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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

entry arrow1:19 PM | Old Cat, Pimp With Swag, Brother Among Puppets

Junix Inocian, with Audie Gemora in the bottom photo, during his Repertory Philippines days. 
(Photos courtesy of Luna Griño-Inocian)

To be able to be different characters of vastly different lives is the lure for many thespians. Junix Inocian has proven to be in the first rank of those who have heeded and succumbed to this temptation—and the world has the better for it. With his untimely passing this week, the world has also lost a great light in theatre, in film, in television. For many of us, we have also lost a great friend.

I don’t know how I came to know Junix Inocian, only that one day we just did. Perhaps being both Silliman University alumni helped. But I have always been an avid fan of the theatre, and one of my best remembered pleasures in following this particular scene was actually knowing that one of the stalwarts of Miss Saigon, the original cast that dominated London when it opened at Theatre Royal in Drury Lane in 1989, was a Sillimanian. For a child enamored by musicals, that seemed like a beacon: someone from Dumaguete made it all the way to London’s West End. Perhaps one’s wildest dreams are reachable, after all, even with the chasms of geography one has to overcome. Junix was dream personified. He deserved the loftiness of that ideal. Primarily because, he wasn’t just a talented person, he was also an extremely good human being.

Rufino Duran Inocian Jr. starred in various plays such as Miss Saigon, Cats, Fiddler on the Roof, and the movie version of the Swedish crime novel Tatuerad Torso. On television, he starred in the series Sinbad which aired over at Sky in the United Kingdom.

But he started his acting career in Silliman where he appeared in a number of plays during the so-called Golden Years of Dumaguete Theatre in the 1970s. His beginnings in theatre was sparked by a curiosity that came over him one day when he happened to pass by the Theatre Department on his way to the Silliman library. The drama group was rehearsing, and mesmerized by what he saw, he stopped to watch as the actors took charge of the mock stage. At the center was the entrancing figure of writer Rowena Tiempo (now Torrevillas), one of the leads of the play being rehearsed that day. He joined the theatre group quickly the very next day, and soon shifted to a major in Theatre Arts.

That soon led to a lead role in a production of Fiddler on the Roof, the first and only musical directed by Prof. Amiel Leonardia, with musical direction by Miriam Palmore. The production was for the Luce Auditorium in 1974, the year it was inaugurated. It was a big production that took 18 weeks of rehearsals and preparation, with a cast that brimmed with talent—Mr. Inocian as Teyve, Evelyn Aldecoa (who would direct the 1995 production of the same play) as Golde, and Ephraim Bejar as the Constable, among others.

Upon obtaining his degree in Theatre Arts, he proceeded to take further studies at the University of Michigan where he obtained a degree in Acting in 1978. He trained with Mary Hutchinson, an acting coach from Syracuse University, New York, and with Paul Palmore, an acting coach from the University of Michigan—both prominent figures in Dumaguete theatre scene.

Subsequent to his studies in the U.S., Junix joined Repertory Philippines where he starred in at least sixty productions. His stage appearances include leading roles in Little Shop of Horrors as Audrey 2, Mass Appeal as Father Tim Farley, Man of La Mancha as Sancho, The Government Inspector as the Mayor, The Pirates of Penzance as Major-General Stanley, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum as Pseudolus, Fiddler on the Roof (again) as Tevye, Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street as Sweeney Todd, and Children of a Lesser God as James Leeds.

On television, Junix also appeared in various shows such as in Batibot, the Filipino version of Sesame Street, where he was the much-beloved Kuya Mario, friend to all kids and to puppets Pong Pagong and Kiko Matsing; Sitak ni Jack, a top-rated sitcom; and the show A Dangerous Life, a six-hour docu-drama series based on the EDSA People Power Revolution. He also starred in movies such as in Silk and Greed.

Junix joined the original cast of the play Miss Saigon where, from 1992 to 1994, he played the lead role of The Engineer, the half-Vietnamese half-French pimp with swaggr and big dreams. Some time after playing the role of Old Deuteronomy in the play Cats, the one who dreams of going to the Heavenly Layer, at the New London Theatre, Junix returned to Miss Saigon.

His son Jon Michael Inocian once wrote of his father in Handulantaw: “Now I am not saying this just because he is my father, but he is the best actor in the world! I know this for a fact because I have shared the stage with him twice: once as a little baby in Fiddler on the Roof, and most recently in Jekyll and Hyde. Growing up I would always hear stories of how much fun it is to work with him and how he would be one of the kings of ‘playtime’ during shows. I have come to realize that my Titos and Titas were not exaggerating! But laughter and fun aside, Dad is definitely a pro. Even with all the years of experiences he’s had onstage, you can see that he loves his craft—rehearsing despite jet lag, running lines with me while waiting for food and giving me little notes for improvement.”

His passing is a shock to many of his friends in theatre, from Lea Salonga to his ex-wofe and manager Luna Griño-Inocian. Legendary Miss Saigon, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and Les Miserable producer Cameron Macintosh issued this statement on his passing: “The sudden shock of Junix's premature departure from us is not just because we have lost a wonderfully talented actor but also because of his great spirit. He was truly a leading man in being both the leading actor and the father of the company for several of my productions. Ever since I first met Junix in 1988 in Manila there was no doubt that he was special. It is a great credit to his country that he became the first Asian actor to play the role of the Engineer in Miss Saigon and through his considerable talent he carved himself a significant career in the British Theatre as well as in the Philippines. We will all miss him hugely and I consider it a great privilege to have known him . Junix leaves us all with many happy memories it is just so sad that he has gone to the heavy side layer far too soon. God bless you, Junix. With much love, Cameron.”

In behalf of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, its Artistic Director Chris Millado also noted Philippine theatre’s significant loss: “The CCP joins the theater community in mourning the passing of an exceptional stage actor Junix Inocian. Junix’s musical theater prowess brought brilliance and bravado to several productions at the Silliman University, Repertory Philippines, the Cultural Centre of the Philippines and the international stages in West End and Europe. Friends and family fondly remember his easy demeanour on and offstage. We join everyone in celebrating your life and art, Mr. Inocian, and yes, in ‘goodnighting’ to you.”

And goodnighting to you, too, Junix.

Junix Inocian with fellow cast members of The Fantasticks in Silliman University in the 1970s. 
(Photo courtesy of Laurie Raymundo)

Junix Inocian as Kuya Mario (upper left) with fellow cast members of Batibot
(Photo courtesy of Bernardo Bernardo)

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