RJ Rosales, who has died aged 37, was one of the Australian Filipino community’s favourite sons. Best known for his stint as co-host of ABS-CBN Philippines variety show ASAP, he was a critically acclaimed actor and musical theatre performer, receiving a Helpmann Award nomination for his role in the 2007-08 Australian season of Miss Saigon. His smooth but strong balladeer’s voice, equally suited to popular music as show tunes, found fans across generations from all over the world.
Born Roseo Jose Rosales, the second of four children, he migrated from the Philippines to Australia with his family at the age of thirteen. The family settled in western Sydney, initially living with close relatives in a house that had, in typical Filipino fashion, up to fifteen people living together at one time. He completed his Higher School Certificate at St Clair High School and a Bachelor of Applied Science, majoring in Mathematics, at the University of Western Sydney.
His parents were leaders in the local Filipino community, and during his teenage years and early twenties, Rosales sang at Filipino Masses at Holy Spirit, his local Catholic church, and frequently performed for local Filipino community events, amateur musical productions and with the now defunct Sampaguita Folk Dancing Troupe.
His big break came in 1996 when he was cast in the Australian production of Cameron Mackintosh’s Miss Saigon. For the next two years, he pursued local opportunities, recording Filipino songs for SBS Radio and playing the lead role of Ibarra in Filipinas Circa 1880 – the Musical in Sydney and Canberra. His dream of pursuing a professional career in entertainment now within reach, Rosales left his job in banking and accepted the lead role of Chang in the 1999 Singapore production of Action Theatre’s Chang and Eng – the Musical.
Rosales based himself in Singapore for three years, honing his skills in theatre, television and as a solo performer. He hosted Channel 5’s ABCs of Health, Style Doctors and The Making of Miss Saigon and played Mr B in the teen drama series Spin. It was in Singapore that he achieved the professional milestone of recording his first single, A Perfect World. He also featured in the complete recording of Chang and Eng – the Musical produced by Action Theatre. In 2001 and 2002, he reprised his role as Chang, performing in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.
In 2001, he broke into the Philippine entertainment industry when he accepted a two-year contract with ABS-CBN. It was the ultimate dream for Rosales, who moved back to Manila to work with some of the biggest names in the industry, many of whom he considered his childhood idols. Demonstrating his versatility as a performing artist, he appeared in a variety of film, television and stage roles. From 2001 to 2004, he appeared in popular variety show ASAP as a regular host and racked up some serious acting creds, landing a lead role in the comedy series Attagirl as well as roles in Da Pilya n Da Pilot and Sa Puso Ko Iingatan Ka. In 2005, he received rave reviews for his role in the highly controversial All About Men – Penis Talks 2 and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award at the Metro Manila Film Festival for his role as Reggie in the award-winning drama Blue Moon.
Although musical theatre was his first love, and despite performing in what he considered his dream venue, the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, for East Meets West and Something Stupid Called Love, Rosales’s musical career in the Philippines tended towards pop. He appeared as a guest performer at the Miss Earth 2002 pageant and for various artists, including Regine Velasquez and Pops Fernandez, with stints in the United States and Australia, where he appeared at the 2004 Vina Morales concert in the Sydney suburb of Castle Hill. He recorded several songs, including Together Forever, a Gold Record Award winning duet with Carol Banawa, Tulad ng Dati and Metropop Song Festival finalist You’re All That I Live For.
Despite his achievements, Rosales seemed to struggle with the demands and cultural constraints of the Philippine entertainment industry and by 2005 was regularly commuting between Manila and Singapore, where he continued to star in various musical theatre productions and appear in charity and solo concerts. He was listed in Cleo magazine’s 50 Most Eligible Bachelors and female magazine’s 50 Most Gorgeous People in Singapore.
He returned home to Sydney when he was cast as antagonist Thuy in the 2007-08 Australian production of Miss Saigon, for which he received a Helpmann Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical. By now he was well loved by fans in Singapore, where he regularly travelled to perform to packed audiences. He was a generous supporter of charitable organisations and expatriate Filipino communities. In Singapore, he appeared in various gala events for Community Chest; in Australia, he was known for guest appearances at local fiestas, birthday celebrations and senior citizens’ functions. His last major public appearance in Australia was in the role of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal at an amateur production of Leonor Orosa-Goquinco’s Her Son, Jose Rizal at the Tom Mann Theatre in Surry Hills.
Despite his success, Rosales remained a deeply private person. Those closest to him describe him as shy and meek but cheeky and charming. The Sydney community remembers him with fondness for his humility and the generosity with which he shared his talent, providing inspiration to young aspiring Australian Filipino performers.
Rosales was interred on Saturday at Pinegrove Cemetery in western Sydney. A memorial service was held in Singapore on Monday evening at Kallang Theatre. Online tributes can be sent to his memorial site.
Rosales is survived by his parents and three siblings.
- RJ Rosales (Roseo Jose Rosales), entertainer, born 24 March 1974; died 5 December 2011.
Photos courtesy of John Fick.
You can find more articles by Kat Mayo on www.katmayo.com.au.