Celebrating AAPI Legacy Robe Recipients Baayork Lee, Cynthia Onrubia, Nina Zoie Lam, Herman Sebek, Alan Ariano, Lydia Gaston, JoAnn M. Hunter, Darren Lee, Emily Hsu, Marc Oka, Rommy Sandhu, Kristine Bendul, Aaron J. Albano, Lainie Sakakura, MaryAnn Hu, Catherine Ricafort McCreary, and J. Elaine Marcos

Over the past 70 years, there have only been 17 AAPI recipients of the Legacy Robe. Broadway veterans Alan Ariano and Lainie Sakakura, two of the 17 AAPI Legacy Robe recipients, are celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month by shining the spotlight on those in this very select class.

According to the Actors Equity Association Website:

“The ritual of the Legacy Robe takes place on opening night on the stage of every Broadway musical that has a chorus. It began in 1950 when Bill Bradley, in the chorus of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, persuaded Florence Baum, a chorus member, to let him have her dressing gown. As a lark, he sent it to a friend, Arthur Partington, in the chorus of Call Me Madam, on opening night, telling him it had been worn by all the Ziegfeld beauties. Arthur added a rose from Ethel Merman’s gown and sent it to a chorus member on the next opening night of Guys and Dolls. It was then passed from show to show in a haphazard way and was often presented to a friend of the previous recipient, or awarded to a chorus member based on popularity. Through the years the passing of the Robe became a specific ceremony with official rules stating how it is presented, worn and paraded on stage.”

Photo montage by Alan Ariano
Photo montage by Alan Ariano

Click here to learn more about the Legacy Robe.

“𝐓𝐨 𝐤𝐧𝐨𝐰 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐟𝐮𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐞, 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐦𝐮𝐬𝐭 𝐟𝐢𝐫𝐬𝐭 𝐤𝐧𝐨𝐰 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐩𝐚𝐬𝐭.” – George Santayana

The 17 AAPI Legacy Robe recipients include Baayork Lee (Seesaw ’73), Cynthia Onrubia (Song and Dance ’85, Damn Yankees ’94, Victor/Victoria ’95, Little Me ’98), Nina Zoie Lam (Chu  Chem ’89), Herman Sebek (Shogun ’90), Alan Ariano (Miss Saigon ’91), Lydia Gaston (The King and I ’96), JoAnn M. Hunter (Steel Pier ’97, Kiss Me Kate ’99), Darren Lee (On The Town ’98, Pacific Overtures ’04, Allegiance ’15), Emily Hsu (Bells Are Ringing ’01, Spamalot ’05), Marc Oka (Flower Drum Song ’02), Rommy Sandhu (Bombay Dreams ’04, Mary Poppins ’06), Kristine Bendul (Come Fly Away ’10), Aaron J. Albano (Newsies ’12), Lainie Sakakura (The King and I ’15), MaryAnn Hu (Sunday in the Park with George ’17), Catherine Ricafort McCreary (Miss Saigon ’17), and J. Elaine Marcos (Gettin’ The Band Back Together ’18).

Legacy Robe recipients: Aaron J. Albano, Nina Zoie Lam, Lydia Gaston, Catherine Ricafort, J. Elaine Marcos, Lainie Sakakura, Rommy Sandhu, Alan Ariano, (not pictured: Baayork Lee). Photo by Lia Chang

2018 BCEFA Red Bucket Follies Opening number written by Lainie Sakakura and co-conceived with Telly Leung.

Celebrates the 60th Anniversary of Flower Drum Song and Asian Americans on Broadway! Original FDS cast members from 1958 Broadway, 1961 movie, first road company, 2002 Broadway revival, and first national touring company came together for a once-in-a-lifetime reunion and joined by current AAPI artists on Broadway. The performance at the New Amsterdam Theatre, NYC brought together 43 AAPI Broadway performers, past and present, honoring the depth, breadth and decades of barrier-breaking experiences. To know your future, you must first know your past. We thank our elders, honor those that have come before us, and welcome the next generation of beautiful AAPI Broadway artists with joy and love.

Performers: Aaron J. Albano, Sandra Allen, Susan Ancheta, Alan Ariano, Paula Chin, Marcus Choi, Adrianne Chu, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Ali Ewoldt, Takayo Fischer, Lydia Gaston, Sally Hong, Joomin Hwang, Jason Garcia Ignacio, Sabrina Imamura, Miho Imoto, Alvin Ing, Nina Zoie Lam, Telly Leung, Jose Llana, Baayork Lee, Jodi Long, J. Elaine Marcos, Paul HeeSang Miller, Carol Gordon Morra, Kumiko Nakagawa, Ashley Park, Vicki Racimo, Catherine Ricafort, Lainie Sakakura, Rommy Sandhu, Herman Sebek, Shawnee Smith, Riza Takahashi, Yuka Takara, Robert Tatad, Virginia Wing, Mae Wong, Ericka Yang, Warren Yang, Kelli Youngman, Lisa Yuen, Minami Yusui

Flower Drum Song Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Original Broadway Revival Choreography by Robert Longbottom

Music Direction by Ted Arthur Additional Lyrics by Vanessa Brown, Lainie Sakakura

Orchestrations by Adam Kaufman

Costume Design by Jeremy Bailey-Smith

Assistant Choreographer, Sally Hong

Directed and Choreographed by Alex Sanchez.

BCEFA Red Bucket Follies held December 3 and 4, 2018, raised $6,113,301. The highest fall fundraising total in Broadway Cares’ 30-year history. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS awards grants to more than 450 AIDS and family service organizations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. and is the largest single financial supporter of the social service programs of The Actors Fund, helping everyone in entertainment and the performing arts. broadwaycares.org


BAAYORK LEE (Seesaw ’73) performed in 12 Broadway shows. Created the role of Connie in A Chorus Line while continuing the legacy of Michael Bennett directing companies around the world, most recently Antonio Banderas Spanish company. Lee co-founded NAAP a 501 (c) 3 Nonprofit with Steven Eng and Nina Zoie Lam that showcases the talents of Asian American Artists, created an award winning after school theater club. NAAP’s other programs include; The Broadway Community Chorus, Discover: New Musicals, Rediscover: Musicals and has produced Oklahoma, Carousel, Hello, Dolly!, Cinderella as well as many others. Numerous awards including the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award, Paul Robeson Award from Actors Equity Association, the Arena Stage American Artist Award and several others.

Celebrating AAPI Legacy Robe Recipients Baayork Lee, Cynthia Onrubia, Nina Zoie Lam, Herman Sebek, Alan Ariano, Lydia Gaston, JoAnn M. Hunter, Darren Lee, Emily Hsu, Marc Oka, Rommy Sandhu, Kristine Bendul, Aaron J. Albano, Lainie Sakakura, MaryAnn Hu, Catherine Ricafort McCreary, and J. Elaine Marcos
Tommy Tune and Baayork Lee in SEESAW ’73. Photo courtesy of Baayork Lee

CYNTHIA ONRUBIA (Song and Dance ’85, Damn Yankees ’94, Victor/Victoria ’95, Little Me ’98) is a theatre director/choreographer and film & television choreographer. She was born and raised in NYC at 161st St. & Fort Washington Avenue. From the age of four she was working professionally and has performed/choreographed and directed in the arts for over 55 years. You would be hard pressed to name someone she has not worked with in that time.

Gypsy Robe recipient Cynthia Onrubia on opening night of SONG AND DANCE at the Royale Theatre on September 18, 1985. Photo by Gloria Rosenthal
Cynthia has worked on dozens of Films, Broadway, Touring & Regional productions, Ballets, Concerts, Cabaret & Industrial Shows, Television Specials, shows & Commercials. She has received an American Choreography Award in film, a Sir Robert Helpmann Award for Choreography in theatre, an American Theatre League of Producers Award nomination for her Choreography. As a performer, Cynthia received a Friends of New York special theatrical award and an American Theatre Roundtable Award for Outstanding Career Performances.
Emily Zacharias and Nina Zoie Lam in a scene from CHU CHEM. Photo by Martha Swope Associates/Carol Rosegg

NINA ZOIE LAM (Chu  Chem ’89) Playful explorer, grew up in NYC’s Chinatown where her love of dancing was ignited with the taking of classes in Chinese folk dance. Originally wanting to pursue both a medical AND performance arts career, she quickly realized as a freshman at Brown University, that she would have to choose one over the other. She chose dance. Zoie is particularly proud of being a co- founder of National Asian Artists Project, honing her skills as mentor and teacher to the next generation of performing artists.She is grateful and happy to have received the Legacy Robe as recognition of a blessed dance career, and honored to be in the company of all Legacy Robe recipients.

HERMAN SEBEK (Shogun ’90) Broadway credits; West Side Story 1980 revival, original Cats – both while earning a BFA in dance from The Juilliard School – Song & Dance, Shogun, and Miss Saigon as The Engineer – a role he reprised internationally and regionally winning him the 2011 Carbonell Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Other credit favorites; Jesus Christ Superstar as Judas, State Farm 2000’s The Adventure of a Lifetime with music by Jason Robert Brown, choreography by Tony Stevens, and the production workshop of Smokey Joe’s Café.

Herman Sebek received the robe on the opening night of SHOGUN: THE MUSICAL at the Marquis Theatre in New York on November 20, 1990. Photo courtesy of Herman Sebek

ALAN ARIANO received the robe for the Original MISS SAIGON in 1991, his fourth Broadway show (out of five) following M. BUTTERFLY & JEROME ROBBINS BROADWAY.  He also has been seen in regional companies all over the country in THE KING AND I including the 2015 Broadway Revival.  Television credits include TREME, THE PATH, LAW & ORDER and SVU. He couldn’t be prouder to part of this illustrious group of AAPI Broadway veterans.

Alan Ariano received the robe for the Original Broadway production of Miss Saigon in 1991. Photo courtesy of Alan Ariano

The FilAm: Actor Alan Ariano looks back at ‘Miss Saigon’ a generation later

LYDIA GASTON‘s (The King and I ’96) first Broadway show was Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, followed by a career on Broadway as an ensemble member and understudy. She began performing with Ballet Philippines at age 15 and was hired for the national tour of The King and I with Yul Brynner. As an actor Lydia has appeared Off-B’way with Ma-Yi, NAATCO, and Pan Asian Rep, and on television (HBO’s The Sopranos and HULU’s The Path.) She is currently shooting her first full length movie, Jo Koy’s Easter Sunday. Lydia is an adjunct professor at SUNY Empire State College, with an M.A. in Applied Theatre.

Lydia Gaston received the Legacy Robe for THE KING AND I in 1996. Photo courtesy of Lydia Gaston

JOANN M. HUNTER (Steel Pier ’97, Kiss Me Kate ’99) (Director/Choreographer) with 20 Broadway shows to her credit as a Creator and Performer. Choreographer: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella (West End),  Joseph …. Dreamcoat (London Palladium)Broadway: Love Life (City Center Encores), School Of Rock (Bdway, US Nat’t Tour and West End, Australia, Asia), Disaster, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Broadway Bound with David Cromer National Tour/Regional/World Premieres: World Premiers: UnMasked, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber- Dir/Chor (PMP), August Rush with John Doyle, Beatsville by Glenn Slater, A Sign Of The Times by Bruce Vilanch, The Nutty Professor with Marvin Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes’directed by Jerry Lewis.  Ever After (Alliance Theatre),  Harmony (Alliance/Ahmanson Theatreby Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman, Annie, Pump Boys and Dinettes, Grease, Oliver, & Curtains all at (PMP), Nat’l tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. She has directed and choreographed  Debra Monk in her one woman show with special guest Ron Rifkin, Andrea Martin, Victor Garber, and David Hyde Pierce.Upcoming Dir/Chor. SuperYou. In development, Rock and Roll Refugee. The story of Genya Ravan Assoc Broadway Choreographer – Spring Awakening, Curtains, The Wedding Singer, All Shook Up.

JoAnn M. Hunter received the Robe on the opening night of STEEL PIER at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City on April 24, 1997. Photo courtesy of JoAnn M. Hunter
Darren Lee received the Legacy Robe for ALLEGIANCE at the Longacre Theatre in New York on November 8, 2015. Photo by Walter McBride

DARREN LEE (On The Town ’98, Pacific Overtures ’04, Allegiance ’15) Broadway: Chicago, Guys and Dolls, AllegianceShogun the Musical, Miss Saigon, Victor/Victoria, Kiss Me KateOn the Town, Seussical the Musical, Pacific Overtures, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. Film: Hackers, Everyone Says I Love You, Sisters. Director/Choreography credits; Broadway: associate choreographer Pacific Overtures, other New York credits: Orchard Project, Asia Society, Fringe Festival, Wagner College, NYMF, Prospect Theatre. Regional: Ogunquit Playhouse, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Olney Theatre Center, MUNY, Paper Mill Playhouse, Music Theatre of Wichita, Glimmerglass Opera Festival, La Jolla Playhouse, McCarter Theatre, Williamstown Shakespeare Festival, Kennedy Center, Diamond Head Theatre, Little Theatre on the Square, Riverside Theatre, UNLV, Westchester Broadway, North Shore, Cincinnati Playhouse, Atlanta Alliance, Trinity University, Lyric Theatre, La Comedia, Casa Manana, Omaha Symphony, South Dakota Symphony, Holland America Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line. www.darrenlee.com

EMILY HSU (Bells Are Ringing ’01, Spamalot ’05) is an actress, singer, dancer who has performed in twelve Broadway shows.  She has appeared as the “Lady of the Lake” in Spamalot (Tony Award for best musical), “Linda Low” in Flower Drum Song, “Demeter” in CATS, “Gigi” in Miss Saigon, and most recently as “Charlotte Dennon” in the Broadway musical version of Elf.  Emily was an original Broadway cast member of Side ShowBells Are RingingThou Shalt Not, and Scarlet Pimpernel.  Other Broadway credits include Annie Get Your Gun and The Boy From Oz starring Hugh Jackman.  Emily has also performed in the City Center Encores! series (Pipe Dream and Carnival) and in numerous national tours, regional productions, and Broadway workshops in addition to appearing on television and film.  She has danced on the “Tony Awards,”  “The David Letterman Show,” and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Emily is the founder of her own activewear collection: www.emilyhsudesigns.com.

Emily Hsu. Photo courtesy of Emily Hsu

MARC OKA (Flower Drum Song ’02) Pacific Overtures with George Takei, directed by John Doyle Classic Stage Company NY. Broadway: The King And I (Phra Alack), Flower Drum Song (Assistant Choreographer), Bells Are Ringing with Faith Prince, FosseMiss Saigon (Assistant to the Choreographer), Shogun: The MusicalAnything Goes with Patti LuPone and Leslie Uggams. World Premiers: Roman Holiday (Guthrie), Sinatra: His Voice, His World, His Way (Radio City Music Hall), Over And Over (Signature), Elaborate Lives: The Legend of Aida (Alliance). East West Players – Beijing Spring, Chess, Equus, Sweeney Todd, New York Theatre Workshop, City Center Encores!, Williamstown Theatre Festival. Tours: CatsAnything Goes (Luke). Film: Onryo, An American CarolThe Muppets. Television: “Legion” Admiral Fukyama Season 2, “Henry Danger”, “Family Reunion”(Netflix), “ACS: Impeachment”, “Euphoria”, “Madame Secretary”, “Melissa & Joey”.

Robert Tatad, Marc Oka, Lainie Sakakura and Eric Chan on the opening night of the revival of FLOWER DRUM SONG in 2002. Photo courtesy of Lainie Sakakura
Robert Tatad, Marc Oka, Lainie Sakakura and Eric Chan on the opening night of the revival of FLOWER DRUM SONG in 2002. Photo courtesy of Lainie Sakakura

ROMMY SANDHU (Bombay Dreams ’04, Mary Poppins ’06) is a Punjabi-American New York City based Director-Choreographer and educator. His clever and imaginative approach has led him to serve as Associate Director, Choreographer, and Dance Captain to Tony Award winning director/choreographers Kathleen Marshall, Susan Stroman, and Matthew Bourne. Sandhu’s most recently collaborated with Kathleen Marshall on The Unsinkable Molly Brown (The Transport Group) and Dick Scanlan on Little Shop of Horrors (New York City Center Encores!). A Dancebreak Foundation “Choreographer to Watch,” his selected directing and choreography credits include How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (The Maltz-Jupiter Theatre), Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Tuacahn Center For the Performing Arts), and Singing In The Rain starring Corbin Bleu (The MUNY).

Rommy Sandhu received the Robe on the opening night of BOMBAY DREAMS at the Broadway Theatre in New York City on April 29, 2004. Photo by Walter McBride/Retna
Kristine Bendul received the Robe for her work in Twyla Tharp's COME FLY AWAY in 2010.
Kristine Bendul received the Robe for her work in Twyla Tharp’s COME FLY AWAY in 2010.

KRISTINE BENDUL (Come Fly Away ’10), a former classical ballerina turned Broadway veteran who kept one foot in the ballroom world, made history with her professional dance partner becoming America’s FIRST professional male-female couple to compete in the DanceSport ballroom as GENDER NEUTRAL, equally exchanging lead-follow roles within all 5 American Rhythm dances. Kristine now uses her artistic voice to spread the message of gender equality & inclusivity by guest teaching at universities and dance congresses and conceiving new works. In 2019, Kristine wrote, directed, and choreographed The Color Iz at the iconic Stonewall Inn receiving a rave review on broadwayworld.com.

AARON J. ALBANO (Newsies ’12) can currently be seen as Samuel Seabury on the Philip Tour of Hamilton. To date Aaron has been a part of nine Broadway shows, and won the Legacy Robe during his sixth, with the original company of Newsies; however, he had the pleasure of witnessing his friend and hometown hero Rommy Sandhu win his first Robe during Aaron’s Broadway debut of Bombay Dreams.

Aaron J. Albano & Company attending the Actors’ Equity Broadway Opening Night Gypsy Robe Ceremony for Aaron J. Albano in ‘Newsies – The Musical’ at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City on 3/29/2012 (Photo by Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images

LAINIE SAKAKURA (The King and I ’15) 2015 Joe A. Callaway Award for Outstanding Choreography, 2002 Joseph Jefferson Award Best Choreography. Broadway Original Casts: Fosse (dance reconstruction, onstage dance captain), Chita Rivera The Dancer’s Life, Flower Drum Song revival, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public,The King And I 1996 revival and 2015 revival. NYC based writer, director, choreographer currently developing the new musical, Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Lainie Sakakura received the Robe on the opening night of Lincoln Center’s revival of THE KING AND I at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre on April 16, 2015. Lainie Sakakura with her husband, Alex Sanchez, and daughters Avelina and Isa Sanchez. Photo by Walter McBride.

Broadway on Demand’s New Dance Series SHARE THE FLOOR Features Lainie Sakakura in Celebration of Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage Month

MARYANN HU (Sunday in the Park with George ’17) is currently adjunct professor of Musical Theater at the University of Southern California, has been in 6 Broadway shows and recurs or has recurred on several tv shows. She won the legacy robe for her 4th Broadway show, Sunday In The Park with George. In turn, it was an honor to then pass the robe on to Catherine Ricafort for Miss Saigon, the show in which she made her Broadway debut.

MaryAnn Hu received the Robe on the opening night of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE at the Hudson Theatre on February 23, 2017. Photo by Walter McBride


Catherine Ricafort McCreary received the Robe on the opening night of MISS SAIGON at the Broadway Theatre on March 23, 2017. Photo by Walter McBride

CATHERINE RICAFORT MCCREARY (Miss Saigon ’17) is a triple-threat Broadway actor who has performed in 8 Broadway shows, including SpongeBob Squarepants as villainess “Karen the Computer”, and Jason Robert Brown’s Honeymoon in Vegas as “Mahi” (known for her comedic number “Friki Friki”). TV appearances include NBC’s The Sing-Off and The Ellen Degeneres Show as a featured soloist of “The Backbeats” a cappella group. As a director and choreographer, her latest project “Choose” was awarded an AAIFF43 official selection, and is the debut music video for Filipino-American nerdcore rapper (and her brother) Super Smack. A multi-disciplinarian with a passion for both entertainment and engineering, Catherine is also a software engineer at Stitch Fix and co-founder of Artists Who Code. @cattricafort

J. ELAINE MARCOS (Gettin’ The Band Back Together ’18) is known for her comedic timing and for crossing casting barriers playing Valerie in A CHORUS LINE and Lily St. Regis in Annie. Credits:  RENT: LIVE, MISS SAIGON, FLOWER DRUM SONG, WONDERFUL TOWN, SWEET CHARITY, A CHORUS LINE,  THE WEDDING SINGER, PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, and GETTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER. Film: MORNING GLORY, ST. VINCENT, BEFORE I DISAPPEAR, EVERY LITTLE STEP. J. Elaine produces her comedy blog, Motivational Mondays with “V” on Instagram and her one-woman, WHAT I DID FOR…A JOB. J. Elaine speaks at colleges about Diversity in Casting and teaches virtually.

J. Elaine Marcos poses after blessing the stage in her Robe on the opening night of GETTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER at the Belasco Theatre on July 19, 2018. Photo by Jay-Rey Rivera.
Lia Chang
Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman. She stars in and served as Executive Producer for the short independent films Hide and Seek, Balancing Act, Rom-Com Gone Wrong, Belongingness and When the World was Young. She is also the Executive Producer for The Cactus, The Language Lesson, The Writer and Cream and 2 Shugahs.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2021 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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