Katy star Isay Alvarez talks about overcoming chronic lymphocytic leukemia

by Jude Bautista
May 24, 2013
Isay Alvarez (as Katy) is able to hit high notes while executing strenuous dance sequences during Katy the Musical’s preview last May 22, 2013. Isay is seen in an emotional scene with Tirso Cruz III (right photo) during a preview held last November 2012.

The musical Katy is based on the real life performer Katy de la Cruz known for her spunk, courage and passion for the stage during the vaudeville and jazz era. Isay Alvarez is the embodiment of that spirit. Isay plays the lead character Katy de la Cruz in the musical to be staged at the Meralco Theater from July 25 to August 4, 2013.

Tirso Cruz III, Dulce, Lou Veloso, Gian Magdangal, Epy Quizon, Tricia Amper Jimenez and Aicelle Santos are just a few of the talented members of the cast.

Last May 22, the show’s producers Spotlight Artists Center held a press preview at the Mabuhay Restop Travel Café and Museum at the Rizal Park.

While Isay’s recent health issues are known to family and friends, she opted to keep it from the public. One of Katy’s lines that she became famous for also in the musical is, “Walang kinalaman ang mga manonood sa nangyayari sa likod ng tanghalan.” (The show must go on whatever is happening or condition of the talents.) The statement was born out of her desire to shield audiences from the tragedies of performer’s lives.

Months after the first staging of Katy at the Cultural Center of the Philippines last January, Isay’s condition has improved. She is able to share her experience now, “It's chronic lymphocytic leukemia. It's chronic, it CAN be cured as long as you take care of your health.

"The doctor was saying ‘it's ok, it's controlled.’ Right now it’s very controlled kasi yung na raramdaman ko wala na talaga. Parang wala na kong sakit. Ganun pakiramdam ko.”

Even during the first staging of Katy she was already able to perform without hitches, in spite of her treatments, “Most people know about my illness. I was able to do Katy na walang masyadong problema. Now I am on my 6th cycle. Siguro after next week I’m gonna start again etong 6th cycle ko in preparation for Katy. By that time tapos na yung treatment ko and then with all my tests again. My doctors will tell me you’re done na. You’re OK na. That’s what we’re hoping for, of course.”

During the first run she had more hospital visits. Now during the Mabuhay Restop Travel Café preview she is looking better with rosier cheeks and even sporting a tan. She credits the two-hour dance class that comes with the extensive preparations for Katy.

One of the most difficult elements of the musical is being able to sing loud and high notes while executing strenuous dance sequences. According to her, director Nestor U. Torre explained that they have to specifically condition their bodies for the musical, “Training is very important sa performer. If you have the training with the director telling you ‘As a performer training mo pang athlete rin. You have to train your body also. You have to work out. Para pag dating mo sa stage pwede kang lumaban. Di ka hinihihingal.”Apart from the dance class she adds weight training in their home gym and also some light walking.

Show producer Robert Seña, who happens to be her husband, is currently out of the country.

Isay explains: “Robert is in Hong Kong with our bunso. It’s their bonding time. Pag may grumaduate ng elementary its their turn to be with the father and go somewhere. And I couldn’t postpone the presscon. Kahit malayo pa yung show I want people to be aware there’s Katy in July.”

In the second production, Aicelle Santos looks even more like Isay Alvarez. Aicelle plays the teenaged Katy while Isay in heavy make up and a wig plays the older Katy. During the Mabuhay Restop preview they sported very similar hairstyles, “When we decided to bring Aicelle on board sabi ko magpapagupit na rin ako para malapit lapit yung features. Kaya I don’t know, on stage marami kaming na loloko na si Aicelle 'yon, akala nila ako.” The two are very convincing as twin sisters.

The real Katy Dela Cruz was one of the highest paid stars of her time but it is her passion for singing and dancing that shines through. Isay believes Filipinos should watch the life of Katy since she embodies being a true artist. “This musical dapat makita ng bawat Pilipino kasi very inspirational ang kanyang buhay. Ang kanyang struggles ang kanyang trials, yung kanyang passion sa pag peperform is something we can all emulate lalo na kaming mga artista.”

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Isay Alvarez (as Katy) is able to hit high notes while executing strenuous dance sequences during Katy the Musical’s preview last May 22, 2013. Isay is seen in an emotional scene with Tirso Cruz III (right photo) during a preview held last November 2012.
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