"Kumusta ka na? How have you been for the past two years?"
Pop baladeer turned theater actor Gerald Santos asked us these questions as customary greeting of celebrity to interviewer, but they are questions we'd rather ask him. The last two years have been so far the greatest time in his young life.
Here's an actor once considered an outsider in the local theater industry but who made it in the international stage via "Miss Saigon." To use an even milder term, he was a "nobody" in the closely-knit Philippine theater community.
His theater experience includes playing lead in independently produced musicals about national hero Jose Rizal and Saint Pedro Calungsod that were toured in the provinces- shows that were outside the radar of regular theater fans, critics and reviewers.
It's been two years since we met him prior to his stint in this legendary Claude Michel Schonberg-Alain Boublil musical that was toured in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Scotland and on its second year, as far as Switzerland and Germany. In those shows, Santos played Thuy six days a week, most of the times doing matinees and gala nights, totaling eight performances per week.
Now back in his homeland, Santos is doing a homecoming concert slated Saturday, May 4, at 8pm at The Theatre at the Solaire Resorts and Casinos in Pasay City. No spoilers but he told us he'd be performing a total of 18 to 20 songs, mostly from "Miss Saigon," with a live band and a few instrumentalists.
He has guests who were also with him in the "Miss Saigon" tour like Aicelle Santos who played Gigi the bar girl, Joreen Bautista who played the lead Kim, and the veteran Leo Valdez, who holds the record for playing The Engineer in more than 3,000 shows.
Jake Zyrus will also be a guest performer. In their early years as struggling singers joining amateur singing contests, Santos recalled having competed with Zyrus, then known as Charice Pempengco.
There have been dozens of Filipinos who made it in "Miss Saigon," starting with the original cast members Lea Salonga and Monique Wilson from its first run at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in West End in September 1989, but the key words in Santos' sting are "touring productions."
More than being in the cast of this now legendary musical, Santos is very thankful to have seen some of the most historic, iconic cities in the UK and Europe. Santos had the best times of his life not only as an actor but as a tourist.
"We would be in city for a month or two and during our days off, or sometimes before a performance, we'd go out to eat and explore the tourist spots," Santos told ABS-CBN News.
From London, "Miss Saigon" was toured, in no particular order, in the cities of Leicester, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Plymouth, Southampton, Cardiff in Wales ("where we spend Christmas and New Year"), and Dublin in Ireland.
He made special mention of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Santos regaled us with stories about his experience in Loch Ness lake and visiting some of the settings of his favorite film "Braveheart." Starred in and directed by Mel Gibson, the story is about 13th century Scottish hero, Sir William Wallace. Santos went on seeing The National Wallace Monument in Stirling, Scotland.
"I am fascinated with history, above all. Lifelong dream ko natupad while on tour kasi sobrang fan ako noong movie. Ginawan ko talaga ng paraan para makita 'yun (My lifelong dream came true while on tour because I am a big fan of the movie. I did what I could so I could see it)," he told us.
In Edinburgh, he had his first experience of snow. But more than that, he was fascinated with its castles and other historic structures.
He said: "Kahit saan ka tumingin ang daming medieval structures, parang sa Harry Potter movies (Anywhere you look, there are so many medieval structures, like in the Harry Potter movies). It has become one of my favorite cities."
He went out of his way to see the famed Loch Ness lake in the Scottish highlands. Santos described the views as "breathtaking."
In his tours in the countryside and other cities he hadn't heard of prior to "Miss Saigon," Santos said he has become fascinated at how theater is highly patronized by its citizens.
"Normal na sa kanila manood ng plays and musicals (It's normal for them to watch plays and musicals). Imagine we'll be performing six days a week and puno talaga (the theater is always full). Theater is their major source of entertainment."
Besides the sightseeing, he watched lots of plays.
"I saw 'Les Miserables,' 'Alladin,' 'Lion King, 'Wicked," 'Dreamgirls,' 'Phantom of the Opera,' 'Half-a-Sixpence,' Stephen Sondheim's 'Company' and a lot more. Most of them I saw in the UK kasi sa Germany and Switzerland, hindi gaano (because there wasn't much in Germany and Switzerland). Actually wala kasi in German language sila eh. Walang subtitles (Actually none because they were in German. There were no subtitles)," he told us, half-jokingly.
In those two years performing abroad, Santos had short trips back to Manila and in those breaks, he managed to record a single for Star Music.
There's a plan to record another single this year and hopefully a full album.