Fil-Am actress lights up Broadway with Tony Danza
FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - December 13, 2014 - 12:00am

Honeymoon in Vegas, the 1992 comedy flick starring Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker and James Caan, is now a glitzy Broadway musical with TV and stage icon Tony Danza (Who’s the Boss?, Taxi), Tony-nominated Rob McClure (Chaplin: The Musical) and stage diva Brynn O’Malley (Annie, Wicked) filling the love triangle.

Guess who is cast in a scene-stealing featured role — yes,  Fil-Am singer-actress Catherine Ricafort in her biggest Broadway break as the island girl Mahi. The part in the screen version was essayed by a man, the late Japanese-American actor Pat Morita, best known for his Oscar-nominated character Mr. Miyagi in the 1984 film Karate Kid.

“It literally feels like a dream come true and it even feels unreal at times,” Funfare’s Big Apple correspondent Edmund Silvestre (who is home for the holidays) quoted the Arizona-born Catherine of her nightly engagement at the Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street on Times Square. “I just love the adrenaline rush and entertaining a large crowd. It’s so fulfilling.”

Edmund said that Honeymoon In Vegas began previews on Nov. 18 with an opening night on Jan. 15, 2015. It is a musical by renowned author Andrew Bergman and three-time Tony-winning composer Jason Robert Brown, directed by Gary Griffin and choreographed by Denis Jones.

It tells the story of Jack Singer (McClure), a regular guy with an extraordinary fear of marriage, after his dying mother made him promise never to get married “because no girl will ever love you as much as I do.” 

Jack eventually musters up enough courage to propose to his girlfriend, Betsy (O’Malley), and together they head to Las Vegas to get hitched. But smooth-talking gambler Tommy Korman (Danza), looking for a second chance at love, falls head-over-heels for Betsy, who’s a dead ringer for his late wife. Just like in the film, Tommy aborts the wedding and steals Betsy from Jack by flying her to Hawaii.

As Mahi, Ricafort gets to share the spotlight with McClure in a hilarious number, Friki-Friki, where Mahi seduces and distracts Jack to keep him away from Betsy who is with Tommy in Kauai Island. It is also through Mahi that Jack finds a way to deal with his gamophobia in a very touching number between him and his mother’s ghost that reduced us to tears.

“This is very special to me because it’s every actor’s dream to originate a role in a new show,” Ricafort told Edmund in an interview he did for Funfare. “It’s like a different level of accomplishment when an actor is the first person to bring this character to life on stage and there’s no one else before you.”

Fil-Am New York travel specialist Zoila Mendoza, who recently watched the new musical, said Ricafort is “an acting gem.”

“She’s very natural as a comedic actress...and she sings so well,” Mendoza told Edmund. “She’s simply brilliant and she lights up the stage.”

Ricafort got her first crack at Broadway in 2011 as Ali in the 10th anniversary edition of Mamma Mia! She later joined the ensemble of Cinderella in May 2014 before nailing her audition for the role of Mahi.

“When I first moved here (New York), I didn’t consider myself a true actress,” she confided. “And so when I found out I got this role four months before it started, I really worked hard because I knew if anything will stop me from doing a good job it’s my head. I didn’t believe I’m a good actress and I shouldn’t be here with these seasoned actors so I put myself in acting classes to help me do a better job with my character.”

Ricafort is also part of the Honeymoon ensemble and she’s on stage most of the time in various roles, notably as an Asian slot machine player, and a showgirl that displays her perfectly-toned body in a bikini. Another Fil-Am, Albert Guerzon, is also in the ensemble in roles that include as one of the flying Elvis Presleys.

 

 

 

 

“Prior to Broadway,” reported Edmund, “Honeymoon had an out-of-town try at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, which got impressive reviews from critics, including the New York Times’ Ben Brentley. Ricafort said she’s thrilled to be mentioned by Brentley in his ‘fantastic’ Times review in the same breath as her Tony-nominated co-stars Nancy Opel (as Jack’s mom Bea)and Matthew Saldivar (as Tommy’s henchman Johnny), whose roles, Brentley wrote, ‘are never pushed to grotesque excess.’ Ricafort mentioned that Brentley is known to close or open shows with his pen and that she’s flattered that he loved the show. In fact, his review is printed outside the theater door for everyone to see.”

Like other aspiring actors, Ricafort had to go through several rejections before landing a Broadway role.

“I wasn’t part of an actors’ union and I didn’t have theater credits that’s why sometimes people at the audition wouldn’t even see me,” she recalled. “I didn’t have an agent and my mom stood as my manager. I had to take the subway at 5:45 a.m. so I could be early for auditions. I even had to crash on an uncle’s (Roy Lim of New York) couch when I first moved to the East Coast from Thousand Oaks (California).

 “It was insanely hard...it was like an impossible dream,” added Ricafort who also stars in a popular interactive web series called Prison Dancer: The Musical topbilled by Filipino-Canadian YouTube sensation and comedian Mikey Bustos. “But it’s all worth it, given the chance to work with a celebrated American composer that I’ve been adoring since high school.”

She confessed to being a big fan of Jason Robert Brown. “I’ve been listening to all his CDs. I still get kinda nervous when I talk to him. I can’t believe that he was part of picking me to play this role.”

She also makes connections with her parents’ homeland by watching films of her favorite Pinoy stars Sharon Cuneta and Anne Curtis and listening to the songs of Sharon and Jose Mari Chan.

 “I even own a CD of Jose Mari Chan’s Christmas in Our Hearts which I play over and over during Christmas season,” she proudly shared with a laugh. “The tracks are all beautiful.”

Edmund described Ricafort as “not your ordinary theater performer.” The petite Pinay-American, who is actually eloquent and more sophisticated than her crass island girl role, has a degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering (cum laude) from the University of Southern California. A consistent scholar, she was in the middle of her master’s in engineering management when she decided to put it on hold, move to the Big Apple, and pursue her real passion.

“I chose this job because I want to have an exciting life,” she declared matter of factly. “I want to pursue my dream and this is something I feel like I should do while I’m young.”

Even her Manila-born parents, who used to worry about their daughter’s unstable career choice and financial future, knew she’s “home” after seeing her enormous joy on stage and holding her own against veteran performers. Her dad, Ronillo, is a quality engineer, while her mom, Carmencita, is a college guidance specialist; her younger brother, Juan, works in a data analytics startup in New York City.

Wouldn’t a career in engineering give her some financial stability than in theater acting? Edmund asked Ricafort.

“Not necessarily,” Ricafort pointed out. “At this level, it’s very lucrative but not as consistent. You can make a good living on Broadway but you don’t know when your show is going to close. So, it’s really frightening at times when a show ends and you have to find another one. That’s when I’m like, ‘Oh, maybe I have to go back to engineering.’ 

“Theater is a hard business so there’s no guarantee how long it’s going to run unless all Filipinos in America and elsewhere will come see our show,” she added with a chuckle. 

This is when her Catholic faith comes in handy, she said. St. Malachy’s Church, popularly known as the Actor’s Chapel near Times Square in midtown Manhattan, has become her favorite place to seek solace.

 “I pray for God to help me not to lose faith in myself because there are times when I feel bad about myself, when I feel like nobody wants me and I shouldn’t even be here,” she said. “Many actors feel that way, especially when rejected during auditions. I pray to keep me calm because when you’re auditioning in between jobs, no matter how good you are, you are turned down a lot because there are just so many good actors for so few roles. But right now, I’m just grateful God has allowed me to fulfill my dreams and experience this kind of happiness,” she said.

Edmund reminded Funfare readers, “You may follow Catherine at cattricafort on Twitter and Instagram.”

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. You may also send your questions to askrickylo@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

ALBERT GUERZON BETSY BIG APPLE BRENTLEY COM EDMUND MAHI RICAFORT
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