PH’s ‘Miss Saigon’
Produced by Cameron Mackintosh with composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricist Alain Boublil, “Miss Saigon” has become a Filipino treasure. Our best performing talents have made it come alive since its inaugural turn in 1989 on London’s West End, which introduced Lea Salonga in the lead role of Kim.
Filipinos, by birth or by virtue of roots, will shine anew in the musical’s much-anticipated West End revival in 2014: Eva Noblezada will alternate with Julia Abueva and Tanya Manalang as Kim; Rachelle Ann Go will play Gigi; Jonjon Briones will return to the production. “I’ve seen Filipino talents perform in almost all ‘Miss Saigon’ productions and I can say they are the most disciplined people in the world,” Schonberg once said.
“Miss Saigon,” set in 1975 immediately before the end of the Vietnam War, is a dramatic tale of love and loss involving an American GI and a young bar girl. It is a years-spanning story of sacrifice and devotion that also speaks of the eternal rift between East and West.
The musical became synonymous with Salonga, who won both a Tony award and a Laurence Olivier award for the part before embarking on a wildly successful Broadway career. Aside from London and New York, “Miss Saigon” has been staged in Sydney, Toronto, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Stuttgart, Stockholm, Budapest, Boston, Dublin, Manchester, Newark, Raleigh and Washington, among others. The 12th longest running Broadway musical of all time “came home” to Manila in 2000 with Salonga reprising her iconic role. Aside from the endless revivals and tours, “Miss Saigon” has been rumored headed to the cinema after the big-screen box-office success of that earlier Mackintosh/Schonberg/Boublil musical “Les Misérables.”
Salonga leads the long line of Filipinos who have appeared in the musical, including a virtual monopoly on the lead role of Kim. Others have flourished as Gigi, the Engineer and Thuy, in many languages. The casts have included our best and brightest: Leo Valdez, Isay Alvarez, Junix Inocian, Monique Wilson, Jamie Rivera, Joanna Ampil, Cocoy Laurel, Robert Seña, Pinky Amador, Jenine Desiderio, Riva Salazar, Maya Barredo, Gina Respall, Leila Florentino, Rona Figueroa, Deedee Lyn Magno, Emy Baysic, Joan Almedilla, Roxanne Taga, John Uy, Jinky Llamanzares, Maan Dionisio, Cornelia Luna, Angel Suguitan, Caselyn Francisco, Le de los Santos, Anjeanette Laborte, Michelle de Guzman, Melissa Reyes, Miriam Valmores, Ester Barroso, Cezarah Campos, and Tricia Canilao, among others.
Many other Filipinos have made international music breakthroughs, but it is “Miss Saigon” that has continually and prominently showcased Filipino talent on the global stage. And while it is set in another Southeast Asian country and technically does not feature a single Filipino character, it has been transformed into a homegrown enterprise and has become a launching pad for many a stage or musical career. As Mackintosh famously said in 1993, “Without the Philippines, there would be no ‘Miss Saigon.’”
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