by Marilyn Abalos
New musical, ‘Heading East,’ features two Fil-Am artists

There’s music in the air and it’s “Heading East.” Fil-Am artists Paolo Montalban and Ching Valdes-Aran leads a cast of Asian-Americans in Dink Records release of the CD of “Heading East,” a new musical by Robert Lee (book and lyrics) and Leon Ko (music). Jorge Ortoll, Ralph Pena, Mia Katigbak and Nicky Paraiso also are part of the production.

“Heading East” was presented on stage in Los Angeles last year. Dink Records recently produced the CD in New York. To order, call (800) 707-8683 or (212) 581-7406.

The CD traces 150 years of Asian-American history in the United States, beginning with Siu Yee, a young Chinese man who emigrates to California during the Gold Rush and then creates a hundred year existence in San Francisco. Told in flashback by Yeh-Yeh, an ancient grandfather who was once Siu Yee, to Timothy, his dissatisfied 19-year-old grandson who embodies Siu Yee for the telling, East focuses on the Chinese experience, while bringing in Japanese, Korean, Filipino and Vietnamese characters.
Montalban played Prince Charming in the ABC/Disney Production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” On TV, he stars in “Mortal Kombat Conquest: The Series.” The Philippine born actor has also starred in “The King & I” on Broadway and the national tour of “Man of La Mancha.”

Valdes-Aran is the Obie Award winning actress of “Flipzoids.” She is currently starring in the title role of the Ma-Yi production of Rody Vera’s adaptation of Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children (Nanay Isog and Her Children).”

Joining Montalban, who sings the parts of Timothy and Siu Yee, and Valdes-Aran (Mother) on the CD are Cindy Cheung (Jasmine), Katigbak (Mrs. Lai), Ken Leung (Leonard), Christine Toy Johnson (Michiko), Ko (Immigration Official/Chairman Mao), Ming Lee (Yeh-Yeh), Fay Ann Lee (Lee Fung), lyricist Lee (Storekeeper/Native Son), Jason Ma (Ma), Mimosa (Ma’s Wife), Ortoll (Rallygoer), Paraiso (Native Son), and Pena (Dr. Lai).
“Heading East” is a funny, off-kilter and ultimately moving romp through Asian-American history which focuses on the often strained relationships among the various Asian ethnicities throughout each wave of immigration to America, rather than the more often explored conflict between Asians and caucasians. It’s a show that uses the Asian-Pacific experience in the U.S. to deal with universal themes of racism, assimilation and what it means to be an American.

Within the framework of an assimilated Chinese-American boy complaining about his F.O.B. (Fresh Off the Boat) roommate, “Heading East” draws a compelling line from the Chinese-American Pioneers of the 1840s Gold Rush through today’s computer-literate youth — weaving together Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino and Vietnamese experiences, differences, as well as commonalties.
Although Asian have been the subject of several musicals (South Pacific, Pacific Overtures, Flower Drum Song), very few have been actually written by Asian-Americans. Earlier this year, the New York-based Second Generation presented “Making Tracks” at the Taipei Theater in Manhattan.
Written by Brian Yorkey, Matt Eddy and Welly Yang, “Making Tracks” also tells the story of the sometimes uncompromising “assimilation” of Asians into American culture and the plight of generations of Asian immigrants to find their way to and in a new land. A challenging task, hats off to the producers.

“Heading East” is an exciting work with catchy tunes and a poignant storyline. Montalban’s voice soars wonderfully and Valdes-Aran’s unique vocals must not be missed. Who knows, we may even see them on stage in New York.

Other CDs of interest I came upon are contemporary Paganini’s: Vanessa Mae’s “The Original Four Seasons” and L. Subramaniam “Global Fusion.” Known as the Teeny Paganini, violinist Mae fearlessly bridges the gap between classical music sophistication and rock ‘n roll pyrotechnics.
“The Original Four Seasons” on Angel Records includes Mae’s own dramatically embellished arrangement of the title piece, which is far and away the most popular piece of classical music ever.

The result is a fresh, vibrant work, which infuses new life into Vivaldi’s masterpiece. Also included is an original arrangement of the violin gymnastics of Tartini’s “The Devil’s Trill Sonata” which exhibits Mae’s amazing classical technique. Born to a Chinese mother and Thai father, Mae moved to London at age 4. She began playing piano at age three and violin at five, but chose to devote herself solely to violin after winning a prize at the British Young Pianist of the Year Competition. Upon making her concerto debut in London at age 10, she was hailed as a child prodigy. By age 13, she had toured internationally as a concerto soloist and recitalist, and had made three classical recordings, becoming the youngest musician ever to record both the Tchaikovsky and Beethoven Violin Concertos.
With her passion and daring, Mae always manages to create an indelible impression, and in the process she has made violin music, including even classical, more exciting, accessible and relevant to millions of fans worldwide.
“The Paganini of South Indian music,” violinist Subramaniam, is the serenity of an Indian musician combined with the magnetism of a western “star.” In his CD, we hear the blowing of the Australian didjeridoo fit in wonderfully with the Chinese erhu. This is “Global Fusion.” The artist’s concept was to create compositions using music from different parts of the world.

“Global Fusion” on Atlantic Records has brought out the similarities of the musical elements and instruments of five continents around the world and, yet at the same time, emphasizes on difference. Each of the artists in this album have contributed with their art some of their heritage, their culture and their emotions. Selections include Indonesian Monkey chant, koto music, Spanish guitar and Chinese erhu.
Constantly propelled from Tokyo to Paris, from Delihi to Los Angeles, Subramaniam has conquered every audience with the elegance and virtuosity of his style. His career as a childhood prodigy brought him into contact with the greatest musicians at the early age of eight, and he soon imposed himself as a master of classical violin. At the age of 15, he was honored with the title “Chakravarthy violin,” that is to say the emperor of violinists. He has composed music for several films, including “Salaam Bombay” and “Mississippi Masala.” He has worked with Ravi Shankar and George Harrison.
After 25 years on the international stage, he has reached the pinnacle of his art.

Do not forget the Aug. 13, 7 p.m. Raquel Margarita Valenzuela Poblete-Raul Sunico flute and piano recital at the Kalayan Hall in the Philippine Center. On Aug. 29, 3 p.m., Sunico will play in a two piano concert with Rowena Arrieta at Merkin Hall.

I’m looking forward to a wonderful time with these talented classical artists.