01/23/2015

Christine is ready for her close up

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It was a Friday night in London’s Southbank. While everyone else was getting wasted at their favorite pub (ahem, Prince Harry), I was watching the Friday gala of Here Lies Love, the award-winning David Byrne and Fatboy Slim musical that had just finished its Broadway run. I saw a few familiar faces: soprano Gia Macuja-Atchison (you might know her ballerina sister Lisa Macuja-Elizalde), who plays Imelda’s long-suffering nanny, was one. Miles away from his Sunday afternoon variety show gig was Mark Bautista, who was walking around the moveable stage in swimming shorts as Ferdinand Marcos.

But it was Christine Allado that caught my eye. When I saw her dancing as one of Imelda’s Blue Ladies and transforming into one of the EDSA Revolution protesters in the end, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

This shock had very little to do with her skills; she had heaps of it, even way back in high school. Christine and I were part of a teenage singing quartet that performed Destiny’s Child covers. Even then she had already distinguished herself from the wannabe Kellys and Michelles that the rest of us were. She had a voice that was (and still is) captivating, one that could hit high and low notes with ease.

It was the sheer timing of it that surprised me, the revelation that Christine had made it so far and so quickly. Besides being part of the ensemble, Christine happens to be Imelda’s understudy — a role she takes on with a texture of seriousness and honesty. It made me eager to know more about her journey. After all, you hear about so many Filipinos “making it” abroad but it’s never felt so close to home for me.

As she gave us a backstage tour of her latest stomping ground — the National Theatre, of course — I learned that she wasn’t simply plucked from obscurity and shoved in the spotlight. At 18, Christine left the comforts of home to hone her talents elsewhere.

I said this to the bartender at the theater, that I was friends with of the girls on the show. He was wiping a wine glass dry as I perused some CDs on the counter. “So she’s there,” he said of my friend backstage, as though he couldn’t believe it. “and you’re…here.”

I ignored whatever shadiness he meant by that, as I was too proud of my friend to mind. I then reached out to Christine on Facebook to ask her if we could meet a few days later, hoping that she wouldn’t think of me as a creepy stalker. Which, I swear, I was not.

Seeing Christine again was delightfully strange. My last vivid memory of her was of us laughing about a ham-related joke as we prepared for a singing contest in Baguio, but this time we were meeting in one of the cultural capitals of the world. As we chatted in her dressing room, I realized that she’s barely a year older than me, but she speaks as though she’s much more mature than her 24 years. She says her mom feels the same way, and that it might be due to her years spent away from Manila.

As she gave us a backstage tour of her latest stomping ground — the National Theatre, of course — I learned that she wasn’t simply plucked from obscurity and shoved in the spotlight. At 18, Christine left the comforts of home to hone her talents elsewhere. After spending two and a half years as a part of Hong Kong Disneyland’s talent pool, she enrolled in the Royal Academy of Music in the United Kingdom to study music and drama.

We got to talk more about her life in London, especially why it was necessary to dream beyond the Philippines. She admits that she’s been putting her British work visa to good use; jobs just keep coming in, even when she’s stopped expecting them. Besides theatre, Christine is also part of an all-female classical group called Zyrah. As of writing, their latest single The Children—inspired by The Game of Thrones—is number one on the iTunes classical chart.

Call it talent, a stroke of luck, or sheer determination. Whatever it is, you can believe they happen to a girl like Christine Allado, and rightfully so.

YOUNG STAR: Hey Christine, what made you to move to London? From Hong Kong you ended up here.
CHRISTINE ALLADO: One time I went to Singapore on holiday to watch The Lion King. I was sitting in the audience, and I said, “I really wanna do that. And I think I can.”

Then the next day, I researched schools, and then I made a PowerPoint presentation just to compare schools and prices. After that I booked a ticket to London in order to audition for seven schools. I got accepted into three or four of those schools. I eventually I decided on the Royal Academy of Music. It’s funny ‘cause I suddenly wanted it so much. You know when you really want something? I was researching like crazy. I was dead set on it.

But you didn’t study music or drama when you were in the Philippines, right?
I didn’t take it up as a course, because I didn’t think it was a career. I always thought it was just a hobby. In the Philippines I feel like you can’t really earn enough (in theater) to make ends meet… I mean, you need a lot of projects or you need to be famous. But here it can be a means to live. I think that’s why I kind of had to leave. You have to go somewhere that supports it.

Was it hard to be away from home and to be independent?
Oh, yeah. (Laughs) I left for Hong Kong at 18 — I didn’t know how to cook or clean or anything. And suddenly, I’m by myself. I also remember the first time I went to Hong Kong and did the show in Disney, the girls in the dressing room were like, “Oh my God, your makeup is really bad.” (Laughs) They said it in a funny way, and they taught me. I’m still not good at it, but with YouTube videos, you kind of learn how to do it.

But it’s really hard sometimes. I remember there was a time my dad was suddenly really sick and I was in the middle of doing a show. I was about to go onstage when I got a call from my mom about it. I literally burst into tears, but I had to sing these songs that were not sad. (Laughs) But in everyday life, it’s nice to be independent. It’s really nice to not to have to think about going home early to please your mom.

It’s good your parents were so supportive of that. I feel like back home there are a lot of parents who are like, “Don’t go, stay here.”
Yeah, yeah. (I’m) very lucky, I think. Actually, my sister wants to study in Australia and my mom’s like, “No, stay here with me!” (Laughs) But I think ‘cause she saw that there was a bigger opportunity for me to do what I was good at, not in the Philippines, she didn’t want to hinder me from (pursuing) that.

Let’s talk about your role as the Imelda in Here Lies Love. Did it make you more sympathetic to Imelda as a person?
What I know about her is only know based on what they taught us in history class. I actually felt like people admired them too much. Especially in the beginning, they were blinded by how flashy they were. But definitely she is portrayed in a sympathetic way in the musical. Personally, I don’t sympathize. The way I play Imelda, I think, I try to look at her in a harder way. I think Natalie (Mendoza) plays her in a very human way. In a very feminine way. I still wanted to keep her hardness, the evil that was there through the stony facade.

That’s pretty interesting. Are you doing theater full-time?
Actually, I’m with Universal Music too. I have a girl group called Zyrah. Parang we do epic music, kind of like Hans Zimmer with vocals. It’s very different from theater, which is scary but fun. But cool. It’s a different world, but it’s something exciting as well.

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