The different side of Joanna

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She is one of the most renowned and respected musical theater leading ladies in London’s West End, and last month, Joanna Ampil returned to the Manila stage in the first international production of the Tony Award-winning musical The Bridges Of Madison County. She shares the stage with MiG Ayesa in Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group (ATEG) production of the acclaimed musical based on the best-selling novel which runs until Dec. 6 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati.

Joanna has appeared on the West End stage as Kim in Miss Saigon (also can be heard on the complete Symphonic recording), Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, both Eponine and Fantine in Les Miserables and Christmas Eve in Avenue Q. On tour, she has played Mimi Marquez in Rent, Sheila Franklin in Hair and Grizabella in Cats. Locally, she has appeared in West Side Story, The Sound of Music and just completed filming the highly-anticipated movie version of Larawan, which will be released next year.

In The Bridges Of Madison County, Joanna takes on her most challenging role to date, as Francesca Johnson, the Iowa housewife who finds herself caught up in a four-day affair with a National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid that changes the course of her life forever. After The Bridges Of Madison County, she will be singing alongside Broadway stars Sutton Foster, Aaron Tveit and Betty Buckley in Defying Gravity, a world premiere concert celebrating the songs of Stephen Schwartz.

Bobby Garcia, who directs The Bridges Of Madison County, says, “Joanna Ampil is one of the finest musical performers in the world. It is a tremendous joy to work with her talent and professionalism. I look forward to each rehearsal day creating this show with her and I think audiences will be in for a real treat as they see the different side of Joanna. She both sings and acts the role of Francesca gloriously. It’s like she was born to play this role.”

Below are excerpts from Joanna’s interview.

What have been your favorite roles to date and why?

“I always say that I tend to fall in love with all the roles I portray simply because I had the opportunity to get to know each of them. Having just filmed Larawan, Candida would have to be my favorite to date. It’s the role that gave me the biggest challenge, difficulty and pain. It wasn’t a pleasurable process getting to know her and for that, I love her, flaws and all.”

What was it like playing both Eponine and Fantine in Les Miserables in the West End? Which role is more challenging?

“It’s always fun being part of Les Mis and having done two of the most coveted roles in musical theater, I feel extremely fortunate. Both roles presented me with different challenges. But because Fantine was my first mature role and I happened to be the first colored person to play it in London’s West End, there was a lot of pressure as well. Even the simplest thing such as wig color was a bit of a problem. I ended up with three different colors in my wig. They couldn’t decide which would suit me the most and as a result, my wig looked stunning but very heavy because they added so much color and hair to it.”

How do you feel about Rachelle Ann Go’s current success as the newest Fantine in the West End?

“I can understand how Rachelle is feeling right now with all the accolades she’s getting. It’s an extremely exciting time for her and I am so pleased this is all happening to a really lovely person who truly deserves it.”

What attracted you to do The Bridges Of Madison County?

“This will be my first time to work for Atlantis. Bobby and I spoke about working together in the past and finally a project that is suitable came at the perfect time. That was reason enough to do it. Secondly, the idea of working with MiG Ayesa. I watched MiG in London playing Galileo in We Will Rock You, in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Music Concert in Sydney, and also in Rock of Ages in Manila. We all know how talented MiG is and to be paired with him in this musical is a very exciting prospect. Lastly, I’ve always been touched by the story of Bridges. I saw the movie, read the book, the script and recently learned the music and it keeps getting better and I’m falling in love with the story more and more.”

Were you a fan of either the book or the movie?

“Yes, absolutely. The first time I saw the movie was when it opened in 1995. I loved it then and cried my eyes out. I watched it again 20 years later and the impact it had on me was just as strong. It’s timeless and a classic.”

The musical is a Tony Award winner for Best Score. Can you describe the music?

“Jason Robert Brown is a very intelligent and talented composer who puts a lot of thought into all his music. This is one of his best works. He certainly made Francesca’s songs very ambitious and risky. The phrasings are long and sustained and it stretches me both as a singer and actor.”

Bobby Garcia feels that you are one of the finest musical theater singers he has heard. How do you keep your voice in tip-top shape?

“Wow! How generous of Bobby to say so. Thank you. I have a pretty simple lifestyle that is free from alcohol and cigarettes. Sleep and lots of water help a lot, too. I basically don’t abuse my voice and vocalize regularly. And I try to learn as many styles of singing if possible.”

You will be doing Defying Gravity, featuring the music of Stephen Schwarz, next year in Australia. Can you tell more about this?

“All I know so far is that the concert will be a celebration of Stephen Schwartz’s amazing music and I feel very fortunate to be in the same line-up as the artists involved in it. The bonus, of course, will be to meet the genius and to get to work with him and sing his compositions.”

What are your dream roles?

“I have done most of my dream roles but if I really have to choose, it would have to be Mary Poppins and Elphaba in Wicked because those characters are strong, independent and are not defined by any romantic relationship.”

(For details and tickets to The Bridges Of Madison County, call Ten Bridges at 650-5144 or Ticket World at 891-9999.)


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