Joanna Ampil is 1st woman to play Miss Saigon’s The Engineer

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Joanna Ampil is 1st woman to play Miss Saigon�s The Engineer
Joanna, who has previously played Kim in the London, Sydney, UK touring and 10th anniversary productions of Miss Saigon, has been cast as The Engineer in the 'reimagined' Cameron Mackintosh musical.

After playing Kim in Miss Saigon “countless times,” Joanna Ampil has been cast as The Engineer in the bold, new production of the Cameron Mackintosh mega musical.

This marks the first time that a woman — and a Filipina at that — will play the iconic role once essayed by British actor Jonathan Pryce and fellow Filipinos Jon Jon Briones and Leo Valdez.

In the announcement made on Thursday, the new Miss Saigon will be staged in the United Kingdom at the historic The Crucible at Sheffield Theatres, home to “world-class productions and groundbreaking theater.” Scheduled to open in the summer of 2023, it will be directed by Sheffield artistic director Robert Hastie and associate artistic director Anthony Lau.

Joanna is no stranger to Miss Saigon, having played Kim in the London’s West End, original Australian production, original UK and Ireland Tour and the 10th Anniversary Performance. She can also be heard as Kim in the Complete International Symphonic Recording of Miss Saigon.

But the singer and stage veteran is making musical theater history via the “reimagined” version of The Engineer in a production that holds a special place in her heart.

“I am beyond thrilled to be the first woman to play the role of Engineer in this exhilarating reimagination of this most beloved musical which is so close to my heart,” Joanna said in a statement.

She recalled that she just turned 17 when she nabbed the female lead role during an open-call audition.

“Back then, they were looking for 18-year-old girls for the role of Kim in Manila. After a series of call-backs, I landed the role and immediately moved to London with my mother. As a teenager, it was my professional, theatrical and West End debut rolled into one,” she said.

“To have played Kim in different productions, countless of times, and to have had my first taste of recording with The Complete International Symphonic Recording of the show, it feels like a full circle moment to pave the way for this historical gender-bending casting.”

She thanked the directors for enlisting her for the new Miss Saigon and Mackintosh for “allowing this to happen at The Crucible and for all the breakthrough opportunities he has bestowed upon me all these years.”

“To give new life to this musical which changed my life and to sing the beloved score of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil once again is a wild dream coming true,” she stated.

With this undertaking, she aims to champion the Asian perspective, address some of the “racist and misogynistic overtones” and execute the role as “a woman of strength, sensitivity, grit, complete with flaws and a whole lot of heart.”

She hopes it will open doors to fellow actors, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, gender identity and religious beliefs, as well as push for more color-blind casting and representation.

Joanna is currently part of the London and UK Tour of Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of South Pacific as Bloody Mary. She’s set to be Grizabella anew in the Winter 2022-2023 tour of Cats in South Korea.

Meanwhile, the retelling of Miss Saigon, which is about the doomed love story between an American soldier and a young Vietnamese bar girl, is presented by special arrangement with Mackintosh, according to producers.

Robert Hastie, Sheffield Theatres artistic director, said in a statement that their production is the first in the UK to be given permission to explore novel approaches to staging and casting since the original 1989 Miss Saigon.

“Anthony and I are thrilled to be co-directing Boublil and Schönberg’s iconic show, and could not be more excited to be welcoming Joanna Ampil to Sheffield to play The Engineer,” he said.

Anthony Lau, on the other hand, stated how excited they are to offer a fresh perspective on a musical that has “one of the most extraordinary scores” in theater history, and a theme that “many people have an opinion on.”

“We want this project to ignite conversation and Cameron has encouraged us to be bold and original in our approach. The subject matter compels us to delve sensitively and deeply into the complications of two cultures entwined,” Lau further said.

“At a time when it feels like there is more division than ever in society, epic stories like this give us the opportunity to embrace nuance and complexity in exploring the human experience.”

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