In December, the premiere of the world famous musical Miss Saigon took place in the cultural capital of Russia, St. Petersburg. One of the main roles was played by our fellow countrymen Rasul Usmanov.
Miss Saigon is one of the most poignant works of its genre. The musical by composer Claude-Michel Schoenberg and librettist Alain Bublil has not left the world for several decades since its premiere at the Drury Lane Theater in London in 1989.
For the first time in Russia, “Miss Saigon” was seen in December last year on the stage of the St. Petersburg State Theater of Musical Comedy. One of the main roles went to the Kazakh actor and singer Rasul Usmanov.
In an interview with DimashNews, Rasul spoke about the preparation of the long-awaited performance.
– Rasul, congratulations on the premiere! How did you manage to get into one of the main musical theaters in Russia?
– It all started when Olzhas Ibraev, at that time the administrator of the Astana Musical Theater, sent an announcement about the casting to the chat of our theater group. The St. Petersburg State Theater of Musical Comedy was looking for a performer for the play “Miss Saigon”.
I sent in my portfolio with photos and videos to the organizers, and a week later I have received an answer that they liked everything very much. After that, they sent the notes of the Aria from the musical itself and asked me to perform. Having quickly disassembled and rehearsed it with our accompanist Dana Muldagali, I sent in a video. And now, after another week, I was invited to the main casting in St. Petersburg.
– How exciting was it?
– Very exciting, no words can convey. When I arrived in St. Petersburg, besides me, there were 6 more applicants for the role. We all sang one after the other. And when my turn came, it seemed to me that the director really liked it. He came out on the stage and started working with me while assessing my acting skills.
The Miss Saigon franchise belongs to MTI (Music Theater International): Europe, so they had the final say. The answer came only two months later, when I was already in Kazakhstan. I got a call from St. Petersburg and they congratulated me on my approval for the role.
I was very happy because this is my first experience in an international musical. The feelings that I experienced upon hearing the news are truly unforgettable.
– You play one of the main characters in the musical – a tough Vietnamese officer named Tui, who is the betrothed of the main character Kim. Did you manage to fully experience your character? Is he in any way similar to you?
– “Miss Saigon” is a heartbreaking show about the war between the United States and Vietnam. Thuy, my character, is the commander in chief, the general of the Vietnamese troops. I really like this role, because in it you can demonstrate the full range of possibilities, both acting and vocal.
At the beginning of the play, Thuy is still a very young youth, and after a few scenes he returns to the audience as a stern general.
His voice, his gait, his gaze change – and with each appearance on the stage you become a completely different person.
I like this character, his life principles and values. I think he and I are really similar in some way.
– How did you work with the director of the musical Cornelius Baltus?
– Cornelius is a very talented filmmaker from Holland who deserves sincere admiration. He is a two-time winner of the “Golden Mask”, the most prestigious theater award not only in Russia, but throughout the CIS. It is very comfortable to work with him and his team.
Cornelius Baltus understands absolutely everything you want to tell him. He listens to the opinion of the actor, asks to be a co-author of his role, always fully supports and helps.
– The first rehearsal of the musical took place in March 2020, but due to the pandemic, the premiere had to be postponed. How did you prepare during the quarantine? When did you manage to resume work?
– Rehearsals were interrupted several times due to the pandemic and the resulting travel bans. Sometimes I had to fly to St. Petersburg for a maximum of a week and immediately fly back to Kazakhstan. Each time, new prohibitions came out, new rules appeared …
However, despite all this, we were very much supported by the chief producer and director of the theater, Yuri Schwarzkopf. He was so passionate about the musical and the story itself that he made great efforts to ensure that the premiere of “Miss Saigon” still took place. And we are all very grateful to him.
– What was the atmosphere during the rehearsals? Were there any interesting points?
– Each rehearsal day was very fruitful and scheduled by the minute. Thanks to the highest professionalism of the production team, the actors got better and better every day.
If we talk about the most interesting moments, the first thing that comes to mind is November 24, 2020. On this day, which became the most important day in my life, my daughter was born. I was in St. Petersburg in the midst of preparing for the performance. Then I shared my happiness with only a couple of colleagues, and we continued the rehearsal. And they, as it turned out, told the whole team about it, but did not show it.
And so, at the end of the rehearsal, the guys bought a cake, set the table and congratulated me with the whole team. Such attention from the troupe was very unexpected and touching, because I knew them only for 2-3 weeks. Therefore, I can say that our team is extremely friendly, attentive and understanding. I am extremely happy to be part of such a wonderful team.
– How often will the musical “Miss Saigon” be shown in St. Petersburg?
– I can’t say for sure, but for now there are plans to play many performances (four to five) per month until the end of 2021, if we are not quarantined again.
We played the premiere itself for only 25% of the audience because of the restrictions. We really hope that the situation with the pandemic will return to normal, and someday we will be able to show “Miss Saigon” to a fully seated hall in order to feel the energy to the maximum from the audience.