THE HEAT IS ON -
Miss Saigon Pinoy Night set for April 13
It is that season again, the most awaited among theater fans in New York City.
Broadway musicals and plays are opening left and right. Some, like Sunset Boulevard featuring Glenn Close and Hello, Dolly with Bette Midler, are returning to the Great White Way after decades. Others, like Sunday in the Park with George featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, are some of the more recent revivals.
Filipino fans are excited to welcome the return of Miss Saigon, a well-loved and award-winning musical that has become a stepping stone for many Filipino talents across the globe to shine.
The four lead cast members of the West End revival of the musical – Eva Noblezada as Kim, Alistair Brammer as Chris, Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi and Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer – are all making their Broadway debuts.
“To be doing our Broadway debut together is special. They are my family and they are special to me,” said Eva Noblezada when we asked her about what Miss Saigon’s Broadway run meant for her.
“We’re all quite giddy backstage. Everyone’s encouraging towards each other, really loving and supportive and we also know how to have a good laugh, which is important in a show like this,” she added, describing the company.
For Jon Jon, it is all about the realization of his American dream, as reflected by a rousing and show-stopping number in the musical led by his character, The Engineer.
“Excited is an understatement,” Briones declared as he, along with the musical’s fans has begun counting down the days leading up to their first performance.
“Lahat ng ginawa ko from 1986 when I started doing theater (in the Philippines) and growing up in one of the poor areas in Manila… if someone told me then, ‘You’re going to be on Broadway someday’, I would go, ‘Yeah, right!’, You know, it is unbelievable,” Briones shared. “This, being here and looking back to where I came from is mind-boggling, I’m freaking out.”
The day before our interviews with the cast was the company’s first day of tech rehearsals.
“It was my first time to be on a Broadway stage and I was a little teary-eyed,” Jon Jon admitted.
He Facetimed his wife Megan (who was in Los Angeles) so he can walk through the stage door with her.
“She is a part of this journey,” he added. “The show has been such a blessing.”
The couple met through a Miss Saigon production in Germany where she was playing Ellen. Both their kids were born in England when he was doing Miss Saigon there.
This “engineer” on Broadway was almost an engineer – Jon Jon was only 18 units away from his Electrical Engineering degree when Cameron Mackintosh went to the Philippines to conduct auditions.
Jon Jon gave them his headshots and resume. Miraculously, he said, he got through.
“I got in and I said to my dad, I can’t finish it. Of course, he was disappointed but eventually, when the show went to the Philippines, he was able to watch me perform and that was a very good way to convince him,” he reminisced.
More than two decades since an unknown Lea Salonga broke through with her award-winning performance as Kim, the story of Miss Saigon is still relevant to the current times.
“We still have a lot of wars and because of these wars, we have a lot of casualties and a lot of families are torn apart. There are horrible things and there are wonderful things that come out of that. It’s real life and this is exactly what this show is all about,” Briones said. “It is about showing somebody’s strength and resolve and love. This is about love. It’s not just black and white. Everyone wants something and they want to achieve it.”
“Get ready to cry, get ready to laugh. We’re ready,” said Eva, and echoing what Jon Jon talked about. “The show’s message still resonates with people because there are still conflicts.”
Asked about how much pressure she has put on herself as she makes her Broadway debut, Eva responded quickly.
“I try not to put too much pressure because I kind of did that in London and you learn from your mistakes. No one’s going to be perfect and no one’s confident all the time, it’s fine, it’s normal,” she said.
As in the previous productions, Filipinos dominate the cast members of this Broadway revival. This one is no exception.
“And that makes me proud as an Asian, proud as a Filipino to bring pride to the country,” Briones said. “It’s funny that Filipinos think that the musical Miss Saigon belongs to them because a lot of us started it, and even in different countries, majority of the cast members are Filipinos. That’s a source of pride.”
From West End to Broadway
Filipina singer Rachelle Ann Go, who is playing the role of Gigi, dropped by the Philippine Center on Sunday, Feb. 8 to invite the community to watch the musical when it opens on March 23.
More than 150 community leaders across the states covered by the Philippine Consulate gathered for the 3rd annual Filipino Community General Assembly and Go was invited to speak.
“I didn’t have to think twice,” Rachelle Ann said. “Basta para sa mga kababayan, I will do it.”
In a previous interview, she told us how performing on Broadway became one of her dreams when she travelled to New York for a concert with her fellow singing champions in the Philippines.
“I remember, I was right in the middle of Times Square and I said, ‘Someday, I will live here and I will work here!’” she shared. “And now it is happening, it is a dream of mine.”
On their first day of tech rehearsals at the Broadway Theatre, she admits she cried as she entered the playhouse.
“Pagpasok ko, sabi ko, totoo ba ito? I had goosebumps. I went on stage and looked around. I was overwhelmed with feelings. Thank you, Lord,” Rachelle Ann said.
She reminisced and looked back at her journey to Broadway as she shared why she was at first hesitant to go through the auditions back in 2012.
Despite the negative thoughts of not being good enough or what if she committed a mistake or that she was not trained to do it, Rachelle Ann soldiered on and went through the process.
Then she got the part, and with it came another round of hesitation.
She was told by some people that if she left, “wala na akong (career na) babalikan sa Pilipinas”.
“At the end of the day, I asked myself, ‘Should I listen to those people or should I follow my dream?’ I have always wanted to challenge myself and do something else aside from doing pop music,” she shared.
Rachelle Ann prayed about it for a while and one morning, she said she felt like God was telling her to do it and she felt at peace.
And this was how Miss Saigon changed her life, in ways she could not have imagined.
Moving to London made her mature more and made doing eight shows as week made her realize what else she can do with her voice. As a new thespian, she was learning the ropes as she went along, picking up nuggets of wisdom from the veterans along the way.
Then she joined the cast of West End’s Les Miserables as Fantine, and now, she’s on Broadway, joining a stellar cast for Miss Saigon.
Meet the cast
Fil-Am Devin Ilaw, who will be playing the role of Thuy, did not believe at first that he got the part.
“It took a while,” Devin told us. “Now, it’s all about the joy and pride of being in this cast.”
The first time he saw Miss Saigon was on Broadway back when Lea returned.
“That was probably 1999, 2000 and I was in middle school. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine to be here, on the same stage, in the same show! It blows my mind,” he said.
Katie Rose Clarke, this production’s Ellen, shares a similar story.
“I was there watching this show some 17 years ago,” she said, pointing at an area by the rear mezzanine. “And now I’m here. I am so excited to tell Ellen’s story, she is a beautiful, strong and selfless character. I grew up wanting to play Kim, which will never happen to me.
The actress previously played the role of Hannah in the musical Allegiance.
“I don’t know, it is a funny coincidence. Is it weird that I have done the white girl in two Asian shows in a row? It’s kinda my thing now, I’m cool with it,” she said.
For Alistair Brammer, reprising his role as Chris, it is all about pressing the reset button.
“It’s like start all over again and forget what I did in London. There are elements that are the same but with a new cast, a lot of it will be different,” he said.
A keen observer, Alistair noticed something with his Filipino cast-mates both in London and here in New York.
“I find them to be very polite and reserved, kind of like how I am. So we get along well,” he shared, although they haven’t fed him with Filipino food yet. “I would love to try Filipino food!”
I guess we’ll leave that to the Pinoy New York cast members.
Pinoy Night on April 13
April 13 has been declared as Pinoy Night where the audience will experience a special talkback with cast members after the show. Fans can also avail of special discounted tickets by using the code MSPYN214 at www.telechargeoffers.com.