Filipino pride in Hong Kong Disneyland

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COVER-PHOTOd“There is magic in you, you’ve got to share! Just hear it in my song, you’ll find your light there!”

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Hong Kong Disneyland Entertainment and Costuming director David Lightbody has high regard for Filipino performers

HONG KONG: There was an overwhelming sense of Filipino pride at the launch of Hong Kong Disneyland’s newest campaign, “Find Your Light,” on February 12. Held at the magical theme park
on Lantau Island, the campaign’s theme song of the same title had Filipino singer and theater actress Rochelle “Raki” Vega as its soloist, backed up by a 45-strong contingent of fellow Filipinos, who are part of Hong Kong Disneyland’s (HKDL) wonderful hodgepodge of cast members from around the world.

The moment was especially poignant for a small group of Filipino media who flew in from Manila as honorary guests for the world premiere of the new song and its music video, which were respectively written by Rony Fortich, HKDL musical director, and expressed in dance by Jamie del Prado, HKDL’s resident choreographer. And yes, both these gifted men are proud Filipinos too.

■ Thespian Raki Vega is Jessie in the ‘Toy Story’ suite of  ‘The Golden Mickey’s Show’

■ Thespian Raki Vega is Jessie in the ‘Toy Story’ suite of ‘The Golden Mickey’s Show’

“Find Your Light” is part of a bigger HKDL umbrella campaign dubbed “Show Your Disney Side” for the Philippine market, which aims to boost a sense of pride among the huge volume of Filipino guests to theme park all year round.  Because indeed, many of the songs they hear and the performances they see in the “most magical place” this side of Asia are bursting with Filipino talent.

Happily, from the onset, the campaign already seems to be a success, for not only have the song and music video sparked Filipino pride in theme park, but it has also done the same on the World Wide Web. Published online by HKDL on January 18, Show Your Disney Side—Find Your Light immediately went viral with 29,021 views, and continues to rise.

In fact, a sing-along video was also just uploaded and this one has already reached 11,322 subscribers as of this writing.

The composer

Rony Fortich (center), HKDL music director, picks up the beat with the park’s ‘Jammitors’

Rony Fortich (center), HKDL music director, picks up the beat with the park’s ‘Jammitors’

“Find Your Light” features both Filipino and English lyrics by Rony Fortich, who describes the composition process for the song as one of the “best moments” in his 10-year Disney career.

He recalled to The Sunday Times Magazine how back in October 2014, management approached him with the task to come up with a marketing concept that would be tailor-made for the Philippine market.

He immediately thought of composing a new song.

At first, he composed the lyrics in English and asked Luis Laparen to help him translate the song into Filipino.

“I wanted a song with lyrics that Pinoys can really relate to,” explained Fortich who laughingly admitted Laparen is better in Filipino that he is.  “I believe that when Filipinos say things in our own language, it is more expressive than using the English language.”

Fortich joined HKDL since it opened in 2005, and credits the environment where fairy tales come alive in song and dance as his inspiration in craft.

 Gian Magdangal as Captain Shang of ‘Mulan’

Gian Magdangal as Captain Shang of ‘Mulan’

“All this has inspired me to find new and wonderful ways to tell stories through music,” he continued.  “Many Filipinos grew up surrounded by Disney stories and music, and I’m very proud to be able to show my Disney side and be part of these stories together with many other Filipino talents.”

Currently, Fortich oversees all of HKDL’s musical requirements, from special and seasonal events, to working with the vocalists and musicians of the park’s daily live shows. He has also composed a number of songs used for special presentations, including “Halloween Tonight” for Jack Skellington’s Glow in the Park Halloween Parade, “Hangin’ Loose” for Stitch’s Summer Dance Bash, “Jumpin’ in the New Year” for the Chinese New Year parade, “Celebration in the Air” for Hong Kong Disneyland’s fifth anniversary, with “Find Your Light” as his most recent output.

In 2013, the musical genius received the Walt Disney Legacy Award for his valuable contribution to Hong Kong Disneyland.

Fortich was a significant figure in Manila’s musical theater scene before he moved to Hong Kong in 2005. He worked with such noted companies as Trumpets, Atlantis Productions, Actor’s Actors Inc., and Repertory Philippines. Never forgetting his roots, he has managed to continue this involvement as a consultant for productions in Manila now then, flying in and out of Hong Kong whenever possible.

In 2013, Fortich served as the musical director for the Triple Threat shows at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). He also wrote the music for Upstart Productions’ Breakups and Breakdowns; Blue Repertory’s Stages of Love; and Trumpets’ N.O.A.H. and award-winning The Bluebird of Happiness, which won eight 2013 Broadway World Philippines Awards including Best Score, Best Musical Direction, and Best Musical, as well as two Gawad Buhay Awards for Best Musical and Best Musical for Children.

In December 2014, The Bluebird of Happiness enjoyed a month-long run at the Academy of Performing Arts in Hong Kong. Earlier that year in July, Fortich headlined his own concert, Best Seat in the House, a one-night show at Greenhill’s Teatrino, which also featured 35 of Manila’s finest theater artists.

This year, he is looking forward to showcase his works on home ground under CCP’s Triple Threat, Composers Series.

Using the lyrics of his HKDL composition, Fortich explained that in theater, “find your light” or “stand where the light is” are phrases they use in directing performers to take their rightful place on stage. He believes that these concepts are very fitting for Filipino artists who have also been taking their rightful place in the international theater scene just like himself.

“This is also what the music video shows where the Filipino cast members have found their place to shine in Hong Kong Disneyland,” he added. “That’s what Raki is doing, and she is perfect for the role. I knew she could do justice to the song because her voice and professionalism have always impressed me.”

The voice
“I am thrilled to be the lead vocal in ‘Find Your Light’ as I feel it represents everything that is magical about Disney,” Raki Vega said in response to her musical director’s praises. “The song also enables me to invite my Filipino friends to ‘take my hand’ and share my joy at Hong Kong Disneyland.”

On any given day, visitors to the park will see Vega in a host of roles such as Bebe the Host, a Tarzan singer, and cowgirl Jessie for the The Golden Mickey’s Show to name a few.

“It’s a dream come true for me to perform on a Disney stage and I have been blessed with the opportunity to try a range of different roles since joining the park five years ago,” the talented lady enthused.

Before joining HKDL, Vega was also very much involved in the musical theater scene in the Philippines. She played the lead role for numerous productions including The Master Hsing Ying Musicale in 2010; Once on this Island Musical from 2005-2006; Project Jose the Musicale in 2005; and Calamba Joe the Musicale in 1998.

She is also a recording artist with two full-length albums titled Streisand Classics, released in the Philippines in 2008, and Raki Vega Sings Streisand, released in Indonesia in 2010.

Her talent has since been recognized with awards, such as one of the
Top 5 Vocalists of the World at the 2007 World Championship of Performing Arts in Hollywood, selected from 5,000 acts from over 50 countries. In 2004, she was also voted grand-prize winner of the Born Diva reality singing competition in the Philippines.

For all her achievements, Vega is humbled to be chosen as lead vocalist for “Find Your Light,” for it allows her to represent “the Filipino performers” in Hong Kong Disneyland.

She said her secret to performing is to make sure that she gives her very best in every show, especially when she knows there are Filipinos among audience. She believes that Filipinos are very discriminating and know what a good performance is.

Grateful for being part of HKDL’s talent, she acknowledged, “The training here is integral to my growth as an artist. Even if I have already recorded two albums in the Philippines, I consider HKDL to be a different arena altogether because it is a world-renowned franchise.”

The choreographer
For his part, HKDL choreographer Jaime del Prado expressed how excited he was upon seeing the storyboard for “Find Your Light’s” music video.

“It was just so wonderful to be part of something that is being made particularly for the Filipino audience, and I was excited for our fellow Filipinos to see what we’re doing here at HKDL,” he added.

Credited for the choreography of the grand “Festival of the Lion King” production at the park, Del Prado said that designing the moves for “Find Your Light” was a very unique experience for him as an artist.

“The approach in doing the choreography of ‘Find Your Light’ is entirely different because first of all it is written by a Filipino and the performers are all Filipino, so that I had to make sure that a Filipino who sees the music video can identify with both the song and the moves.”

He is convinced that he, Fortich, Vega, and the rest of the performers in the video had succeeded in their task because many of his own friends in the US were so touched by the production that they actually scheduled a visit to HKDL.

In return, Del Prado also knows that the Filipino visitors’ response to the music video will inspire the cast members of HKDL to work even harder. He showed the media contingent how the performers of “The Festival of the Lion King” rehearsed relentlessly to present world-class shows several times a day, seven times a week.

“This will give them a big boost,” he enthused.

Since joining Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005, Del Prado has held several positions for the park including stage manager of theater operations, parade operations, and entertainment atmosphere operations, where he was responsible for training new cast members and ensuring show quality. He first joined the park as a performer and dance captain himself for the Festival of The Lion King show.

Before moving to Hong Kong in 2005 when the park opened, Del Prado was resident choreographer Repertory Philippines for 10 years, where he was responsible for the choreography of large-scale musicals and special events. He also held teaching positions at Fitness First and Douglas Nierras’ Powerdance, where he was a founding member.

Before “Find Your Light,” his most recent work for HKDL was the co-choreography of the brand new Disney’s Paint The Night Parade.

The newbie
A new Filipino performer in Hong Kong Disneyland is a familiar name in mainstream show business in the Philippines.  He is Gian Magdangal who just joined the park in October 2014. He plays one of the major roles in The Golden Mickey Show, as Captain Shang for the Mulan suite.
Magdangal started his musical theater career in the Philippines in 2000.

He was a finalist in a nationwide singing contest before he became part of GMA Network’s noontime show SOP. When his contract ended with the network, he pursued his dream job and auditioned for the shows of HKDL.

“Happily, I passed, because [to work here]is a really good opportunity—to do what I love to do and at the same time provide for my six-year-old son,” he explained.

“I’m happy here as a performer and Disneyland has given me this inspiration to see  children with such big smiles throughout the show.  It’s a very fulfilling experience to perform for them and getting paid is just a bonus.”

Passionate performers
David Lightbody, HKDL entertainment and costuming director, is all praises for the Filipino effort behind “Find Your Light.”

“It’s a fantastic music video. ‘Find Your Light’ is a unique campaign that really communicates to those who see it,” explained the British executive, adding that he has high regard for the Filipino talent.

“Filipino performers are globally respected because of their amazing qualities. Working with them Hong Kong Disneyland reconfirms those recognitions because Filipinos have that inner happy passion in what they do. Their great and amazing commitment is reflected in their smiles and their faces. They are exceptional,” he gushed.|

Indeed, the man knows what he is talking about, backed with an extensive 20-year experience with a number of the world’s leading commercial theater companies. He was founder and managing director of Stray Theater Company that won a number of major awards including the Royal Bank of Scotland Regional Business of the Year and the Shell Livewire National Award. In 2005, Lightbody joined Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. as general manager in China, and was responsible for the company’s China strategy including production, casting, technical training, marketing and legal issues. He graduated from Royal Holloway College, University of London, with a Bachelor of Arts, Honors in Drama and Theater Studies; and obtained his MBA from the London Business School.

Lightbody pointed out that the world-class, state-of-the-art entertainment is the heart of the Hong Kong Disneyland experience, and because of this, they are grateful to have many Filipino talents in the cast.

“We’ve been recruiting cast members from the Philippines even before we opened the park 10 years ago,” he related. “Happily, we have seen the number Filipino cast members increase every year as HKDL expanded.

“With a diverse range of performers from over 30 different nationalities, Filipino cast members currently hold major roles in a range of shows, both behind the scenes and on stage. The quality and energy of their performances have played an instrumental role in touching people’s hearts and providing guests with the fondest memories of their Disney experience.”

For Lightbody, the Filipino artists in Hong Kong Disneyland have truly found their light.  And he promises them that the “happiest place on earth” will make sure to keep that light shining bright.

■ HKDL choreographer Jaime Del Prado (seated center) with the cast of ‘The Festival of the Lion King’

■ HKDL choreographer Jaime Del Prado (seated center) with the cast of ‘The Festival of the Lion King’

More attractions
But the magic in HKDL does not end with unique musical journey with Filipino performers and other world-class performers from different parts of the world, the park has three more newly launched theme lands including Asia-exclusive Toy Story Land, one-of-a-kind Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point plus the Filipino guests’ top three favorite attractions of last year including Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, Space Mountain and Mystic Manor. Mickey and friends as well as the Disney Princesses with the latest additions to the park, Queen Elsa and Princess Anna from Frozen.

An exclusive offer for Filipino guests, Show Your Disney Side campaign is indeed an experience where Pinoy pride shines at its best in Hong Kong Disneyland.

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