NEW MUSIC • BROADWAY
13-track effort ‘Altitude’ arrives this week
Broadway runs deep in Jose Llana’s blood. The son of Filipino immigrants, Llana moved to the states when he was barely a toddler, eventually discovering, and consequently, becoming enamored with the wonderment of the stage.
“I was bit by the theater bug early on,” Llana says. “I was lucky enough to grow up close to Washington, DC where a lot of touring companies came through the Kennedy Center and the National Theatre for shows.”
The lively, mystic sounds of Broadway ultimately inspired a 19-year-old Llana to trek to New York for his first performance in the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The King & I. Twenty years later, the moment comes full circle. Llana recently concluded a two-week run in the same production.
“To be invited back, and to play the king, felt fantastic,” he says. “It’s actually very sentimental. That show literally gave me my start.”
Now with his career encompassing several appearances in both Broadway and off-Broadway shows, Llana delves deep into a collection of songs for his new album, Altitude, that play as an ode to his past theater outings. Most of the tracks are directly stripped from a concert Llana did last spring during the Lincoln Center’s American Songbook Series.
“That concert allowed me to put together a retrospective of my career, running the gamut from The King & I in 1996 to the present,” he says. “From the 20 songs I performed, I chose the ten that I felt the audience took to the best and held the deepest connection to my career and to me personally.”
Adding three more cuts, the 13-track disc offers just as much sentimental value as Llana’s return to the King & I.
Just days before the album’s release, Llana reveals the inspiration behind its name which comes from “Icarus,” one of the featured tracks penned by composer Adam Guettel. Llana feels the lyrics contained in the song convey the spirit of his past and future work, saying, “Altitude implies flight and reaching for new heights. I liked that imagery for the album.”
On Friday, Llana teased Altitude with an exclusive first listen of “Hero and Leander.” In the song, Llana delivers a heartfelt vocal, showcasing the nimble and delicate harmonies fans have grown to know and appreciate. “I think it’s the most beautiful song on the album,” he says. “It’s one of the first songs I sang in New York so it means a lot to me.”
Other standouts for Llana include a remake of Billy Joel’s “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel),” a song he tapped to serenade his niece and nephew to sleep, and Ed Sheeran’s wildly popular “Thinking Out Loud” which is dedicated to Llana’s partner of ten years, Eric.
As Llana continues to celebrate and reflect on his 20-year career milestone with his new album, he credits much of his success to authenticity. “Being a person of color and a member of the LGBT community, I thought I would live most of my professional life in the closet,” he says. “But there was no way I could hide who I was. It’s not my nature. Something I’ve learned time and time again is that in order to be a true artist you have to embrace your true self.”
And Llana believes there’s never been a more prime moment to be just that on Broadway.
“It’s an exciting time to be in theater right now,” he says. “The kind of theater that’s being produced and the people of color in power who are writing our stories and making casting decisions, it’s empowering.”
Altitude is available May 13
See Jose in concert on May 16 — 9:30 PM ET — Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10003 // Click here to purchase tickets