MANILA, Philippines—The first message of congratulations that Rachelle Ann Go received was from Lea Salonga.
Go, producer Cameron Mackintosh announced in an interview with British media on Friday, had won the role of Gigi in the West End revival of “Miss Saigon,” the same production that catapulted Salonga to international stardom in 1989 when she played the lead character, Kim.
Salonga’s Twitter message came way ahead of everyone else’s, Go told the Inquirer in a phone interview: “It was the first thing I saw when I woke up. I feel pressured but I am also excited about this.”
Go will join another homegrown talent, Jon Jon Briones, who has been cast as The Engineer, and Filipino-American Eva Noblezada, 17, from North Carolina, who bagged the lead role.
Along with Salonga, Briones was part of the original West End cast of “Miss Saigon.” He played The Engineer in Germany as well as in the production’s tours around the United States, United Kingdom and Asia. He was also in the musical’s Philippine staging in 2000.
As they did 24 years ago, Filipinos landed major roles after a worldwide search for cast members in the Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil musical, which will be revived in West End in May 2014.
“It’s heartwarming … Twenty four years ago, Miss Lea and other Filipinos made it. Now, they are tapping Filipinos again,” said Go.
Agreed Salonga: “Three Filipinos in principal roles. What can I say? We’re amazing.” She hoped this bit of good news would lift the spirits of Filipinos still reeling from the devastation of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” “Any piece of good news is a source of inspiration.”
A few more Filipinos in the cast are expected to be announced in the coming days.
Go said: “We hope to give Filipinos one reason to smile in these trying times. We hope to make them proud.”
Go, now 27, has been joining amateur singing contests since she was 11 years old and topped the reality talent show “Search for a Star” in 2004.
Although a veteran of singing competitions, she was initially reluctant to join the “Miss Saigon” auditions in Manila in November 2012 despite encouragement from friends, including theater director Bobby Garcia. Garcia had directed Go in two local productions of Disney plays: “Little Mermaid” and “Tarzan.”
Said Go: “I don’t have much theater experience compared to others. I played sweet girls in my previous plays. In ‘Miss Saigon,’ the roles would be more daring.”
And then Salonga sent her a private message on Twitter: “Why don’t you audition? You won’t lose anything if you try.”
Explaining her message, Salonga said: “I saw her in ‘Little Mermaid’ and she glowed onstage. I knew she’d do well in the ‘Miss Saigon’ audition.”
Salonga’s words finally convinced Go to try her luck.
Almost a year after, she thought she didn’t make it “since others had already received word about further try-outs” and she hadn’t.
Final casting call
Then came the e-mail about the final casting call in London early this month.
During the final audition, Go was asked the make-or-break question. “They explained that I was not the right age for Kim … but would I be interested in Gigi? I said yes right away,” she recalled. “I don’t care if the role is big or small. I don’t even care about the talent fee. I just want to be part of the production because I know it will lead to more opportunities and help me grow as an artist.”
Salonga told Go the training she’d get in “Miss Saigon” would be “priceless.”
Singer-actress Isay Alvarez, who originally played Gigi in the 1989 production, also sent Go a congratulatory message.
“Miss Isay said I would enjoy my stay in London,” said Go, who will stay in London for a year.
“I will be living alone, far from my family,” she said. “I will have to take the train on my own. I will have to learn how to cook and do the laundry. I’ll learn to be independent.”
First thing on Go’s to-do list? Hit the gym. “I need to be fit to wear a bikini. I plan to do cardio,” she said.
She also plans to take dance lessons, as advised by the show’s choreographer. “I’ll enroll in jazz classes,” Go said, adding that rehearsals will begin in March.
According to reports, Noblezada is the niece of Annette Calud, who was part of the original Broadway cast of “Miss Saigon,” along with Salonga, in 1991. Calud was also in the cast of “Sesame Street.”
On her Google account, Noblezada is described as a student of Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as a “musical theater” aficionado and a “‘Smash’ fanatic.” “Smash” was a US TV series on the making of a Broadway musical.
Last July, the Filipino-American student was among five runners-up in the 5th National High School Musical Theater Awards and received a $2,500 scholarship.
On her Facebook page, Noblezada’s aunt Calud described her as “my stellar niece … beautiful, talented, intelligent, funny, with a good dose of humility.”