And yet when Joanna Ampil stepped out of her pad in Libis one January morning to head to McDonald's, nobody recognized her or gave her so much as a second look.
Sad, though perhaps quite understandable. Joanna left the Philippines 16 years ago to join Miss Saigon in London, and opted to stay there when other big opportunities came her way. The then-17-year-old newbie actress who took over from Jamie Rivera as Kim in the Boublil-Schonberg musical would eventually play Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, Eponine in Les Miserables, Shiela Franklin in Hair, Mimi in a European touring production of Rent, and a number of other roles in smaller musicals. Like Lea Salonga, she has graduated from playing Eponine and is now performing Fantine in Les Miz-London.
Reviews of her performances have ranged from admiring to ecstatic. "A major West End performer with stunning vocals," pronounced Mark Duffy of The Association of Irish Musicals Society. "A gorgeous velvety voice," piped in Philip Fisher of The British Theater Guide. There's also, among others, "A great supporting performance as Fantine" (The Times of London), "An absolutely perfect Mimi" (Andreas Haider, Muzikalcentrale), and "A stand-out turn" in Hair (The Stage). (More reviews here.)
Joanna's recent Christmas/New Year break in Manila gave me the opportunity to do a brief but very insightful video interview with her. She's just launched a CD of showtunes from the musicals she's done as well as a few other favorites, and the album is, first and foremost, a fine showcase of her vocal range. ("Think of Me" from Phantom of the Opera one moment, "Out Tonight" from Rent the next!)
The CD, unfortunately, is not available in Manila, but I got Joanna's permission to share with readers a few tracks in this blog. I'll do that in a follow-up post. In the meantime, do watch the interview and rediscover (or discover, as the case may be) one of the brightest musical-theater lights in the West End today, who happens to be a sweet, lovely, refreshingly unaffected Pinay.
PLUS: Joanna performing "Last Night of the World" with Simon Bowman on Dutch TV here. A video of her recording "Neverland" for her album here. Her website here, containing reviews, audio samples, pictures, a complete bio and contact details.