Whatever happened to Lorli Villanueva?


Posted at Jun 25 2008 02:29 AM | Updated as of Jun 25 2008 10:29 AM


Long before Eugene Domingo came into the picture as one of today’s most versatile Filipino character actresses, there was Lorli Villanueva.


The Philippine Star

She was one of our versatile theater-movie actresses, one of Lino Brocka’s favorites and more popularly known among the masa as Maxima Labandera of the soap commercial.

So whatever happened to Lorli Villanueva?

The good news is that Lorli, who’s now based in New York, is coming up with her own CD and mounting a concert (no less!) for the Asilo de Molo of Iloilo.

This piece of good news came from Funfare’s Big Apple correspondent Edmund Silvestre (of The Filipino Reporter) who filed the following nostalgia piece about "Maxima Labandera":

Long before Eugene Domingo came into the picture as one of today’s most versatile Filipino character actresses, there was Lorli Villanueva.

An accomplished comic and dramatic performer, Lorli was a fixture on TV, theater and the silver screen from the ’70s to the ’90s, and has worked with the local tinseltown’s acting heavyweights — Lolita Rodriguez, Charito Solis, Rita Gomez, Dolphy, Susan Roces, Nida Blanca, Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos, Hilda Koronel, Lorna Tolentino, Eddie Garcia, Christopher de Leon, Phillip Salvador, Bembol Roco, Niño Muhlach and Sharon Cuneta.

Her filmography showcases numerous classics. Among them, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang; Oro, Plata, Mata; Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim; Ina Ka ng Anak Mo; Ang Tatay Kong Nanay; Tahan Na, Empoy; Tag-Ulan sa Tag-Araw; Annie Batungbakal; Bituing Walang Ningning; and Kriminal ng Barrio Concepcion.

She also megged for two years the longest-running soap opera in Philippine television, Flordeluna, starring a young Janice de Belen. The series lasted for 11 years.

She even made a big splash in advertising where, for many years in the ‘70s and ‘80s, consumers fondly identified her as "Maxima Labandera," a robust middle-aged woman who beat tough laundry dirt with the help of Ajax detergent. It was an image that stuck even up to now that she’s already a Big Apple resident.

"Once in a while, a kababayan would approach me and ask, ‘Hindi ba ikaw si Maxima Labandera?’, giggles Lorli in a recent interview at her cozy Manhattan apartment over coffee and rhum cake, with her aunt, Alice Cervas, and good friend Tito Estrada (who staged a successful one-man art show curated by Lorli at the Philippine Center in New York last month).

"It’s really amazing that people still remember me as Maxima," she says. "But believe it or not, I still use Ajax although naka-washing machine na ako and dryer. Maxima Labandera was one of the biggest commercials of all time, especially the Calle Onse version."

That commercial nearly overshadowed Lorli’s body of work as an actress.

"I really don’t mind," she declares. "At least people still remember me for something entertaining."

In the world of education, "Maxima" is revered as Professor Lorli Dima-ala, deputy chairman of the Graduate Education and Special Education at Touro College on West 23rd Street in Manhattan.

Formerly a UP broadcasting professor, Lorli was the first Asian commercial actress to have been granted a Fulbright Hays Scholarship to study at Northern Illinois University where she obtained her master’s degree in communications (major in radio, TV and films) in the ’80s. A founding member of the 40-year-old Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), she was also chairman of the board of judges of the prestigious Carlos Palanca Literary Awards for several years.

Before settling in New York, she served as dean of Student Affairs at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Pasay (City University of Pasay).

Now in her early 60s, she is a member of Hollywood’s Screen Actor’s Guild and American theater’s Actor’s Equity, taking on small roles in a number of Hollywood films, directing and acting in off-Broadway productions and appearing in print ads, including for K-Mart, until she was sidelined by a total right knee replacement surgery in February.

"Tumatanda na siguro," she jokes.

Lorli has recovered fast and has reported back to Touro College, with the help of a cane. While her condition prevents her at the moment from accepting acting or directing jobs, she has focused on her other artistic passion — singing.

Yes, Virginia, the topnotch actress can sing — and she sings well. Not known to many, Lorli, as a young girl, was an undefeated Tawag ng Tanghalan champion in Iloilo for 16 weeks until she was stopped by sponsors to give chance to others. Later, she competed at the Tawag ng Tanghalan in Manila, but was defeated by a then unknown Diomedes Maturan.

"I sang Begin The Beguine (from the Broadway musical Jubilee) and Diomedes sang Rose Tattoo (from the Broadway play of the same title)," Lorli recalls. "I was used to singing classic kundiman in Iloilo like Anak Dalita or Pakiusap, but when I got to Manila they asked me to sing modern eh hindi pa ako sanay sa modern."

This October, she will be launching a CD album titled Reminisce with Lorli, a compilation of 11 beautiful classic songs that showcases her musical talent. Recorded late last year at a downtown Manhattan studio for three straight days, the album is almost completed with only the CD jacket being meticulously finalized by one of Lorli’s four daughters, Princess Raymundo, herself a film and stage actress in New York.

Not a few who have heard cuts from Lorli’s album likened her husky and beautifully-modulated voice to a French chanteuse.

Babes Harington, a New York-based Filipina who also has French citizenship, says Lorli’s CD is a "perfect gift" for any occasion. "Ang galing kasi ng selection at talagang magre-reminisce ka sa kapanahunan mo," she says. "Classy and entertaining and full of emotions ang mga songs. I just sing from my heart. You will notice there’s a sadness behind my voice because I’ve been through a lot in my life."

Included in the CD are the French classic La Vie En Rose, with English lyrics by Mack David and Filipino translation (Kulay Rosas) by Jose "Pete" Lacaba; Send in the Clowns; Autumn Leaves; Both Sides Now; All The Things You Are; Dahil Sa Iyo (Because of You); Stella By Starlight; I’ll Be Seeing You; I Left My Heart in San Francisco; I Wish You Love; and Bali Hai (from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific that fits Lorli’s mystique voice and personality to a T).

The album was personally produced by Lorli and her daughters to raise funds for the elderly — many of them abandoned — living at the Asilo de Molo in Iloilo under the care of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

"I promised the lolos and lolas and the nuns there that I will do something to make their lives easier," says Lorli. "They have no chapel there, not all of them have a bed, they lack food, medicine and clothes, they need wheelchairs, and when they die they don’t even have services. Nakakaawa sila and they need our assistance, monetary or otherwise. I’ve been really blessed with my beautiful family, career... and I just thought of giving back and maybe make a difference."

The CD launching in October will be highlighted by a concert at Iloilo City’s premier hotel destination, the Sarabia Manor Hotel and Convention Center, to be hosted by Mayor Jerry Treñas.

"Mayor Treñas is very supportive of our cause and I hope all our kababayan will support the album," says Lorli. "We’re trying to get Jose Mari Chan as my special guest because he’s also a son of Iloilo City and we need his star power on stage. He’s our first choice and I hope he would say yes to help the residents of Asilo de Molo."

Will Maxima Labandera make a special appearance in her concert?

"She has retired a long time ago, may cane na nga, eh," Lorli says, laughing.

(E-mail reactions at rickylo@philstar.net.ph or at entphilstar@yahoo.com)