Joanna Ampil stars in West Side Story (Manila)

(article taken from pinoycentric.com)

 

Joanna Ampil playing Fantine in Les Miserables.

Joanna Ampil playing Fantine in Les Miserables.

London-based thespian Joanna Ampil

is finally coming home to the Philippines to do her very first musical theater project in Manila after 16 years of being a West End star.  Joanna is playing the role of Maria in West Side Story to be produced by Stages and directed by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo.

Joanna has long wanted to perform in her own country but never had the chance until she heard of the casting call for West Side Story. She was then busy playing Fantine in West End’s Les Miserables. So she e-mailed Stages president Audie Gemora and asked if she could send in her audition materials instead. Without thinking twice, Audie said yes.
Thanks to the advent of technology, Joanna was able to send in a digital audio track of “Think of Me” from the Phantom of the Opera in which she sang the soprano role of Christine. After listening to Joanna, the judges were all blown away and agreed that she would get the part of Maria. The judges included Audie, Jaime del Mundo, and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, who has starred as Maria in the past.

When Joanna was offered the role, Audie reminded her that Stages could never match her West End rates, but Joanna simply said that it’s her dream to work with Audie, hence financial issues could be put aside. Joanna recalls the day when she saw Audie in the production of Joseph the Dreamer at the Meralco Theater. “That was a turning point for me,” Joanna shares. “I remember vividly how I told a friend about wanting to get into theater after seeing the show. That was way back in 1992, and little did I know that 16 years later, I would be working with Audie in the same theater where I realized my dream.”

Joanna Ampil also played Kim in West End’s Miss Saigon opposite Peter Cousens’ Chris. Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench.

Joanna Ampil also played Kim in West End’s Miss Saigon opposite Peter Cousens’ Chris. Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench.

Joanna has always dreamed of becoming a performer. She has no formal drama training but when she was younger, she was always part of the school programs, which gave her the invaluable experience of performing before a crowd. That’s why when she was chosen to play as alternate for the role of Kim in West End’s Miss Saigon in 1993, there was no stopping her.

After her powerful performance in Miss Saigon, she was offered one key role after another. She has also played Mimi in Rent and Eponine in Les Miserables, among others. Joanna was even handpicked by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber to play Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, which was very memorable for her.

The role of Maria is quite far from Joanna in real life. But she is taking this as a challenge in the same way that she has handled all her other roles. “To be honest, my life is not that similar to hers,” Joanna discloses. “But I can draw out certain emotions from my experiences, which I can then use for the role. It’s just a matter of finding the ‘truth’ of Maria within me.”

On the other hand, her most recent role as Fantine in Les Miserables is the most challenging for her since this is her first mature role. “I cannot be more different than the character,” she expresses. “Since I was the first Asian to play the part in London, the creative team of  Les Miserables was a bit challenged with how they were going to create my look. For instance, the wig color, etc.  It also took a while before I could relate to her fully.”

At the moment, Joanna has wrapped up playing Fantine. She is now taking a short break before she comes to Manila for the show. She wants to start with a fresh mind and make her first Manila performance a memorable one. In fact, for every new production that she does, she makes sure that she is well prepared. She does a lot of different exercises to increase her stamina and takes classical lessons with her singing coach, Gillyanne.

“Not long ago, we went through the song, ‘I Have A Love,’” Joanna recollects, “Gillyanne and I cried.  How beautiful is this song, let alone the whole score? The geniuses of Bernstein and Sondheim are a perfect combination.” It is no wonder that one London critic cites Joanna as a major star in West End. The dedication that she gives to her work is exceptional and has given her critical acclaim.

Indeed, Joanna has been showered with a lot of blessings. Her singing prowess has brought her to places. Not only has she conquered the theater stage, but also the concert scene in London. And for Joanna, each offers a different challenge for her. “On stage, I become a different person and I get to experience a different life,” she describes. “Whereas in concerts, I feel totally naked, not literally, as I am being myself. It’s always terrifying to do that. Naturally, a feeling of being inadequate starts to kick in as this time, there is no mask to hide behind.”

Joanna can’t wait to come to Manila and start rehearsing. She feels very ecstatic and excited coming home. “Everything is so laid back and relaxed in Manila as compared to the fast-paced life in London,” she explains. “Because I have been based in London for many years, I see the Philippines as a paradise, a place where I can totally be stress free.”

There is a lot of pressure on Joanna right now but one thing’s certain: people can expect a West End performance from her in Manila. “I cannot really predict what people expect of me,” she humbly says. “I’m sure they have certain expectations from the character of Maria and I just hope I meet that along with their standards.”

West Side Story is set in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and tells the love story of a Polish lad named Tony (Christian Bautista), and a Puerto Rican lass named Maria (Joanna alternating with Karylle) in a seemingly unending feud between the New Yorkers and Puerto Ricans.

Ticket prices are at:

1,200 (orchestra and loge center)

1,000 (orchestra and loge side)

700 (balcony center)

500 (balcony side)

 

For ticket inquiries and reservations:

you may text (0917-8735412) or email (song1@jnjph.jnj.com).

Free delivery in certain areas within Metro Manila. COD basis.

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“West Side Story” in Manila is all set!

“West Side Story,” STAGES’ major musical offering in 2008, is all set to go on stage with an assembly of a strong cast headlined by Christian Bautista, Karylle, and London West End’s Joanna Ampil; a live orchestra with Gerard Salonga as musical director; and a first-rate artistic team with Audie Gemora as executive producer, and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo as director.

After rigid auditions that took two months, whose mix of aspirants emerged not only from the Philippines but also from other countries like Singapore, Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, STAGES has finally completed its cast of singers and dancers.

Balladeer Christian Bautista is given the role of Tony. He is tall, handsome, and has the makings of a perfect romantic leading man.

Singer and actress Karylle could match Natalie Wood’s film version of Maria. She is young and beautiful. She sings her songs with utmost conviction.

Meanwhile, the Philippines will get the rare chance to watch Joanna Ampil in her first musical theater assignment in Manila after sixteen years playing lead roles in London. Joanna has agreed to share the role of Maria with Karylle because she has long wanted to perform for her kababayans who cannot easily afford to go to London to watch her in a musical. Local audiences have to see why Joanna is a favorite of British producer Cameron Mackintosh. Joanna, at one time, was even handpicked by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber to play Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Gian Magdangal as Riff returns to the theater after a three-year hiatus. He is seen in the reality show “Philippine Idol” on ABC 5, and “SOP Rules” on GMA 7.

Another world-class import, Filipino Australian Rowena Vilar, who played Kim, Gigi, and Ellen in the recent Australian tour of “Miss Saigon,” joins the cast of “West Side Story.” Highly recommended by Leo Valdez, who played The Engineer in “Miss Saigon,” Rowena will be flying in to share the role of the feisty Anita with local theater and pop artist Pam G.

Since “West Side Story” is primarily a dance musical, the artistic team had to call professional dance groups, and handpick very strong dancers for the supporting cast. Rest assured that the show would be a night of great dancing. Jazz choreographer James Laforteza is tasked to reconstruct Jerome Robbins’ original choreography in the Broadway production.

It is interesting to note that musical director Gerard Salonga has been longing to do “West Side Story.” Lea Salonga’s husband Rob Chien, who now manages the FILharmoniKA orchestra under Ambient Media, went the extra mile to make it possible for them to play for the production.

“West Side Story” was first staged in Manila back in 1982 with Audie as Riff and Menchu as Maria. This Manila re-staging will precede a Broadway revival in 2009.

“West Side Story” is one of the best musicals of all time with music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It is a beautiful, dramatic dance musical with many show-stopping numbers and immortal songs like “Somewhere,” “Tonight,” “One Hand One Heart,” “America,” and “Something’s Coming.”

STAGES’ production of “West Side Story” is its third major musical production after “Footloose” in 2005 and “High School Musical On Stage” in 2007.

“West Side Story” will be staged at the Meralco Theater.

We are selling tickets for the September 12 (Friday, 8pm) show.

Ticket Prices:

1,200 (orchestra and loge center)

1,000 (orchestra and loge side)

700 (balcony center)

500 (balcony side)

For Ticket Reservations and inquiries:

Text (0917-8735412) or email (song1@jnjph.jnj.com)

Free delivery within certain areas in Metro Manila. COD basis.