome Princes. Almost always, the characters were depicted as blonde and blue-eyed (except for Snow White, of course).


In my teens. I caught several episodes of Sbelly Duval's Faerie Tale Theater. In this three-dimensional version of the tale I read as a child, the lead roles were played by the classic Caucasian cast. But times have changed and the era of multi-racial classification has brought us not only a black Cinderella but an ethnic Prince Charming as well. One who happens to be Filipino.


Paolo Montalban plays "The Prince" in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella which airs an November 2 at 7 p.m. on ABC. Montalban joins Brandy (Moesha), pop diva Whitney Houston, comic superstar Whoopi Goldberg and Seinfeld star Jason Alexander in what is colorfully described as a rainbow cast.


In an exclusive telephone interview with the Filipino Express, the 24-year-old actor/singer describes his experience on the set of Cindarella as "the most amazing acting experience."


"Being surrounded by talented and skilled crafts people ... this is a great learning experience. [Co-stars] allow you to go the next level just by their presence."


Montalban says he was suite surprised by the magnitude of the production. According to Daily Variety, the 2-hour musical cost $12 million.


"It is much bigger that anything we set out to do." he says but guickly adds that the updated musical is not just another expensive extravaganza.


"The bottom line is that this is for the children of the world, the children in all the adults. This is for every boy or girl out there who see themselves as being a prince or a Cinderella. Now they can truly believe that anything can happen." This film doesn't exclude anyone from the fairy tale experience.'


Montalban is no stranger to entertainment. Born to a musically inclined family -- his aunt went to Juilliard, his father Paul is an applications programmer at IBM and a part time concert pianist -- Montalban and his sister Gloria found themselves performing at a very young age.


His mother Vivian, a performance analyst with Chase Manhattan Bank, recalls him singing at Filipino gatherings and playing the violin at age three. He and Gloria would do duets in front of family and friends.


Paolo's early performances weren't limited to the sala [living rooms. During long drives, he and his sister would sing Broadway tunes in the car.


Jesus Christ Superstar is one of his favorites. Vivian says "Probably at five or six, he had already memorized the whole Libretto of the musical. He kept singing all the parts of the musical. He was a one-man entertainer.'


But it wasn't until he was already in college when Montalban realized entertaining was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. While taking up Psychology at Rugers University, Montalban took acting, music and dance classes as electives. He was in his senior year when his acting teacher made him realize 'acting isn't just a hobby, that it is a craft'. In 1993, he graduated and embarked on a career in theater.


His previous theatrical credits include roles in productions of Nine. Business As Usual and the national tours of Aladdin and Man Of La Mancha. Acting gigs, however, did not come one after the other. During lean months, Montalban worked at what he called "strange, odd but interesting jobs" -- demonstrating toys at FAO Schwarz, being a security person at a restaurant.


During these tough times did he ever regret not pursuing medicine! "Oh no. Never because every job was a new experience and lesson, just being surrounded by people in the business, watching them work. What I've regretted is not taking a full time acting class."


His parents, however, were another case. Vivian says she reacted like a "typical Filipino mother" when Montalban told her he wanted to pursue acting as a career.

We grew up the old-fashioned way. We want our children to take up conventional courses. I was expecting him to go to medical school or accounting," she says.

"It is the way with most parents," Montalban says. "My parents love me so much, they want me to be happy. They wanted me to have food on my plate and a roof on my head. When I showed them the money I make, they finally stopped worrying."


"A life-changing experience" that's what Montalban called his time on the set of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. "You see, I thought it was made for cable, I had no idea. But it was an opportunity to work for a great director and with such great actors."


So, where does he think this will lead to?


"I can only hope... feature films.' he says.


But Hollywood isn't exactly known for its generosity towards ethnic actors. Montalban says. This is a very good time for ethnic actors. The media is a reflection of our society, and our society, our world is truly becoming a melting pot Why shouldn't movies reflect what is happening in our everyday lives -- the mingling of cultures and races. Doing Cinderella this time, the timing couldn't be better."