These Filipino Theater Actors Were the Stars of Their Time

Before Lea Salonga and Rachel Ann Go, there were plenty of local performers who conquered the world stage.


( There's a wave of theater shows from local and international production groups that are keeping Manila glued to the stage. While audiences may already know the likes of Lea Salonga, Monique Wilson, Jon Jon Briones, and Rachelle Ann Go, there were plenty of talents before them who also made their name in Broadway and at London’s West End. Here are some of the actors and actresses who once lit up the stage with their dazzling performances.



Neile Adams

Actress-singer-dancer Neile Adams (Ruby Salvador in real life) is better known as the first wife of actor Steve McQueen, one of the hottest Hollywood stars in the early ‘60s. She, however, had her own career, which started in musical theater as a dancer. Born on July 10, 1932, Ruby spent her growing-up years in Manila until World War II. She and her family were incarcerated by the Japanese for 18 months, and after the War, she was whisked away to the U.S. After being noticed for her dancing skills, the pert and pretty Neile, as she now called herself, was cast in shows and musicals. One of her early appearances on Broadway includes the original musical comedy Pajama Game (1954) opposite John Raitt and Julie Wilson. The next year, she was a featured dancer in Kismet, where she later understudied for the role of the Princess of Ababu. Adams married financial consultant Alvin Toffel and has recently done a series of one-woman cabaret shows.



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Cely Carrilllo

Cely Carillo (born on February 18 1934) was a musical prodigy, often performing with the UP Dramatic Club. She moved to the U.S. after winning a six-year scholarship at the famed Juilliard School of Music. She went on auditions and got minor roles on TV, then eventually answered a casting call for the Broadway musical, Flower Drum Song. It opened in New York at the St. James Theatre on December 1, 1958 with Miyoshi Umeki as Mei-Li. Carrillo also was part of the original cast recording of the successful musical. After over a year, Umeki left and it was Carrillo who was chosen to replace her in 1960.




Maureen Tiongco

A native of Sta. Rosa, Laguna, Maureen Tiongco (born on September 27, 1935) was trained in ballet and dance in the Philippines and New York. Her hard work paid off when she was offered the role of Mei-Li, one of the lead roles in Flower Drum Song, after being part of the Dancing Ensemble since the show started in 1958. Her biggest break was playing the lead in The World of Suzie Wong, which toured Canada and the U.S. for six months. Other credits include The King and I (as Tuptim), Teahouse of the August Moon (as Lotus Blossom), South Pacific (as Liat, Polynesian daughter of Bloody Mary), and Uncle Tom’s Ballet (as Eliza). Returning to the Philippines in 1966, Tiongco mounted the Flower Drum Song to raise funds for the proposed Cultural Center of the Philippines.



Barbara Luna

Barbara Luna was trained in Broadway, where she, in fact, grew up. In high school, she was tapped by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1949 to play Ngana, the daughter of Ezio Pinza in the original Broadway production of South Pacific. Her next role was in The King and I, followed by a stint in Teahouse of the August Moon. Other credits include West Side Story (as Anita) and A Chorus Line. In 1958, Barbara made her screen debut in the Korean war drama, Tank Battalion. She also made a name for herself in TV in the '60s, starring in an episode of Star Trek.




Patrick Adiarte

Manila-born Patrick Adiarte is best known for portraying Prince Chulalongkorn in the 1956 movie version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I. The 13-year-old held his own against co-actor Yul Brynner (who would win an Oscar for his role as the Siamese king) and veteran actress Deborah Kerr. Patrick was with fellow Filipino Cely Carrillo in the Broadway musical, Flower Drum Song. He appeared on the hit TV series M*A*S*H (as Ho-Jon in seven episodes), Bonanza (1971), Hawaii Five-O (1972), Kojak, The Chinatown Murders (1974), and The Brady Bunch (1972).




Cynthia Onrubia

New York-born Cynthia Carrillo Onrubia had an impeccable artistic pedigree. Her mother was the legendary Cely Carrillo who captivated Broadway in the Flower Drum Song in 1960. She attracted attention at 15 years old when she was cast in the musical, A Chorus Line—the youngest dancer in the megahit production that premiered in New York's Shubert Theater in 1977. She stayed with the musical until 1985, playing a variety of characters. She soon appeared in other hit musicals, namely Cats, Song and Dance, The Goodbye Girl, among others. Her most recent assignment was as an associate choreographer for the musical revival Cabaret, from 2014 to 2015.


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