Jennifer Trijo, the star of Cameron Macintosh’s 2007/2008 Australian touring production of Miss Saigon now lives and works in Adelaide. Her weekdays are spent as Coordinator of Music and Performance R-12 at Mercedes College and, at the moment, her nights are spent rehearsing the role of Mimi Marquez for Marie Clark Musical Theatre’s production of RENT opening this week (Wed 31 Aug) at the Goodwood Institute Theatre.
I caught up with Jennifer to chat about being a former ‘Miss Saigon’ and paying her ‘rent’.
B.G. Hi Jennifer. Tell me a little about yourself.
J.T. I have been dancing since I was 9, singing since I was 12, and acting since I was 13. I was raised in an area of Sydney that was very multicultural and my Filipino roots were celebrated. Filipinos love to perform and I spent my childhood as a support act for many major Filipino recording artists who toured Australia for audiences who missed the music of their homeland. I learned the stagecraft of cabaret from the likes of Rikki Organ and spent my teens competing in a series of cabaret/singing competitions which would set me up for a career as an entertainer in show bands like The Family Von Trapp, Smart Alec, Radio Bandits, Leroy, and Montage, which toured the various RSLs and Casinos in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and Northern Territory. I performed in amateur theatre whilst growing up in Sydney and, at 19, my first lead role was Linda Low in a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song. I studied voice and piano, and began writing songs at age 14. I completed a Bachelor of Music/Bachelor of Education at the University of NSW and took many intensive summer classes and workshops at NIDA and Screenwise. I have a catalogue of 50 original songs and I released an EP in 2008, and an album in 2012. Since moving to Adelaide in 2012, I have produced 3 Fringe shows: Keys to a Woman’s Heart, Between the Lines, and In This Silence. In 2013, director Martin Brennan approached me to play the role of Mary Magdalene in the Australian Premiere of The Cross and the Light, created by Kelly Nieto in Michigan, USA. I performed the role until 2014 and shared the stage with local theatre talent such as Andrew Crispe, Dave McGillivray, and Ron Abelita.
B.G. How did playing Kim in a professional production of Miss Saigon come about and how did you find the experience?
J.T. Back in 2006, I was in my third year at university when I received a text from a friend stating that Miss Saigon was casting. I asked them which amateur theatre company got the rights to that. They replied: Cameron Macintosh. After a month and a half of call back auditions and a month of hearing nothing, I thought that it was at least a wonderful workshop with director Laurence Connor, and I was grateful for that experience. Then out of the blue, I received a phone call and screamed for joy in the middle of Central Station as they had offered me the lead role of Kim for the Australian tour. My university granted me a 2-year deferral under special circumstances and in 2007 to 2008, we toured Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, and Perth. I learned so much working with the industry professionals and I will never forget the lessons Laurence taught me about acting, particularly in a role such as Kim. The challenge of playing a dramatically and vocally demanding role in an historical setting of the Vietnam War took my passion for performance to another level. I was then at a crossroads, to complete my studies or continue on to an offer by a New Zealand Production company to continue with Miss Saigon. My heart told me that my vocation was in Music Education and I do not regret the decision.
B.G. Why did you want to be a part of a production of RENT?
J.T. Rent was one of the many soundtracks I had on my dressing room playlist whilst touring in Miss Saigon. I used to belt it out after warm up. I loved Larson’s memorable tunes and I loved Mimi’s character. I remember thinking how much fun it would be to play Mimi who is so carefree and sassy. This show has been on my bucket list for years! More importantly, Jonathan Larson shines a light on the atypical protagonists of musical theatre. There is grit to this production, as there is comedy, romance, and pain. It is a beautiful kaleidoscope of emotions, and controversial social issues finally get to take centre stage. Moreover, the message of the show, “No day but today”, is one of my mantras in life.
B.G Which role do you play in RENT?
J.T. I play the role of Mimi Marquez. She is young and confident and she works as an exotic dancer at the ‘Cat Scratch Club’. She does not have many possessions and she can’t afford to pay her rent. Mimi falls for her neighbour, Roger Davis, a musician. They have a whirlwind romance throughout the show and they discover that they both carry HIV. Mimi’s character is an acting drawcard for me as she exhibits a whole spectrum of emotion in this show. Her songs are memorable and great to belt, and the quieter moments of her track are gut-wrenching. I love the challenge of being able to bring her to life.
B.G. What are your thoughts on the production team, cast and company of Marie Clark Musical Theatre?
J.T. Over the months that we have been rehearsing this production, the creative team and cast have become family. From audition day, Mark Stefanoff (Director), Ben Stefanoff (Musical Director), and Nina Richards (Choreographer) have made me feel so comfortable and empowered. The team at Marie Clark have been very supportive as well. I love working with a passionate group of artistic people who are so approachable, talented and have a great sense of humour. This has been a very pleasant experience for me as a performer and I love expanding my network with like-minded people.
B.G. Why should people go see this show?
J.T. If you enjoy memorable music, 90s pop culture, pushing social boundaries, talented performers, the art of drag at its finest, or you can’t afford to pay your rent and want something to make you feel better about your life, then come and see RENT! In all seriousness, support the Adelaide theatre industry and its talent. We have an amazing cast and creative team, a bohemian set, a fantastic band, and you can get up close and personal in the intimate setting of the Goodwood Institute. We would love to see you there! (Did I mention skin? You will see plenty of skin!)
B.G. Thanks for that, Jennifer. Is there anything else about yourself that you would like to say?
J.T. Since following the music education path of my career, I have found a great balance between teaching and performance. I perform as much as possible when I am not focussed on teaching responsibilities. Also, I have a passion for medium-distance running and I look forward to the City 2 Bay. Finally, I will only be Jennifer Trijo on stage from here on in because I am getting married in September!!!
RENT will be performed at The Goodwood Institute, 166 Goodwood Road, Goodwood and runs for a strictly limited season of six shows: August 31 – September 2 at 8pm and September 3 at 1pm and 7pm.
Ticket prices are $33 for Adults, $28 for Concession and $25 for Children (under 15 years old), except Tuesday August 30, where all tickets are only $25! (preview night). Group discounts are available by contacting the ticket secretary on 8251 3926.
Tickets are available now by contacting Marie Clark Musical Theatre Company directly on 8251 3926, by emailing [email protected], or by booking online at www.marieclark.asn.au. (please note: a surcharge applies to all online bookings).
Interview by Brian Godfrey