Viral Philippine prison video inspires musical

“Prison Dancer” has a limited run in Ottawa’s National Arts Centre

By Charmaine Y. Rodriguez

For a Filipino Canadian writer and choreographer, a viral Youtube video of Filipino inmates dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was always a good material for a musical.

Romeo Candido just thought other people would do it.

“I thought it was a no-brainer — I thought other people were going to write a musical about this,” Candido told CBC News in a recent interview. “I just thought it was ripe for storytelling.”

After 15 years since the video was posted and earned global attention, including numerous documentaries, features on TV, magazines, radio and social media platforms, it will now be seen on the theatre stage in Canada.

Candido and co-creator Carmen Leilani De Jesus got inspiration from the video, which has now 59 million views, and produced the musical Prison Dancer — a fictionalized account of the 1,500 inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center.

It debuted at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre earlier this year. It will run from November 23 to December 2 at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre.

Candido said there’s an extra sense of accomplishment to seeing Prison Dancer make it there.

“I just don’t think the National Arts Centre has had this kind of Filipino power from behind the scenes, and on stage and as creators and producers,” he said. “This is a moment for our community.”

From the cast, director Nina Lee Aquino and choreographer/star Julio Fuentes, Prison Dancer has been recognized as the first musical fully created by a Filipino Canadian group, CBC News also reported.

Fuentes hopes this is a start of good things for the group.

“Because as a community, we’re not theatre-goers, we’re concert-goers…. And I think it’s largely because we never see ourselves there,” Fuentes said. “We’re missing from theatre, and now this has filled such a void.”

For Allen Baylosis, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia studying contemporary Filipino theatrical performance, this is an improvement from the many instances where stories were written for a Filipino cast or a production by a Filipino director for non-Filipino actors.

“It is not under the voice of the people whose stories are about, and we are given, temporarily, voices.” he said. “But in this case, it is an all-Filipino artistic team. It is performed by Filipinos, made by Filipinos, in a play about Filipinos,” he also told CBC News.

To check out show times and ticket prizes, visit

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