BWW Interviews: Joanna Ampil Talks Grizabella, CATS 2013 UK/Europe Tour
By Precious Lee Cundangan
London-based stage actress Joanna Ampil seems to have all the luck having "Miss Saigon" (Kim), "Jesus Christ Superstar" (Mary Magdalene), "Les Miserables" (Fantine), and "Avenue Q" (Christmas Eve), among others under her belt. However, luck does not have anything to do with her success in musical theater because this hard-working thespian believes that her continuous drive to learn more, and her quest to be the best that she can be are responsible for every good thing that comes her way.
Named 2012 Aliw Award Foundation's Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Maria in "The Sound of Music," Ampil nabs another iconic musical theater role, the glamour cat, Grizabella, in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" 2013 UK/Europe Tour.
In a recent exclusive interview with BroadwayWorld, Ampil revealed that she never saw the other actresses that auditioned for the role of Grizabella; she was called to go to the final auditions, and she just sang her heart out.
When we asked what could have given her The Edge from the other auditionees, Ampil said, "I don't copy from other people's performances. I always make sure I bring something much more in my rendition. I always believe that as a performer one must make his or her story unique and that's what should come across. That's the only edge I can think of, and I believe coming from a Third World country (The Philippines) provided me the earthy, additional rawness, and organic performance needed in the role."
In preparing for the role of Grizabella, Ampil read "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats "by T.S. Eliot, which inspired the musical.
Despite using dramaturgical analyses, as an actress she believes she should not overfeed herself with too much information in order to leave some space to mold the character on her own; as well as to add the director's inputs in whatever role she takes on.
She has also been taking private acting lessons via Skype with Los Angeles-based acting coach Tracy Winters.
Intriguingly, Ampil has essayed almost the same stage roles that fellow Filipino theater actress Lea Salonga did. Similarities to Salonga's theater credits -- including playing the role of Grizabella -- have not gone unnoticed.
"I'm flattered that people compare me to a Tony Award winner more than anything. Some people may find that a negative thing; but for me, Lea is the leader. To be compared to her is quite something. I'm very, very honored," Ampil told BroadwayWorld.
"Miss Saigon," the mega-musical that launched enormous opportunities for Ampil, is set to be restaged in London in 2014. We asked her opinion about the resurging interest in the nearly 25-year-old musical; she only mentioned to us that she has no idea on how the restaging was going to be done.
As her musical theater career in Europe flourishes, Ampil shared with us the pros and cons: among the downsides of success are zero love life, and being away from her family and friends that are in Manila and in Sweden. Getting used to work from one continent to another, Ampil said that she admires the discipline and openness among her European co-workers. In London, she has learned how to be independent: she does her own makeup and shares dressing rooms -- sans an entourage to assist her.
In addition, despite being an Asian theater actress in Europe, Ampil has disclosed to us that she never felt any discrimination. She never had any problem playing a Caucasian character, i.e. Eponine or Fantine in "Les Miserables, or Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady."
By the way, her favorite leading men have to include Adam Pascal, whom she worked with in "The Real Love" in Los Angeles; Nicholas Anderson, who played both Chris and Marius opposite her Kim and Eponine respectively; and Filipino actors Audie Gemora and Ariel Rivera, who both played Captain Von Trapp opposite her Maria in "The Sound of Music."
As Ampil prepares to conquer UK/Europe anew by playing the role of Grizabella, would Broadway be far behind? "Who knows," she quipped with a shrug; but she was quick to add that she is very happy with the way things are going, and very content.
For more information about "Cats" 2013 UK/Europe Tour, visit catsthemusical.com.
Photos by Jory Rivera