Mel Sagrado Maghuyop recently played “The King” in the Walnut Street Theater’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, and this month, he will appear as “The King” again, opposite Tamara Jenkins, Founding Artistic Director of Harbor Lights (Chicago, Les Miserables, Cats), who portrays Anna, in the final show of Harbor Lights’ third season as Staten Island’s only professional Equity theater company.
The King and I is helmed by Broadway Veteran and long-time “Sesame Street” cast member Alan Muraoka, who appeared in the 1996 revival of the show on Broadway, with Andrew Sakaguchi expertly re-constructing Jerome Robbins’ legendary choreography.
The King and I runs from November 8th through the 18th at the Music Hall at Historic Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Gardens.
The King and I was inspired by the memoirs of Anna Harriet Leonowens, the real author and teacher. Anna was hired by King Mongkut of Siam to teach his 67 children at his royal palace in Bangkok. She stayed for several years, leaving Bangkok during the 1860’s and settling in Staten Island. She lived on Tompkins Place for approximately three years. While on Staten Island she ran a private school for girls in West Brighton. Following that she settled in Canada and where she lived until her death in 1914.
The Harbor Lights’ production includes OBIE Award winner and Staten Island resident Ron Domingo (The Romance of Magno Rubio) as The Kralahome and his daughter Autumn as Princess Ying Yawolak, Hansel Tan as Lun Tha, YoonJeong Seong as Tuptim, Christine Toy Johnson as Lady Thiang, Jon Viktor Corpuz as Prince Chulalongkorn (Godspell cast of 2032), John Anthony as Captain Orton, Isis Noel as Louis Leonowens, Nobutaka Mochimaru as Simon of Legree, Viet Vo as The Interpreter, Masami Ishibashi as Uncle Thomas, Remina Nishida as Little Eva, Arisa Odaka as Angel/George, Yuki Kittaka as Topsy and Michiko Takemasa as Eliza. The cast also features Kaitlyn Cantoni, Gemma Dalfo-Zay, Jonathan G Galvez, Kavanagh Honor, Hyemi Kim, Sophie Kim, Tamara Lechner, Tomas Matos, Melanie Molina, Lily Randall, Olivia Roldan, Darren Shin. Leo Corpus, Maxe Corpus, VJ Scarpaci, William Corwin, Viyath Navinna, Julianna Katz, Robin Rodolfo, Alexandria Rose Quinones and Suharya Bandara play the royal children.
Mel Sagrado Maghuyop was last seen as “The Engineer” in Miss Saigonat Fulton Theater. He appeared in the critically-acclaimed production of Miss Saigon at the Walnut Street Theater first as “Thuy” and then as “The Engineer,” for which he garnered a Barrymore lead actor in a musical nomination. Besides 14 Miss Saigonproductions, other favorites includeGodspell, The Gate of Heaven and The King and I (North Shore Music Theater). His New York theater credits include a reading of Stan Lai’s Bruce Lee: The Musical in the title role, featuring music by Tan Dun;Tokio Confidential (Horiyoshi); Suites by Sondheim at Alice Tully Hall Lincoln Center (company member), Peony Pavilion (reading, Lee), Ferdinand Marcos in Pan Asian Rep’s Imelda; and the Prospect Theater Company’s Honor (Kenshin).
On the Saturday before Halloween, I took the Staten Island Ferry and a short bus ride to the Historic Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Gardens on Staten Island, to photograph a runthru of the Harbor Lights’ production of The King and I in a dance studio, and chatted with Mel at the end of the rehearsal.
Lia: When did you start acting?
Mel: I was originally a music major and I was going to be a music teacher. I didn’t know anything about acting. The first show I did was an opera called Albert Herring. Albert Herring got me into doing musicals just for fun. I did West Side Story, and I found that I was starting to enjoy it. The reason I got into theater was because of my mentors, Stuart and Anna Ostrow who found me at the University of Houston, and introduced me to the world of musical theater. I was late into the business, until 1993, 1994, I had never done an actual musical before.
Lia: What are your three favorite roles?
Mel: The King, I really enjoy him. The Engineer and Thuy from Miss Saigon. I’d always focused on being Thuy.
Lia: How were you cast for this production of The King and I, and what is your history with the show?
I auditioned for Alan Muraoka. That’s when I met Tamara, who’s playing Mrs. Anna. My first experience with The King and I was in ’94 or ’95 when I was going to the University of Houston. I played Lun Tha (I had hair). That was kind of a nice change. Since then, I hadn’t done The King and Ifor a very long time, I was doing a lot of productions of Miss Saigon. I got cast as The Kralahome in The King and I at North Shore Music Theater, and was the understudy to “The King”, which was great since I had just been cast as “The King” for the Walnut Street Theater Production, after I did Miss Saigon. It was a good time for me to actually play the part.
Lia: What do you like about playing The King?
Mel: The challenge of that connection with Anna. Finding those great moments of being “The King”, and still finding the jokes within the book. After taking on the role and seeing the different jokes which are really there that I had never noticed before, it’s great. Finding that fine line without going too far, being human and being able to slowly unravel the role, showing the more human side. All that needs to be shown to Mrs. Anna.
Lia: You and Tamara have great chemistry. Are you having fun?
Mel: Yes, I really am. It’s really great to build that connection with Tamara. Obviously, we had never really worked with each other before, but just jumping right into it, working on the blocking. Just this week, there’s been a nice vibe and flow that’s been happening between us. There’s new stuff that is coming up, so it’s been really exciting.
Lia: How long has New York been your homebase?
Mel: I left Houston, TX in 2001 to do my second Miss Saigon in Chicago. I was born in Chicago. I lived there for about a year doing the show, and then I left to go on tour for about 2 1/2 years.
OOV: Perhaps you’ve been told time and time again that you have become a role model for kids in your particular community. Perhaps parents want to know what the future holds for their son or daughter who might follow a similar career. Your name identifies you succinctly as Pinoy, is it easier in the industry to be a generic Asian American than to be known as Fil American?
Mel: I have not had a problem with my name being more Pinoy sounding than a generic Asian American name. I have found that that most of the asian roles I have been contracted to play have been mostly non-Filipino! I have played Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, Indonesian, Chinese, and Japanese. I have only played a Filipino less than five times in my professional career. I would have to attribute this to a smaller percentage of paying Filipino roles out there. And specifically in terms of what I have been right for or available for performing. On the other hand, there are certainly a higher percentage of paying non-Filipino Asian roles out there. My “bread and butter” so to speak has been the show Miss Saigon and The King and I.
The truth is, in terms of my name, I made a conscious effort to make sure that I used my full name of Mel Sagrado Maghuyop. I not only wanted to honor my parents names, but I wanted to stick out. My name shows three ethically diverse sides of me. All of which I embrace and all which show who I am. Mel, which is short for Melvin, is Scotch Irish for “Sword Chief” and shows how my parents wanted me to be “American”. Sagrado, which is Spanish for “sacred” and shows the Spanish influence on the Philippines (as a note my Grandfather was actually half Spanish and Chinese). Finally, Maghuyop, which means the verb “to blow with wind” in Filipino and from what I understand is deep, deep Filipino.
So, thankfully I have been known for my work and taking on other Asian roles. I show full respect to the other Asian ethnicities that I am lucky enough to play. I do my best to understand their cultures and language. That has been my key, respecting the other Asian roles and never denying or dismissing that I am a proud Filipino. I always wear my Adobo shirt to rehearsals!
OOV: Are you the eldest in your family? Did your parents give you a lot of flack when you told them your decision to pursue Theater Arts, to be in Opera, and end up in musical theater?
Mel: I am an only child. In terms of my parents giving me flack, well they did give me a hard time at first since almost all my friends were in the medical field. As I started successfully working as a performer, they have supported me and are very proud of my hard work. I started performing because of them. Both my parents sing and my father used to be a choir director at church. I in fact started singing at church.
OOV: How much of your Pinoy family traditions do you still keep up? Which ones have you left behind?
Mel: I have kept all of them, in fact I yearn for more. I am very proud to be a Filipino and specifically a Visayan. I have in fact taught myself to speak Visayan. I actually learned how to speak on tour with Miss Saigon, where I found several Filipino Visayan performers. Most of my life I have spent my free-time involved with promoting and supporting my Filipino community. When I was in college in Houston, Texas I was involved with organizations such VISMIN (Visayas Mindanao) and FSA (Filipino Student Association). Most recently here in NYC, BROADWAY BARKADA and PHILDEV.
OOV: Do you feel responsible to a younger generation as its role model?
Mel: Yes I do. I realize that being in the “public eye” so to speak, I have a responsibility to not only Filipinos but to all younger generations. I used to be a teacher back in Houston so I understand that duty. I want the younger generation to know that as long as you are driven, work hard and do not give up hope on your goal/dreams … you will achieve success. Just realize the difficulty and sacrifice of the journey. You will face the odds. The odds have been against me, and always will, but I have not nor will not stop working hard. I realize that I will never achieve a “final” successful goal. I can only be happy with my past achievements and realize that there are others that are following in my path. In that sense, my greatest achievement will be the knowledge that other younger artists will pursue this career.
OOV: Where do you stand on the issue of assimilation into mainstream society as opposed to encouraging diversity to preserve cultural heritage? Is this a non-issue for you?
Mel: This is an issue with me in some respects. As a Fil-Am, I can personally say that I am still seeking my “identity” of being a Filipino. I mentioned earlier that I taught myself how to speak my dialect of Visayan. I did that because my parents knew it was more important for me to assimilate into the American culture. Like many other immigrants, my parents sacrificed a lot to come to this country. With me being the first American born Filipino in the family, they wanted to give me the best odds. So to give me the best chance, they balanced the fine line with assimilating themselves and myself into the American culture. Although they never sat me down or gave me lessons on Pinoy language or history, they were HIGHLY involved with the Filipino community in Houston, Texas. My parents are and were community leaders. Not a weekend went by that I was not involved with some Filipino party, mass or celebration. My teachings of “traditions” came from example.
I think my history as a child and my hunger to learn more about my heritage has given me the tools to balance both worlds as I grew up as a Fil-Am. I think we simply have to respect other peoples heritage/history without forget or denying our own. The beauty of being an actor is the fact that I can live my regular life of being an American/New Yorker, from working a regular job or volunteering as NYPD, then at night play a person from some other ethnicity or tell my story on stage of being Filipino. I get the best of both worlds. I am American who is extremely proud to be Filipino.
Lia: If you weren’t in the performing arts, what would you be doing?
Mel: Probably what I used to do, I would be a cop. I was an Auxiliary Police Officer here in New York with the rank of Sergeant for 6 years, and until last year, I was a volunteer police officer. Two extremes. I also have a business. I make pillows that look like sushi. We created it while I was on tour with Miss Saigon, as a way of making extra money. I was only working two or three hours a day on the road. I had to actually stop acting at one point and lived off that in New York City for about 2 ½ years. But then the recession hit, so I went back into acting to make money. When I’m between gigs, I make pillows.theoriginalsushipillow.com.
The King and I performance schedule is November 8th at 8pm, 9th at 8pm, 10th at 2pm and 8pm, 11th at 2pm, 15th at 8pm, 16th at 8pm, 17th at 2pm and 8pm and 18th at 2pm. Tickets for The King and I are $30.00 for adults, $25 for students w/valid ID, children ages 3 and 17 and Senior (60+). Recommended age: 5 and up.
For more information about The Harbor Lights Theater Company and to purchase tickets to the show, visit the website atwww.theharborlightstheatercompany.org. Box office phone: 866-811-4111.
The Music Hall at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Gardens, 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island , New York 10301.
Directions from NYC:
If you are taking public transportation the following trains will get you to the Whitehall Ferry Terminal:
R: Whitehall Street, 1: South Ferry, 4/5: Bowling Green, J/Z: Broad Street
Bus Directions from Staten Island Ferry terminal:
Go to Gate A to the S40 bus. Tell the bus you are going to Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. Get off at the first Snug Harbor Exit which will lead you to the middle of the site. Bear left and follow the paths to the Music Hall or Veterans Memorial Hall. Click here for a map and detailed directions.
About Harbor Lights Theater Company:
Since founding HLTC in 2010, Broadway veterans and Harbor Lights Founding Artistic Directors Tamara Jenkins and Jay Montgomery, and Founding Producer Beth Gittleman, have begun putting their substantial contacts and relationships to work building a bridge from Broadway to Staten Island, bringing the nation’s best to work with their community’s finest. In only two seasons of producing plays and musicals, Harbor Lights has presented over 50 Broadway professionals, including TONY, Grammy, Oscar, Emmy, Drama Desk, and Obie Award winning and nominated artists on its stages.