Filipino-American singer Stephanie Reese successfully staged her pre-Carnegie Hall concert titled I Am Stephanie Reese last Monday, October 12, at the Music Museum. By November of this year, the singer-thespian will be the third Filipina and the first-ever Filipino-American to perform at the famed concert hall.
Standing on a sophisticated stage and accompanied by seasoned musicians, Stephanie said the concert was produced to chronicle her musical journey—from her humble beginnings in the United States to her life-changing experience as an advocate of Gawad Kalinga in the Philippines.
PROUD GRANDDAUGHTER. She opened the show with a medley of children's songs that her Filipino grandmother used to sing to her back in the day. "My lola's music made me dream," said Stephanie, who was wearing a black dress, to her audience. "Her songs planted the seeds of melodies inside my heart, until they blossomed into my love of singing and performing."
Stephanie remembered how she, as a young girl, used to consider their living room as her "little makeshift stage" and how she used to perform concerts for her family in Seattle. "I would dream of becoming a famous singer someday, seeing my name in lights and performing on stages around the world," she recalled happily.
"By that little stage, so many more dreams were born," she continued. "And my amazing parents financed my dreams with voice lessons, acting classes, and dance classes, and eventually, conservatory training."
THE THESPIAN. Stephanie says that "everybody who is anybody in the Filipino community knows somebody or claims to know somebody who is Miss Saigon." Because of this, she said, she had also once dreamed to sing on stage playing the title role in the acclaimed musical.
"Being Miss Saigon showed me a deeper reason why we as Filipinos are so drawn to the show," said the singer, who had played Kim in the German production of Miss Saigon.
"You see in my blood, and the blood of all of us Filipinos, is this story of the self-sacrificing and the troubles I would tell in Miss Saigon every night, the struggle to give your child a chance at a better life, a life that's better than their own. A struggle that from my own family began," started Stephanie.
She explained how her grandparents made a living out of a sari-sari store that was financed by going door-to-door and selling mongo beans. After a sentimental account of her family's beginnings, she sang the song, which she said makes her remember her grandmother: "I'd Give My Life For You" from the same musical.
Aside from playing Kim in the German production of Miss Saigon, Stephanie also toured the world's stages, playing several roles in key musicals, such as Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the U.S. and Princess Tuptim from The King and I in London.
THE SINGER. The U.S.-based performer had always wanted to be a solo singer, apart from singing in musicals where she made a name for herself. After her rendition of "As If We Never Said Goodbye" from Sunset Boulevard, she told the audience, "I didn't know what to do with myself. I've been in the theater for so many years. I knew that I wanted to be a solo singer, but all I knew were Broadway songs. So I put up my first concert in Seattle, Washington, my hometown, singing songs from my favorite Broadway shows."
She then rendered a medley including Les Miserables' "I Dreamed A Dream," "I Have Dreamed" from King and I, and Cabaret's "Maybe This Time."
Wearing a turquoise robe, Stephanie sang a couple of songs from The Phantom of the Opera—a song of the same title, and a duet with stage actor Audie Gemora titled "All I Ask of You." After their duet, the veteran thespian and STAGES president also rendered a solo performance of "Shall We Dance?" from King and I while Stephanie went backstage for a costume change.
Stephanie re-emerged wearing a red dress with a ruffled train. Employing her trademark high notes, she rendered several foreign songs, along with some of her compositions, such as "Chaka Laka Boom Boom" and "Please Diyos."
Stephanie said that as a performer, she looked up to music legend Shirley Bassey. She performed a couple of Bassey's songs, "I Who Have Nothing" and "This Is My Life," followed by a medley that she dedicated to her parents in the States, and to her foster parent in the Philippines.
For her last act as Stephanie Reese the Singer, she ended with an operatic performance, hitting one high note after another. She mentioned that the same song earned for her the title "Standing Ovation Queen" and "The Little Girl with the Big Voice" in the U.S.
GIRL IN LOVE. Like any other girl, the talented singer told the audience that she had also once fallen in love. While in the U.S., she found herself in a relationship with an American named John, who later died in a tragic accident. In her Manila concert, Stephanie recalled how she had been heartbroken and depressed after her boyfriend died, and in tears sang "He Touched Me" by Barbra Streisand, followed by "Somewhere in Time" from the movie of the same title.
After her boyfriend passed away, Stephanie said she had lost all hope and decided to stop singing. "I was Stephanie Reese, a lost soul. I didn't know what to do with myself," she recalled. "I didn't want to be Stephanie Reese the singer anymore. I didn't want to sing, I didn't want to do anything. God had taken away John. He had betrayed me. And my heart went numb."
She stayed that way until Gawad Kalinga, a local institution that helps build houses for the less fortunate, invited her to the Philippines to sing. From then onward, Stephanie found a new reason to sing.
"And so it is to you, that I am forever grateful," she told the Filipino audience. She sang another medley—a Filipino collection including "Dahil Sa 'Yo," Bicol's "Sarung Banggi" and the Visayan love song, "Usahay." After this, Stephanie joined her male vocal ensemble in singing "Ikaw," wearing a black dress and an embroidered panuelo, a Filipino-type wrap.
Stephanie also rendered another of her compositions titled "Your Voice," saying she values the friendships that she has made in the country.
THE FILIPINA. The half-Filipina, half-American singer mentioned in her concert how everyone in the States wonders why out of all the cultures in her bloodline, she chose to celebrate her Filipino heritage.
"These past few weeks, when disasters hit the Philippines," she said, "my heart was very moved. I saw that God had put forth a test. He showed us that both rich and poor, He does not discriminate. The rains fell. And I think the test was, would we as Filipinos discriminate against our neighbors as well? Would we help people outside of our families and neighborhoods? And the Philippines passed with flying colors.
"Everybody extended themselves outside their little neighborhood, and their little clan," she continued. "It made me so proud to be Filipino. It is why it is Filipino that I chose to be," she said with conviction, prompting deafening applause from the audience.
She ended her Manila concert and pre-Carnegie Hall debut with her renditions of "Bayan Ko" and "Ako Ay Pilipino," with the hope that audiences would accept her as a true Filipina.
ENCORE. Her encore allowed Stephanie to give her kababayans a taste of her Carnegie Hall debut. She performed a medley that included "You Must Love Me" and "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" from the musical Evita as well as "Impossible Dream" and "New York, New York" by Frank Sinatra.
As a little Filipina girl who used to perform in a predominantly Caucasian girl's choir in Carnegie Hall during her younger years, Stephanie said she had always wanted to "represent [her] people and be a soloist" in the famed concert hall.All proceeds of her Carnegie Hall performance that will be staged this November will go to typhoon victims of Ondoy and to Gawad Kalinga, of which she has been an advocate for five years.