Why Jon Jon Briones’ Broadway debut is poignant
LOS ANGELES—When the “Miss Saigon” revival opens at Broadway Theatre in March, Jon Jon Briones will see one of his biggest dreams come true—to make his debut on Broadway. It will be poignant for the actor. Jon Jon’s father, Ernesto Briones Sr., recently passed away, before he was able to step on “the biggest stage in the world.”
“However, I’m at peace in the knowledge that he is proud of me,” Jon Jon said of his father, who passed away in the Philippines. The LA-based actor’s full real name is Ernesto Briones Jr.
Jon Jon (as The Engineer), Eva Noblezada (Kim) and Rachelle Ann Go (Gigi) are among the Filipino talents reprising their roles in Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of “Miss Saigon,” which drew praises in the West End and now moves to Broadway, with previews beginning on March 1 before its opening night on March 23. Ticket information at www.saigonbroadway.com/tickets.
Also in the cast are Alistair Brammer (Chris), Devin Ilaw (Thuy), Katie Rosie Clarke (Ellen) and Nicholas Christopher (John).
Jon Jon comes to the Broadway revival of “Miss Saigon” with an Olivier Award nomination for lead actor in a musical for his performance in the London production. When he returned to LA, Jon Jon added laurels to his résumé as Georges in East West Players’ version of “La Cage aux Folles” in LA.
The Briones family, headed by Jon Jon and singer-actress Megan Briones, is making waves. Their son, Teo, 12, played Jeremy Renner’s son in “Wind River,” which recently screened in the Sundance Film Festival. Their daughter Isa, 18, won praises as Natalie in Pico Playhouse’s “Next to Normal.”
“Life is good,” Jon Jon declared.
Excerpts from our chat:
You are about to make your Broadway stage debut. What are your thoughts and feelings about this big step? Excited is an understatement. To tell you the truth, I had given up on Broadway because I was already living in LA, doing mostly film and TV.
Then, this opportunity was presented to me. It made me reflect on where I came from—growing up in a very poor neighborhood in Quezon City. And now, soon to be playing the Engineer on Broadway.
It made me realize that it’s never too late. Perhaps, it wasn’t just the right time before. As if God was saying, He had a plan for me all along. I’m glad I was patient and never gave up on my dream. Now, I feel like I’m just getting started!
In what way is moving (however temporary) from Los Angeles to New York similar and different from when you moved from LA to London for the West End revival of “Miss Saigon”? It’s the same in the sense that my family can’t be with me all the time. And the same excitement about going to a big theater town, playing a lead role and being part of a theater community. Also, not knowing what to expect, as far as how it will turn out.
What’s different is, New York is actually much closer for my family to come to, so they can be here a lot more. They can even just come for a long weekend.
And on Broadway! A first. Of course, I had played in the West End a couple of times before the “Miss Saigon” revival. But even though I had lived in New York for a few years, I never did Broadway. In baseball terms, going to Broadway is like going to the World Series.
But I am sure these moves are vastly different experiences from that first time you flew from Manila, at age 22, to London to be in the ensemble of the original West End production. What do you remember feeling about that big move? I was excited, apprehensive and a little sad. Because I had to tell my father that I wouldn’t be able to graduate from electrical engineering in college. That disappointed him.
I only had one semester left, but I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity. Luckily, I made him really proud when he saw me play the Engineer in the Philippines years later.
Is it also a poignant time for you that you’re realizing one of your biggest dreams—to debut on Broadway—amid the recent loss of your father? Yes, it is poignant. Even though my father has seen me play the Engineer in the Philippine production, I wanted him to know that I finally made it on the biggest stage in the world. He has always wanted the best for all of us and for me to succeed not just for myself but for our family, to “deliver” us from poverty.
For him to witness me succeed in doing what I wanted to do, and finally on a Broadway stage, would have been not just a justification of my choice to quit college, but an homage to the way he and my mother raised me. However, I am at peace in the knowledge that he’s proud of me.
What makes this “Miss Saigon” different from the other productions you were in? This show resonates more than ever with what is happening in the world right now. It will be a grittier version and that is important because it needs to represent the ugliness and struggles of those events.
Is it almost like second nature to you by now—getting back into character as the Engineer? Yes. It’s like putting on a favorite, cool jacket. I’m not cool (you can ask my kids), but this “jacket” makes me look really cool.
What do you look forward to about performing with Eva Noblezada again as Kim? Eva was amazing in London, and she was so young. Now she’s older and has been busy doing other work, including “Les Misérables.” There’s something about going back to a role you’ve done before and being able to understand it better, now that you’ve had more experiences. I can’t wait to see what different things she will bring to the role this time around.
It has been almost three decades since you were cast in the musical’s original production. Can you talk about how “Miss Saigon” impacted your life and career? First, I am not an electrical engineer! Because of “Miss Saigon,” I had the opportunity to live the life I really wanted to live. It gave me the confidence and experience to pursue my dreams. I was able to leave the Philippines and go to another country for the first time.
I learned to speak English. I met my wife doing the German production of “Miss Saigon.” I moved to America and recently became a US citizen. I have two beautiful children. And now, I’m on Broadway. Life is good.
E-mail: [email protected] Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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