The Jersey Journal, October 27, 1997

From St. Aedan's to national TV in real-life 'Cinderella' story

by Michael K. Walters
     Journal staff writer

    The sweet sound of Paolo Montalban's voice - once heard by parishioners of
St.Aedan's Church in Jersey City - will soon be heard by millions.

    The 24-year-old actor will make his television debut Sunday as the prince
in "Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Cinderella,' a presentation of "The Wonderful
World of Disney" on Channel 7 at 7 p.m.

    The multiracial cast of the musical fable, produced by and co-starring
singer Whitney Houston, includes five-time Grammy Award nominee Brandy as
Cinderella.  Others in the cast are Jason Alexander of "Seinfeld" and veteran
actresses Bernadette Peters and Whoopi Goldberg.

    "I think it's fantastic," Montalban said.  "It's everyone's story.  Every
little girl can be Cinderella.  Every little boy can be the prince."

    In an updated version of the fable, Brandy leaves home to escape her
wicked stepmother and find the prince she met at the ball.  The musical was
first televised in 1957.

    Montalban, a 1993 graduate of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, chose
his career path after honing his skills at the Cabaret Theater in New
Brunswick.  He minored in theater at college.

    "I started to love acting as a craft," he said.

    The son of Filipino immigrants, Montalban and his sister Gloria heard show
tunes played by her mother, Vivian, in their home in both the Philippines and
in New York City before the family's move to Jersey City.

    "I didn't know that playing music would have an effect on the babies,"
Vivian Montalban said.  "Their ear for music developed quite early."

    Both Montalban and his sister were prized members of the St. Aedan's
Church choir.

    "They were the only two kids in the adult choir," Vivian Montalban said.

    While singing at St. Aedan's, Paolo Montalban never thought he would be
sweeping a celebrity like Brandy off her feet.

    "It was incredible," he said, recalling the three months of shooting.
"You think about the journey you've taken."

    Since college, Montalban's performance experience includes chorus roles in
a national tour of "Man of La Mancha" and "The King and I" on Broadway.

    It was through the latter show, also written by Rodgers and Hammerstein,
that the producers discovered him for "Cinderella."

    "Acting is an easy job if you love it and you work hard," Montalban said.
"It will make you lose track of time.  That part of it is easy.  The business
is difficult."

    Montalban is a graduate of St. Aedan's grammar school and St. Peter's
Preparatory High School in Jersey City.

    Montalban's father, Paul, praised St. Peter's Prep English teacher Jack
Casey and music teacher Robert Sayer for nurturing his son's talents.

    "They encouraged students to be outward and creative,' Paul Montalban

    Friend Renato Umali remembered that Montalban's love for vocal expression
began in high school, when he competed in public speaking competitions and
musical festivals.

    "That's what he really loved," said Umali, recalling Montalban's first
lead role in a musical, playing the title role in "Oliver!" his freshman year
at St. Peter's Prep. "It was fantastic, Oliver sings pretty high, and
Montalban was able to hit all the notes."

    Casey, who was Prep's director of plays at the time, said he cast
Montalban in "Oliver" because of his extraordinary talent.

    "It was the first time I ever gave the lead part to a freshman," Casey
said.  "It suited him so well.  Did I know he was going to go far?  Yes, I
just didn't know when or how far."

    In the Glenwood Avenue house where he grew up, all eyes will be on
Montalban on Sunday.  The show airs from 7 to 9 p.m.

    "We're going to turn all of our VCR's on," Vivian Montalban said.  "I
can't believe that it's happening."

    And memories from Jersey City - including walking to choir practice, where
Montalban first sung on stage - will never leave the young actor.

    "The multicultural diversity of Jersey City was great," he said.  "It's a
large part of who I am."