Jonathan Larson Award winner J. Oconer Navarro will premiere his new musical Breathe in a May 3–8 workshop at NYU/Tisch School of the Arts at the Department of Drama's New Studio on Broadway. With music and lyrics by Navarro and text by Isabella Dawis, A. Rey Pamatmat, Ma-Yi Producing Artistic Director Ralph B. Peña, and Ren Dara Santiago, the musical honors Filipino frontline healthcare workers.
The piece is inspired by Rosem Morton's Honored to Care, an exhibition described as highlighting "the experiences of Filipino American healthcare workers in New York as they reflect on the impactful moments of the pandemic, sharing their stories of pain, courage, and resilience."
Navarro co-conceived the new work with Obie winner Orlando Pabotoy, who directs the workshop's all-Filipinx cast and creative team. The cast includes Frenie Acoba (Matila), Gabbie Ballesteros, Brianna Clark, Sabrina Gottlieb, Olivia Hellman, Kaylee Kaleinani, Nik Mucha, Ashitaka Porter, and Bella Villanueva.
Pabotoy's creative team includes choreographer Gabbie Ballesteros, music director Justin Ramos (Dear Evan Hansen), assistant director Nathaniel P. Claridad (Here Lies Love), scenic and prop designer Gaya Chatterjee, costume designer Grace Jeon, lighting designer Venus Gulbranson, sound designer Jordan Bernstein, and projection designer Attilio Rigotti. Sarah Samonte is production stage manager.
“Throughout my career, I’ve worked with countless Filipinx artists; not once were we ever telling Filipino stories,” says Navarro. “When I noticed I had a large enough cohort of Filipinx students at NSB, I knew I had to give them this opportunity, and prove to the industry that it was possible. I went to Orlando, who told me about Rosem’s gorgeous Photoville exhibit, and we knew right away that it was the project we needed to work on. It was also at the height of anti-Asian hate crimes in the city. The very people who were giving their lives as frontline workers were the ones being senselessly attacked. It was unfathomable.”
“All we want to do with this piece, its singular goal, is to honor these healthcare heroes and tell their stories,” adds Pabotoy.
Songs from Breathe and other Navarro scores will be featured in a concert at Feinstein's/54 Below May 24 at 9:30 PM, with Devin Ilaw (Miss Saigon) and Ali Ewoldt (The Phantom of the Opera) headlining. For more information on this concert, visit 54Below.com.