BWW Interviews: OJ Mariano Talks FORBIDDEN BROADWAY, RAMA HARI & More


BWW Interviews: OJ Mariano Talks FORBIDDEN BROADWAY, RAMA HARI & MoreBy Jude Cartalaba

When he was younger, 2011 BroadwayWorld Philippines Awards' Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Ramon Enrique Mariano aka OJ Mariano always had an interest in the theater arts. At 10 or 11 years old, he and his family would go to Rajah Sulayman Park in Malate, Manila and watch stage plays.

"I was just awed with the tremendous amount of talent of theater actors. I guess I've always doubted if I had the chops to be on stage and act and perform; good thing I gave it a shot! And now I feel very, very blessed with the projects that have come my way," OJ shares with in an exclusive interview.

After "Star in a Million," his star shines brighter

This 32-year-old man, towering at six-feet tall, believes that if he were not a recording and concert artist, he would probably be still in the arts and media or perhaps in the medical field.

"I got my artistic epiphany when I joined 'Star in a Million' [a reality TV singing competition of ABS CBN network] in 2005. And that got me going in this industry," he looks back at the day he landed third place in the contest's second season.

Doing 9 Works Theatrical's revival production of "Rent" (2010), playing gay anarchist and college professor Tom Collins, would have been the most challenging for him since it was his first venture into musical theater; he really had to study and equip himself with what was needed for the role.

BWW Interviews: OJ Mariano Talks FORBIDDEN BROADWAY, RAMA HARI & MoreBut with 9 Works Theatrical's artistic director, Robbie Guevara's direction and help from his co-actors back then, it made the job so much easier for him.

From then on, he has starred in several Theater Productions: He played Tunying and Simoun in Dulaang UP's "Isang Panaginip na Fili" (2010). He played a Japanese captain in De La Salle University's production of "A Fire in the Soul" (2011). He played Vittorio Vidal and Daddy Brubeck in 9 Works Theatrical's production of "Sweet Charity" (2011). In the latter part of last year, he played Sebastian in Atlantis Productions' Disney's "The Little Mermaid."  Prior to "Forbidden Broadway" this year, he played one of the main leads in the semi-historical musical production called "Rivalry: Ateneo-La Salle the Musical."

How does he prepare for a role?

Despite being a relatively "newbie" to the theater community, he knows exactly what he needs to do in order to be an excellent artist.

"I do research and study about the role and the play in general," says OJ.

"I try to immerse myself in the world of the character that I would be playing. Plus I try to make it a point that I would have the words and songs memorized prior to rehearsing so there's more time to explore on character portrayal."

In fact, he was vocal about his feelings about being floored when Upstart Productions' artistic director, Joel Trinidad, asked him to join the original "Forbidden Broadway" cast in Manila.

"Because, for one thing, I never really saw myself as somebody that had good comedic timing, and it seemed pretty daunting for me at first," he admits.

In doing "Forbidden Broadway"

BWW Interviews: OJ Mariano Talks FORBIDDEN BROADWAY, RAMA HARI & MoreOJ felt so overwhelmed that he was offered the part in the musical spoof revue; at the same time, he was really thrilled that he would be working with the show's amazing cast.

"The only violent reaction I had, I guess, was that I was afraid of being funny or the lack of it, for that matter," he confesses.

"Lorenz Martinez, Caisa Borromeo, and Liesl Batucan are some of the most talented theater actors in the country. It was a huge honor for me to work with them and learn from them as well. And we had a great time doing the show. We enjoyed each other's company. There was never a dull moment with these guys."

"Joel Trinidad, our director, was brilliant. He was in his element because he's a terrific comedian. And I enjoyed being under his wing because he really let his actors fly with the characters that they're doing."

On Performing with Lea Salonga in the first run of "Forbidden Broadway"

Just like any other artist, OJ has his challenging moments, too.

"During rehearsals for 'Forbidden Broadway,' every role was difficult because we were all having a hard time trying to keep ourselves from laughing. But I enjoyed every minute of it."

His favorite part of the show though would have to be the "Fiddler on the Roof" segment.

And sharing the stage with Tony winner Lea Salonga, a featured guest artist in the original run of "Forbidden Broadway" in Manila, was a dream-come-true for him.

"I was very vocal to the cast and staff that I was very anxious to perform with her [Salonga] - although I just basically held a green halogen light to her face, and helped her get off the box and out of the stage."

After "Forbidden Broadway," it's "business as usual"

BWW Interviews: OJ Mariano Talks FORBIDDEN BROADWAY, RAMA HARI & MoreFor OJ, he just keeps learning and growing in his craft. There are no limitations to one's talents. Constant honing and cultivation -  that is his usual business.

His advice for theater aspirants, "Don't hesitate and give it a shot."

"Your talent will be recognized. And never be complacent. Always find room for improvement in your craft. Continue learning and honing your talents."

After "Forbidden Broadway's" repeat this Friday, August 24 and Saturday, August 25 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, OJ is excited to be playing Rama, alternating with international recording star Christian Bautista, in Ballet Philippines' highly anticipated revival of "Rama Hari," a dance musical based on the Indian epic "Ramayana."

To some, OJ might come off as a snob, but in fact, he is just the shy type. When you see him on stage performing - he is one heck of a natural born performer, who gives out his best in every role he tackles.

Photos by Dale Bacar, 9 Works Theatrical, Raul Victor Montesa

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