It was a grand Philippine-Australian Friendship Day celebration at the ballroom of the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu. Australian Ambassador Steven Robinson stood at the reception line with his lovely wife Rhonda.
We asked her if she had been named after Rhonda Fleming, the famous Hollywood star.
“You are not the first to ask that,” she remarked.
We’re bound to show our age, but Rhonda Fleming was a dazzling redhead who appeared in the 1955 film “Tennessee’s Partner,” the offbeat version of the famous Bret Harte short story. John Payne and Ronald Reagan were the male leads.
Fleming also starred with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in the 1957 version of “Gunfight at OK Corral.”
Going back to the party, Ambassador Robinson said in his speech that he had just been in the Philippines for four months and this was only his second visit to Cebu. “Cebu is so dynamic, so vibrant,” he said.
There was much applause, sustained by the audience as Asia’s Queen of Song Pilita Corrales made her way to the stage to sing “Moon River.”
She mentioned that her career as an international singer was launched in Melbourne, Australia. Ambassador Robinson said it was such a coincidence that the only song he could perform by heart is “Moon River.”
Could he sing it with her? Pilita said, “of course,” and so the ambassador joined her on-stage. It was supposed to be a duet, but he did most of the singing while an amazed Pilita gazed, enchanted.
“Moon River” was the theme song of Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer (lyrics) for the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” starring Audrey Hepburn, who sang it in the film. And to think that the producers said that song had to be scrapped!
Ambassador Robinson brought the house down and Pilita continued with her repertoire, which included the Cebuano song “Usahay” (Sometimes), and a very passionate rendition in Spanish of “Acercate Mas” (Come Closer).
Speaking with Ambassador Robinson later on, we learned that as a young man he traveled through this region and came to the Philippines several times. He said he had also been to Cebu 38 years ago, in 1981 when he was 22.
Little did he imagine he would come here again as his country’s ambassador. Incidentally, this year marks 75 years since diplomatic relations were established between Australia and the Philippines.
Numerous prominent personalities attended the event and partook of excellent Australian beef, lamb, cheese and more, prepared by Marco Polo Cebu’s executive chef Juanito Abangan. Fine Australian wines, red or white (chilled to perfection), flowed.
Among those present were Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) president Virgilio “Nonoy” Espeleta, and Mila Espina, who is also with CCCI.
The Arts Council president Vivina Chiu Yrastorza was there with VP Maia Franco and trustee Rose Hennessy escorted by husband Mike Hennessy; as were Marco Polo GM Brian Connelly; Casino Español de Cebu GM May Ocaba; Fritz and Pearly Strolz, who have since left for Switzerland and will be back by July; Julius and Nelia Neri seated with Flor Ynclino, Chinggay Utzurrum and Cookie Newman.
Among the consular corps present were Michael and Joanna Lhuillier (France), Antonio Chiu (Slovak Republic), Katherine and Roy Rivera (Canada), Gordon Alan Joseph (Netherlands) and Joy and Dr. Charles Tan (Hungary).
Congratulated for a job well done were the pretty ladies from Big Seed Public Relations, Jaja Chiongbian Rama, Danna Bacolod and Natalie Fernandez.
Now about Pilita Corrales. Hailed as a true-blue Cebuana, she performs here frequently (oh, she has hordes of fans) and is likely to be back several more times before the year ends.
She will have a show in September presented by the Casino Español de Cebu, we are informed by Honey Loop. This is part of the advance celebrations for the club’s centennial in 2020.
Pilita’s Cebu show in September is dedicated to grandparents among the members of Casino Español, but, as in her other shows, there will also be young people in the audience.