By 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 BroadwayWorld.com 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.
But 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"
OJ 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."