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Loy Arcenas and Clint Ramos: Two Cebuanos design for Broadway’s ‘Once on This Island’

Ramos designed the costumes for the current revival, while the original 1990 run featured Arcenas’ scenery
/ 07:05 AM December 30, 2017

Clint Ramos

Two Tony Award-winning Filipinos are involved in the Broadway revival of the musical “Once on This Island.”

Lea Salonga plays Erzulie, deity of love, while Clint Ramos designed the costumes.

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Variety heaped praise on Salonga for her “meltingly sung” role. Hollywood Reporter also commended her voice as being of “ageless purity and light,” a compliment echoed by TheWrap.com, which opined that her “singing voice retains a vocal purity that continues to astonish.”

Salonga was last seen on Broadway in the musical “Allegiance” in 2015. She won the Tony for best actress as Kim in the Broadway premiere of “Miss Saigon” in 1991—the first Asian and Filipino to win in this category.

Surprising places

Ramos, on the other hand, won a Tony last year for his costume design for “Eclipsed” (for which he also designed the set), a play that starred Lupita N’yongo. He is also the first Asian and Filipino to win in this category.

For “Once on This Island,” Ramos said his research for the costume design was “mainly of Haiti, which is the French Antilles, a culture that is deeply informed by its relationship to nature and its wrath. I hoped to capture the resilience of a people after a natural disaster like a hurricane. Then, we are hoping that it will veer off to surprising places.”

Ramos said being raised in the Philippines allowed him an informed perspective for designing “Once on This Island.”

“Having grown up in the islands and living life under the constant presence of natural calamities made designing for it easily accessible for me… Like Haitians, the Filipinos are one of the most resilient people in the word. Also, the idea that we can tell each other stories to buoy each other’s experiences and to catapult us to action is a very Filipino thing.”

Costumes for “Once on This Island,” designed by Tony Award winner Clint Ramos —JOAN MARCUS

Off-Broadway beginnings

Before Ramos, another Filipino was involved in “Once on This Island.” The musical’s Broadway premiere in 1990 had costume and set designer and director Loy Arcenas doing its set.

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“It premiered Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons Theater before it moved to Broadway at the Booth Theater,” recalled Arcenas. “The brilliant La Chanze created the role of Ti Moune”—the lead peasant girl who falls in love with a boy from the wealthy set of the island.

Arcenas’ design was composed of a backdrop and wings (panels at the sides of the stage) that were painted with imagery of hills and palm trees against a blue sky. The backdrop was actually a scrim that would reveal actions behind it.

The New York Times described the imagery as “Chagall-goes-tropical” with inspirations from “Rousseau, Matisse, Hockney, Mexican and Filipino Christmas ornaments, American weather vanes and Haitian metalwork.”

Arcenas, who received an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Set Design in 1993, recently directed the film version of Ryan Cayabyab and Rolando Tinio’s “Ang Larawan,” a musical adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s “Portrait of an Artist as Filipino.” The movie is part of this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) and won Best Picture at the festival’s Gabi ng Parangal.

Collaboration

Arcenas has also collaborated with Ramos. “I love working with Clint. He is a fellow Cebuano. He designed the clothes in my production of Han Ong’s ‘Watcher’ for Ma-yi Theater Company in New York,” said Arcenas.

Meanwhile, “I also designed the costumes for his staging of ‘The Romance of Magno Rubio,’” said Ramos, who received the Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Costume Design in 2013. “He’s a dear friend and mentor and a fellow Cebuano. I would say, Loy is the Filipino designer I look up to.”

Ramos moved to the US in 1993 and has designed sets and costumes for over a hundred theater, opera and dance productions. Recent credits include costumes for “Here Lies Love,” a musical about Imelda Marcos, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park series, and Broadway productions of “Six Degrees of Separation” with Allison Janney and “Sunday in the Park with George” with Jake Gyllenhaal. —CONTRIBUTED

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TAGS: Broadway revival, Clint Ramos, Lea Salonga, Loy Arcenas, Once on This Island
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