A lot to smile about
STARTING THIS month, we’re coming out with a series featuring old photographs that “say a thousand words,” because they vivify striking moments in entertainment that we personally witnessed or participated in.
This issue’s featured photo is more than 25 years old, hence the relatively youthful appearance of the key personalities involved.
As you can see, everybody in the photograph is smiling—because they have a lot to feel gleefully and even slap-happy about: The snapshot was taken at the rip-roaring, celebrity-studded party after the big, boffo gala performance of the original staging of “Miss Saigon” at the historic Drury Lane Theater in London—way back when!
Feeling the after-performance rush and thrill—to the max—are (from left), Robert Seña, Jonjon Briones, Cocoy Laurel, NUT—and a now nameless but definitely not faceless friend (not the perky venue’s maitre ’d)! —Oh, to (still) be so young, gifted and dishy!
Since Robert and Jonjon (plus Isay Alvarez and Bobby Martino) were lead players in our original Filipino musicals in Manila, we were in London not just to cover the hit show’s opening for the Inquirer, but also to wish them the very best.
We had flown there days earlier, so we saw the show as it was still being given its final shape, and we admired our Pinoy players a lot for making the major adjustments that were required of them—particularly overnight!
It was most heartening to see them stepping up to the stressful challenge—which was why, when the new musical was certified as a major hit, they celebrated and toasted themselves for a job very well done!
Even better, our original “Miss Saigon” “exports” have continued to excel and do us proud in the years and decades that followed:
Robert hasn’t just come home to make a big name for himself as singer and actor, but he and his wife Isay have put up the Spotlight talent school and theater production company, training tomorrow’s stars and boosting Filipino theater with acclaimed productions like “Magsimula Ka” and “Katy!”
For his part, Jonjon, who first performed in “Miss Saigon” as an ensemble player, eventually ended up playing the male lead role of The Engineer in the show’s current restaging, winning raves for his feisty and “smoking” portrayal. He’s also clinched key roles in “Breathe” and “An Immigrant Girl’s Journey.”
As for Cocoy, he’s not just a singer and actor of uncommon sensitivity, but a perceptive portraitist, to boot.
We directed him in “Birhen ng Caysasay,” the musical we created with Ryan Cayabyab for sculptor turned producer Ramon Orlina, and can vouch for his felt and superb artistry.