SF State alumni create musical celebrating Filipino American labor activist

Author: Marciana Flores
March 12, 2024
Actresses sit on chairs on a stage

‘Larry the Musical’ runs March 16 through April 14 at San Francisco’s Brava theater

Larry the Musical,” a play created by San Francisco State University alumni, tells the story of a little- known Filipino American activist. Premiering Saturday, March 16, in San Francisco, the production is based on the book “Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong” by the late San Francisco State historian Dawn Mabalon and alumna Gayle Romasanta (’99). The book and musical chronicle the life of Itliong, an organizer who led protests alongside Cesar Chavez for West Coast cannery and farm workers demanding fair pay and improved working conditions.

Romasanta, a writer who has dedicated her career to telling stories about the Filipino American experience, connected with Itliong’s story because it speaks to her own immigrant experience. (She was born in Manila and immigrated to Stockton with her family in the 1970s.) Despite the struggles Itliong faced as an immigrant, he fought for the rights of Filipino Americans and other workers. Romasanta wanted more people to know Itliong’s story, so she approached her friend Bryan Pangilinan (M.Mus., ’15), a composer, about bringing it to a wider audience. He agreed, and together they collaborated with fellow alumni Sean Kana (B.A., ’04), Kevin Camia (B.A., ’95) and Asian American Studies Professor Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales to create the musical production.

Cast of Larry the Musical poses together

The team behind "Larry the Musical" poses in front of the Delano Filipino Community Center.

“‘Larry the Musical’ is the first 100% Filipino American-created musical,” said Pangilinan, the musical’s composer and executive producer. “It’s important to know our history and learn from it. Knowing what our ancestors’ challenges were, including racism and violence, is a call to action for us and should inspire us in our daily practices.”

Romasanta and Pangilinan decided that a musical would be the best vehicle for the story — easily accessible for diverse audiences from different generations. “Musically, it’s like a halo-halo [Filipino dessert where you mix everything] mixtape, infused with musical spells and genres that we grew up with and were influenced by,” Pangilinan said.

Romasanta, executive producer and writer for the production, says her writing career began at SF State. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing in 1999 and has used her writing to be a voice for the Filipino American community. “[SF State] is full of activists, progressive thought, deep rich ideas and academics supporting that thought,” she said. “I blossomed exponentially and I felt like I immediately found the place I needed to be.” She dedicates her life’s work and purpose to her ancestors, who she is constantly calling upon for guidance, and the impact it will leave on her four children.

Pangilinan also credits his talent in music to SF State, where he earned his master’s degree in music. SF State Professor David Xiques and former SF State School of Music faculty member Alissa Deeter helped him hone his talent. “They created a safe and supportive environment where I could grow my musical skills, techniques and expertise,” he said.

Itliong’s story is important for everyone to know, but it’s especially personal for Romasanta. “I have deep roots with the Manong generation, the generation of immigrant farm workers,” she said. “I was raised by that generation, those Filipino American men and families.”

“Larry the Musical” opens Saturday, March 16, at 8 p.m. at the Brava in San Francisco. It runs through April 14.

For a limited time, a 30% discount on regular-priced tickets is available to students, seniors, community members, and persons with disabilities. This discount is valid for shows running from Wednesday, March 27, through Sunday, April 14. Just use the discount code LARRY30 when purchasing tickets online. Offer ends March 22.