The Circle of Life: from Les Miz to Miss Saigon and back again

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By Zsarlene B. Chua

Les Miserables’
Ongoing until April 24
The Theatre at Solaire Entertainment City, Parañaque City

ONE of the men behind the immensely popular sung-through musical, Les Miserables, credits seeing a Lino Brocka film for spurring his decision to come to the Philippines in search of talent.

“I cannot tell you the title of the movie but it was before we prepared to do the world tour to find ‘Kim’ (the female lead role in Miss Saigon),” Claude-Michel Schonberg, musical theater composer, told the press during a media call preceding the Manila premiere of Les Miserables in the Theatre at Solaire Resort and Casino in Parañaque City on March 15.

Mr. Schonberg is best known for creating Les Miserables (1980) and Miss Saigon (1989) alongside Alan Boublil.

Les Miz

Les Miserables is the musical adaptation of the novel with the same name by French novelist and poet Victor Hugo. The novel, first published in 1862, tells of the tale of the struggles and eventual redemption of ex-convict Jean Valjean alongside other characters in France from 1815 and culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris.

He added that he happened to watch a Filipino film while at home and then saw the opening scene with “people around the fire, with guitars singing.”

“They started to sing and I couldn’t believe what [I was hearing]… I took my phone and I said: ‘Cameron (Mackintosh), I saw a Filipino movie. I don’t know who are those people but they are Asian, they sing like Italians or Spanish, and they speak like Americans. We have to check what’s happening,’” he narrated.

While he did not say the title of the film, assumptions point to either Orapronobis (1989), Insiang (1976) or Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (1984), all of which were screened during the Cannes Film Festival.

Mr. Mackintosh, a theater producer known for shows such as Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, among others, then came to the Philippines for the first time in search of an actress who could play Kim in Miss Saigon’s maiden production in 1988. It was during this search that Lea Salonga was discovered and chosen — along with Monique Wilson as her alternate, and a slew of other performers for the other roles in the musical set at the end of the Vietnam War.

Ms. Salonga, after playing Kim on Broadway (and winning a Tony Award in the process) continued on to tackle other coveted roles such as Eponine and Fantine in Les Miz (as the musical is commonly called).

After the curtain call at the Les Miz premiere on March 16, Mr. Schonberg went onstage and said that one of the first songs Ms. Salonga sang for him during auditions was “On My Own” (from Act 2 of Les Miz), remarking that he discovered that Manila was a place where people already loved the musical.

Now, following the heels of Ms. Salonga, Filipina singer Rachelle Ann Go is playing Fantine — the ill-fated factory worker turned prostitute who does all she can to support her daughter.

Ms. Go is no stranger to Schonberg-Boublil musicals, having previously played the disillusioned Gigi Van Tranh during the 2014 West End revival of Miss Saigon, before getting the role of Fantine on 2015 for the 30th anniversary staging of Les Miz in London.

Ms. Go is reprising her role for the current touring production of Les Miz, which is quite different from the London show (which features the original staging).

“Filipinos are so talented in singing so I feel everyone’s a perfectionist… so there’s pressure performing in front of my countrymen. I’m nervous,” Ms. Go said during the media call.

Les Miserables has been staged in 44 countries and translated into 22 languages, and has been seen by more than 70 million people. It has won more than 125 awards from around the world.

The Manila leg features Simon Gleeson as Jean Valjean, Earl Carpenter as Javert, Rachelle Ann Go as Fantine, Helen Walsh as Madame Thenardier, Cameron Blakely as Monsieur Thenardier, Paul Wilkins as Marius, Kerrie Ann Greenland as Eponine, Emily Langridge as Cosette and Chris Durling as Enjolras.

Ticket prices for Les Miz range from P1,750 to P7,000. For detils visit or call 891-9999.