One significant gauge of amazing talent is versatility. Like everyone else, I first heard Jose Llana on the revival cast recording of The King and I. He’s the dictionary definition of outstanding Broadway tenor. He’s like a voice you would have heard a lot in the 1950s, except he has a contemporary appeal. Lun Tha’s two songs “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed” are highlights even on a disc with the incomparable talent of Donna Murphy.
A second great Jose Llana CD is the revival of Flower Drum Song in which he played Ta. Again, there’s that powerful voice singing great Rodgers and Hammerstein songs. All of his songs are highlights (I think it’s one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most pleasing scores), and I love his “Like a God.” Actually, I often finding myself hearing that song in my head and wishing I could sing it like Jose Llana.
As everyone has already figured out, the versatility comes from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Having taught literally thousands of students, his caricature of a spelling bee kid didn’t seem all that far off from the truth. And after having taught my fair share of middle school, neither was his predicament. I laughed so hard throughout that show, and Llana’s Chip Tolentino was definitely a highlight. The night I was in the audience, Harvey Fierstein was as well, and during “My Unfortunate Erection,” Llana pounded Fierstein with P.T.A. confection. I howled when Llana re-appeared as Jesus, affirming to Marcy Parks that “I really don’t care.”
the Broadway Mouth
July 31, 2007