Meet the other 'Kim' of Miss Saigon

By Rose Eclarinal, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Jul 09 2014 09:56 AM | Updated as of Jul 10 2014 05:11 PM

Alistair Brammer as Chris and Tanya Manalang as Kim/Photo credit Matthew Murph

LONDON – Seasoned theatre actress Tanya Manalang still finds her West End debut 'surreal.’

The 26-year-old alternates as Kim, the lead role for the musical revival Miss Saigon, originally played by Lea Salonga more than two decades ago.

The musical hit, which returned to West End after a 15-year absence, stars Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer, Alistair Brammer as Chris, and Eva Noblezada as Kim.

"I still can't believe I'm here. It hasn't really sunk in yet that I'm playing a leading lady in the West End. Sometimes, I'm just out there on the stage and I still can't believe it's happening. I feel very blessed, and I'm very thankful that I'm here," said Manalang.

In an exclusive interview at her dressing room at Prince Edward theatre before the show, she shared with ABS-CBN Europe how the Manila production of Miss Saigon shaped her dream to make a name in theatre.

"I was around 11 or 12 (years old), in CCP in Manila. Lea (Salonga) was Kim and it was the first time I saw her perform upclose. It was breathtaking: the way she did everything. I was so inspired to actually do something in musical theatre," she narrated.

She added: "It was the first major musical I saw in my life. And when I saw Lea do it, I said I want to do the same thing when I grow up".

Theatre training

She began her formal training in theater at age six and she did not stop to nurture her skills in the performing arts. She was recently educated in the musical theatre at the Arts Educational School and London.

At age eight, Manalang had her professional theatre debut as Lucy Pevensie in an adaptation of CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Trumpets, Meralco Theatre, Manila).

She played Liesl in 'The Sound of Music" and Tuptim in "The King and I". Both shows were musicals produced by Resorts World Manila (Newport Performing Arts Theater, Manila).

Auditioning for Miss Saigon

Manalang confessed she was halfhearted when she auditioned for Miss Saigon in Manila because she wasn’t sure if she wanted to leave the country. But she was certain she wanted to be part of the Cameron Mackintosh production.

With a little push from her theatre friends, family and mentors, she gave the audition a try.

"Pinush nila ako. I got a call back from the audition. And then after that, iba na yung feeling. I had only two hours to learn 'I give my life for you' for the call back. And after, I thought this is a sign," she said.

Now alternating for the lead role at West End, she wanted to follow in the footsteps of former Kims: Lea Salonga, Monique Wilson and Joanna Ampil.

"Every time I get feedback from them--from Ate Lea, from Tita Monique, from Jo, it's just so inspiring. It just feels really good to make them proud," said Manalang.

Miss Saigon family

Miss Saigon boasts of an international cast of 18 nationalities, with diverse mix of talents and culture. This mélange is now 'family' to Manalang.

"I feel so at home with them. They make everything so comfortable and easy for me. And it's just a great thing that we've become one big happy family here," she said.

The revival musical of Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil is described by Manalang as a 'darker version, more organic, passionate and sensual.'

She hopes to inspire younger and aspiring actress to reach for their dreams.

"I never imagined myself to be here, to be where I am right now. Just never stop dreaming, never stop praying," she said.