The show is on for Cebuana actress and singer E.G. Arganza as she takes the role of Dreamland’s star, Gigi Van Tranh, in the latest production of “Miss Saigon” in Guam. Having been onstage since she was 6 years old, she’s no stranger to stage lights and big crowds—as well as the role of Gigi and the globally acclaimed play itself.
Back in 2018, she already played the iconic “Miss Saigon” character during Broadway Youth Cebu’s production of its school edition. There, she was able to work with Jojo Urquico, the director of “Miss Saigon” in Guam, who visited Cebu to help out with the play.
“A few months after that production, Sir Jojo gave me the chance to fly out and be a part of the World Theater Production’s “Rent” musical in Guam as Mimi, alongside veteran Filipina musical theater actress Ima Castro,” shared Arganza. This was a beautiful foreshadowing, as Castro actually led “Miss Saigon” as Kim in its past Asian and UK productions.
A year after working on the same stage in Guam, both actresses reprised their roles for “Rent” in Dumaguete City. “Sadly, the pandemic hit while we were having our rehearsals, and the show almost never made it. Fortunately, “Rent” Dumaguete was allowed only one show with very strict restrictions for the cast and crew, and with only a very limited audience. Afterwhich, we were all sent home immediately right after the show and then the lockdown happened,” said Arganza.
[A] very important thing I’ve learned is that you don’t really know when an opportunity comes, so you should always be prepared despite some uncontrollable circumstances.
As the theater industry slowed over those past two years, she found herself stuck in a major career slump. “No gigs, no shows, no performances. I felt like a fish out of the water as performing has been my life and my great love,” said Arganza, who battled depression and admitted to feeling so hopeless from the situation.
Aside from the forced break in acting that she had taken, Arganza also had to face several obstacles in her life during that period: their family business closing down, her mother needing an operation for three broken bones due to an accident that left her bedridden for a while, her father not working at all, and her stopping school.
“It was all darkness around me,” she said. But through this darkness came the production of “Miss Saigon” in Guam as her light.
Destined to be Gigi
Arganza recounted how she originally let the auditions for “Miss Saigon” in Guam pass in March, despite really wanting to join its cast. “I know my voice was already rusty, having not sung for two years,” she said, noting that working as an online language coach on a graveyard shift took a toll on her voice. Arganza also mentioned her weight gain as a factor that held her back, and as months passed, she thought that she had really lost her chance.
However, being part of Guam’s “Miss Saigon” production seemed like God’s plan for the theater actress. “Out of nowhere, I got a call one afternoon which I consider to be a miracle. It was no other than the director of “Miss Saigon,” Sir Jojo, on the other line, asking me why I never auditioned And that’s how I ended up here,” said Arganza.
She also recalled being at home in Liloan, Cebu when Urquico called to announce her success in bagging the role. “After the call, my mother claimed it was an answered prayer.”
As Gigi Van Tranh, Arganza plays Dreamland’s top showgirl prior to the arrival of Kim. She is also hailed as the “Miss Saigon” on Kim’s first night in the bar, and like the other girls, she dreamed of escaping the war in Vietnam through their American soldier patrons or GIs.
“My favorite aspect of the role is that she has been hustling for years, still dreaming to get out of her situation and go to a better place every time she meets a GI. But reality hits hard [and shows] that sometimes, dreams are only just dreams unless it’s meant for you,” said Arganza.
With the opportunity given to her, the theater actress made sure to give her all while gearing up for the production—which holds its opening night on September 2.
“Preparing for my role as Gigi has never been easy. Firstly, I have to lose so much weight in a very limited time as I need to wear bikinis onstage,” said Arganza. To achieve this, she went through an extreme diet with only eggs or fruits and green tea, as well as working out avidly despite having just a few hours of sleep.
She also underwent vocal training to prepare her voice for the challenging songs of “Miss Saigon,” especially “The Movie in my Mind” which she performs with Kim and the other bargirls.
“It’s truly a combination of sacrifice, hard work, and determination. It wasn’t easy, to be honest, but it’s all worth it,” said Arganza. “Thankfully, God has sent so many people to help me in my preparations. Without the support of my mentors, prayer warriors, friends and family, I wouldn’t be able to make it here now.”
Being Filipinos’ and Cebu’s pride
Many other Filipinas have also taken the stage as Gigi in international “Miss Saigon” productions, including popular actresses from the local entertainment industry. Among these big names are Isay Alvarez who was part of the Original West End production, Aicelle Santos, and Rachelle Ann Go—whom Arganza named as her inspiration for the role. “Still, I want to make my own version of Gigi,” she said.
There’s a bit of pressure, of course, from having such big shoes to fill—especially since she “didn’t have a long time to prepare” for it. With Gigi singing in the show’s first dramatic number and being a bar hostess, Arganza worked double time to deliver top-notch performances for the audiences in Guam.
“[It’s] an honor for me to be one of the many talented Filipina women to portray the role,” she said.
Aside from landing the iconic role, Arganza also makes her mark as the only Cebuano among the Filipino cast members of “Miss Saigon” in Guam. “I feel so humbled. I know for a fact that there are a lot of Filipino artists, especially Cebuanos out there, who are really good,” she said.
Arganza’s big role in a production as renowned as “Miss Saigon” hopefully serves to empower both the Filipino and Cebuano musical theater communities, as well as inspire more local talents to continue pursuing their dreams.
“The musical theater community in Cebu is evolving but still not as booming as in Manila or other cities in the world. I hope in the near future, we could have more Cebuano talents performing in other countries or bring big productions to Cebu to involve Cebuano talents and to let Cebuano audience experience how wonderful musical theater shows are.”
Moreover, the actress hopes to see more doors opening for herself as a performer. Aside from theater, she also ventured into the music industry with a recently-released single titled “Larawan” and its Cebuano version “Handuraw.” Arganza said that she filmed an accompanying music video for it in London and it “will be out very soon, hopefully after the “Miss Saigon” show.”
Word of advice
Taking valuable lessons from the rollercoaster of experiences that she went through, Arganza imparted a message to everyone who aspires to become part of big productions like “Miss Saigon.”
“[A] very important thing I’ve learned is that you don’t really know when an opportunity comes, so you should always be prepared despite some uncontrollable circumstances. You should never stop pursuing your passion. Even if life is difficult, you should continue on. Practice even when there are no gigs [so that] when opportunity knocks at your door, you are ready to let it come in with open arms.”
Arganza also shared a word of advice from Urquico about how “attitude matters a lot [because] it’s what keeps you in this business.” Given the hard work and determination that she displayed despite the hurdles she faced, the Cebuana theater actress sets a prime example of what attitude everyone must have when pursuing their dreams.
“And lastly, as my mother always says: “tough times never last but tough people do” so never give up on your dreams. Have faith. No matter how bad the situation is, we have a God who can turn things around if you just believe,” she said.