By Lia Chang, Evan D’Angeles and Yuka Takara
Legendary star of stage and screen, actor and singer Alvin Ing was best known for his Broadway roles in Pacific Overtures and Flower Drum Song, and the 2014 Paramount Pictures feature crime-drama The Gambler, where he starred as Mr. Lee opposite Mark Wahlberg, along with John Goodman, Jessica Lange and Brie Larsen.
He also appeared in the films The Final Countdown, Stir Crazy, Troop Beverly Hills, and Smilla’s Sense of Snow. He most recently filmed the role of Old Man in the Passionflix Short, Just Say When. No stranger to the small screen, Mr. Ing had recurring roles on the soap operas “The Doctors” and “Falcon Crest,” and numerous guest starring roles on “Benson,” “How the West Was Won,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Quincy,” “M.E.,” “All-American Girl,” “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” “Fantasy Island,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and “Hawaii Five-0” (2010 TV series).
Mr. Ing died at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank on July 31 at the age of 89. A proud American Army Veteran with a gift to serve, he felt a duty to himself and his fellow citizens to be fully vaccinated. In mid-July, he was diagnosed with pneumonia. A few days later he checked himself into the ER and was admitted into the ICU Covid-19 ward where he battled the infection. Within two weeks he passed away due to cardiac arrest. The news of his death was confirmed by his friend and manager, Broadway actor Evan D’Angeles aka Anthony Leones from Shushu Entertainment.
His representation’s formal statement regarding Mr. Ing:
“As an AAPI entertainment professional who started out in the chorus of Broadway shows, I always looked up to Alvin Ing as a trailblazer,” shared Leones. “His soaring tenor inspired me and he set a bar for all actors. I had shared a moment on stage with him, notably one of Stephen Sondheim’s favorite songs he had written called “Someone In A Tree”, featuring Alvin Ing as Old Man, Telly Leung as Boy, BD Wong as Reciter, and myself as Warrior underneath. My reflection of that glorious time was that I was able to witness this legendary performer every night literally soaring his tenor above me, in addition to the future of Broadway in a young Telly Leung. It has been a highlight of my career to share the stage with Alvin and the cast. There were four generations of budding and established Asian talent on and off that stage; I could not be more proud of what that show meant to our AAPI community.
A few years ago, our cast was grief-stricken from the passing of our dear friend Artie Gaffin, Production Stage Manager of the Roundabout Theatre’s revival of Pacific Overtures, as he was our PO family Papa backstage. With Alvin’s passing who literally and figuratively played Shogun’s Mother in our show, it is just as hard with this second blow. I find peace in knowing that Artie is at the callboard waiting at that heavenly stage door with open arms as God calls Alvin back to the Ultimate Great White Way and Artie says… “Places.”
Alvin is one of the greatest Storytellers of the Broadway stage in my lifetime. Now in my new career as a talent manager, my mission has been to not just rep actors, but to advocate for amazing Storytellers who are even more incredible human beings. In this time of pandemic, humanity means more to me than mere talent. Art needs good people behind it to save us from ourselves. Alvin Ing embodied that mission for me and it has been an honor that he entrusted me with the privilege of managing him at the end of his career. His humility and professionalism will continue to inspire me. l love him so….I will always remember the day he signed with me as a client and most of all I will always miss when Alvin would sing to me….”we were younger then…”. Farewell my dear friend.”
Alvin Ing was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to Rudolph “Akong” and Gladys Ing on May 26, 1932. His sister Rita recollects, “Alvin was a gentle person. He didn’t go into sports. He loved the finer things in life, I guess. I remember when he was a child, Aunty Margaret, who is my mom’s sister, used to take him and they would go into her bedroom and sing together. I would sit outside the door listening to them. That’s the first time I knew that he was into singing. When he was a teenager he joined the church choir at First Chinese Church. At the church, I think he taught himself to play the piano.”
He matriculated at the University of Hawai‘i, and served a stint in the army in Schofield Barracks in Hawai‘i. Mr. Ing participated in several amateur musical productions including a few written by Bob Magoon, a composer and playwright. He came to New York at the age of 25 to study music. In 1962, he earned his Master of Arts degree in Music Education at Columbia, with the goal towards becoming a music teacher. He taught students of all levels, notably Billy Crystal.
In an interview with Margaret Hall of Onstage Blog, Mr. Ing shared how a chance meeting with Mr. Magoon in New York’s Times Square led to his life in the performing arts instead of teaching music. Mr. Magoon introduced him to his agent, who asked him to sing for him. A couple of weeks later, he ran into the agent who asked him if he wanted to audition for summer stock, and he asked, “What’s that?” He ended up auditioning for Salvatore Dell’Isola, the original conductor of South Pacific who was doing the show in summer stock, booked the job and he was hooked.
Mr. Ing played the role of Wang Ta in countless tours and stock productions of the musical Flower Drum Song by Rodgers and Hammerstein, performing in the piece more than any other actor in the show’s history. He appeared in the musical Chu Chem in 1966, but the production closed before it reached Broadway. In 1976, Mr. Ing made his Broadway debut in Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, then returned to Broadway in 2004 with the revival of the same show, playing one of his original parts, the Shogun’s Mother, opposite BD Wong.
Upon hearing of the news of Alvin’s passing, legendary composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim simply commented, “Alvin was a lovely fellow, a fearsome Mother, and a first-rate mahjong player.
Mr. Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures collaborator playwright, John Weidman commented, “Alvin’s skills as an actor were evident to anyone who had the good fortune to see him onstage—in particular, to me, his deep and seemingly effortless access to the most elemental, authentic emotions. Then, of course, there were his skills as a comedian. So Alvin was a gifted, skilled, accomplished professional. But the aspects of Alvin which I feel most fortunate to have had access to were those things which made Alvin extraordinary not onstage, but off. His wit, his kindness, his gentleness, and most of all his extraordinary generosity of spirit.”
He was featured as Uncle Chin in the 2002 Broadway revision of Flower Drum Song, with additions by David Henry Hwang. He premiered original songs by Stephen Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein. “Chrysanthemum Tea” in Pacific Overtures was written for him by Stephen Sondheim. “My Best Love” was cut from the Broadway production of Flower Drum Song in 1958, but Ted Chapin, who served as the President and Chief Creative Officer of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization for the past 40 years, recounts how Mr. Ing ended up premiering it in the revival.
“What a sweet gracious man Alvin was,” said Chapin in a statement. “When I saw a rehearsal of the David Henry Hwang Flower Drum Song, I realized there was a song cut in 1958 that would fit the new character that was written for Alvin in a scene that seemed to call out for a song. I passed it on to David and the director, and everyone agreed. Alvin was forever grateful and way too gracious to me. After all, I was just doing my job! But how gracious Alvin continued to be. What a loss for us all…but we’ll remember him.”
Flower Drum Song director Robert Longbottom shared, “I first saw Alvin Ing in the original Broadway run of Pacific Overtures at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1976. I was obsessed with the show and would see it four times, including the thrilling final performance. His haunting vocals on ’There Is No Other Way’ and his star turn delivery of ‘Chrysanthemum Tea’ were among my favorite moments in the show.” He reminisced, “When it came time to cast the role of Uncle Chin in the revised version of Flower Drum Song it was always Alvin, he was meant to play the role and his rendition of the previously cut ‘My Best Love’ was stunning. He was our spiritual guide throughout and I adored working with him every day.”
Recent Best Supporting Actress Emmy award-winner Jodi Long, mentioned Alvin along with Anna May Wong, Pat Suzuki and Nancy Kwan on the red carpet. She also states, “Alvin Ing was a consummate theater person, a pioneer and my friend. We first met when I was a kid while he was working with my Dad, Larry Leung, in a production of Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song. In those days Flower Drum Song was just about the only game in town for an Asian American actor/singer/performer. Alvin always said “Kiddo, you are the only one who was born into show business and carry the legacy on from your parents’ generation and mine.”
He performed on tours of Two Gentlemen of Verona, City of Angels, and the play adaptation of The World of Suzie Wong, as well as with regional companies such as East West Players, where he again played the Shogun’s Mother in Pacific Overtures, and performed in Follies, Cabaret and Company. His performance in the original production of Pacific Overtures was also recorded and broadcast on Japanese television.
Mr. Ing was active with the Theater for Asian American Performing Artists during the 1970s. An advocate for increased Asian American representation in the arts, Mr. Ing protested Asian caricatures, stereotypes, and practices such as yellow face, and raised the consciousness of many.
Filipina Broadway Leading Lady, Disney Princess and Tony Award Winner, Lea Salonga remembers, “The first time I ever heard him sing was for a press event for the 2001 Los Angeles production of Flower Drum Song. This was our out-of-town tryout before the show would move to Broadway. Alvin was introduced as one of the original cast members from the original Broadway production. Then he opened his mouth to sing. His voice was glorious and filled the room with its flawless sound, but beyond that, his sound was steeped in joy. He brought a sweetness and kindness everywhere and to everyone. There was always a gentleness to him, but also a sassy sense of humor. He was a gift to everybody that got to work with him, and I’m only extremely blessed to have had that opportunity. Upon his shoulders, many of us stand, and he was a lesson in humility, professionalism, kindness, and joy. He also had a great pair of legs. Rest In Peace, Alvin. I hold you always with respect and love.”
Tony-Award winning, TV and Film star BD Wong recalls, “At the time I first saw Alvin Ing perform, I already knew the challenges Asian American actors face, and I feared I could never be successful – determined or passionate as I might be. Then, he opened his mouth to sing, and on the head-turning voice that emerged, Alvin – and we who heard him – surfed together on a barreling, Hawaiian wave of possibility…the wind of change at our backs. Since forever, the reputation of Asian American actors has been defiled by a well-known, but rarely spoken, sentiment: we will never be as good as our colleagues of other colors, never mind better. One day Alvin Ing sang for me, and I finally knew, for keeps, that anyone who thought this was pitifully mistaken. Mahalo, Alvin!”
He released a CD entitled, Swing with Ing, which he recorded with Betty Loo Taylor, performed in cabarets and benefit concerts, and sang professionally in churches. He collaborated with Flower Drum Song revival cast member and Okinawan born Yuka Takara, performing numerous singing engagements as part of a yearly Broadway Night in Okinawa. Mr. Ing also participated in The X Factor in 2013.
His last Cabaret show on the New York stage was in 2016 at The Duplex Cabaret Theatre where he starred in Got a Lot of Livin’ to Do, written, produced and directed by Lainie Sakakura, and featuring Flower Drum Song castmates Virginia Wing (summer stock), Jose Llana (Broadway revival), and Pacific Overtures castmates Hazel Anne Raymundo and Darren Lee (Broadway revival).
In 2018, Mr. Ing performed in the opening number of the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ benefit Red Bucket Follies at the New Amsterdam Theatre, celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Flower Drum Song and Asian Americans on Broadway. The benefit raised over 6 million dollars.
He was also honored by the National Asian Artists Project (NAAP) with the 2018 NAAP Lifetime Achievement Award for pushing social and racial boundaries for the Asian American community with his work in the theatre, film, and television industries. He was recognized for his outstanding achievements and contributions to the performing arts.
Mr. Ing’s last public performance was at ‘Change Your Algorithm’ proudly celebrates Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage at the AT Center Los Angeles on May 21, 2021. For this event, he specifically chose to learn a new song, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” which he felt best conveyed the social climate of Hate against Asians, and performed alongside other AAPI Broadway talents Joan Almedilla, Evan D’Angeles, Daniel May, Ariel Felix and J. Elaine Marcos.
Mr. Ing released his final CD titled “Broadway Is Still Calling” released from Harvest Farm, executive producer Ryuji Noda and produced by Yuka Takara. He toured in Okinawa, Tokyo and Seoul in February of 2020. Click here to purchase the MP3 album.
His chosen daughter Yuka shared, “When I heard Alvin sing ‘My Best Love’ during the workshop of Flower Drum Song, tears were overflowing! I was so moved and knew then I needed to be his friend. I feel so lucky to have done two Broadway shows, one national tour, gigs in Okinawa, Tokyo, Seoul, Bangkok, London, LA & NY and got to work on two albums. We traveled the world together singing, eating, and laughing and he was loved everywhere we performed. We are forever two peas in a pod. He is my best friend, mentor, confidant, soulmate and now angel. Thank you, Alvin for letting me be a part of your professional and personal life. I love you so much, Alvin. You are my heart.
Alvin was poised to make a special guest appearance in a concert, Aug 27-29, in Seoul, South Korea. The concert entitled “Michael & Ramin” is being produced and created by fellow Pacific Overtures castmates and longtime friends Michael K. Lee and Kim Varhola, and stars Lee alongside Broadway veteran Ramin Karimloo.
At the time of his passing, Mr. Ing had plans to celebrate his 90th birthday with a New York concert in May of 2022, featuring all his friends’ guest starring alongside him and accompanied by a 12-piece orchestra.
Two celebrations for the beloved Asian American trailblazer are being produced by his Flower Drum Song revival cast members, Yuka Takara and Lainie Sakakura.
Two celebrations for the beloved Asian American trailblazer are being produced by his Flower Drum Song revival cast members, Yuka Takara and Lainie Sakakura. The first is an online memorial called “Old Friends” on Sunday, August 15, which will stream at 8:00 pm EST, 5:00 pm PST, 2:00 pm in Hawaii, and 9:00 am in Japan/Korea. In November, a Live memorial concert entitled, “A Celebration
“Alvin Ing broke down doors and paved the way for so many in his 89 years of life. To honor his contributions and continue his legacy, we are working in collaboration with Abingdon Theatre Company to collect donations for the newly created ‘Alvin Ing Scholarship Award’ and his New York Memorial Celebration that will be held in November 2021,” shared Sakakura.
In lieu of flowers, and to contribute to the Scholarship Award and his New York Memorial Celebration, click here to donate.
He is survived by his sister Rita Mae Ing Lee and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer, an Award winning filmmaker 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. Her short film, When the World Was Young, written and directed by Garth Kravits, recently garnered a 2021 DisOrient Film Audience Choice Award for Best Short Narrative. 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. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations.
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