Rachelle Ann Go thrilled to perform in Manila leg of ‘Les Misérables’
You don’t have to be a musical theater buff to enjoy the latest stage incarnation of “Les Misérables,” Victor Hugo’s tale of revolution, revenge and redemption that will commence its Manila run at The Theatre in Solaire on March 11.
If you love great songs, exceptional singing and a compelling tale, producer Cameron Makintosh has got everything covered in the so-called “longest running musical in the world”—with homegrown Filipino singer-actress Rachelle Ann Go (as Fantine) in tow (call 8919999, or visit www.lesmis.com.ph).
The first time actress-activist Monique Wilson took us to a performance of the musical in London many years ago, we were enthralled not only by the revolutionary theme and evocative music that fueled its gripping story, but also by the visual spectacle that vividly and inventively brought its characters’ relatable tales to pulsating life.
It’s one thing to hear a seasoned performer sing “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Bring Him Home” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?” individually, but taken in the context of a moving story, this impressive repertoire of show tunes takes on larger-than-life iterations that transport viewers into a parallel world that bristles with music-scored combustible drama.
Its well-loved show tunes are good enough reasons to watch the sung-through stage production. As musical theater star Simon Gleeson, who plays the iconic Jean Valjean, succinctly puts it, it’s as thrilling as it is daunting to sing what many theater historians consider “arguably the most breathtaking score in musical theater history.” “The show remains relevant because it deals with themes of love, courage and the difficult choices we make that define who we are—and what we stand for,” he notes.
Last weekend, we watched Rachelle, Simon and the production’s company of around 40 performers rehearse, as they were put through their performing paces vocalizing, then rehearsing some of the musical’s biggest production numbers.
In our quick chats with Rachelle, Simon, Earl Carpenter (fresh from his stint as Inspector Javert on Broadway), Kerrie Anne Greenland (Eponine) and Chris Durling (Enjolras) during the company’s rehearsal break, the cast members expressed how thrilled they were to perform “in a country where everybody sings.” (More about Chris and Kerrie in a coming article).
Feels like a dream
Earl muses, “It feels like a dream. I was just in New York performing this musical six weeks ago. Now, I’m here—and I’m fascinated to be coming to a culture that also embraces singing.”
For Rachelle, her excitement was palpable and hard to contain. After all, it isn’t every day that a Filipino actress gets to perform the coveted role of Fantine and sing the karaoke staple, “I Dreamed a Dream,” for her fans, friends and family.
Moreover, it’s the first time they’ll see Rachelle “strut her theater stuff” after her award-winning portrayal of Gigi in the 25th anniversary revival of “Miss Saigon” in London’s West End theater district.
“I was so excited I was giggling on the plane back home,” Rachelle reveals. “Finally, I’ve come home to perform ‘Les Misérables’ in my hometown. It’s a chance for Filipinos to see what I’ve been doing in London for the past couple of months now—and I can’t wait to share my performance with them!
“Getting asked to portray Fantine after Gigi was surreal. When I first heard that they wanted me in ‘Les Miz,’ I cried, because the offer allows me to live my dream. I am appreciative of the blessings—to take part in the 25th anniversary of ‘Miss Saigon’ (a show that opened doors for a lot of Filipino performers), followed by my stint with ‘Les Miz.’”
Gigi and Fantine have similarities—they sacrifice themselves and turn to the world’s oldest profession to survive. What adjustments did Rachelle make to settle into her version of Fantine? And how different is one from the other?
Earl winkingly interjects, “Fantine has more clothes…? (laughs)”
Rachelle nods with a smile and says, “You’re right—their ill-fated stories have similarities. But aside from that fact that Fantine is all covered up, her character has more layers.
“In terms of exposure, she has more songs and longer exposure. I get to play with her character more—which I love, because I enjoy doing eight shows a week. It’s hard, but there’s nothing more fulfilling.”
The former “Search for a Star” singing champ admits that she didn’t have enough time to prepare for the role, so she sought Lea Salonga’s (who also played Fantine in London and New York years ago) advice. “She told me to read the book and learn about Fantine’s story—because it changes the way you interpret the songs. True enough, it made telling Fantine’s story easier, because I understood why she had to do what she did.”
Through the years, the characters in ‘Les Misérables’ have been performed onstage and in the movies by many actors, including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Patti LuPone, Colm Wilkinson, Lea Salonga, Liam Neeson, Uma Thurman and Geoffrey Rush. How do they make their respective roles their own and keep their performances fresh?
Rachelle says, “Mine isn’t as difficult as theirs. Having said that, it isn’t easy to sustain the energy required for Fantine’s emotional roller-coaster ride.”
For Earl, every actor brings something different to his assigned role: “It’s important to listen to the music—there’s a lot of storytelling in the lyrics and orchestration. We (the actors) have everything we need to help us define our characters. Our individuality and different experiences make each characterization unique.
Readjust and reinvent
“In the early days, you look to certain people who have influenced you, take things from what they’ve done and get used to them. I’ve done this production in Europe, Canada and on Broadway, but meeting actors from all over the world (in this company) made me realize that I can’t come into this with a ‘stock’ performance. Actors need to constantly readjust and reinvent.
“The trick to acting is listening and reacting. If someone throws something different at you, you react accordingly. [To keep your performance dynamic], you can’t have a fixed set of emotions.
“Singing the songs of this sung-through musical isn’t easy, so every time I open my mouth puts the fear of God into me (laughs). Because it’s live, there are many things that come into play, so you have to fight against going into autopilot, because people in your audience may be seeing the show for the first time.”
For Simon, while it requires prodigious skills to create a character as complex as Valjean, it isn’t that difficult for a performer to make a role his own.
He explains, “An actor is informed by his unique experiences—and those experiences can only be his. I have long realized that my business as an actor is to communicate my character’s story clearly and comprehensibly.”
What was it like working with Rachelle, so far? Simon says, “Well, she taught us the word ‘hugot.’ (He then sings and belts the word à la Jean Valjean…) Seriously, I’ve been blessed to see a sneak peek of Rachelle as Fantine, and I must say it is something Filipinos will be proud to see.”
“Although she has yet to take us out for coffee (laughs),” Earl quips.
Rachelle answers with a laugh, “I took some of the cast members to a Filipino restaurant, but you weren’t there. We’ve been rehearsing six days a week kasi. But I promise to cook for them one of these days!”
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