Thursday, June 27, 2013

BWW Interviews: MiG Ayesa, On The Road Between WE WILL ROCK YOU And ROCK OF AGES Again

MiG Ayesa at Jeepney, Filipino Gastropub;
photo by Rex Romero

By Oliver Oliveros, BroadwayWorld.com 

"Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen until now are very hands-on. They're very instrumental in putting on 'We Will Rock You' [WWRY, a jukebox musical featuring the immortal songs of the rock band Queen]. They like quality control. They want to make sure that they're happy with the presentation of their music onstage. WWRY is their baby." - MiG Ayesa

New York, June 27, 2013--Prior to MiG Ayesa's, "Rock Star: INXS" finalist, Broadway and London's West End actor, reprising his lead role as the Bohemian rebel Galileo Figaro in the first leg of the 10th anniversary world arena tour of "We Will Rock You" (WWRY), and Ayesa's revisiting the delicious role of Stacee Jaxx in Atlantis Productions' (Manila) restaging of "Rock of Ages" (ROA) next month, BroadwayWorld.com had a laid back, sumptuous lunch with the continually traveling actor at Jeepney, a Filipino gastropub, on First Avenue that passes through the East Village.

While being served a round of Jeepney's "Subic Bay" drink--a concoction of mango, sili, grenadine and club soda--we were caught off guard to start the conversation on a rather personal note. We just found out that Ayesa has been literally hitting the road for personal reasons. "I'm a single man now. Unfortunately, my wife and I separated a year ago. We were married for 10 years," he admitted.

"We're very amicable. We're very good friends. But it's time to move on. I'm very blessed to be able to focus on my work--it's been a very great distraction. I'm based in New York for five years now. I feel that New York is where I need to be. But right now, being on the road is perfect. I'm looking forward to doing WWRY and ROA again," he said.

Born in the Philippines, but raised in Australia, Ayesa packed his bags and flew to London eleven years ago to pursue his first love: songwriting. However, the theater bug, which first bit him when he saw a performance of "West Side Story" in Australia, and a performance of "The Sound of Music," featuring a young Lea Salonga, playing Brigitta, in Manila way back in the 1980s, had instead lured him to play a part in "Rent"--not Roger Davis or Mark Cohen, but Angel Dumott Schunard, a transvestite with AIDS.

MiG Ayesa at Jeepney Gastropub;
photo by Rex Romero
"When I landed in London, I needed to earn some money. I got an agent, and 'Rent' came along the way for a limited season. I was going for the part of Roger or Mark. But the casting agents said, 'You know what, can you read for the part of Angel?

"But the funny thing, on the second last week of 'Rent,' Brian May of Queen, with Mike Dixon, WWRY's musical supervisor, saw 'Rent' that evening and came to me and said, 'You're auditioning for WWRY, aren't you?' I said, 'Yeah. Let's see what's out there.'"

WWRY, which opened a year earlier at the West End's Dominion Theatre, originally starred Tony Vincent (Galileo), who recently competed in NBC's reality TV competition "The Voice."

Ayesa initially joined the cast to understudy Vincent's role and Nigel Planer's Pop, an elderly librarian--the oldest character in the play, for six months.

"But during the second week of my contract, Planer had a slipped disc. So I was Pop for months and months and months. I was alternating between playing Pop and Galileo. So I had to age myself and get young again the next day then age myself the next night. I was kind of schizophrenic for a while," he recalled. "I did WWRY in London for two years--until I had to do "Rockstar: INXS" [CBS's reality TV competition] in Los Angeles."

However, his seemingly unending reprises playing Galileo--similar to Stacee Jaxx--continue after "Rockstar: INXS." Ayesa joined WWRY's first world tour, which travelled to New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand, in 2007.

In the show's 10th anniversary world arena tour, whose first leg of performances was held in humongous arenas, fit for a big rock concert, across Europe--Finland, Scandinavia, Denmark, Amsterdam, Bulgaria, Prague, Czech Republic, Istanbul, Turkey, Croatia, Ireland, and the UK--from last February to this month, Ayesa once again plays the young protagonist.

"I was there in London last year for the show's 10th anniversary performance. I saw Ben Elton, the show's book writer. I saw Brian. Oliver Tompsett was playing Galileo. Rachael Wooding, the girl playing Scaramouche [Galileo's love interest], was phenomenal.

MiG Ayesa at Jeepney Gastropub; photo by Rex Romero
"Ben said to me, 'You haven't aged. That was years ago, and you should be old. Basically, you're not yet. Would you be interested doing Galileo again?

"I said, 'I would love to.' True enough, a couple of weeks later, I got a call from the casting directors.

"Brian [whom Ayesa considers as his greatest inspiration--a quintessential ultimate rock star--that he could possibly ask for] and Roger Taylor of Queen until now are very hands-on. They're very instrumental in putting on WWRY. They like quality control. They want to make sure that they're happy with the presentation of their music onstage. WWRY is their baby."

WWRY, which plans to tour the United States this year, possibly a stop on Broadway, is set in the future, where independent, free-thinking music is not allowed--it is illegal. Everyone listens to the same type of music, and buys only corporate-sanctioned music. Galileo, together with his friends, wants everyone to know that it is OK to be different and to express your individuality.

It dawned on Ayesa, "'I personally think that WWRY would be great here. They [producers] haven't realized how popular Queen is here in the States. I was speaking to Brian recently, and I asked him, 'Why is the show not coming to New York yet?' And he said, 'I don't think we're as popular in the States as we're in Europe.' And then the next day, I was in Ariba Ariba--the Mexican restaurant on Ninth Avenue--there was a DJ playing music there. Next thing you know he was playing 'We Will Rock You.' People were dancing, dancing up on the chairs and cheering, 'We will, we will rock you!' I called Brian, and told him, 'Brian, I just want to let you know that I'm in a Mexican restaurant in New York, and you have to listen to what's going on right now. There was just chaos.'"

He added, "However, I think maybe Ben would need to rewrite it for the American audiences. Ben likes to change things depending on where it's playing. I think WWRY would do very well here."

Would Ayesa be playing Galileo when the show toured the United States? We are not sure of that just yet. 

In the meantime, he is back in Manila to reprise Stacee Jaxx, which he also played on Broadway, for a limited repeat performance of Atlantis Productions' take on ROA at Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium from Friday, July 12 to Sunday, July 28.

"I'm so impressed with Atlantis Productions. There's a rebirth in theater interest in the Philippines. People are actually realizing how great it is to go to the theater. In a big way, Atlantis has been a part of this revolution. The theater company brought all these shows that were new on Broadway like "In the Heights," "Aladdin," ROA, "God of Carnage," and "Nine"--all those things that were big hits here also opened in the Philippines.

"When I started rehearsals for ROA, I was totally blown away by the cast. The Philippines has such pool of talents to draw from. I don't think the country will ever get short of talent there. I'm really excited about that," he said.

However, between Galileo and Stacee Jaxx, Ayesa, can relate more to the young Bohemian hero.

"Galileo, the character, and I grew up in a time where I found myself wanting to be understood. A lot of times, I fought to get my act or art expressed--trying to become an artist. And trying to be a recording artist is something really hard for me--to get people to notice what I do," he admitted.

He continued, "People tell you to be so many things: 'Oh, we're looking for a new Ricky Martin, can you do that kind of stuff?' Or, 'We're looking for a boy group.' I don't want to be the second Ricky Martin. I want to be the first MiG. That's something that I always thought about. Galileo is very much like that, 'I don't want to be anybody else. I want to be me.'"

Ayesa, on the other hand, thinks that Tom Cruise, in last year's movie incarnation of ROA, is the perfect Stacee Jaxx, a decadent rock star of the 1980s. "I thought he captured Stacee Jaxx in a beautiful way. He was the kind of guy who took an acid trip once and never came back. I saw in his eyes that he played the role so truthfully--his eyes were vacant. You looked into his eyes, and he wasn't really there--I mean this guy is spaced-out. And I loved that element," he said.

At that point we wrapped up our small talk with Ayesa.

Over a round of drinks, we finished Jeepney's popular Kapampangan suman--head-on king prawn, glutinous rice and manteca in banana leaf with green mango relish, pork fluff and crispy dilis--neatly served at the table.

Photos: Rex Romero | Location: Jeepney, Filipino Gastropub | Special thanks to: Nicole Ponseca