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Meet the creator of the all-Filipino musical

by Lucille Nolasco-Garrido

Joseph headshot jpg Mabuhay Fringe Cast and Crew
Joseph Sevillo
Cast & crew of the Fringe production of Ma-Buhay!

After many years, Ma-Buhay! a full-scale production of an all-Filipino musical will make its Canadian premier in June 2024 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Rainbow Stage.

Ma-Buhay! is the brainchild of local artist, choreographer and stage director, Joseph Sevillo, who created the musical based on his professional and personal experiences. Pilipino Express recently caught up with Sevillo to talk about his dream that has come true.

PE: First of all, congratulations, Joseph! Ma-Buhay! will finally make its Canadian premier at Rainbow Stage next year. What was your initial reaction about it?

JS: My initial reaction was relief that everything that we have worked so hard for in the last five years was worth it. I am grateful and feel blessed to have this opportunity to showcase my work at Canada’s largest and longest running outdoor theatre company.

PE: The musical has been five years in the making. Did you expect it to take this long?

JS: Rainbow Stage and my Ma-Buhay! core development team have always had a master plan to get this show to its production stages in three phases from first developing the script and score, second, community engagement and audience building and finally, the production. Most shows take about six to eight years plus to get it produced on a professional stage. We did ours in five given that the pandemic, amongst other things, took away about two years from our process.

PE: What was the hardest part in the whole process, from inception to the culmination of Ma-Buhay!? The easiest?

JS: The hardest part for me was to continue to develop the optimism, confidence, independence, and back bone to keep my voice and vision alive, while watching my mother’s slow decline from this world. Thankfully, what also made it easy was the unconditional love, and wisdom of my mother as I would workshop draft after draft, with the incredible support of Rainbow Stage, my family, and loyal friends who stood by me through the worst.

PE: What’s the inspiration behind the subject or story of Ma-Buhay!?

JS: The inspiration of my musical are my parents who always supported my love to sing, dance and act, as well as the local Filipinx talents in Manitoba who have inspired me year after year during the days of Tuklas Talino, the most prestigious Filipino singing contest in Manitoba, and how singing seems to be the love language of so many Filipinx here in Manitoba.

PE: Do you see yourself in any of the characters?

JS: All the characters are an extension of who I am, the good, bad, and the ugly, and sometimes pretty. Ha! As a writer, the way they speak and act has to come from my own instincts, memory and creativity, thus being an extension of who I am.

PE: What are your realizations in creating and producing such a theatre piece?

JS: I realize that the only way Filipinx can truly thrive in the mainstream performing arts world, is to create our own work, but not only that, to be able to work with a diversity of people and artists really teaches us how to learn about our differences and needs, but also what we share in common. I believe that we are all capable of changing the world for the better if we cultivate enough courage to take the first step on our own.

PE: What do you hope to achieve with Ma-Buhay!?

JS: I hope that Ma-Buhay! will be the most successful musical of all time and the first musical from Manitoba that will have a long-standing run on Broadway, as well as many sit down productions internationally. Filipinx are the most adaptable of people and can be found on every continent, I hope this show provides a mirror to which they can see themselves and feel proud of their culture.

PE: Anything else you would like to impart to our readers?

JS: I really hope that the Filipinx community comes out to support this historical event at Rainbow Stage, with its 70th anniversary season, this will be the first all-Filipino musical created, directed, choreographed, and musically directed all by Filipinos ever to be professionally produced on this stage. I also hope more Filipinx from our community can engage with the abundance of rich theatre and art being created and produced in Manitoba, and to watch out for the auditions next year, as we will be employing a cast of over 20 Filipinx for this premiere production.

Tickets to Rainbow Stage’s 70th Anniversary Season are on sale now at or by phone: 204-989-0888.