The UK tour of Miss Saigon is set to welcome its newest Filipino cast members this week as Joaquin Pedro Valdes with Aicelle Santos and Iroy Abesamis fly off to England. Valdes (Matilda, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) will understudy the role of Thuy while Santos (Himala, Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag) will play Gigi. Abesamis, who has been working in Hong Kong Disneyland for the past 13 years, will join the ensemble.
Here are some interesting facts about the popular long-running musical.
1. Miss Saigon is a retelling of the classic Giacomo Puccini opera Madama Butterfly, about the tragic romance between a Japanese geisha and an American Naval officer in the 1900s. Miss Saigon moves the love story to 1970s Vietnam and the end of the Vietnam war.
2. The musical has been performed in 28 countries, in over 300 cities, and in 15 different languages. One country it’s never been staged in? Vietnam.
3. The original London production of Miss Saigon ran for ten years from 1989-1999, and in 1994 became the longest-running London musical in history. The previous record-holder was My Fair Lady. On the other side of the pond, it is the 13th longest-running Broadway musical.
4. Filipino theater legend Lea Salonga is the first Asian woman to win the prestigious Tony Award for portraying Kim in the original Broadway run in 1991. She also won the Laurence Olivier Award two years earlier for her role in the London West End production.
5. Miss Saigon was staged in Manila at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2000. Salonga returned to play Kim, and she was joined by Leo Valdez as The Engineer and Will Chase as Chris.
6. A then-unknown Jon Jon Briones was part of the ensemble in the original West End production in 1989. He went on to play The Engineer in the West End revival in 2014 (earning a Laurence Olivier nomination) and the Broadway revival last year.
7. The musical is no stranger to controversy. Jonathan Pryce, who originated the role of The Engineer in London, was initially not allowed to reprise the role for the Broadway production by the Actors’ Equity Association because he was a Caucasian playing a Eurasian role. Even Salonga, being a foreigner, faced some resistance from the association who wanted to give priority to its members. However, producer Cameron Mackintosh fought to have his two stars play their roles, leading to Tony wins for both Pryce and Salonga.
8. The aforementioned Valdes, Santos, and Abesamis will join the 8 Filipinos in the current UK cast. Red Concepcion plays The Engineer, Gerald Santos is Thuy, and Joreen Bautista plays Kim. Other members of the company are Kristine Diaz, Aynrand Ferrer, Christian Rey Marbella (who also alternates as The Engineer), Ela Lisondra, and Winchester Lopez.
9. Numerous other home-grown Filipino artists have been part of Miss Saigon, such as Monique Wilson, Joanna Ampil, Rachelle Ann Go, Isay Alvarez-Seña, Jamie Rivera, Leo Valdez, Joan Almedilla, Carla Guevara-Laforteza, and Jon Jon Briones, just to name a few.
10. It takes a whopping 33 trucks to move the show from city to city, and eight fog and smoke machines for the 300 pounds of fog used per show.
11. Miss Saigon has won over 40 awards, which includes 2 Olivier Awards, 3 Tony Awards, and 4 Drama Desk Awards.
12. For the 25th Anniversary performance, more than 20,000 people tried to buy tickets within the first five minutes of their release.
13. Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, the show’s songwriters, have made several changes to the lyrics over the years. They recently added new Vietnamese lyrics to “The Wedding Ceremony” based on suggestions made by Vietnamese actor Christopher Vo, who was a member of the Broadway revival cast. This helped to add authenticity to the story.