Have they found the new Kim?

Carlo Orosa (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - With the huge success of Les Miserables’ motion picture adaptation worldwide, by now, certainly everyone will be anticipating a Miss Saigon flick or at the very least, a re-staging. As once mentioned by its producer Cameron Mackintosh...“The fate of Miss Saigon depends on how successful we are with Les Miserables.”

A month ago, I took some time to once again seek out Miss Saigon’s associate talent recruiter Dong Alegre for some final words on its recently-concluded Philippine auditions.

Do you think the panel has found Kim?

“I’d like to think so...but having said that, it may be useful to remind ourselves that auditions for the role of Kim and other Asian performers are also scheduled to happen in London sometime in 2013. Bottomline, even if we had ‘shortlisted’ a number of potential cast members from the recently-concluded auditions, we also need to accept that Cameron and his artistic team would still need to ‘explore’ (as we did here in Manila) what London has to offer. Further, British Equity would require that, as well.”  

What were their comments on the Pinoy talents?

“At the onset and to digress slightly...as we started off not feeling too confident that we could still get the numbers considering that the last auditions in Manila were seven years prior, we were pleasantly surprised when the total number of registrants breached the 1,200 mark. On the downside, however, ahead of us were four audition days (two for vocal calls, two for dance calls) to work with...and the only way we could ‘sing’ everyone in two days was to split ourselves up in two separate audition halls (with two separate pianists) to accommodate the deluge. The ‘split-up’ did serve to ease the situation, but it still involved tremendous stamina on the part of the five-man panel and the unwavering patience and cooperation of all who auditioned.

“In truth, the panel’s comments have mostly been about the high level of talent shown by our present crop of auditionees. For a generation that was just ‘getting born’ when Miss Saigon opened in London’s West End in 1989, practically everyone sang in a level worthy of any West End or Broadway performer. The vocal quality exhibited at auditions was phenomenal — leading to over 200 ‘callbacks,’ a far cry from the usual 60 that (historically) get ‘called back’ from past auditions. Thus, if we consider the callback ‘ratio’ achieved during the last audition, I can confidently assure you that during those four audition days, we were in the midst of amazing talent that comprised of Filipinos and over 50 international auditionees from as far as Toronto, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Sydney, Singapore, Taipei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China.

“For sure, it had truly been remarkable to witness how our local crop of talents stood their ground against the best of Asian performers from the region and North America. With the power of social media, there are no more ‘borders’ to speak of...and with it, the proverbial ‘casting net’ has indeed (and very much on its own) grown wider; and in this light, we can expect future Saigon auditions to bring even more Asian talents from the region to compete with ours. Our once exclusive dream of ‘making it’ to Miss Saigon (which for the last two decades has undoubtedly been the only vehicle our local performers could latch on to to achieve international stardom) is currently being shared by other Asian nationalities. Other talented Asian performers are now throwing their hats ‘into the ring,’ but allow me to add that, despite the competition, it is still the innate ability of the Filipino to ‘sing from the heart’ that truly (and consistently) sets them apart. As a result, we packed auditions up with the wish that there were more Miss Saigon productions out there to cast all the amazing talents we consistently find in Manila.”     

How can our talents improve on auditions?

“Musical theater has always been (and, quite possibly, forever will be) about ‘song’ and ‘dance.’ Though we continue to be acknowledged as great singers, we seriously need to be equally proficient in ‘dance’ to compete in an any audition process. In any Saigon audition, we consistently lose 85 percent of our dance ‘callbacks’ due to the fact that we patently lack proper dance training. It would certainly help if we truly make an effort to ‘understand’ the song we sing at auditions — as it’s hardly enough just to know our lyrics and to be ‘in pitch.’ Every audition panel will consistently be on the look-out at how we ‘interpret’ or ‘deliver.’ Ultimately, we have to understand the material, what the song is saying, and why that particular song is being sung. In effect, we have to learn to sing our song ‘in context’ to the role. Never leave your emotions out the door — as it’s one sure way of blowing your chances in landing a role for a show.”    

Who in your honest opinion did an impressive or great audition? Can you give specific names that made the panel members pleasantly surprised?

“The first to come to mind is Karylle who, despite of her celebrity status, came incredibly prepared to blow us all away. Without pretension, she first sang Movie — perfectly. Earning a ‘callback’ for her exceptional delivery, she came back to sing the same song again as perfectly as she did the day before; but halfway through, we were all fairly convinced that she was not physically ‘cut’ to play the role of a ‘tired, aging bar girl.’ As we needed to explore if she could possibly be a suitable Kim, she was asked to sing I’d Give My Life For You — which she also sang to perfection, until a dreaded ‘thank you’ was heard from the end of the panel table causing a heated discussion to ensue amongst us...until we collectively understood that her beauty was simply too ‘dignified’ for her to play the role of Kim. ‘She would be the perfect Mary Poppins.. or the perfect Maria (in The Sound of Music),’ noted Laurence Connor. So with a heavy heart, we just decided that if we could not cast her for the show — the only option left was for us to fall in love with her instead. And we did.

Aside from Karylle, who among them gave a great audition that you feel would have a chance to be in the production?

“I’m convinced Rachelle Ann Go, Apple Chiu, Frencheska Farr, Tanya Manalang stand a very good chance in being part of the show. So does Kelly Peralejo, trained at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Royal Conservatory of Dance in Canada, Gemini Quintos, Marian Santiago, and Mary Joy Solomon, to name a few. Contending for male ensemble, I’d say Irvine Roy Abesamis, Clark Francis de la Riva, John Raymond Conception, Victor Bernardino Sy and Cyril Fallar are very much ‘in the mix’ mainly due to their exceptional vocal and dance abilities.”    

Were there any setbacks during this audition process?

“If the audition panel did not split up to ‘sing’ every registrant in a span of two eight-hour days, it would have led to a major setback, if not an outright disaster. That said, I’m truly indebted to our dedicated group of audition personnel and volunteers who collectively managed to pull the logistics off during those harrowing days. So, to answer that question, no. There were no setbacks mainly due to the incredible commitment of our incredible staff who dealt with every hurdle to efficiently schedule all local and international auditionees. Hands down, the auditions could not have survived without them.”  

So, what do you think of the final list that you’ve made?

“Filipinos and Asian nationals comprise the ‘shortlist,’ and you would have had to dislodge 2,460 other audtionees to make that list. Certainly, making the list would bring you ‘in the mix’ for casting consideration; but lest we forget, the envisioned London auditions would also come up with their own ‘shortlist’....and only then will the real battle begins. Our ‘shortlist’ contains over 40 names (males and females), and should the level of talent in London be at par with ours, expect about 80 talented performers (who are potentially ‘right for the show’) to form the collective and final shortlist. And as the show only requires 40 performers, expect a drastic ‘cuts’ by the time the final cast is announced.”     

Are they saying when they will return to make the final selection?

“With the show scheduled to open in 2014, we certainly may need to refresh ourselves to what we saw last November. I wouldn’t be surprised if the creatives make a ‘comeback’ towards the end of 2013. Should that happen, auditions (that would only involve those who made the ‘shortlist’) would be privately announced and scheduled. I, for one, would not wish to depend solely on notes I did of over a year ago to help determine a cast on sheer memory alone. I also worry that those ‘in the mix’ may simply decide to slack off until the final cast is eventually announced. That would absolutely be counterproductive if one is sincerely determined to be part of the show. Hence, we’ve advised those who made the list to find the time during this extended ‘waiting period’ to hone their craft by further involving themselves in theater, and getting more vocal and dance training in the interim.”  

Have you spoken to Cameron yet on these developments?

“Cameron has been quite busy promoting Les Mis (the movie) in key cities around the world since we concluded auditions. I did get a call, however, from Claude Michel (Schonberg) who had been appraised of the huge success of the Manila auditions. Our extended conversation (that was more of a litany of difficulties he, Alain Boublil and Cameron were going through in filming of Les Mis) did allow us to discuss the results of the Manila auditions, and the possible need for the creatives to re-visit Manila after the conclusion of the London auditions for the very reasons mentioned earlier. As Miss Saigon may not be opening till over a year from now, I sensed his palatable concern in casting the show with such an extended ‘waiting period.’ Slack, aging and possible regression of vocal and dance skills do need to be addressed in such a setting.”    

Cameron mentioned the success of the recent re-staging of Miss Saigon in Japan. Have you seen that?

“It would be difficult for me to appreciate any rumored ‘improvements’ if I watched the show sung in Japanese (much more the new song Claude Michel wrote for the show). So to answer the question, no. I have not seen the show in Japan. I did, however, see the licensed version of Saigon in Thai shortly before we held auditions in Manila, and it’s not easy to ‘follow’ a show if sung in a language one does not understand. If the original Nick Hytner version was performed by the Thais, maybe I’d notice the enhancements made. And while on that subject, the London production of Saigon will be the Laurence Connor version (again, not the Hytner version), which I find quite a refreshing prospect.” 

Your final word and message as a Filipino representative to the public, the media and all those who auditioned.

“I would wish to reassure everyone who came to audition that the level of talent that a great number of auditionees demonstrated during those four days of auditions truly astounded us; and if we had the chance to cast all our ‘callbacks,’ we would have already done it there and there. But alas, we only have (for now) this revival production to cast. So from all of us, it was indeed a great privilege to have been in the midst of such immense talent. Many thanks for that.

“To the media, I only ask that it not ‘second guess’ who made (or did not make) the audition ‘shortlist,’ as there had been quite a number of inaccurate statements made on print and television that do not render justice to those who may or may have not made it to the list. If these inaccurate ‘announcements’ are borne out of vested interests, all the worse — as it’s terribly unfair not only to those who made the list (as they may, in the end, not be cast for the show and be exposed to unnecessary ridicule as a result), but also to those who, in truth, did not make the list but continue to remain hopeful that they are still being considered for the show.”


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