MANILA, Philippines -- The first time it held auditions "around the world" for "Miss Saigon," the production team behind the popular stage musical saw a common denominator among many of the finalists -- Filipino blood.
|Robert Seña and Isay Alvarez were among the "first batch" of Filipino performers to take part in the original West End staging of the popular musical "Miss Saigon."
"They went around the world. They realized na lahat ng finalist may dugong Pinoy, and that's why they came here, and that's why they're coming back here," Isay Alvarez told reporters on Tuesday night, referring to the production led by Cameron Mackintosh.
Among the "first batch" of Filipino talents discovered by the producer at the time was Alvarez, who played Gigi in the original West End staging of "Miss Saigon." She shared the stage with Lea Salonga, whose international career was launched by her role as Kim in the same production.
"I would always say, best years ng buhay namin, doon sa London," said Alvarez, whose husband Robert Seña, also performed in the London staging of "Miss Saigon" as Thuy.
"Alam mo, wala naman talaga silang nahanap sa ibang bansa noon eh," Seña said. "Bumalik sila sa dati, kung saan nila na-discover 'yung mga Pilipino na nakapag-perform, at nakapagbigay ng prestige sa ating bansa."
On November 19-22, Mackintosh will hold auditions for the West End revival of "Miss Saigon" at the Philippine Opera Company’s headquarters Opera Haus in Makati.
"Akala nga namin tour lang eh, tapos nalaman namin it's a West End production, so this is something really big," Alvarez said of the news, which has generated excitement among local performers.
Asked if they plan to audition 23 years since they first met Mackintosh, Alvarez said, laughing, "Kami? Hindi na siguro. But ako, every time I see talents, I would always think, ay pwede sa 'Miss Saigon.'"
"I'm telling the next generation to audition for that," Seña added. "Because that's a very good experience for them, not only because they'll learn, but also the experience to perform sa ibang bansa, and the chance to study as well."
Since the announcement of the auditions, many local actresses' names have been put forward as a likely contender for the role of Kim in "Miss Saigon." Singer and stage performer Karylle, former Kapamilya star Rachelle Ann Go and "Star Power" finalist K-La Rivera have made known their plans to try out.
"Dapat triple threat eh," Alvarez said, when asked for tips for aspiring "Miss Saigon" cast members.
"Kailangan sumasayaw ka, kumakanta ka, umaarte ka. So medyo ang weakness ng mga Pinoy ay dance, so ngayong pa lang dapat bina-brush up niyo na 'yung dancing skills ninyo, and of course take voice lessons," she added.
Noting the war-torn setting of "Miss Saigon," Seña said that on top of vocal skills, there is a particular kind of presence sought in hopefuls as they audition.
"Meron talaga silang sound na hinahanap, look na hinahanap, acting na hinahanap as well. Maybe because of the years na ginawa ko siya, very familiar ako sa hinahanap nila," he said.
The theater couple is thrilled about the prospect of furthering the image of Filipinos as world-class performers.
"I think it's the prestige 'yung maganda na naibigay sa amin sa first batch of Filipinos na nagpunta. In the beginning, hindi nila alam na may Pilipinas pala, at hindi nila alam na may mina ng talent dito sa atin," Alvarez said.
"Umaapaw talaga ang talents ng Pinoy. And I truly believe na someday we will have our own identity [in the international scene]," Seña added.