After 25 years, ‘Miss Saigon’ returns with another Filipina Kim

By Lindy Rosales

A quarter century after it debuted in London’s West End, the tragic romance between a Vietnamese bar girl and an American serviceman is returning to Broadway on March 1.

“Miss Saigon,” where Lea Salonga made theater history for a Filipino by winning the Laurence Olivier Award in 1989/90 for Outstanding Performance of the Year in a Musical and the Tony Award in 1991 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical will be headlined once again by a Filipina actress.

Playing Kim is Eva Noblezada, a FilAm from North Carolina who was offered the role in London when she was just 17 years old, the same age as Lea when she set out to play the bar girl who has a son with a U.S. serviceman. After three years in London, Eva as Kim — with co-star Alistair Brammer as Chris – will be on Broadway.

“I was living in North Carolina and we drove up (but) I was able to sing a song from ‘Ghost, the Musical,’” Noblezada recalled how she was discovered at the 2013 National High School Musical Theater Awards in New York City. One of the “Saigon” casting directors was in the audience.

She was asked to audition. Three auditions later, she was told she got the part. “It was quite extraordinary,” she said.

“I’m really excited (for opening night), it’s gonna be one of those memorable nights,” she said. “The show would not be here without the Filipino community, so we are very grateful for that. This is a very, very big role for me, I’m honored to be here.”

Another FilAm, Jon Jon Briones, will play The Engineer, a role that should be very familiar because he was the shameless pimp in the original London cast with Salonga.

When asked how this L.A. resident balances work and family, he said, “That’s very easy kasi when you go home, you forget about the other one. And you just enjoy, with my wife and my kids. But when I’m on stage, that’s all I’m concentrating on, the story that I have to tell. So there’s a separation.”

His family is no stranger to stage. Briones met his wife Megan while on tour with “Miss Saigon” in Germany where she played Ellen. In the musical, Ellen is the U.S. serviceman Chris’s wife. Both his kids whom he calls “my Saigon babies” were born in England. Briones’s son and daughter are both actors doing films and movies, and his daughter also performs on stage. The Brioneses are an acting family!

Filipino singer Rachelle Ann Go plays Gigi, a Vietnamese prostitute like Kim. She pleads with a serviceman to take her to America, a scene that leads to the raunchy number “The Heat is on in Saigon.”

Go has completed three years in London playing Gigi; this is her first time on Broadway. She is very charming and pleasant, and likes NYC very much.

“Hindi po ako makapaniwala,” she said. “I’m very excited because I’m part of the new production of ‘Miss Saigon.’ I can’t wait for everyone to see the show. Isang pangarap na naman ang natupad.”

She said NYC “feels like home” because of so many Filipinos. “Mas marami pa yata akong naging kaibigan ngayon kaysa nasa London ako for three years. I went to church and ang daming Pinoy.”

Her contract ends on August 2017. Then she will return to the Philippines to visit family.

Go will not entirely be sidelined. She announced she will be playing Eliza Hamilton in the West End production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” Kudos, Rachelle!

Young FilAm Devin Ilaw will play Thuy in his first Broadway appearance of “Miss Saigon.” The character Thuy is an officer of the North Vietnamese Army, and is engaged to Kim in an arranged marriage. Ilaw has appeared in other productions of “Miss Saigon” in Toronto and other regional theaters. He just finished his stint in “Les Misérables” at the Imperial Theater, which closed last September.

Ilaw said he just came back from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. After seeing the countryside and getting to know the people, he felt he could relate to the story even more. He saw the original “Miss Saigon” on Broadway when he was in middle school.

“It’s really an honor to be able to do this with the other Filipinos in the business. My family is so excited, so proud. I’m very lucky and blessed.”

The new “Miss Saigon” — the musical drama created by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil — will be directed by Laurence Connor.

From left: Eva Noblezada as Kim, Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer, Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi, and Devin Ilaw as Thuy. Photos by Boyet Loverita

From left: Eva Noblezada as Kim, Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer, Rachelle Ann Go as Gigi, and Devin Ilaw as Thuy. Photos by Boyet Loverita

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