How Kiara Dario bagged Gigi role in 'Miss Saigon' 2
Kiara Dario poses against a 'Miss Saigon' backdrop in Australia. Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario

EXCLUSIVE: How Kiara Dario bagged Gigi role in 'Miss Saigon'

Kiara Dario first auditioned for 'Miss Saigon' during the Manila open call back in 2016, when she was only 18.
Leah C. Salterio | Jan 29 2024

It seems the role of the bar girl Gigi in “Miss Saigon” was really meant for young singer-actress Kiara Dario. 

She first auditioned for “Miss Saigon” during the Manila open call back in 2016, when she was only 18.

“Although I didn’t make it past the initial round and was even cut during my song, that experience changed my life,” Dario honestly told ANCX. “It was then that I realized that theater was my life’s joy.”

Fast forward to October 2023, when Dario was surprised to receive a call from GMG Productions asking her to submit a video audition specifically for the role of Gigi.

“I was among a handful of girls from Manila who submitted a video,” Dario revealed. “In early November last year, I was the only one who was asked to fly to Melbourne for an in person call back.”

Dario’s Australia trip was undoubtedly whirlwind for her. “With a tight time frame, I just had a few days to secure my visa and hop on a plane to catch the creative team,” Dario said. “We planned a Zoom audition for contingency.

“But as fate would have it, my visa was approved just as I entered the meeting. The producers asked, ‘Can we get you on a plane tonight?’ Within a few hours, I found myself on a 10-hour flight to another continent, to another country I’ve never even visited before, fortunate to have secured a last-minute seat.”

Kiara Dario on her way to Australia to audition for 'Miss Saigon.' Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario
Kiara Dario on her way to Australia to audition for 'Miss Saigon.' Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario

Dario arrived in Melbourne and that night, she was readily thrown into the theater to watch the ongoing “Miss Saigon” production at Her Majesty’s Theater.

“The next morning was my audition and immediately after which, the creative team had to catch their fights back to their home bases,” she recalled. “I kept on thinking, what a buzzer-beater that audition was. If something had gone a little wrong, I wouldn’t have made it.”

As she returned to Manila by her lonesome, Dario felt an “overwhelming” sense of gratitude that brought her to tears.

“I felt this crazy connection to my destiny,” she admitted. “As if all the forces of the universe were conspiring to get me in that [Melbourne] room. It was an inexplicable feeling that there was a plan for my life, whether or not I would get the part.

“My gut told me this was a pivotal moment, a sneak peek into something special about to unfold in my life.”

Kiara Dario during the audition for 'Miss Saigon.' Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario
Kiara Dario during the audition for 'Miss Saigon.' Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario

Apparently, it was just a matter of time for Dario to receive that biggest break in her theater acting career. 

“When I received the call offering me the role of Gigi for the international tour of ‘Miss Saigon,’ it felt like a surreal moment that left me in shock,” admitted Dario. 

“I remember the day vividly. I had to rush to a gig on a motorcycle taxi right after the call. I was so overwhelmed that I sent the video to my family, capturing the raw emotion of the moment, with tears streaming down my face while riding.

“I was on this motorcycle, listening to atmospheric music, tears streaming down my face and all I can think of was, ‘Is this real life or some crazy dream?’ It felt like a profound, existential moment with the buildings passing by as I try to absorb the huge news.

“My next thought was my grandmother who passed away a few months ago. She was the one who introduced me to ‘Miss Saigon’ and got me hooked into theater when I was still a kid. I couldn’t help but think how proud she’d be of me at that moment.”

The official announcement that Dario snagged the role of Gigi was another “amazing” moment for her. The ripple didn’t seem to stop when the news came out about the latest feather on her cap.

“The notifications on my phone were going crazy, so I had to shut it off to focus during rehearsals,” Dario recalled. “The excitement, the joy, it was like déjà vu of that first moment when I got the news. It was an exhilarating sensation.

“As I headed home, the flood of congratulatory messages was overwhelming, spanning thousand from friends and even strangers. My friends joked that they couldn’t go online without seeing my face as the news took over their feeds.

“The attention from news articles added another layer to the surreal experience. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it.”

To date, Dario has yet to get used to her international break. “My socially shy self is still adjusting to the newfound attention,” she said. “The outpouring of support from everyone back home has been incredible.

“The sweet messages I’ve received fill me with so much joy and gratitude words can’t even express. It pushes me to do justice to the [Gigi] role and deliver a performance that lives up to the love and support I’ve been fortunate to receive.”

Kiara Dario with other cast members of 'Miss Saigon.' Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario
Kiara Dario with other cast members of 'Miss Saigon.' Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario

Not surprisingly, the first role Dario aspired for in “Miss Saigon” was Kim. “I’ve been a long-time fan of ‘Miss Saigon’ since I was a kid, making me quite familiar with Gigi,” she asserted.

“Growing up, however, I always dreamed of being Kim and that was who I auditioned for in 2016. Who knew that after getting cut in the first round of auditions in 2016, I would be asked to audition for Gigi seven years later?

“I was initially very surprised at the invite as I knew Gigi to be a mature, sexy and confident woman,” added Dario. “And I always thought of myself as quite childish. The typecast I gave myself was always ingenue-type or cutesy [like my last role in ‘Snow White and the Prince’].

“So I sent in an audition tape even if never in a million years did I think I would get it. It just goes to show that you never know what will happen if you just try.”

After rehearsing for “Miss Saigon” for nearly a month in Melbourne, Dario has apparently gotten more familiar with her Gigi character.

“Now that I’ve been getting to know Gigi a lot more, she has easily become one of my favorite characters in all of musical theater,” Dario stressed. “Despite not having the most stage time, there’s so much depth to discover in her.

“There’s so much complexity through her relationships – with John, The Engineer and Kim – which are so exciting to explore. Beneath Gigi’s tough exterior, she’s got an immense heart, her vulnerability making her the compelling character that she is. She’s fierce, fiery and is the powerful example of survival.”

“Bringing my own Gigi to life has been a challenging and rewarding experience,” according to Dario. “It’s like peeling back layers to reveal this immense depth and complexity in each moment she’s onstage. 

“It definitely adds another layer of pressure knowing how beloved the ‘Miss Saigon’ alumni are, especially because I’ve always admired iconic Filipina Gigis like Isay Alvarez, Rachelle Ann Go and Aicelle Santos. It’s a challenge and blessing that I am so eager to take on.”

Kiara Dario on her way to rehearsals. Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario
Kiara Dario on her way to rehearsals. Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario

Early this January, Dario started her 2024 work early by flying to Adelaide, Australia for her “Miss Saigon” rehearsals.

“My first time participating in an international show, living independently and in an entirely different continent,” she said. “The adjustment has been significant especially with the tight timelines leading up to the transition this February for the new Asian cast.

“It has been great bonding with my fellow newbies for the Asian tour which has now become a cute, little family. Navigating through this intense period of rehearsals, I’ve been pushing myself to keep pace with everyone. Thanks to the support from the company and the cast. My first international living experience feels more like home.”

Dario shared their “Miss Saigon” rehearsals have been rigorous and intense on days.

“They have been a whirlwind of scene work, character studies, choreography and music rehearsals,” she said. “To deepen our understanding of the narrative, we also watched a couple of documentaries on the Vietnam War, giving us the important context for us to authentically tell the story onstage.

“Being a show with quite a lot of intimate scenes, one of the most interesting parts of rehearsal process was intimacy coordination. Having a dedicated intimacy coordinator ensures everyone feels comfortable, safe and all interactions are consensual, especially in sensitive scenes.

“This is something that I have never experienced in my decade of being an actor in the Philippines, so it was a very good learning experience for me,” Dario said.

“I am also incredibly grateful for the solo sessions with the members of the creative team. It’s a great opportunity to shape my portrayal of this beloved role under the guidance of such experienced theater artists.

“I really appreciate the creative freedom the directors give the cast, as they always emphasize the importance of making each character uniquely ours.

“Now, slowly but surely, we are building my Gigi built on a deep understanding of the text, while remaining true to my body and voice.”

Kiara Dario with Abigail Adriano and Seann Miley Moore. Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario
Kiara Dario with Abigail Adriano and Seann Miley Moore. Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario

Dario has been rehearsing with the other cast members – Abigail Adriano as Kim, Seann Miley Moore as The Engineer and Laurence Mossman as Thuy.

The night before her audition last November, Dario was able to meet Adriano and Moore for the first time in Melbourne when she went to watch “Miss Saigon.”

“At that point, both of them had no idea I was auditioning for the show,” she shared. “Abigail and Seann were so excited to meet another Filipinos that night. They even followed me on Instagram.

“It was amusing because upon seeing my Instagram profile, Abigail exclaimed, ‘Oh my God! You’d make the perfect Kim!’ I laughed ang Abigail asked why was I laughing. Then she suggested, ‘There’s an audition tomorrow. Maybe you can join.’

“To her surprise, I responded, ‘That’s why I’m here for Gigi.’ Her excitement was palpable. Abigail said, ‘I just know you are going to make it.’ It was a moment of pure positivity even though she hadn’t seen me perform yet. She just ‘had a feeling.’”

Mossman, meanwhile, has been Manila-based for some time now. “So even if I don’t have many scenes yet, we became fast friends,” Dario said. “It’s great to bond over our mutual friends and experiences.

“There are around 10 of us in the cast who are Filipino, so it’s very exciting to start the international tour in Manila. Everyone’s aching to meet the Filipino fans.”

Dario doesn’t have much time to meet the other cast members, like Nigel Huckle as Chris, Sarah Morrison as Ellen and Lewis Francis as John.

“Sarah and I are on the same boat, being the new additions to the principal cast for the Asian tour,” said Dario. “So we’ve been talking online even before we flew to Adelaide. We’ve been spending a lot of rehearsal time together and it’s always a hoot.”

In this version of “Miss Saigon,” Gigi’s character gets explored more, as well as her relationship with John.

“I was initially really nervous going into it as I have a big fear of intimacy as an actor,” Dario admitted. “The stage business in Dreamland can get pretty suggestive. But Lewis was so incredibly supportive as a scene partner and made me feel comfortable even if we had just met.

“I message Lewis sometimes to talk about our characters and he’s been very patient in helping me get into the role and crafting our own Gigi-John dynamic.”

Kiara Dario and her parents take a photo with Cameron Mackintosh in 2016. Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario
Kiara Dario and her parents take a photo with Cameron Mackintosh in 2016. Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario

Having done theater musicals the past decade, Dario’s favorite is “Les Miserables,” which interestingly, shares the same production lineage as “Miss Saigon.”

“Both musicals were crafted by the trio of producer Cameron Mackintosh, writer and composer Claude Michel-Schonberg and Alain Boublil,” Dario said. “It’s surreal to think that I am now working in a musical created by my childhood heroes.

“’Les Miserales’ was a musical I had memorized as a child, so witnessing it onstage for the first time was a profoundly moving experience that further solidified my love for theater.”

Dario had the chance to watch “Les Miserables” onstage in Manila in 2016. “Funnily enough, it was on the same day as my first audition for ‘Miss Saigon’,” she recalled. “It’s a story that has come full circle. 

Nigel Huckle, who now plays Chris, was Enjolras in ‘Les Miz.’ I even attended the gala night, snagging a picture with Kerri Anne Greenland, who played Eponine, my dream role. She’s now about to end her run as Ellen in the Australian tour of ‘Miss Saigon.’

“During the same event, I also managed to get a photo with Cameron Mackintosh, a giant in the [theater] industry and the producer of ‘Miss Saigon.’ Additionally, I secured a picture with the iconic Gigi from Broadway and the West End, Rachelle Ann Go, who was playing Fantine at that time.”

Kiara Dario with Rachelle Ann Go in 2016. Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario
Kiara Dario with Rachelle Ann Go in 2016. Photo courtesy of Kiara Dario

After “Miss Saigon” wraps up its run at The Theater at Solaire in May, Dario has a long list of roles she would have loved to play in the future.

There’s Dawn in “Waitress,” Anna in “Frozen,” Eliza in “Hamilton,” Nina in “In the Heights,” Roxie in “Chicago,” Diana in “A Chorus Line,” Cathy in “The Last Five Years,” Cinderella in “Into the Woods,” Cady/Karen in “Mean Girls”;

Rosemary in “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” Kate in “Avenue Q,” Katherine Howard in “Six,” Veronica in “Heathers,” Mimi in “RENT,” Amneris in “Aida,” the title role in “Anastasia.” The list goes on.

“But as my ‘Miss Saigon’ journey proved, there’s no way to know what my theater journey has in store. So, I’m just enjoying where it’ll take me.”