THE CAST (clockwise from top left): Albert Park, Mike Palma, Miller Tai, Nicole Javier, Chloris Li and Aja Wiltshire
Seven actors are making their South Coast Repertory debuts in the musical Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Feb. 7-23, Theatre for Young Audiences). Together, they portray 25 characters and each cast member brings a love for storytelling, adventure and, of course, musical talent to the many roles they play, ranging from young Minli to her parents (Ma and Ba), from a dragon and tiger to the Old Man of the Mountain and others. Read on to meet the actors.
I portray Ba, Vendor and A-Gong.
Other things I’ve done include the TV show “The Office” and the play The Christians (Mark Taper Forum, LA).
You may not know that, when I was four, I dragged my mom into a piano store to buy me a keyboard. Instead, she bought a piano and lessons for my sister. I learned to play the piano by watching my sister like a hawk.
My favorite story from childhood is, well, I love them all, actually! I had a book of fairytales from around the world that I received as a kid and I kept it with me until I passed it down to one of my nieces or nephews (I can’t remember which one, though!). But I really liked The Princess and the Pea, mostly because I like tall beds, so sleeping on 20 mattresses sounded like fun times. Also, c’mon, Carol Burnett and Once Upon A Mattress—right?!
A scary moment from childhood was the Whittier earthquake in 1987. It was my first earthquake. We used to have regular earthquake drills in school and there were three options at the time: duck under a table or chair, run out into open spaces or get under a doorway (this last one isn’t a wise option now). I was outside on the lunch benches, under an extended roof, when the quake started. Only a couple of us chose the duck-and-cover option; most of the kids and teachers opted for the scream-into-the-open-space option. I peeked out from under the table and just saw legs and feet running past me in a panic. I was scared that I had chosen the wrong option, but I decided to just stick it out under the table.
My favorite adventure to date was a cross-country train trip via Amtrak with a friend of mine. We stopped and explored five cities along the way and logged in more than 100 miles of walking over the course of two weeks. Watching the country change scenically and culturally from the West Coast to the East Coast was something I’ll never forget.
I portray two Goldfish, a Villager, an Apprentice, Xiao Mao, a Pottery Vendor and A-Fu.
Other things I’ve done include the musical Diana (La Jolla Playhouse) and the film Kidnapped.
You may not know that it’s a common misconception that actors don’t get nervous. But I still get nervous singing in front of people, so I practice a lot and try to remember what I do is fun!
My favorite story from childhood was The Tortoise and the Hare. It tells the story of the hare who was ridiculing a tortoise for moving slowly. The turtle is tired of the rabbit’s arrogant behavior and challenges him to a race. The hare takes off and, confident of winning, the hare takes a nap midway through the race. When the hare awakens, however, he finds that the tortoise, by crawling slowly but steadily, arrived at the finish line before him and won the race. I love this story because it reminds us to stay humble, keep moving forward and stay in our own lane because we only control our own progress. I've always been a little slower, more cautious in my decisions and actions. But this story reminds me that everyone has their own way of moving through the world and you have to be true to what suits you.
As a kid, I had to be brave when I got the wind knocked out of me for the very first time. I grew up with asthma, which can be triggered by things including too much physical activity. It was my cousin's birthday and he had a bouncy house. I must have landed wrong because I couldn't catch my breath—it felt like someone punched me in the chest! So I ran inside the house to my mom and we realized I didn't have my inhaler. My cousin's friend was in pre-med in college and had just learned about the respiratory system. He calmed me down enough to slow my breathing and everything was fine. But it was so scary that everyone was just watching us, making sure I was ok!
My favorite adventure to date was a road trip I took with my best friend from Los Angeles to Vashon Island, Wash. We took two weeks, and spent time in the Bay Area (where I'm from), camped in the Redwoods for the very first time, saw shows at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, wandered around Portland and Seattle, and ended with a friend's wedding on Vashon Island!
I portray Minli and an Old Woman.
Other things I’ve done include musicals at the University of California, San Diego, including Hairspray and In the Heights.
You may not know that when I was young, my aunt would tell me Chinese folktales—tales about dragons, mountains, lovers and heroes. My favorite stories were the ones about the legendary Monkey King.
My favorite story from childhood is the folktale about Nin 年, the beast who lives in mountains under the sea. It is said that once per year, during the winter season, Nin would come out and eat villagers and crops. One day, one of the villagers discovered that Nin was afraid of loud noises and the color red. As a result, everyone decorated their homes with red lanterns and scrolls and lit firecrackers to ward off the beast. To this day, people continue these traditions during Lunar New Year.
I had to be brave in my childhood when my dad was laid off from his job. It was the summer before my sister went to college. I was very scared because college was expensive—my brother and I would soon be going to college, too—and I could see that my mom and dad were worrying a lot about money. Though I was scared, I never showed it. I looked for jobs online and studied hard in school. I wanted them to know that they had nothing to worry about and that we all would take care of each other as a family.
My favorite adventure to date was when I traveled to London all by myself. I took a bus to London without a plan and with no internet access. I took a taxi to get afternoon tea, walked to all of the most popular landmarks, took the Tube to visit Platform 9 and ¾ (thank you, Harry Potter!) and watched the West End production of the musical Les Misérables!
I portray Tiger, Goldfish Man, Peach Vendor and a Villager.
Other things I’ve done include the film The Bourne Supremacy and the musical Mamma Mia! (East West Players, LA).
You may not know that, in addition to acting (including working with a musical touring company that performed all over the country), I’m a professional photographer. I photograph celebrities and events like the Oscars and Golden Globe awards!
My favorite story from childhood is Jay Williams’ book called Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like. It’s a story set in China about an elderly, homeless man who was always ignored by people he encountered. One day, a child gives the man a bowl of rice and a place to sleep; then the man ends up turning into a great big dragon that defeats the army of an invading military. I like it because it teaches you never to judge a book by its cover.
As a child musical theatre actor, I remember the first time I performed. I was nervous and, of course, scared, but I knew that people were counting on me. I knew what I was trained to do and what I was about to perform! I had to be brave and “just do it!”
My favorite adventure to date was last November on my most my most recent trip to Japan. That's where I proposed to my longtime partner of 18 years. It was an adventure, as we traveled throughout Japan, with me looking for a great place to propose! I finally found a gorgeous area in the Fukuoka region, at a place called Nanazoin Temple, which is known for its lying-down Buddha statue. I didn't propose in front of the statue, but instead at an adjacent shrine on the temple grounds. The shrine was lined with beautiful reddish-orange tori (that’s the word for gate in Japanese). It was a fun adventure and somewhat nerve-racking, as well, until it finally happened.
I portray Old Man, a Villager, Painter Chen, Beggar/King and Da-Fu.
Other things I’ve done include Cambodian Rock Band (Victory Gardens/City Theatre, Chicago) and Vietgone (East West Players, LA).
You may not know that I was in first grade when I saw my very first play. It was The Wizard of Oz performed by the Asian Story Theater. Eureka! That inspired me to become an actor.
When I was younger, I read James and the Giant Peach in one sitting. I loved the distinct voices of the insect characters. They were so funny and cool! I also appreciated James’ spirit in spite of his tragic and modest beginnings. The grand adventure and magic was larger than life and I loved the world that author Roald Dahl created.
In grade school, there was a kid who was teased a lot. On one particular day, he was teased by the other kids because he wore the same clothes every day and because he was different. They accused him of not bathing, which wasn’t true. I told them to stop and then he and I played together during recess. The other kids teased us both, but we didn’t care, because we had each other.
My newest adventure is fatherhood. I have a funny and wonderfully creative 6-year-old son named Felix and an adorable and incredibly good-natured 5-month-old daughter named Coral. They make life worth living. Every day is an adventure with them and I cherish that.
I portray Dragon.
Other things I’ve done include the TV shows “Young Sheldon,” “Mom” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and the musical South Pacific (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
You may not know that I was recently in The Emperor’s Nightingale as one of the most important characters—a panda!
My favorite story from childhood was “Hansel and Gretel.” Why? Because they got to eat so many sweets!
A scary moment when I was a kid was in my elementary school’s Golf Club. I got hit in the head by a golf club and still had to go back for the rest of the week at school.
My favorite adventure to date is searching for the best desserts and boba [tea] in SoCal!
I portray Ma, Vendor and Amah.
Other things I’ve done include the film Inferno and the play Cambodian Rock Band (Victory Gardens/City Theatre, Chicago).
You may not know that I did my first musical when I was five years old!
My favorite story from childhood was a Japanese folktale called My Lord Bag of Rice. A brave soldier saves a sea king and his family from a giant centipede and is rewarded with magical items, one of which is a bag of rice; the bag is always full no matter how much you take from it. He uses it to feed his family, friends and community. I loved this story because the soldier was brave, smart, confident and kind.
When I was a kid, I always stood up to bullies. I didn’t like it when someone was made fun of. It was scary to stand up to mean kids, but it was more important to me to try to stop the bullying.
My favorite adventure to date was exploring Guatemala!
Learn more about Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and buy tickets.