International singer-theater actress Joanna Ampil is a product of stage rehearsals.
As the tragic Kim in Cameron McKintosh’s production of Miss Saigon, the then 17-year-old Joanna went through rehearsal upon rehearsal to get her every move just right, night after night after night.
Her international directors made her go through the same motions in landmark productions like Cats, Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Hair, among others. This made her artistic journey a series of quests for ways to improve, to perfect every move through the magic of rehearsals, which taught her the age-old adage that practice makes perfect.
So when she returned to the Philippines for good a few years back and guested on ASAP to promote Westside Story, Joanna was not ready to get the surprise of her life. She was asked to perform her number on the spot, sans the rehearsals that’s become second nature to her.
“Nag-adjust ako nang kaunti. Nakaka-amaze! It became a challenge,” recalls Joanna, with her silver-lining-behind-ever-cloud outlook.
Neither does Joanna complain about how short a show’s run in the theater here is compared to the months of rehearsals she put in it. She just cheerfully adjusts her view of how things go.
“It makes the show more special, and you leave on a high note,” she beams.
Of course, she longs for a repeat and a re-run of say, Bridges of Madison County, so she can squeeze all that creative juice flowing from her. But if she can’t, because the show runs only up to a certain point, this veteran of long-running productions won’t mind.
She’ll just be happy thinking she did her job well.
Besides, Joanna has no time to feel bad. She’s too busy preparing for upcoming shows.
PLAYING INANG BAYAN IN REBEL. One of the biggest on her list is Ballet Manila's Rebel, where Joanna is the singing voice of prima ballerina Lisa Macuja’s spirit-like character Inang Bayan.
Joanna turned down a couple of offers to focus on the pivotal role inspired by events by the 1986 EDSA revolution.
She was only 11 years old when the EDSA People Power Revolution threw the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship out of the country. But that was enough to make Joanna realize how important the EDSA revolution story is to Filipinos, especially today’s youth, many whom were not yet born in 1986.
The show’s dancers, for instance, were not yet around when the EDSA revolution broke out.
“They can take away something from it. They’ll be touched by it. It represents our country. I know that at the end of the day, it’s a story of love for country,” says Joanna.
To her, being garbed in the familiar colors of the Philippine flag on stage is more than just wearing something you see in a place of honor on government buildings here and abroad. It means having the chance to share something important to Generation Next.
“It’s great to educate the youth with regards to our history,” Joanna points out.
So expect her to pour her heart and soul into People Power songs in the show’s repertoire like “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo,” “Magkaisa” and others.
Ask her if she feels pressured to measure up to expectations, and Joanna’s answer is no. She concedes that the prospect of the Aquino sisters watching her perform in this show on the 30th anniversary of the EDSA revolution can exert a little pressure on her. But she’s not letting it bother her.
“You try to eliminate that. I just wanna go out there and portray the role. Hopefully, people will like my portrayal.”
Through the years, people who matter have proven how much they like Joanna’s work.
Cameron Mackintosh asked her to play Kim in the Australian premiere of Miss Saigon. Macuja saw her in Bridges of Madison County and knew Joanna, and no one else, had to be Inang Bayan’s singing voice.
Joanna is flattered while downplaying the reason why Macuja handpicked her for the role.
“Siguro, nakita ni Lisa na pwede ako maging ina [she played a mom in Miss Saigon and Bridges of Madison County].”
She was joking, of course.
Seriously speaking, Joanna won’t pass up this chance to work with Macuja for the first time.
“I know she’s one of our legends,” Joanna explains.
LOST IN THE ROLE. There’s something else Joanna doesn’t want to miss: the chance to do commercial movies and teleseryes for the first time. If it means shedding her AB image, and being called “masa,” so be it. All Joanna wants is to explore every highway and byway of her career as performing artist..
“I don’t want to be pigeon-holed,” she asserts. “I wanna do different things. I told my agent (she has one in New York; Girlie Rodis represents her in the Philippines) to put me up for commercial movies. I’m very open.”
This openness also means getting so lost in her role, she actually lets it dictate her moods. Joanna admits she felt so miserable playing hard-to-please Candida in the film version of Larawan, she wanted to give up twice.
Larawan is the title of the movie musical adaptation of Nick Joaquin's A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino.
She’d “cry my eyes out, bring the role home with me.”
But Girlie reminded Joanna all about her goals as an artist, and she held on. Joanna is glad she did. Rehearsals over, Joanna found the next process—filming—a breeze.
“Pag nabuo mo na ang character mo, work becomes pleasurable.”
Would she do another movie?
Joanna’s answer is quick and to the point: “Oh my gosh, yes!”
Let’s hope movie producers and TV executives will take a cue from this.
(Rebel goes onstage on February 25, 26, and 27, 8 pm and on February 28, 3 pm at Aliw Theater in Pasay City. Tickets are available through Ticketworld outlets).