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The ‘bridges’ between MiG & Joanna

The stars of The Bridges Of Madison County draw inspiration from their own experiences, quite differently from how Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep (below) did in the movie

Broadway where MiG Ayesa came from is hundreds of miles away from London’s West End where Joanna Ampil came from. But they very easily bridge the distance by playing together for the first time in The Bridges of Madison County, the musical based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller (made into a movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep), which opened Friday night at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at RCBC Plaza, Makati City and will run until Dec. 6. (For tickets, call Ticketworld at 891-9999.)

In the Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group (ATEG)’s production directed by Bobby Garcia, MiG plays Robert Kincaid (Eastwood in the movie) and Joanna plays Francesca Johnson (Streep in the movie) in an unforgettable story of two people caught between decision and desire, “as a chance encounter becomes a second chance at so much more.”

Joanna rose to stardom in London’s West End as Kim in Miss Saigon, Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, Eponine and Fantine in Les Miserables and Christmas Eve in Avenue Q.

MiG, who performed the role of Stacee Jaxx in Rock Of Ages on Broadway and in Manila, says, “I am so thrilled to be returning to the Manila stage with this production.”

Said Bobby, “I am thrilled to have two of the finest musical theater performers breathe vibrant life into these iconic characters. Creating this show with Joanna and MiG has been an extremely rewarding creative experience and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing these parts. Jason Robert Brown’s score for Bridges is one of the most glorious musical theater scores in recent memory. What a joy to hear it every day in rehearsals. It is an honor to be able to stage this show for Manila audiences.”

Also in the cast are Carla Guevara-Laforteza in the dual role of Marian and Chiara, Nino Alejandro as Bud, Emeline Celis-Guinid as Marge, Jamie Wilson as Charile, Bibo Reyes as Michael and Mikkie Bradshaw as Caroline. Joining them in the ensemble are Steven Conde, Nel Gomez, Franz Imperial, Yanah Laurel, Abi Sulit and Teetin Villanueva.

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Have you read the book and/or watched the movie?

MiG: I’ve done both.

Joanna: So have I.

What part did you find most touching?

MiG: For me, the most tragic part is where she talks about love, that it’s better to have loved once even if not for a very big moment than never to have experienced that kind of love before. Even if they can’t be together, they still have that moment in time. And that love shines through the rest of their lives and colors everything that they do.

Joanna: It’s the bit where she is persuaded to decide whether to go with Robert Kincaid or stay with her family.

Both of you are married…

Joanna: Were…have been, hahahaha!!! Married and divorced.

MiG: Also married and divorced. In a way, it’s art imitating life.

Put in the same situation, what would you have done?

Joanna: Gosh, you know what, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I wouldn’t know what to do. I was never asked that question before. Hopefully, I wouldn’t be in that situation. I admire Francesca Johnson for doing what she did…for deciding to go with her family. It’s a very hard decision.

MiG: Robert Kincaid is a single man when he comes in so morally his conscience is clear. Definitely, if I found myself in the same situation as Robert was, I would go for it with a full heart. I’ve been very guarded from my marriage break-up, so to be able to trust somebody into my life is very big deal. Actually, I’m experiencing something new…a very fresh, new relationship.

What about you, Joanna?

Joanna: New relationship? No, none.

Were you traumatized by the breakup of your marriage?

MiG: Yes. It was a very hard, bitter pill to swallow. It took a very long time for me to get over that. But once you accept it, the road to healing is much quicker and easier. Okay, life goes on and you get on with it. Life has been so wonderful since then and I can’t regret anything that I have done, and I don’t ever regret having been married. I had a most wonderful relationship being married to a wonderful girl. At least I had that and no one can take that away from me.

Joanna: Well, we got married hastily after three months of being together. It was my decision to leave. I wanted him to be happy when I left because I was feeling very bad and guilty. Anyway, ah, let’s move on. No, we didn’t have children.

So it must be easy for you to identify with the characters.

Joanna: I guess, yes, in that sense. I try to create my Francesca Johnson rather than my own story.

MiG: I can only do it the way that I do it because I’m no Dirty Harry, hahaha!!! Clint Eastwood is Clint Eastwood, he is an enigma, and nobody can ever be like Clint Eastwood. I’m very different from him in many ways. Of course, I can draw a lot from my own experiences. But also, being immersive in the character is made easier by our director, Bobby Garcia. It’s not about me or Clint Eastwood, it’s about Robert Kincaid.

(To Joanna) There’s a scene in the movie showing Meryl Streep stripping in front of the mirror as if to reassure herself that she’s still young and desirable. I’m not sure if it’s in the musical. If ever, would you do it?

Joanna: We didn’t speak about that. Hmmmm, I guess that can be told in many ways without stripping.

MiG (Joking): She wanted to do it during the rehearsals but we kept on screaming at her, “Please, Joanna, not now, not now! Clothes on, clothes on!”

(To MiG): Would you dare strip onstage?

MiG: It’s funny but in this show, I get a chance to show more flesh than I plan to. This show is quite steamy. I get hot under the collar in my scenes with Joanna. Like in Rock Of Ages, I did hang around in my underwear quite a bit. I’m no stranger to flashing the flesh. I’m no spring chicken anymore so it has to be the right reason.

(To Joanna) How different is your role in this musical from your previous roles?

Joanna: I thought I had done all the dramatic roles. But this one is the most draining, emotionally and vocally. Miss Saigon was physically draining. But this one is the most draining because it really stretched me as an actor and as a singer. It’s not within my vocal range. The character was written for Kelli O’Hara who is mezzo soprano. I am a soprano so it’s a bit low for me, so I tend to use a lot of my different techniques. Sometimes, I use my chest voice or sing in my soprano tone. It’s slightly different from how she Kelli does it. Emotionally, it’s just a lot of breakdowns.

What would you consider your most memorable role?

MiG: Well, you tend to fall in love with what you’re doing at the time. There are very few shows that you want to forget. But have had several moments like when I was playing Galileo in London. It was so surreal. I was playing the big role in the biggest show in town. I also had a moment playing Stacee Jaxx in Rock Of Ages first on Broadway and then in Manila. It was my introduction to theater in the Philippines. It started my love affair with the Philippines and re-engaging with my homeland.

(To MiG) Did you see Tom Cruise play the same role in the movie? What’s your honest opinion?

MiG: I think he was great. He was completely in character, as if he was taking acid back in the ‘80s and never came back. I think he did a solid job. I felt somewhat responsible for that because Tom went to L.A. to watch me. He came to see me backstage. But I think he did the role his own way. Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, you know, and he does things his own way.

(Still to MiG): I heard that Tom got pointers from you before he started the shoot.

MiG: Well, I like to think that. You know, that I was able to help him formulate his character because, after all, I was the first Stacee Jaxx onstage.

(To Joanna) What would be your most memorable role?

Joanna: That would be Larawan, the movie, which is showing early next year. (Based on Nick Joaquin’s Portrait of the Artist As Filipino, first filmed in the ‘60s by director Lamberto Avellana with Daisy Avellana and Naty Crame-Rogers playing the lead characters Paula and Candida. Joanna co-stars with Rachel Alejandro and Paulo Avelino as Tony Javier, first played onstage and in the movie by Conrad Parham.) Larawan is one of my most difficult roles so far. I wanted to quit twice. GR (Girlie Rodis, one of the producers) told me that it’s a role of a lifetime, so I did it. True enough, I enjoyed the filming process much more than the rehearsals which were not pleasant at all. I learned a lot from it.

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com.)

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