How this former OFW in HK became successful in Broadway

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Jul 31 2015 01:52 PM | Updated as of Aug 01 2015 05:02 PM

NEW YORK – Three-time Tony-winning Broadway producer Jhett Tolentino just got more influential on the Great White Way.

He is now a member of the exclusive, by invitation only club of about 800 Tony voters on Broadway this week.

Tony voters are expected to watch all nominated productions for free. Tony voters are asked to refrain from voting in any category in which they have not seen all of the nominees.

“Aside from not paying for my tickets, now I can put it in writing that my opinions matter. So that to me is priceless,” Tolentino said.

A big Broadway show fan, Tolentino has spent thousands of dollars watching more than 1,200 Broadway productions since he first moved to New York years ago, a far cry from his humble beginnings in Philippines.

“My mom was a beautician since 16 and my dad is still a passenger jeepney driver,” he said.

Tolentino grew up in the slums of Calumpang, Molo in Iloilo City in the Philippines.

He studied hard and received high school and college scholarships, thanks to grants from the Sophia University of Japan.

He then worked as an overseas contract worker in Hong Kong until he migrated to the US in 2002.

"I had different odd jobs. I was in sales and marketing; I did mortgage; I did home care; I did waitering. I’ve done it all. I’ve worked in a grocery store; I bagged groceries; I've done it all,” he said.

He dabbled in the world of investment beginning in 2007, but was duped by the so-called "Bernie Madoff of the Philippines."

He lost at least $20,000 to Ponzi schemer Razel Canedo who was later sentenced to two years in federal prison in New York in 2013.

But that did not stop Tolentino from becoming a Broadway producer, even if only about 75 percent of Broadway shows recoup their investments.

“You will lose your money if you don’t know what to pick. So far we’ve produced nine Broadway shows. Joan and I, with all the investments we have, we’re more than halfway of recoupment," said Tolentino.

He and his partner Joan of JoanJhett productions are producing a new show called "Clever Little Lies" starring comedian, Marlo Thomas. The show previews in September at the West Side Theater in Manhattan.

“I know where I am from, but I don’t let that define who I am now. I saw my parents struggle, bringing four kids to this world. I promised myself that I was going to give them the life they deserve – the life they never thought they could have," he said.

Tolentino is set travel to Asia and the Philippines beginning November to help bring Asian productions to Broadway.

Read more on Balitang America.