“I never fit in; I never could win,” sings teenager Rose Garcia.
Which of us hasn’t said much the same thing at various times in our lives? Even the most attractive, popular and wealthy of us has gone into a crowded room, taken a look around at the people there and has felt inferior for one reason or another.
For Rose Garcia, the problem is even thornier. She and her mother Priscilla are Filipinas who entered the country illegally. With immigration a white-hot-button issue, YELLOW ROSE – the new film in which they appear – is certainly a story for our times.
The two have made it TO America, but haven’t made it IN America. They live in a particularly woebegone part of Texas. Yes, they’re somewhat close to Austin, one of this country’s meccas of country music. But that capital city is still far enough away from where Rose lives to have the songs she’s written heard by people who could help.
Luckily we can hear them, for YELLOW ROSE has issued a soundtrack.
The above-stated lyric comes from Rose’s first song, the haunting and memorable “Square Peg.” Her insecurity keeps her from daring to play her songs for anyone, even for admiring classmate Elliot. He does get her to The Broken Spoke, the Austin club where they hear actual country star Dale Watson (who plays himself).
By the way, The Broken Spoke IS a genuine Austin dance hall-cum-watering hole that’s been in existence since the Johnson Administration. The club was an important building block for eventual country legends Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff and Tex Ritter. In that spirit, Watson and Diane Paragas (with an assist from Thia Megia) have written songs that have a Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn feel.
Watson’s joyous song about being an entertainer – “Life out on the Road” – only reinforces to Rose what she’s missing by not being part of the music scene. But the worst is yet to come – and not merely because that night she drinks much too much. When Rose arrives at the hotel where she and her mother live, the immigration authorities are there to arrest them.
Luckily, Rose narrowly escapes, but now what? The only refuge that comes to mind is her Aunt Gail. “Tita Gail,” now a citizen, lives in a beautiful home after marrying well. Despite her naturalization, Gail sings to her child a Filipino song that was written in 1938 and has become a standard there: “Dahil Sa Iyo,” which translates to “Because of You.”
And because of Gail’s husband, Rose’s problems won’t be solved. As he tartly tells his wife, “We already have one daughter. We don’t need another one.”
Sometimes when our own family lets us down, we manage to find another. Dale Watson takes a professional interest in Rose and soon the lass who felt she could never “fit in and win” finds that she indeed can.
We hear that through three Rose-and-Watson duets. Granted, the first one has them lamenting how difficult it is to change one’s “Circumstance.” After that, the joy of their music overcomes those feelings. They insist that they won’t go “Quietly into the Night” and that they’ll “sing till the light of day.” You may well wish they would when you hear this amiable country waltz.
The two finish with “I Ain’t Goin’ Down” about the indomitability of dedicated artists. It starts off slow, but eventually turns into a boot-scootin’ rave-up. Don’t miss the terrific modulation in this one.
So what we have is a young female immigrant singing with a mature male All-American citizen. The barriers of sex, age and nationality are torn away.
Art can do that. In fact, few things can do it as well. Perhaps nothing can do it better.
To show his admiration, Watson then sings the title song in order to honor an Asian-American beauty: Rose.
“Yellow Rose” is the seventh cut on the soundtrack, but the album is hardly over. Ten more tracks offer the incidental music that peppers the film.
These selections were composed by Christopher H. Knight. Even those listeners who don’t know Austin music from Boston music might recognize Knight’s themes for MASTERPIECE CLASSIC, MASTERPIECE MYSTERYand NBC’s SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL.
Knight’s attending The University of Texas at Austin certainly gave him the opportunity to learn the city’s distinctive sound. And yet, while he was composing, he made certain to acknowledge music conventions and folk instruments indigenous to the Philippine Islands.
YELLOW ROSE will offer hope to those who feel that they could indeed “fit in” and “win” if they could just be in The Right Place at the Right Time. And that’s just what happened to the actress who plays Rose.
In 2013, Corey Mitchell, who directs musicals at Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, NC, encouraged his student Eva Noblezada to participate in the local Blumey Awards; they acknowledge and reward talented highschoolers in the Tar Heel State.
Noblezada participated, won and thus earned the right to come to New York, appear at the Minskoff Theatre and participate in The National High School Musical Theater Awards (more chummily known as “The Jimmys,” after their founder James M. Nederlander).
She didn’t win – at least, not in the conventional sense. But casting director Tara Rubin was impressed by the lass and knew that Cameron Mackintosh needed a Kim for his upcoming London revival of MISS SAIGON. Perhaps this seventeen-year-old could play that seventeen-year-old.
Indeed she could. Noblezada got the part which jumpstarted her career and resulted in her first Tony nomination; the second came last year for her performance in HADESTOWN.
In a wonderful coincidence, playing Aunt Gail in YELLOW ROSE is Lea Salonga, who originated Kim in the musical’s 1989 London world premiere. Nineteen months later, Salonga opened MISS SAIGON on Broadway where she won the 1990-1991 Tony as Best Actress in a Musical.
Listening to the exhilarating soundtrack reminds us that while some people get their “fifteen minutes of fame” that Andy Warhol predicted, Asian-American writer Celena Cipriaso started on the road to fame through fifteen minutes of film.
Not long after she was graduated from NYU in 2002, Cipriaso wanted to write a film about a Filipina amateur musician. She eventually caught the interest of director Diane Paragas, another Filipina who had attended Lubbock’s grammar and high schools with precious few classmates who resembled her. She and Cipriaso wrote YELLOW ROSE as a short subject. It was so well-received that they felt confident enough to expand it to a full-length feature.
Yet in the world of show business, matters often progress slowly. More than a decade would pass before their project would be realized. Story help came by way of Andy Bienen, who knows a good deal about outsiders; some years earlier he wrote BOYS DON’T CRY, about transgender man Brandon Teena.
After more help from writer Annie J. Howell, YELLOW ROSE blossomed into a ninety-four-minute drama that reaches general release this week. However, it’s already been an enormous hit in film festivals in Los Angeles, San Diego and Toronto (among other cities) where it’s won prizes.
Don’t be surprised if the soundtrack does, too.
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com.