Miss Saigon soon in RP

Joseph Cortes (The Philippine Star) - April 27, 2000 - 12:00am

Miss Saigon is finally coming home.

After more than a decade of performances abroad, the award-winning musical will be staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) beginning this September, with Lea Salonga reprising her award-winning role as the Vietnamese bar girl Kim.

In a phone patch interview at yesterday's media launch of the Manila production, Salonga said in New York that age won't be an issue when she performs the role of Kim again.

"People tell me I actually look younger now at 29 than when I was 18," she remarked. "It's all make-believe. It's all acting. I don't think Cameron (Mackintosh, the musical's international producer) would have asked me again if he thought I couldn't do it."

The Philippine production of Miss Saigon comes after more than nine months of negotiations between the local producers and the Cameron Mackintosh production team.

The musical premieres on Sept. 29 and will have a 24-week run until the end of March next year. There will be eight performances each week, with weekend matinees.

The production is being produced in the country by Saigon Company Philippines Inc., represented by Mackintosh's Manila representative Dong Alegre, the show's executive producer, and Bayang Makulay Foundation Inc., headed by its president Joseph Victor Ejercito.

Ejercito explained that bringing the show to Manila was a matter of national pride.

"It is a matter of pride for Filipinos," Ejercito explained. "When we were talking to the Mackintosh group, Singapore and Hong Kong wanted to mount their own productions. But Miss Saigon is a Philippine effort. It's cast is made up largely of Filipinos, and it is the musical that did the country proud. There was no reason why we shouldn't work to bring it to Manila. We will be hitting two birds with one stone. We would be bringing in tourists, and what we earn from the run of shows, we will use to beautify the country."

Bayang Makulay is a non-stock, non-profit corporation involved in greening activities throughout the country. Miss Saigon is its first project, and funds raised from the production will be used in its "Color the Philippines" eco-tourism project, intended to beautify national highways.

To mount the production in the country, Alegre said more than 200 Filipinos will be hired, comprising both the artistic and production staff. While more than 100 Filipinos have gone abroad working in various foreign stagings of Miss Saigon, none of them will be hired automatically for the local production.

"We will have open calls for the public, and everybody will be required to audition. Even the old cast members will have to audition as well. However, at the end of each day, there will always be an artistic panel to decide on the selections, although the final cast will be announced only by mid-June," Alegre said.

For Salonga, the Manila production will be like a homecoming. She will be in 72 performances, roughly the first three months of the show.

"I'm so happy that this production is coming to Manila," she said. "I'm overcome that it's finally going to the CCP. It's the fulfillment of a dream by everyone who has worked hard since day one of the production."

Sec. Angelito Banayo, BMF board member and treasurer, gave assurances that tickets to Miss Saigon would be at popular prices, in response to President Estrada's pro-poor government. All the balcony seats will be priced from P250 to P500, while the orchestra seats will go for as much as P4,000.

Miss Saigon chronicles the life of the Vietnamese bar girl Kim and her sacrifice to give her child a better life. Since its first production in 1989, Filipinos has had a soft spot for the musical since its cast is composed mostly of Filipinos. Salonga, who played the role in both West End and Broadway, won the Olivier and Tony, major theater awards in London and New York.

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