By By Pablo A. Tariman
Another Filipina singer joins cast of Miss Saigon
posted 1-Apr-2018  ·  
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Aicelle Santos. Singing came naturally as acting since childhood.

Last March 17, acclaimed Himala singing actress Aicelle Santos flew to Manchester in UK where she will prepare for a year-long tour as the latest bar girl -- Gigi van Tranh -- in the Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel musical, Miss Saigon.

She passed the audition late last year to which she reacted with something akin to shock. “I had to read the email five times to make sure it’s for real.”

To her colleagues in the industry, the good news was long overdue.

Posted Lea Salonga on FB: “Love it when good things happen to good people. I had a good feeling you'd eventually go, Aicelle Santos. It was just a matter of time. Now is your time.”

She recalls that she didn’t have any inkling she would get the part. “I sang Gigi’s signature song, Movie in My Mind. We were called one at a time in a room where panel includes casting director of Miss Saigon. He said I was too polite. I think I got a positive reaction from him. I couldn't gauge at that moment. Imagine all the nerves during auditions!”

Wrapping up remaining performances for Vince de Jesus’ Himala The Musical before flying to UK, it came as a sad moment in her theater life that the latest role had to end. “The long rehearsal process and on to the opening night and weekly run was for me part of a beautiful journey. Finding Elsa in me was the toughest part. As Baryo Cupang came to life in that intimate theater, the cast bonded with so much love and passion for the show and for each member. It's one show you never want to end.”

The extra thrill was that Nora Aunor -- the original Elsa in the Ishmael Bernal film – was around during one performance. “Miss Nora(Aunor) told me she had goosebumps when she heard me singGawin Mo Akong Sining. When I heard that, kinilabutan din ako.”

She can only say good singing combined with good acting can do a lot to an audience. “Together they affect you with a powerful message and emotions through words and melodies.”

To be sure, Miss Saigon is her first Western musical and to her, the main point of adjustment is just the language. “Musical theater came to me quite late. I was 28 when I joined Katy The Musical. I owe it to Isay Alvares-Seña, Robert Seña, Tricia Amper-Jimenez, Gian Magdangal and Direk Nestor Torre for believing I can be part of the mubical theater world. That exposure made me trust myself more. It made me realize I can do more and that my talent has a purpose.”

Also new to the cast which will tour the UK until 2019 are Iroy Abesamis, Jonathon Bentley, Devine Cresswell, Ross Lee Fowkes, Yukina Hasebe, Rob Herron, Jade Ma, Samuel Nicholas, Pierce Rogan, Louis Stockil, Joaquin Pedro Valdes, Brad Veitch, Gabriella Williams, Zheng Xi Yong and Sian Yeo.

For her, the only point of adjustment would be the language since she started with original Pilipino musicals. “We Filipinos have no problem with the English language. It comes naturally to us. Hence, it shouldn't be a problem. The heart, truth and story of every character that any actor portrays is what's important.”

Where she came from, her musicality is not surprising since she was raised in a music-inclined family. “My father sings and plays the guitar well. Growing up, I had piano and singing lessons. My mom, together with Dad, would run extra miles to give us a wholistic education. It was just a matter of time when I also got interested in singing. But then as a child, I've always loved singing but never thought of making a career out of it. I wanted to be a doctor at first. I consider myself a student in acting, eager for new discoveries.”

It wasn’t all legit theater exposure for Aicelle.

She was ‘traffic diva’ in a noontime show until she landed the role ofAileen in Rak of Aegis for which she won Best Actress in a Musical Production in the Aliw Awards in 2014.

Before her, the role of Gigi first went to by Isay Alvarez at London’s West End, followed by Jinky Llamanzares and Rachelle Ann Go who got not just good reviews but an acting award as well. Go is now part of the new musical, Hamilton running also in West End.

Her manager, Carlo Orosa, has no doubt her latest talent will go far. “Aicelle is a good-natured and a kind-hearted real lovable person. As a singing actor, she is a certified pro and hands on in everything that comes her way. For one, I’m very collaborative with my artists. Even if I have ideas, I listen to what they think and what they can contribute because in the end it’s them facing the media or the audience. My job for newcomers is to nurture them the best way I can by giving them exposure and experience they will help them improve their craft. She is relatively new in the theater. She’s only been in a few productions in the last five or six years. She is blessed to be given this window of opportunity to work abroad with some of the best talents and producers of this multi awarded   musical. I am sure she will evolve as a better actress. She will not be the same person after this show when she returns to us. I mean this in a very positive way. Her experience, technique and personality will surely level up and will surprise us all.”

For Aicelle, singing Kim means a lot. “It is the next best stage for new learnings, new friendship and an unforgettable first in musical theater. For now, there is no turning back. I'm at a point in my life where I'd jump at any opportunity that comes. I'm 33. Himala I think is a role of a lifetime. There's no way to go but face it head on, treat every show as your last and give it your all every time. With Gigi, I'll do the same! I'll do whatever the role requires me to do.”

Aicelle Santos as Elsa in Himala The Musical. She felt sad when run of the musical finally ended after weeks of standing ovations.
Nora Aunor with cast of Himala The Musical. The original Elsa complemented the singing Elsa of Aicelle Santos.
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