HE HAS zero experience in theater. He only sings in a Church choir, has been playing the violin since he was three but not virtuoso or protege level, and is described by his mother as being confident, sociable, and hyperactive (even goes on a selling spiel to help his mother in selling Forever Living products).
That was enough for 11-year-old Julien Joshua “JJ” Millanes Dolor to get the much-coveted role of the “Young Simba” in The Lion King’s International Tour by Cassel Group in association with Disney Theatrical Productions. He alternates with young stage “veterans” Pablo Palacpac and Juan Gabriel Tiongson.
The eldest of two sons of Julien B. Dolor of the Presidential Security Group, who served Davao as a Navy Swag for many years before Davao City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte became President, and former SunStar Davao youth columnist Marnellie Millanes, JJ’s road to international stage started as just a dare after his mother read a call for auditions in a Facebook post while they were at home.
Here is a Q&A with JJ:
1. How did you prepare for the role?
I learned that I had an audition on the Monday but it was only the Wednesday when I remembered that the audition was on Friday, so we opened YouTube and ran through my script straight away!
2. Did you really, really want to be in the musical or you just auditioned for the fun of it?
No, in fact we just prayed "thy will be done Lord". Plus, it was my first-time auditioning, so I guess that it was just out of curiosity.
3. How did you learn about the auditions?
Now, this is the funniest story: Mom first saw it on Lea Salonga's Facebook page. It just appeared on her feeds even though she was not Lea's follower on Facebook. When she browsed it, she saw Lea's previous post about Open Call auditions for boys & girls ages 9-11. It says "The search is on for confident children with personality, natural actors/singers who can move well. Previous performing experience is not necessary. " Mom was only kidding me when she said "J, parang ikaw ang hinahanap nila. Gusto mo mag audition?"(J, sounds like you’re the one they’re looking for! You want to audition?”). I said yes -- without really expecting anything. The audition was set for July 7. But since it was never really a serious thing I guess, Mom forgot to bring my birth certificate when we went back to Manila. She called the casting director to ask if I can audition even without birth certificate. They said no. So mom told me to forget about the auditions. It didn't affect me at all. Then on the evening of July 30, we were crumpling old newspapers to put inside our shoes before leaving back to Davao to join our Dad for a month-long assignment. Nung i-crumple na sana ni Mama ang newspaper na may comics, sabi ko hiramin ko muna at ibalik ko lang pagkatapos ko basahin. (Mom was just about to crumple the comics section of the newspaper). A few minutes later, I went back to her and said, "Ma! May audition pa Ang Lion King!"(Mom! There are still auditions for The Lion King!) She thought I was playing a prank on her. Until she read it herself. It says there's another audition set on August 5 for boys only. And that you need to pre-register. Guess what? Last day of registration was that same day too! Mom said, "Paanotayo mag register eh gabina? Walanangsasagotsaatin." (How can we register? It’s already late in the evening. Nobody will respond to our message). Then she saw an email address. She inquired if we can still register and few hours later (about 11pm?) we got a reply! That was on Sunday. On Monday morning, we got another email telling me to memorize the script they sent.
4. What did you sing/do?
I sang "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" and delivered a few lines from the scenesI had learned from The Lion King. They sent us the script Monday. I auditioned Friday.
5. What did the audition panel say?
They didn't comment very much, except every round they said: Okay We're gonna send you out now. Some of you are going to come back but some of you are not. However this has nothing to do with your talents as you are all very talented. Okay now pat yourself on the back and say good job mate.
6. Can you describe how it was on audition day?
Like what time you woke up, how long you waited, how it felt as you walked in and faced the audition panel... Very excited. I waited for about 30 minutes. I was a bit nervous too. First day of auditions was at 9 a.m. We were there around 8:30 a.m. Parents were not allowed to be in the audition room with us and so they waited downstairs. The panel were the creative team from overseas. Around 11a.m., we were done and I told Mom that I think I didn't make it because I forgot some lines. The audition staff said they will contact those who will be "called back" the next day. When we got home, mom received a text message that we were called back! We were laughing out loud and continued to pray that God's will be done for me. I was ready, even if I didn’t get the role. Mom said that the fact that I had auditioned for the "international" panel, meant that I had already learned a lot from this experience. She specifically told me not to pray that I get the role, instead to pray that His will be done, so I won't be disappointed if I didn’t get it. Second/Final audition day: if it was an "all boys" audition on the first day, the next day, kasama na namin ang ibang nakuha nung July 7 audition - boys and girls -- around 40 siguro. (We were with the others who had auditioned on July 7—boys and girls—maybe about 40) I felt nervous Kasi dun ko Lang nalamanna mas marami pa palaako ka compete compared to what I anticipated. 4 p.m. na kami natapos. (I felt nervous because that’s when I found out that I had a lot of competition for the role. We finished at 4pm). I was so exhausted that when my mother asked me how it was, I told her "Mamayana ma. Pagodako".(In a while, Mom. I’m so tired.)Binironya pa ako "Theater langpalamakawalangpagka hyper mo eh”. (She joked that apparently theatre was the only thing could get rid of my hyperactivity). Around 8 p.m., I began to share with my family what happened. Sabiko di siguroakomakukuhakasi di akomarunongsumayaw. Tinawag pa akong choreographer to have one on one session with her.Naa-out of balance kasiakopag pa ikotnayung steps. (I told them “I don’t think I got it because I don’t know how to dance.” I also told them that the choreographer called me to have a one on one session with her because I kept getting out of balance whenever I spun around.)
7. How are your parents dealing with it?
Proud. But more than anything, they give God the glory. This is all for Him.
All throughout, Marnellie has been telling JJ not to expect much and just enjoy the experience. “Let God’s will prevail,” she would constantly remind her eldest. That’s JJ for you, who will be starting rehearsing by January for the Manila Premier in March 2018 at Solaire. He will be joining the Manila Bay Sands tour in Singapore as well in June 2018. But it’s a wait and see whether he will still be joining the Korea (October 2018), Taiwan (2019), and South Africa (2020). That is because he’s a boy, and it all depends on when his voice will start to change.
Tickets for the Manila run will go on sale on November 3, and the Singapore tickets will go on sale on November 13.
In the meantime, Marnellie, the mother believes it was as they prayed for: God’s will.
With the husband being more mobile as a member of the PSG, they decided to enrol their two boys, JJ and six-year-old Jeremiah to home school just this school year as they alternate between Manila and Davao, depending on the deployment schedule of her husband, Julian.
“Ito pala ang pinaghandaan ng home schooling,” she said.
As JJ said, “This is all for Him.”
The Lion King was never a figment in his dreams. Not even theatre. All he and his brother Jeremiah ever dreamed of outside the realities of their childhood was to have a photo with their Tatay Digong. They're still hoping they'd get to have that someday.