Meet the Filipino actors in 'Miss Saigon UK'
MANILA, Philippines – The hit musical Miss Saigon has opened doors for Filipino artists abroad through the years, with the likes of Lea Salonga, Monique Wilson, Rachelle Ann Go, Eva Noblezada, Jonjon Briones, Jamie Rivera, and more.
This year, the musical created by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil and produced by Cameron Mackintosh will go on an extensive United Kingdom and Ireland tour starting July.
Many Filipino actors are once again part of the tour headed by Red Concepcion as The Engineer, Gerald Santos as Thuy, and newcomer Joreen Bautista, who will alternate as Kim in certain performances. (READ: Gerald Santos, Red Concepcion join 'Miss Saigon' UK Tour)
Rappler got the chance to interview Gerald and Joreen via email and the two share their excitement about being part of the hit musical.
Gerald Santos: His time to shine
Gerald Santos is perhaps the most familiar name among the cast members, having won the Pinoy Pop Superstar Season 2 back in 2006 at the age of 15. He has also appeared in various plays, TV shows and performed with the likes of Regine Velasquez-Alcasid in concerts.
In an email interview with Rappler, Gerald said that auditioning for the show was unforgettable and surreal.
“The audition for Miss Saigon was a wonderful unforgettable experience for me, though it was nerve-wracking, to say the least. Singing and acting in front of these theater legends were surreal,” he said.
According to Gerald, during the auditions in March 2016, he and the cast went through 4 stages which included singing, acting, and dancing. He said that at the second stage he was already asked to sing the songs of Thuy.
“For the second round, the focus was on me singing the Thuy songs. This was really vocally challenging because the songs of Thuy are really high. I had to sing ‘Thuy’s Death’ 4 times. Ms Carla Laforteza was most helpful as our Kim in the auditions. The third round was supposed to be for choreography, which was my waterloo. But to my surprise and relief, I got separated from the rest of the boys and the British directors had me sing more of the Thuy songs," he said.
Gerald later got a callback and found out he was going to perform for no less than Claude Michel Schonberg.
“The next day, they called me up for the final callback and I was told that I will be singing in front of Claude Michel Schönberg. In front of Claude Michel Schönberg, I was very nervous. He was very strict yet very appreciative. Towards the end of my auditions, some people in the room told me that Schönberg had very good words for me. I even overheard him say that ‘he is phenomenal!’”
When he got word he was in, Gerald was not only ecstatic, but also relieved. He shared that before landing the role of Thuy, he talked with the UK Tour director Jean Pierre Van Der Spuy via FaceTime.
“I was really overwhelmed! Why would the director bother to talk to me if they were not interested at all?” he said.
“Of course I was very happy!” he said of being part of the cast. “The Miss Saigon Productions have been communicating with me since April last year and I had this feeling that I had the chance of bagging the role. Finally, they offered me the role of Thuy December 23, 2016 and although we already knew about it, we kept silent until the press announcement last April 11, 2017,” he said.
Although he has appeared in plays and has been performing in concerts, Gerald said that he underwent training, especially since he will be singing onstage.
“Pop singing is very different from theater singing. To prepare for this shift, I had some classical voice training,” he said.
“My strength as a singer would be my innate qualities as a storyteller. That would really help me as I convey the message of the character that I would be playing in Miss Saigon. My weakness? Let’s just say that I still need to further strengthen my vocals to cope up with the 8-performance per week schedule.”
Getting to play Thuy is not only about the country’s pride for Gerald. He admitted that at one point, he wanted to give up on his career.
“I have been in the industry for 11 years and this is the biggest break that came my way. I came to a point of quitting showbiz. This is also about the Filipino spirit! The never-say-die attitude of Filipinos; that in the midst of challenges and storms, the Filipino spirit shall prevail!”
Gerald is grateful that many of the past Miss Saigon members like Lea Salonga have been giving tips not only to him, but also to the other Filipino cast members in the tour.
“Oh Ms Lea Salonga is very supportive of us! She even plans to watch us when she goes to UK in August. She is one of my biggest idols! Former Kims of Miss Saigon Carla Laforteza and Jamie Rivera have also given words of encouragement to me. Of course, I am looking forward to meeting Sir Robert Seña personally to get some tips,” he said of the actor who played Thuy in the London, Germany, and Manila productions.
When asked what the reaction of his friends were from the entertainment business, Gerald said many of them were so happy for him, but at the same time surprised.
“Some are in disbelief because they know me as a ‘quiet, soft singer’ and Thuy is really different from what I am as a singer,” he said. “What they didn’t know was that I played Pedro Calungsod for two years on tour and the role was also vocally demanding. That somehow prepared me for the role of Thuy vocally. But they are all very happy for me, especially my batch mates in Pinoy Pop Superstar.”
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As he prepares himself for the international spotlight, Gerald said that he’s looking forward to learning about different cultures, meeting new friends and showing how good Filipinos are.
“I am excited to show the world that Filipinos are at par with the rest of the world in terms of talent. I am excited to meet other performers and build new friendships with them. I am excited to experience how these theater legends create a magical production. I am just excited to be the new Thuy!”
And as for the lesson he has learned in his career, Gerald has this to say:
“God has the best plan for me and his timing is always perfect! Never question his plan. Seize the moment when the time comes and be the best you can be. No room for hesitation, doubt and mediocrity. And when I experience frustrations and even failures in the UK, I will always remind myself that God has the best plan for me!”
Joreen Bautista: The alternate Kim
Alternating as Kim in certain performances in the tour is newcomer Joreen Bautista. At 17, Miss Saigon is her first professional production.
A high school student from Brightwoods School in Angeles City, Pampanga, Joreen told Rappler via email that she originally auditioned just for fun without any pressure of getting in.
"I auditioned just for fun. I did not take it seriously and I was not pressuring myself to actually get called back or even get in. After all, I only gave it a shot. I sang a few bars of 'Sun and Moon' and after which I was asked by the directors if I could sing parts of 'I’d Give My Life For You.' I got a callback after that and was proud to have already made it that far," she said.
"I was given pieces to study and in the second callback, I was asked to sing the whole 'I’d Give My Life For You'. I got called back again and got further callbacks. My longing to get in started increasing the more I got called back. But again, I did not want to expect. It’s just that, something inside tells me that this could be meant for me and I can’t help but feel that something is happening and this is indeed the start of a great journey.”
"But I was already happy with reaching up to the finals and from there I waited for news. I received an email a month after from the Miss Saigon casting director, Mr Paul Wooler, telling me I’ve been kept in consideration for a Kim understudy. I was overjoyed and continued waiting in anticipation for further news. I was sent the email late December about their offer. I was offered the role of Alternate Kim close to New Year. 'What great news to start the year!' I thought. It was really overwhelming. My hands started shaking and started contemplating whether or not I really was willing to leave home. But the excitement and longing for this outweighed all nervousness and hesitations. It was still one of my dreams and so of course, I had to take it," Joreen said.
Although she does not have much background in theater, Joreen believes that her lack of experience will benefit her in being part of the show.
"I indeed do not have much experience in musical theater. The upcoming Miss Saigon UK tour will be my first major production. I guess this could be an advantage in a way since it’s going to be a fresh start. This means one becomes more teachable and adaptable to whatever she is being asked to do. There will be nothing needed to unlearn which to me is actually harder than learning.
"Its disadvantage, however, is that I am not used to the world of musical theater as much as the others are, which means there might have to be more adjustment I need to do. Also, my name has not yet been built like how the names of my fellow cast members have been. This truly will be something a bit new to me and I will be new to them. It’s more exciting than it is scary, really," she said.
The role of Kim will require sharing some tender moments with Chris, her lover in the show, and Joreen said that she is preparing herself for it.
"I understand that Kim is required to kiss Chris in Miss Saigon. I have been conditioning myself for these scenes and I want to remember that this is all just for work. I am not yet very comfortable at the thought but I know I’ll make it through. Just like what I tell myself often: Just do it."
Joreen was fortunate to have met Lea Salonga, who gave her tips for the role. She also got to talk with some of the past cast members.
"I have talked with Carla Laforteza who was a cover for both Gigi and Kim and a former ensemble cast member Ravy Alfonso who happens to be my father’s friend. I was given talks and tips about Miss Saigon, to the life that I was going to face in London. I have learned a lot and I’m very thankful for these opportunities," she said.
She also said that she is a fan of Rachelle Ann Go, who is currently in Broadway, playing the role of Gigi.
"I also look up to Rachelle Ann Go. I was told that she held strong unto her faith, values, and beliefs. That is how I want to be. I never want to lose that connection I have with God nor to lose sight of who I am and where I belong. I haven’t met her. I have only watched her in shows like The Little Mermaid and Les Miserables. I always thought she was amazing. But more than that, I want to value my character just the way she did. I’d like to get to talk to her if I get the chance," she added.
Joreen admitted that being part of Miss Saigon comes with a price, as she will represent the Philippines in the production. But she said she is ready for it.
"I know I am representing my country, my race. Being part of the show is important to me as a Filipino in a way that I feel a little burden. I want to bring out the best of myself because it would be like showing what a Filipino could do. Iangat ang lahi (Take pride in the race) as they say. I want to show a glimpse of how wonderful our race could be. And though the waves of showbiz are strong and it becomes so easy to get carried away, I am praying to stay strong and firm and not to forget my roots and who I really am as a Filipino," she said.
And if there is one thing she is looking forward to during the tour, Joreen said it is the people she'll meet.
"Aside from the show and the travel, I am most excited about meeting people in Miss Saigon. I am so honored that I will be able to work with great theater actors and directors. I am looking forward to learning from them. But most of all, to them I hope and pray to be a blessing," she said.
The Miss Saigon UK tour will open at the Curve, Leicester on July 3 and will head to key cities such as Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Dublin, Ireland.– Rappler.com