Ten months after wrapping up his first London musical amid this pandemic when he did “Fanny and Stella,” Filipino theater actor Joaquin Pedro Valdes snagged an even bigger break, this time on the West End.
On June 21, Valdes embarks on his West End debut in “Heathers: The Musical,” playing Ram Sweeney, the good-looking and sporty jock.
Although he previously joined the UK and international touring productions of “Miss Saigon,” where he was part of the company, and “The King and I,” where he played Lun Tha, Valdes is gracing the West End stage for the first time in “Heathers: The Musical.”
Valdes originally auditioned for the tour but surprisingly, didn’t make the cut. “When the new year came around, my agent told me the production would like to invite me to audition again,” Valdes told ABS-CBN News. “This time, for the cast in town.
“Both productions [the tour and town] are extremely anticipated and are done at a very high standard. We are directed and guided by the same creatives and producers so one is not better than the other. I think the fans are in for a treat to be able to see different casts at any given time.”
Valdes pointed out the audition process in the UK is always “deeply revered and respected,” for every forthcoming production. “This rigorous practice of finding, sifting and shortlisting the best person for the job is placed at a very high regard. It’s not easy.”
Admittedly, Valdes got rejected more times than he got selected. “That’s just nature of the job,” he unabashedly said. “You can never assume you know what the production, creatives and casters are really looking for.
“You can only put all your effort into delivering the best five minutes you can on tape or inside the room, then leave with no regrets. After you walk out the door, it’s best to focus on the next one.”
“Fanny and Stella,” staged at the open-air Garden Theater in August last year, will always have a special place in Valdes’ heart. In the musical, he played the true-to-life role of American consul John Safford Fiske, who was part of the lean, six-member cast.
“The musical came at a time all of us in the industry needed a morale boost,” Valdes recalled. “I have made some deep and lasting friendships with my colleagues in that show.
“Whenever I feel discouraged or demoralized, I look back at ‘Fanny and Stella’ and remember how theater-folk are resilient and immovable at the face of danger.”
Last year gave Valdes an important realization, as far as his acting career is concerned. “The year 2020 taught me not to take anything for granted,” Valdes said. “As a working actor, I can’t afford to cherry-pick my projects. It would be absolutely wrong of me to consider one project superior than the other.
“At the state the world is in, I am just absolutely grateful for every single opportunity to do what I love, however it comes my way.”
In “Heathers: The Musical,” Valdes looks forward to playing Ram Sweeney onstage. Considering the character has been essayed by several actors in the past, first on the big screen back in 1989 and two decades later onstage, when the musical was staged, Valdes is aware he has big shoes to fill. Yet, he intends to make his mark in his West End debut.
“The 1989 film had a massive cult following, as well as the world premiere cast in the US back in 2009,” Valdes said. “In 2018, the producers and creatives launched the most updated and current iteration of the show with brand new songs on the West End and that drew in a whole new army of fans. And the fans ‘really’ love this show.
“It’s quite a thing of beauty to see them so involved and so affected and protective of the show. They come and watch in costume, they know ‘all’ the lines and the dances. So, there is definitely some pressure.
“But I rest on the knowledge that the same producers, creatives and director Andy Fickman, who created the hit that it is, are also the same people guiding us newbies into the show. We are in extremely capable hands.”
With choreography by Gary Lloyd, “Heathers: The Musical” will go onstage at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from June 21 to September 11. By this month, most, if not all theaters in West End, will open, too.
“The target date for the UK to ease most of the restrictions including social distancing is June 21,” Valdes said.
He has started rehearsing for the musical, that’s why he has been studying the songs that Ram will render with the other actors. The hardest part of playing Ram?
“The working out,” he said. [Laughed] “Ram is supposed to be the linebacker in the Westerberg High Football team. I need to at least look like I train like one. Suspension of disbelief, right?”
Valdes has been based in the UK for the last three years now, with his wife Agee, who has been completing her Masters of Law. He cannot be thankful enough that she has been with him through all the ups and downs.
“Of all the good things to come out of the past year and this year, I am most grateful for the fact that I get to share all of it with my wife,” Valdes said. “She has been an absolute rock. We have cried together, laughed together, prayed together, worried together and won together.
“She remains to be my biggest and strongest inspiration. I can’t go into specifics, but the work she is doing puts the work I am doing to shame. She is definitely a diamond, who continues to shape and mold me into a better human being every day. Epitome of patience and grace.”
He is aware that challenges are always going to be a part of their married life, wherever they are in the world. “But she makes the day to day more bearable and more enjoyable. When I come home shattered, she pieces me back together just in time for a new day.”
After he did “Fanny and Stella” last year, Valdes managed to spend a short vacation in Manila to visit his loved ones and touch base with a few theater friends.
“I was fortunate enough to go home for a while and visit our family and friends,” he shared. “It was a providential visit, because despite the limitations, the timing was perfect. We look forward to visiting home again once the world has truly managed the spread of the virus.”