A best-selling recording artist in his native Philippines and a Broadway veteran by the age of thirty, Jose Llana starred at the Marquis Theater on Broadway as El Gato (an updated avatar of the Cheshire Cat) in Frank Wildhorn’s new musical Wonderland.
Born in Manila and raised in the vicinity of Washington DC, Llana
made his Broadway debut when he was nineteen and in his freshman year as a classical voice major at the Manhattan School of Music. As Lun Tha, he played opposite fellow debutante Joohee Choi’s Tuptim in the 1996 revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I, starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Donna Murphy. Subsequently he joined the cast of Rent briefly as Angel, then originated the role of Jessie-Lee in the acclaimed Motown musical Street Corner Symphony (1997). After a four-year hiatus, Llana returned to Broadway as the romantic lead, Wang Ta, opposite Lee Salonga in the 2002 revival of Flower Drum Song.
Meanwhile Jose Llana had begun to supplement his career off-Broadway and in regional theatre: in 1997 director George C. Wolfe chose him for the lead role of Gabey in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s production of On the Town at the Delacorte Theater, and the following year Llana performed in Adam Guettel’s Saturn Returns at The Public Theater (this show was also produced in Philadelphia in 2002 and recorded under the title Myths and Hymns). Cameron Mackintosh’s Martin Guerre, in which Llana played the villain Guillaume, took him to the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis in 1999, and further on the national tour to Detroit, Washington DC, Seattle, and Los Angeles. A Broadway run of Martin Guerre was planned but never realized.
The next two years brought Jose Llana two distinguished regional award nominations: for his performance as the Tin Man in Ballad of Little Jo (2000) in Chicago at the Steppenwolf, a nomination for the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Supporting Actor, and for the title role in Candide (2001) in Philadelphia, a nomination for a Barrymore Award for Best Actor.
Llana’s next big stage success was his creation of the role of Chip Tolentino (singing “My Unfortunate Erection”) in William Finn’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, first at the Second Stage Theater, then on Broadway, and finishing off with a sold-out smash hit performance in Los Angeles. The show, at 1,136 performances, was nominated for both Tony® and Drama Desk Awards for Best Musical and won both Tony® and Drama Desk Awards for Best Book. As part of the cast, Jose Llana was a recipient of the 2005 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance.
Being a participant in workshops has been an important part of Llana’s work; Tales of the City (dir. Jason Moore), Wildhorn’s Havana (dir. Nilo Cruz), The Long Season (dir. Peter duBois), Kafka’s Songs (dir. Diane Paulus), and Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening (dir. Michael Mayer) – not to mention his current show, Wonderland, itself – have all benefitted from his talent and creativity.
In addition to the cast album recordings for The King and I, Flower Drum Song, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and the forthcoming recording of Wonderland, Jose has been a guest artist on several benefit recordings for Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS, and on Jennifer Paz’s debut solo album, Awakening. In 2003 Jose flew to the Philippines to fulfill his lifelong dream of performing in his homeland; his debut solo album, Jose, soon peaked at number two on the Manila industry charts. The album is available in the U.S. at www.CDbaby.com.
Llana has appeared on television in HBO’s Sex and the City and on film in Hitch, starring Will Smith. He is an untiring advocate for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Broadway Impact for Marriage Equality, and several other charities. He was a featured performer on Rosie O’Donnell’s R Family Cruise and can be seen in the HBO documentary of that event, All Aboard R Family. He also conducts intensive seminars for performers on “Making It on Broadway.”
In July 2010 Jose Llana starred off-Broadway as Adam in the world premiere of Falling for Eve at The York Theatre.
– Lucy E. Cross