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Joanna considers ‘Waitress’ role hardest to play

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Of the 18 shows she’s done, Joanna Ampil said her latest project “Waitress” is the most challenging so far.

Joanna Ampil as Jenna (mb.com.ph)

Joanna Ampil as Jenna

In an interview, she noted how heavy the material is.

“It’s physically, vocally, and emotionally demanding,” she explained, adding that it’s even more so than doing her first lead role Kim in “Miss Saigon.”

The Manila staging of “Waitress” which is based on the beloved film by Adrienne Shelly, features music and lyrics from six-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles (“Love Song,” “Brave”) and a book by Jessie Nelson. The show made history by having Broadway’s first all-female creative team.

The story is about pie maker Jenna (Joanna) who, despite the mundanity of her life, finds comfort and reckoning in the simple magic of baking. With the help of her two friends Dawn (Maronne Cruz) and Becky (Bituin Escalante), she dreams of a way out of her loveless marriage and musters the courage to change her life for the better.

According to Joanna, she’s always on the stage in “Waitress.”

“Wherein as Kim, I had some time off,” she compared. “But I was telling someone, with a lot of people in the cast, that it’s such a huge undertaking for me.”

Anyway, despite that, Joanna is excited.

“I’m happy that this came after ‘Cats,’ where my fitness level is still up there. But yeah, it’s quite physical and it’s very fast. Some of the movements are fast too.”

Recall that Jenna will be Joanna’s first role back in the local theatre scene after her stint as Grizabella in the international tour of “Cats.”

Asked to choose her favorite theater play among the shows she had done, she said it will be hard “because you always have to fall in love with each character you play.”

How would she compare the Pinoy with foreign audiences?

“This is gonna be very honest. I’d say that there’s more pressure when you’re performing for the Filipino audiences because we’re so talented. People are so talented and they know the sound they want to hear and we’re such a good mimics here. I mean they usually try to look for that particular sound they heard somewhere,” she shared.

However, Joanna sees it as advantage.

“Because they (crowd) are perfectionist, so you tend to perform better and try to strive harder – that you cannot have any mistakes or there’s no room for mistake at all – because Filipinos can become quite critical. Which is not such a bad thing, it’s just that they have such high standards.”

On preparing for the role, she said she based everything on the book and the film, as well as the soundtrack.
How about the Broadway version?

“I didn’t get to see it and I regret it so much. But I hope I could watch it someday.”

The ‘Waitress” continues to perform for sold-out audiences on Broadway and across the USA. It is also set to debut at London’s West End in 2019 and in Australia in 2020.

Though there would be a lot of staging in different countries, Joanna promises the Manila version is a completely different production.

“It’s a fresh take on the show,” she related. “I know people would always compare but you have to do your own thing and interpret it on your own way.”

Anyway, despite all that, she noted it is really challenging for any singer.

“The rhythm and tempos are different from what I’ve done in the past,” she said. “There’s a song called ‘Bad Idea’ which is almost syncopated. That’s tough to learn. Even our vocal coach was telling me it’s really hard, he was just reading the notes and he said it’s quite difficult.”

According to her, almost every songs of Jenna are all “huge” and “belting,” particularly the tracks of “What Baking Can Do,” “Bad Idea,” and “Opening Up.”

Asked what would be the highlight of the show that audiences should watch out for?

“There are so many good moments. Each number, it brings something special so I can’t really choose one,” she divulged.

Anyway, she’s grateful that British actor and singer Simon Bowman was able to catch their rehearsal.

“He was so impressed after the run. He was like ‘I got to tell you…’ like he has to say something. He felt the needs to say something. He was amazed by what he saw, by the talents that we have here, and the standard that we have,” she revealed.

Anyway, making its international premiere with a sparkling new production, “Waitress” opens in Manila on Nov. 9 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati City.

It also features Bibo Reyes, Niño Alejandro, George Schulze, Dean Rosen, Steven Conde, Luigi Quesada, Gerhard Krysstopher, Luis Marcelo, Emeline Celis Guinid, Teetin Villanueva, Sarah Facuri, and Jillian Ita-as.
“Waitress” is directed by Bobby Garcia, who personally handpicked Joanna for the role.

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