By Lé Baltar Published Mar 01, 2024 5:01 am

AC Bonifacio is never not going to dance. “I was a competitive dancer first before anything (else), so ‘yung discipline ko po ‘dun, nakakahawa siya sa lahat,” she tells me. 

After all, her career in local entertainment began through the reality dance competition Dance Kids. Known better as “Lucky Aces,” Bonifacio won the show at age 14 with dance partner Lucky Ancheta. “I had no expectations. I did not think we were gonna win. And so when we won, tuloy-tuloy na po from there,” she says. 

After Lucky Aces appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show prior to Dance Kids, Bonifacio had the opportunity to perform with American pop star Ariana Grande in Vancouver, Canada—Bonifacio’s hometown, which she makes an effort to visit whenever she has time off. “The whole side of my family is there.”

That win on Dance Kids allowed Bonifacio to appear regularly on ASAP, ABS-CBN’s musical variety show, be part of the singing and impersonation competition Your Face Sounds Familiar: Kids, make her way into acting (including a stint on Riverdale), and actively plot her career, which continues to pick up momentum.

And while dancing has always been routine for Bonifacio, she’s bent on proving that there is more to her as a performer, especially now that she makes her theater debut as part of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the Tony-winning musical put on by theater company The Sandbox Collective, in collaboration with ABS-CBN, Star Magic and Teatro Kapamilya. “I’m not just the dancer that everyone says I am,” she’s quick to point out.

It is a humid afternoon when I meet Bonifacio, sporting red hair for our cover shoot at a rehearsal studio in Makati. She wears denim pants and a muddy yellow top, and greets everyone upon entering the room. She preps for a bit and does her own makeup, while Run Away With Me by Carly Rae Jepsen plays in the background.

Bonifacio is so game throughout the shoot, partly because she’s used to being in front of the camera, putting up content on YouTube even on her breaks. But mostly because work relaxes her. “I’m the type of person that needs to move around all the time. I cannot be at home doing nothing. Matataranta po talaga ako,” she discloses.

Bonifacio shudders with excitement when we begin to talk about her role in Spelling Bee. The popular Broadway musical follows six quirky students competing in their campus spelling bee, hosted by three equally quirky adults, with William Finn originally working on the music and lyrics, alongside Rachel Sheinkin for the libretto. Directing the local production is Missy Maramara, with Rony Fortich serving as musical director.

In this retelling, Bonifacio plays Marcy Park (alternating with fellow Star Magic artist Shanaia Gomez), a transferee preceded by her overachievements, including a ninth-place finish at last year’s spelling bee nationals, that eventually rendered her anxious and restless.

When auditions opened, Bonifacio wasn’t actually in the country, but she fought hard for the part. “I told my manager I really, really want to audition. Even if I can’t get it, even if I just self-take it. I was like, ‘I just want to show what I can do.’ And then they can decide for me,” shares the performer. 

She adds, “I went to my vocal coach pa to make sure that I was doing the right thing, and then I went out with no expectations at all. I honestly didn’t think I would get it and then maybe two months after, they told us (I got it). I was like, ‘How did I get this?’ Then again I just knew I was gonna work hard for it.”

Bonifacio is not totally without experience when it comes to musicals, starring in the television series Lyric and Beat in 2022. But she admits that the theater stage is different terrain altogether. “In Lyric and Beat, yes we have rehearsals, but it’s not as much as (Spelling Bee) na every day kami, and we were able to record our voices ahead of time. And ‘pag nasa set na kami, of course, may take two, may take three, hanggang whatever take Direk wants. We have the opportunity to fix our mistakes. But once you’re here onstage, one take lang po ‘yun, dire-diretso, tapos live na live talaga.

Despite the adjustments, Bonifacio finds it liberating to work with the people involved in the production. “Hindi sila ‘yung dini-dictate kung anong gagawin namin for our acting. They let us explore and they ask us questions, like ‘Why do you feel like doing this?’ So it’s very different, but it’s also very much the same.”

Taking on Spelling Bee brings up certain memories for the dancer-performer. She tells me about her first foray on the stage in sixth grade: doubling as teen Fiona and the dragon at her school’s production of Shrek. This was followed by a role in Lion King, another campus production. “I’ve always just had some sort of love not specifically for musical theater, but performing. I just wanted to be onstage, whether that be dancing, singing, acting,” she says. 

It wasn’t until she saw Hamilton that she fell hard for musical theater. “I memorized the whole thing and the dances. I understand every single little joke they have in there.”

Bonifacio also misses studying but reveals that the online setup is not for her. “I need to physically be there to be able to fully focus on it.”

At 21, Bonifacio has already achieved quite a lot, and the exposure only fuels her to do and learn so much more, like playing “roles that are very outside of (her comfort zone).” Part of that desire of wanting more is “to prove people wrong,” especially since she’s “had a lot of bashers.” In a recent interview with PEP, she says she would receive comments on her body or how she dances, and even get told to harm herself. “I just like to prove them wrong and show them that I am more than what they keep saying,” she boldly tells me.

She knows, too, that committing to another craft must be matched with utmost discipline. “Of course once I get the part, that means more practicing, more preparing, more learning for that part.”

And Bonifacio doesn’t mind auditioning. “Ako po, I like to work hard for the things that I get. So I audition and I audition and I audition. I do so many self-tapes. And then, ‘pag hindi ako nakuha, edi hindi ako nakuha. Okay lang naman po ‘yun. I don’t select,” she says. “When I’m given a role, and if I feel like I can do it and it’s something that I can give justice to, I will do the self-tape. And of course, it’s up to everyone else if they feel like I’m up to the part.”

Other members of the production arrive when our interview winds down. The rehearsal begins to shape up; more singing and dancing can be heard. The energy consumes the room. The photographer takes a couple more shots.

I press Bonifacio about what lies ahead for her career, and she says she prefers spontaneity. “I like to just go with the flow, really, because a lot of things are spontaneous, and when things are spontaneous, it’s kind of better. It feels better, it feels funner, in a way. So I don’t really like to go ahead with anything. I like to see just where my life goes, where my career goes. Whatever is for me will be for me.”

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is open until March 17, 2024 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight Blackbox Theater, Circuit Makati. Get your tickets via Ticket2Me.

Produced by Andrea Panaligan
Photos by Jeremiah Villardo
Assisted by Jos-ef Ricafrente
Styled by Cath Cheng
Special thanks to The Sandbox Collective