The third Filipino to win the Tony, Broadway’s prestigious award for accomplishment in selected category in theater production, Jhett D. Tolentino bested his predecessors Lea Salonga and Robert Lopez by racking up a total of three Tony Awards. His debut as a theater producer in March 2003 won for him his first production, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” with Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce. The following year, he received two more Tony Awards for producing the Best Musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” and for the Best Play Revival “A Raisin in the Sun,” starring Denzel Washington.
Tolentino won his first Grammy Award last February 2017 for producing the best musical theater album for “The Color Purple,” besting the other nominees for the same category for the musicals “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Bright Star,” “Waitress,” and “Kinky Boots.”
With his co-producer, Tolentino brought to London and San Francisco “Here Lies Love,” about the life of Imelda Marcos.
In February 2016, Tolentino was cited by the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) with “Ani Ng Dangal” Award for bringing international honor to the Philippines. Last December 2016, President Duterte awarded him The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) trophy. A resident of New York City, he was awarded in 2014 The Outstanding Filipino American-NY (TOFA-NY) for entertainment.
Q. What first attracted you to entertainment profession?
A. I got attracted to the entertainment industry because of how expansive its scope is—starting with onstage, discovering talents, behind the scenes from designs to directions, casting to producing, stage management to licensing, etc. It’s almost limitless.
Q. Where do you think this pursuit will lead you?
A. It is an everlasting pursuit to create great art. I would like to think that I am not there yet; it is a continuing process and an education for me.
Q. In your various roles in the entertainment industry, which do you consider your best and which do you consider most challenging?
A. It has been proven that my best skill is picking quality shows. They may not be all box office hits but they are reviewed extraordinarily. As a producer, I take pride in that. My most challenging? I’d say the fund-raising part. But I take time educating people on Broadway investment.
Q. You have been producing and co-producing shows on Broadway and off-Broadway, which ones give you exhilarating feeling of accomplishment?
A. The same feeling of exhilaration when a show of mine is received well by critics, it may be Broadway or off-Broadway.
Q. Why “Here Lies Love,” produced in 2004, has meant so much to you?
A. Over 100 years of Broadway history, there had not been one show about the Philippines. “Miss Saigon” is about Vietnam; “The King and I,” Thailand; “Les Miserables,” French; “Flower Drum Song,” China; “Evita,” Argentina; and “Allegiance” is about Japan. Filipinos are universally known to be highly talented not just in singing and acting. Our great Filipino artists have been telling stories other than our very own. It is about time that we finally have a Filipino show on Broadway.
Q. You have been the recipient of prestigious awards, including Tony and Grammy, which of these you treasure most?
A. I have three Tony and one Grammy Awards. As important and prestigious as they are, I actually lean more towards the accolades from back home—like the NCCA’s Ani Ng Dangal Award and the Ten Outstanding Young Men and Women of the Philippines (TOYM). There is something extra special about them because they are from my very own people. The feeling is different.
Q. You have been an inspiration and a role model to many, what advice would you give to those aspiring to follow your path?
A. Try first before quitting. And a couple more tries until giving up is not an option.
Q. When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see?
A. Someone who pushes the envelope for the Filipino agenda in the entertainment industry.