Joanna’s joyful journey

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She has done numerous musical theater productions from London’s West End to the stages of Manila, but to this day, people still remember Joanna Ampil as someone who brought honor to the country when she portrayed the ingenué Kim in Miss Saigon.

Joanna, who started doing theater in 1992 when she starred in Miss Saigon, and who is currently based in Manila, doesn’t find this to be a problem. “I completely understand why people associate me with Miss Saigon,” she says. “It is a very popular musical and particularly so in the Philippines; it’s the show that paved the way for a lot of things. The Philippines became known to a lot of people all over the world as the country with a lot of talented performers. Miss Saigon is not a bad thing to be remembered for. Although it would be wonderful to be associated with the other musicals I’ve done as they’re all pretty amazing and some of which were dream shows of mine.”

Besides, she adds, there were so many good things about it. “The opening nights, the special occasions such as the show setting the record for being the longest-running musical in its initial home in London, opening night in Sydney, Australia, the first national tour, being asked to sing the role of Kim in the complete international symphonic recording of the show. Those were milestones to me.”

And up to now, says Joanna, she still finds doing theater rewarding. She’s been doing it for more than 20 years, but her passion for what she does is as fresh as the day she began. “It is indeed the passion and the love for performing that drive me to keep doing it,” says Joanna.

Joanna was born in Manila and left the country at age 17 to do Miss Saigon in London after finishing high school. She got into music at the early age of four. She loved making up her own songs and performing them for her parents, house guests and cousins. She was inspired to get into theater when she saw a production of Joseph the Dreamer at the Meralco Theater way back in 1991. 

“I knew then that I wanted to be in musicals. I finished high school in Manila before leaving for London where I also took up short courses in arts and other things; also gained a diploma in marketing and PR which I never got to use. It’s not a bad thing. It simply means that I haven’t stopped performing. I took it up mainly to have something as a fall back.” 

She likes the idea of being able to do different things. One recent project that she was particularly excited about was the film version of Larawan. “I always liked being called an artist because then I’m not pigeon-holed to one type of medium,” explains Joanna. “Recently, I realized how much I love doing onscreen acting after filming Larawan. I also want to get into radio, recording and television. If the offers are there, then I want to try them all. Just because of the challenge and amount of knowledge I’ll be enriched with. Music-wise, I’ve recorded a couple of pop albums already. Same thing goes with that. I’ve gotten myself into classical, musical theater, R&B and pop. I love the idea of learning and enhancing the craft.” 

She also just wrapped up doing an original Filipino musical, Chuva Choo Choo, which used the music of Vehnee Saturno. It presented a different kind of challenge, one that she welcomed as an artist.

“It was exactly what I wanted to get into,” Joanna says. “And the challenge I wanted to set up for myself. Doing a new Tagalog musical is a dream come true. It was a lot of fun and we created a wonderful family feel within the company. It also presented itself a lot of challenges but it’s what stretches me as an actor.”

On Nov. 20 to Dec. 6 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati, she is appearing in Bridges of Madison County, in the same role that Meryl Streep played in the film version. Joanna, who has both watched the movie and read the book, describes it as “a beautiful piece.” She is Francesca Johnson with MiG Ayesa as Robert Kincaid.  

She can’t wait to get started. “It’s not an easy piece to do and somehow a sensitive subject matter to tackle but it’s something that happens and occurs in people’s daily lives.”

For now, says Joanna, she is settled in Manila. “I’m getting wonderful projects and I get to do what I love most. It’s not always easy being an actor because there will be times when the work is few and far between. I still travel back and forth to different parts of the globe for work and visiting my family but my current base is here in Manila. This will always be home.”

(The Bridges of Madison County is directed by Bobby Garcia. Tickets are available at Ticketworld outlets with tel. no. 891-9999.)


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