Fil-Am talents to host IMHF extravaganza of performing arts on World Mental Health Day on October 10

by Ricky Rillera

A clip from the Cheese Fries and Chili Dips | Via YouTube/IMHF Website

[UPDATE, Oct. 7] NEW YORK – With a mission of bringing awareness to mental health and disabilities through the performing arts, the International Mental Health Foundation (IMHF) is holding a live in-person and online streaming extravaganza, Step Forward for Mental Health, on Tuesday, October 10, 9:00 p.m. EDT (doors open at 8:15 p.m.) at the Chelsea Table & Stage (Inside Hilton New York Fashion District), 152 W 26th St., New York City.

The Step Forward for Mental Health is a variety show to benefit IMHF, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, produced by Step Forward Entertainment with Robert R. Blume and Pat Labez. The evening is filled with talent from Broadway singers and actors to dance, comedy, and inspirational speakers.

Filipino artists include Lorli Villanueva and Ang Tatlong Rondalista (Lito David, Leon de Lara, and Rudy Reyes), Kea Chan, and Anthony Salvador Lewis with Emma & Shiloh.

According to her bio on IMHF, Labez, known as “The Joyful Sage,” advocates seniors, blending her roles as an award-winning author, actress, and producer to redefine retirement through the arts. She founded Third Act Encore and serves as vice president and secretary of IMHF.

Her short film, Balikbayan, was recently screened this month at the San Diego Filipino Film Festival and will be screened at the Tacoma Film Festival on October 9, the Hawaii International Film Festival on October 22, and the Virginia Film Festival on October 27. Her other short film, A Confessional, was shot during the pandemic and first screened at the San Diego Film Festival on October 4.

She co-produced the two upcoming programs in New York City and will host Step Forward for Mental Health with co-host Justin Senense.

Pat Labez and Justin Senense – Hosts of Step Forward Mental Health Variety Show | Photos via IMHF Website

With October being Mental Health Awareness Month, another program, Mixed Nuts & Margaritas, is on Wednesday, October 11, at 7 p.m. at the Producers Club Grand Theatre. Imagine a cruise, not on the azure waters, but on the waves of laughter and melodies.

“The evening promises to be a whirlwind of comedy and music, the “tropical prescription” spearheaded by the incomparable Frank King,” Labez said. “Known as the Mental Health Comedian, Frank’s comedic brilliance is underscored by his two-decade stint as a writer for Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, and he has worked with Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen, Rosie, and many other celebrity comedians.” King brings his 37 years of industry experience and joins from the West Coast to share the role of laughter and suicide prevention. He has also turned his battles with depression into 11 TEDx Talks.

Partnering with King is Ron Gandiza, aka Ronnie Tsunami (another Fil-Am), a multi-talented, multi-award-winning artist, including Best Country Artist at the Charlotte Music Awards in North Carolina, Single of the Year at the Hawaii Music Awards, and Top Beach in North America at the Rising Star Awards. He has also performed at pre-concert shows of the late Jimmy Buffet. “Together, they promise an evening of laughter and cool tropical vibes,” Labez added.

Performers include:

John Easterlin is a four-time Grammy Award winner and opera star with global credits, including the Metropolitan and Sydney Opera Houses. He’s a Master Puppeteer, Certified Magician and has made his Broadway debut in The Phantom of the Opera.

Soara-Joye Ross is a multi-talented actress known for roles in Broadway hits like Hadestown and Les Misérables. She’s a Lucille Lortel Award winner and Drama Desk nominee, active in film and television, and currently performing in A Little Night Music with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

Iakof Shonsky, Argentine Tango Maestro, actor and choreographer. He’s the Founder of the Tango Academy Batumi and Tango Academy Tbilisi, both in the country of Georgia, and the Founder of the New York Tango Academy. Many people are surprised to learn that Argentine tango has been linked to therapeutic mental and physical health effects.

Other stage, film. television, and cabaret artists are:

Kea Chan has performed for international dignitaries and won multiple awards, including the Philippines’ 2022 Best Performing Artist Abroad.

Marilyn Forward is an actress, brain health/functional medicine coach, and founder of Helping Heal Hearts.

Adam Ross Glickman, a NYC-based singer, actor, and vocal coach with national tours like The Sound of Music and Disney On Classic in Japan.

Anthony-Emma-Shiloh Lewis family, a powerhouse in arts and entertainment with all three having been on stage and television shows.

Justin Senense, a proud gay Filipino American award-winning speaker, personal trainer, performer, storytelling coach, and co-founder of the May I Be Kind social movement.

Sal Sinatra, from finance to homelessness to writer, speaker, singer, and actor with an online commercial sensation and upcoming feature films.

Kea Chan, Dr. Marie Cosgrove, John Easterlin, Marilyn Forward | Photos via IMHF Website
Chris Fuller, Adam Ross Glickman, Frank King, and Michael Lavine | Photos via IMHF Website

Lorli Villanueva, a 30+-year veteran actress, writer, director, and producer in Philippine theater, TV, and film, won Best Supporting Actress in 1972, sharing the stage with The Tres Rondalistas, a Philippine string instruments musical band and,
Xiaoqing Zhang, an organizer for the Tony Awards China and a musical theatre festival in Shanghai, is also a VP of The World Chinese Culture and Arts Foundation and Artistic Director of Broadway China.

Musical Director Michael Lavine, a Broadway vocal coach, is on the piano, collaborating with industry luminaries like Idina Menzel, Lea Michele, Sutton Foster, Matthew Morrison, and Kristin Chenoweth.

Guest speakers include mental health advocate and international speaker Dr. Marie Cosgrove, author of Greater Fortune: Essential Lessons from the Entrepreneur Who Bought the Company that Fired Her.

Pro-golfer-turned-writer/actor Chris Fuller speaks of his journey in living with bipolar disorder, the difficulties he experienced competing in tournaments with a mind racing out of control, and leading up to his upcoming world premiere residency production of Cheese Fries and Chili Dips at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT.

The Lewis Family (Anthony, Emma, and Shiloh), Soara-Joye Ross, Iakof Shonsky, and Sal Sinatra | Photos via IMHF Website
Ronnie Tsunami, Lorli Villanueva, and Xiaoqing Zhang | Photos via IMHF Website

According to IMHF, the world is grappling with a mental health epidemic affecting one in eight people globally, with staggering numbers upwards of 800 million. There has been an increase in mental health conditions across the board, from our youth to older adults, in the workplace to retirees, and recent studies have shown up to 50% of the world population will experience some form of mental health disorder in their lifetime.

From advocacy to hosting and sponsoring artistic and educational events to community engagement, building bridges to thrive, fostering connections between hearts and minds, and celebrating human resiliency and empathy, IMHF said it aims to bring awareness to mental health challenges and disabilities through the performing arts.

Tickets start at $25 for the live in-person event and $15 for online streaming. Visit www.stepforwardformentalhealth.com.

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