EXCLUSIVE: Part One - In Conversation with MISS SAIGON'S Rachelle Ann Go
BWW Philippines Special Report!
London's pre-summer late afternoon weather is drizzly and drab outside the Prince Edward Theatre on May 29, 2014, but inside the lavish Julie Andrews suite, where BroadwayWorld.com (BWW) is invited to have a cosy chat over a cup of tea with Rachelle Ann Go, Miss Saigon's Gigi Van Tranh, the late spring showers that day seem continents away.
Bedecked in Dame Julie Andrews memorabilia with a regal black upright piano as its centerpiece, the suite's ambient lighting sets off a comfortable glow; the temperature just the right amount of toasty; and the bustling noises coming from Miss Saigon's video trailer filming are all muffled out by the plush wood-paneled doors.
Let the Sunshine In: A Single, Fiercely Happy Independent Young Woman
15 minutes later, the doors demurely open to invisible, imaginary chimes as Rachelle Ann (Shin to friends and legions of devoted fans) walks in, almost a shimmering sprite in robust spirits. Her elegant wavy black mane cascading way below her shoulders onto her slim frame (yes, she has shed a considerable amount of weight) paints a totally striking contrast to the simple wash-and-wear shoulder-length black wig that Gigi Van Tranh sports in Miss Saigon's Dreamland.
Rachelle Ann glows with a highly infectious sparkle, almost radioactive--once the young actress crosses the threshold, the Julie Andrews suite gets a dose of instant sunshiny Shin.
Her newfound independence has emblazoned a mark on her broad smile and purposeful gait. Almost fleetingly, she checks her reflection in the mirror hanging above the duvet before sitting down for the precisely-timed, quick 20-minute chat.
"This is actually the first time I've been alone and away from home for this long. At first it was so hard!" Rachelle Ann shares, visibly trying to relax but hardly able to keep her enthusiasm bottled in.
"My first day here was, I can't explain it, but 'yun nga, I don't know how to do laundry, I don't know how to cook! Now I'm so proud of myself, I can say expert na ako sa adobo, sa kare-kare, sa gising-gising, all those Filipino dishes, you name it!" she bursts out in a melodic self-assurance that may well perhaps rival the confidence of Dame Julie Andrews' Maria in The Sound of Music, as she describes her first few weeks coping with an independent life in London.
(My first day here was, I can't explain it, but that's how it was, I don't know how to do laundry, I don't know how to cook! Now I'm so proud of myself, I can say I'm an expert [at cooking] adobo, kare-kare, gising-gising, all those Filipino dishes, you name it!)
She goes on to animatedly detail the many ways she has metamorphosed into a self-reliant young woman away from the comforts of home--a 10-year solid music career in the Philippines, where the extra stresses of work are eased by personal assistants, and a support system comprising of family, fans, and most especially of the caring, guiding hand of her mom, who would accompany her to almost all of her shows. Now she stands a bold Filipina Londoner--taking the tube with her many close friends from the musical (or sometimes even on her own) doing some sightseeing, the grocery shopping on Sundays, and personally tending to the demands of the intense grind of everyday rehearsals and nightly shows at the West End.
"Every night, every show, I do my make-up. For the make-up of Gigi, she has to be strong. Feeling ko naman 'yung features ko are very strong, so kailangan ng red lips, matapang lang; and si Gigi kasi siya yung head 'dun sa bar so kailangan siya 'yung naka-falsies. Naka-wig ako dito sa show. It's a different Rachelle Ann," she laughingly continues.
(Every night, every show, I do my make-up. For the make-up of Gigi, she has to be strong. I feel like my features are very strong. I need stark, red lips; and since Gigi is the main girl at the bar, her eyes need to pop out, thus the falsies. I wear a wig in the show. It's a different Rachelle Ann.)
Shin, who received her first Best Actress nod from BroadwayWorld Philippines for her role as Ariel in Disney's "The Little Mermaid," fondly recalls that defining moment, sharing how it has further inspired her to explore her career goals in the Philippines and, later on, in the international theatre industry.
"When I was a kid, meron akong dream, sabi ko gusto kong maging best actress; and when I got the award nakakatuwa, kasi kumbaga nangyari, and after 'nun gusto ko gumawa ng mga musicals pa na susunod, and baka mas madami pang awards ulet. Walang masamang mangarap 'diba?" she shares, effervescent with delight.
(When I was a kid, I had a dream, I told myself I want to win a best actress award; and when I got the award it was such a happy moment, because it did eventually happen. After that I wanted to do more musicals, and maybe perhaps win other awards. There's nothing wrong with dreaming, right?)
"Ang dami [ko ng ka-close dito]! Bukod sa mga Pinoy--marami-rami din ang mga Pinoy--we have 18 different nationalities here. Iba't ibang kultura ang natututunan namin everyday. Natuto na rin ako ng iba-ibang lenggwahe: Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Welsh, o 'di'ba, so nakakatuwa!" she laughs when asked who her closest friends are among the 40 or so actors in the production.
(There are a lot [that I am close to]! Apart from the many Filipinos here, we also have 18 other actors of different nationalities. We learn about a variety of cultures everyday. I've even learned a little of some foreign languages such as Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Welsh, yes, it's just so amusing!)
Rachelle Ann goes on to share her journey of delving into the emotionally draining task of taking on the role of the embittered Gigi night after night. With Sundays for church as her only respite from the character, she also spends most of her quiet, alone time in the picturesque Notting Hill - her favourite spot in Central London.
"I love the movie Notting Hill! When I came here last year for the auditions, 'yun talaga ang unang tinarget ko, Notting Hill, at binabalik-balikan ko 'yun ngayon... Ang daming cafes and vintage shops, that's what I love!" she says with a longing smile playing on her lips.
(I love the movie Notting Hill! When I came here last year for the auditions, that was my first target destination, Notting Hill, and it's a place I always come back to... There are a lot of cafes and vintage shops, that's what I love!)
Rauchy, Raucous, and Ready
A Miss Saigon Legend's Wise Words:
They will not think about what you're wearing, they will remember your voice, your performance, and it's just a character...
"'Yun na lang talaga yung iniisip ko, laging bumabalik sa'kin 'yung sinabing 'yun ni Miss Lea Salonga," she shares, quoting the mantra that gives her the confidence boost whenever she battles with body-consciousness each time she's on stage in any of Gigi's raunchy outfits.
(That's what I always try to hold on to, it's just stuck in my mind, what Miss Lea Salonga told me.)
"'Yung bilbil ko, at yung taba ko, my gosh!!! Paano ba maitatago?" she bursts out laughing.
(My lovehandles, my fat, oh gosh! How will I hide them?)
Fans have been noticing and positively remarking on her gradual weight loss since she arrived in London to attend rehearsals in March--the natural question being how does a busy girl keep fit on top of such a hectic schedule?
"Mukha pa ba akong fit?" she giggles.
("Have you seen the show yet?")
She embarrassedly asks this writer if he has seen her in Gigi's outfits.
"Hard work lang din talaga, kulang lang din siguro sa tulog, kaya 'eto pumapayat. The first time I went on stage wearing that bikini, andun lang ako sa isang corner, parang excuse me po," she says, admitting to having to get over an initial shyness when she first donned Gigi's bawdy getups.
(It's mostly just hard work and fewer sleep hours that's why I'm slimming down. The first time I went on stage wearing that bikini, I was just at one corner thinking 'oh no please don't mind me.')
"Oh, the fur for the 'American Dream' (number), Naku sabi ko parang hindi ko yata kaya 'to, pero 'yun naman, ayun nasanay na rin, because I don't need to take off the fur. So ayun parang tease-tease na lang, ganun," Rachelle Ann continues. And teasing she mesmerizingly accomplishes as Gigi's black locks turn golden blonde in Jon-Jon Briones' 'American Dream'--wearing nothing but a sleek white fur wrap, revealing just enough sheened skin to titillate, giving a naughty frontal peek at Shin's toned torso.
(Oh, the fur for the 'American Dream' [number], Oh wow, I thought I might not be able to pull that one off, but then I got used to it anyway because I don't need to take the fur off. I would just tease a little bit with it, that was it.)
To be continued...
In Part Two, Rachelle Ann talks more about Gigi and Miss Saigon, reflects on her love life, gives love advice to the heartbroken, and envisions her future in London!
Special thanks to Bambi Verzo of Concertus Manila