Alvin Ing (left) and Sekiya Billman in “Canton Jazz Club” (1990). (East West Players)

Actor and singer Alvin Ing, an advocate for Asian Pacific Americans in the entertainment industry, died on July 31 at the age of 89.

Ing died of cardiac arrest amid a battle with COVID-19 at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Though he had been fully vaccinated, he had been diagnosed with the virus two weeks earlier.

Alvin Ing (right) and Paul Wong in “Beijing Spring” (1999). (East West Players)

When the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Flower Drun Song” went on tour after opening on Broadway in 1958, Ing played the male lead, Wang Ta (the role played by James Shigeta in the 1961 movie). In 2002, the show was revived with a new book by David Henry Hwang, and Ing was cast as a different character, Chin.

Ing also appeared in the Stephen Sondheim musical about the opening of Japan to the West in the 19th century, “Pacific Overtures,” in 1976. The cast included other pioneer Asian American actors who have since passed away, including Mako, Yuki Shimoda and Soon Teck Oh. Ing also appeared in that show’s revival.

Ing had numerous film and TV credits as well, bookended by the movies “Made for Each  Other” (1971) and “Bad Detectives” (2021).

East West Players, the Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific American theater company, issued the following statement.

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East West Players is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of trailblazing Asian American actor and singer Alvin Ing. He passed at the age of 89 on July 31, 2021, from complications with COVID-19. We have had the great fortune of having Alvin share his talents on the East West Players stage in shows like “Pacific Overtures” (1998), “Canton Jazz Club” (1990), “Beijing Spring” (1999), “Sweeney Todd” (1995), “Follies” (2000) and “Cabaret” (1997).

We send our deepest condolences to his loved ones.

Born in Honolulu, Hawai’i, Alvin studied music at the University of Hawaii, then coming to Columbia University in New York City. Once in New York, he booked a role in the summer stock circuit on the East Coast after several appearances in amateur theater productions. Through that, he performed in “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Don of Norway” and as Lun Tha in “The King and I.”

In 2017, Alvin Ing was part of a panel titled “Meet the Asian Americans in the Entertainment Field” at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center. Standing, from left: Amy Hill, Chris Tashima, Keiko Agena, Guy Aoki (moderator), Francois Chau; seated, from left: Elizabeth Sung, Clyde Kusatsu, Tamlyn Tomita, Alvin Ing. Sung passed away in 2018 at the age of 63. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Alvin Ing was perhaps best known for his recurring role as Wang Ta in the musical
“Flower Drum Song” by Rodgers and Hammerstein, performing in more productions of the show than any other actor. His journey with the show started with his audition in 1958, resulting in a journey from understudy for Wang Ta to principal. In the 2002 Broadway revival, David Henry Hwang revised the script and added back a Rodgers and Hammerstein song for Alvin that had been previously cut out – “My Best Love.”

He made his Broadway debut in 1976 with Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Pacific Overtures,” later returning to the Broadway stage for its revival in 2004. A run of “Pacific Overtures” that Ing was in was streamed to Japanese television. Sondheim wrote the song “Chrysanthemum Tea” specifically for Ing.

Beyond Broadway, Alvin’s theater credits include “Chu Chem” (1966), the play adaptation of “The World of Suzie Wong,” and tours of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “City of Angels.” He was also an active member of the Theater for Asian American Performing Artists. His work extended beyond the American stage, performing at the Singapore Repertory Theatre in the world premiere of the musical “Sing to the Dawn” by Dick Lee.

Alvin made his mark on the small screen and the big screen too. Prominent credits in film include “The Gambler” (opposite Mark Wahlberg and Jessica Lange), “The Final Countdown,” “Stir Crazy,” “Troop Beverly Hills,” and “Smilla’s Sense of Snow.”

He also had a number of recurring and guest-starring roles on TV shows including “The Doctors,” “Falcon Crest,” “Benson,” “How the West Was Won,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Quincy, M.E.,” “All-American Girl,” “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” “Fantasy Island,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and “Hawaii Five-0.”

As a singer, Alvin put on cabarets and benefit concerts, even releasing a CD called “Swing with Ing,” in collaboration with Betty Loo Taylor. At the age of 81, he performed on “The X Factor USA” in 2013. Following his coming out as gay in 2016, he also supported the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS benefit through a performance of the opening number of “Flower Drum Song.” In February 2020, he released an album titled “Broadway Is Still Calling.”

After a performance of “Flower Drum Song” in San Jose in 2008, Congressman Mike Honda (left) recognized cast members Alvin Ing and Michelle Liu Coughlin. This performance marked the 50th anniversary of the Broadway show. (Hokubei Mainichi photo by J.K. Yamamoto)

Alvin Ing was a true trailblazer and pioneer and a strong advocate for the AAPI community in the arts and entertainment. His roles and work paved the way for many Asian American actors of future generations, as seen in the reactions to his passing on social media by a variety of AAPI artists.

Especially being in the entertainment industry at an earlier time, Alvin had to face the racism and stereotyping that so often plagues society and persists in the entertainment industry. He persevered through the hardship with his talent and dedication, leading the way for others to follow in his footsteps. East West Players is grateful to him for his work in creating opportunities for the Asian American community.

“Many musical theater enthusiasts, like me, became acquainted with Alvin’s unique and incredible voice on the Broadway cast album of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Pacific Overtures,’ where he originated the memorable Shogun’s mother, among other roles,” says Tim Dang, former artistic director of East West Players. “Later, I would meet him as an active member of the advocacy group AAPAA (the Association of Asian Pacific American Artists), which supported realistic and positive portrayals of the Asian Pacific American experience on film and TV. He produced and directed a short musical piece called ‘AAPAA Yours,’ which I joined and performed at various APA events around L.A. and other major cities to build allyship among the APA community about the challenges of Asian Pacific American artists in the entertainment industry.

Alvin Ing (left) was featured in “Asian Americans on Broadway: Opening Doors,” presented in 2006 in San Francisco by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. The director was Alan Muraoka (center). (Hokubei Mainichi photo by J.K. Yamamoto)

“Later, Alvin played one of the leads in ‘The Canton Jazz Club,’ a musical written by Dom Magwili, lyrics by me, and composed by Nathan Wang and Joel Iwataki. Alvin became a stalwart part of the musical theater productions at East West Players, playing such iconic roles as Beadle Bamford in ‘Sweeney Todd’ and Roscoe in ‘Follies.’ Throughout, Alvin brought a joi de vivre with a sharp and biting wit to everything.

“To me as to so many through the decades, Alvin was a pioneer, mentor, colleague, and friend. Alvin’s presence will be missed but his soaring and recognizable voice will continue to live on.”

To celebrate Ing’s life, there will be an online memorial for close family and friends on Aug. 15 along with an in-person memorial concert at a later date in New York City. In lieu of flowers, Abingdon Theatre Company welcomes donations for Alvin Ing’s New York Memorial Celebration and the new Alvin Ing Scholarship Fund.

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