3-Time Tony Awardee Jhett Tolentino Plans To Bring Local Production To Broadway
By Patricia Simone Dauz
“Accounting wasn’t really my calling because I just had to do that. It was accessible to me because, my scholarship grant was limited.
I can only go to a particular school in Iloilo so I had to settle for that.”
In 2002, right after he finished accountancy from the University of Iloilo, Jhett Tolentino moved to the United States, and he was only 25 years old. In 2004, he flew to New York and worked as an accountant by day and a theater enthusiast by night. He started his theater career as a blogger, doing theater reviews, until his desire to become part of theater awoke. “I don’t perform though. In my head, I do. I can do the kicks in Chicago…just in my head,” he said.
The first Broadway show he ever watched in the Big Apple was The Lion King directed by Julie Taymor. Prior to that, he was able to watch the staging of Miss Saigon at CCP in 2000. “That was Lea Salonga’s last performance.” he fondly added.
“And that was my introduction to Broadway. I was writing…reviewing shows that I saw, and I was merciless.” A ticket to a Broadway show costs at least $100 a piece and usually runs for two hours or more. “After having seen over a thousand shows, I decided to do something about it.” Tolentino’s first taste of production know-how was through How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe.
However, his first investment in a Broadway production was via Broadway Consortium, a company which gathers potential investors so they can choose which shows they want to produce. He handpicked Evita, the 2012 Broadway revival which starred Elena Roger and Ricky Martin.
What changed his vision with regards to the risk involved in investment returns was when he attended a workshop rehearsal for Kinky Boots, the 2012 musical which starred Cyndi Lauper. He trusted his gut instinct this time so when allegedly the Broadway Consortium didn’t have it on their list, he still flew to Chicago in October to catch the premiere night. However, by then, he affirmed that the slots for producers were gone, but he was still able to become part of the shows as an investor. “We triple our money there,” he claimed, The rest is history.
In 2013, he formed Joanjhett Productions, with his former employer, Joan Raffe. Their first venture was producing an off-Broadway play, Vanya, Sonia, Masha, and Spike, which starred Sigourney Weaver. The comedy play with Chekovian elements got them awards and nominations from Lucille Lortel Award, Drama League Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, 67th Tony Award, New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Theatre World Award, Off-Broadway Alliance Award, and Artios Award.
Prior to being a Broadway hotshot producer, he worked as Joan Raffe’s personal assistant. He is the third Filipino to have won a Tony Award aside from Lea Salonga and Robert Lopez. His other Tonys came from producing A Raisin in the Sun and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love. He also produced an Off-Broadway rock musical in 2013 inspired by the life of former First Lady Imelda Marcos entitled Here Lies Love.
To date, he has reportedly seen around 1,500 plays. He mentioned having seen one Filipino production he wanted to take with him to Broadway but was mummed to the details as to which play or even under which production company. He also mentioned that he wanted to “meet with Philippine theater company heads in August” for a discourse on producing stage productions. This was during his lecture at the Meridian College, upon the invitation of theater veteran, Bernardo Bernardo.