Living the Dream

When she left Manila to star in 'Miss Saigon' on the West End, Rachelle Ann Go was filled with doubt and insecurity about whether she could make it. More than half a decade later, she has shaken off all the doubts, found the love of her life, and reached her confident best as a performer.

Words: LOU ALBANO | Photos and Video: YVAN LIMSON

February 3, 2020


There’s an unexpected easy-breezy quality about Rachelle Ann Go. To anybody who’s seen her belt it out on stage, or to those lucky enough to catch her pulsating presence in Broadway or West End, the easy assumption is that Rachelle is an intense person, dripping with so much passion, and equipped with a temper of a superstar diva.

But Shinshin, as her friends call her, is quite the opposite. In fact, it comes as mildly surprising how relaxed and laid-back Rachelle is off-stage.

On a cool January afternoon when the award-winning thespian welcomed GMA New Online into her Pasig family home, she openly shared lots of stories from the six years that she’s been away.

She has a lot to share. Rachelle embarked in a dream career adventure that’s resulted in her calling London, and for a brief seven months New York, home as she nabbed prime roles in long-running theater productions. She also met her husband Martin Spies in the process. It’s all very thrilling, especially when she goes into details.

When she tells of particularly embarrassing moments, Rachelle’s voice would climb a few notes higher but would strangely, magically, remain hushed. When she agrees with you, she would empathetically exclaim “Yes!” in a manner that would call to mind a Disney princess. Sometimes, she finishes her sentences in laughter; other times, she sings her endings, turning them into a song.

Such light-heartedness might be because she’s is in the middle of a vacation, the longest she’s taken since leaving Manila in 2014 to take on the role of Gigi Van Tranh for Miss Saigon’s West End comeback. Rachelle flew home in November as soon as her stint in “Hamilton” ended, left again “just before Christmas to spend time with my husband and his family,” came back before right before New Year and has been home since.

When she flies back at the end of February, she’ll join the West End production of Les Miserables for an initial seven-week run as Fantine before taking another break, this time for three glorious months to travel with her husband.

But in the mean time, Rachelle is home and savoring every minute of it. “Talagang sinusulit ko ang rest time ko. Na-miss ko ang lutong bahay!” she exclaims.

Rachelle wants to take things easy this year. She wants to spend more time with her husband, she wants to be a wife to him. It’s one of the reasons why she decided to return to Les Miserables, she explains.

“I feel like I’m not done with the show yet,” Rachelle begins. The first time she did Les Mis in 2016, she wasn’t confident about herself or what she was doing onstage. “Ngayon, kahit papaano, mayroon na akong experience. I’d love to do it again.

“And since I’ve done it before, it will be easier for me to spend time with the husband and be a wife and focus on building a family.”

The newlyweds had just purchased their dream home in London, and much like six years ago when she first moved to the United Kingdom and learned how to be independent, the experience of becoming a homeowner is allowing Rachelle to discover more new things about herself.

She’s learned to love cooking, is currently fascinated with interior design, and has a bright new discovery: Rachelle enjoys playing host! “I love entertaining,” she says.

She and Martin would invite over her Hamilton castmates before a show for an afternoon merienda, a little tradition that has become a backstage potluck. “Nung natikman na nila 'yung adobo, 'yun na lagi request nila. They also like gising-gising, tapos may nagdadala ng curry. All different things.”

Their new home has a yard, and already the couple is thinking of all the get-togethers they will hold.

It’s almost a metaphor for all that Rachelle has achieved in the years that she’s been away. From an insecure 28-year-old trying to make it “out there,” Rachelle has successfully found her spot outside Manila.

Lea Salonga was intrumental in encouraging Rachelle Ann to audition for 'Miss Saigon' in the West End.
Instagram: gorachelleann

Rachelle Ann followed up her Miss Saigon stint with a turn as Fantine in 'Les Miserables.' 
Instagram: gorachelleann

The International Theater Diva will be the first to admit that she has changed.

“Manila is still home for me,” she begins slowly, making sure we get the important point she’s making. “It’s always going to be home for me. It’s grounding because I have my family around but I feel like I’ve changed.”

Apart from learning how to live independently in London, Rachelle was also able to shake off the insecurities that hounded her in Manila. “Nu'ng tumira ako sa London, parang nawala lahat. I don’t know,” she sighs. “I just changed, for the better.”

And then there’s her finally owning up to her craft and committing to the discipline required to deliver eight, sometimes nine shows a week. “It’s not about being perfect [anymore]. I was at that point before na, ‘I need to nail this one’ or ‘I need to please people.’”

More than half a decade in, Rachelle says it’s now about finding her purpose in what she does and knowing how to tell the story so that she connects with people.

“Reaching out to people, that’s the most important thing, especially sa last show na ginawa ko, yung ‘Hamilton’. Nu'ng una, nape-pressure ako to do it because it’s a very famous show. Bawal magkamali. But [I realized] it’s not about that. It’s about inspiring people.”

She’s become pretty confident that committing mistakes during live shows hardly ruffles her feathers anymore. Yes, it’s still as embarrassing as ever — “Nakakahiya,” she says singing one descending note after another for each syllable of the word — but there are a ways around it, she says.

“Para siyang movie,” Rachelle recalls about one time she forgot her lines. “Dumilim lahat, nag-zoom in 'yung camera sa akin. I had to stop. I cannot adlib kasi unang-una, English is not my first language! Baka Tagalog ma-adlib ko.”

“So kunwari na lang, emotional talaga ako,” she giggles. “I had to stay calm and enjoy the moment. ‘Wag mo pakita na you forgot your line!” she giggles again.

Of course Rachelle wasn’t always as confident. She cried the first time she saw her costume for Miss Saigon, and even hesitated about accepting the role. “Umiyak talaga ako. My dad even told me, ‘Are you sure about this?’ Kasi outfit pa lang, ‘di ba? Pero pinag-pray ko talaga yun.” She got over it quickly, and even reprised her role on Broadway three years later.

“When they released the movie, ayaw ko pa ipapanood sa family ko. When they visited me in New York, parang nakakahiya,” she continues. It was there that her family, except her father, saw her in Miss Saigon. Demonstrating a little real talk humor, she says, “Buti wala si papa. Baka pinababa ako sa stage!” Rachelle laughs again.

Turning serious, she shares how her whole family, including her dad this time, has been able to see her in action in “Hamilton.” By then, the world has not only opened up for Rachelle, it’s come to love and reward her.

She’s won awards for her work, has traveled extensively, and has met a slew of international celebrities including the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, The Rock, who she describes as charming, and best of all, Tina Turner.

“It was so surreal,” said Rachelle, her eyes wide with disbelief.

Sometimes, she still has a hard time believing it at all. “You know? That I’m still here, that I’m still doing what I love. And that I’ve performed with loads of amazing performers, like Miss Lea. 'Yun talaga dream come true for me.”

Miss Lea, of course, is Lea Salonga. Rachelle looks up to her so much that when Lea encouraged her to audition for Miss Saigon, she went ahead and listened.

“She’s actually the one to tell me to do it,” Rachelle reveals. “She messaged me asking, ‘Are you auditioning?’ When I said I didn’t know kasi nakakatakot, she said ‘do it.’ So I did.”

She can’t believe, too, that people are comparing her to Lea. “Ganu'n ba talaga ang leveling? That’s Miss Lea Salonga!”

Rachelle calls it a compliment and explains why: “She’s been in the business for how many years, and when she sings, it’s perfect.”

She was not always so confident around Lea. “I remember, nagkasama kami sa isang show, nag-flat ako [sa pagkanta]. Naramdaman ko, hindi siya happy. The pressure was so there. Nakakahiya. Si Miss Lea, ibang level.” Those days seem over.

Lea, together with Erik Santos and the Philharmonic Orchestra, are slated to perform as guests at Rachelle’s Homecoming Concert on February 14 at the Grand Ballroom of Marriot in Resorts World Manila. This time, Rachelle shows a glimmer of delight instead of fear.

“It’s going to be fun,” she smiles. “Feeling ko, first time ko gagawin ang ganitong concert. Halos lahat ng numbers [from] musicals and movie theme songs. Lumaki akong pop music so this is definitely going to be different.”

And in a manner of speaking, grand. Rachelle even asked her husband to fly halfway across the world just to see it. “Talagang pinauwi ko ‘yong asawa ko,” she tells GMA News' Nelson Canlas in a 24 Oras interview. “It’s going to be very special. I want him here.”

Rachelle Ann met her husband Martin Spies while she was in New York to star in 'Miss Saigon' on Broadway.
Instagram: gorachelleann

Rachelle Ann and Martin wed in Boracay in 2018.
Photo: Jaja Samaniego

The first time Rachelle saw her husband, she knew he was The One. “That was back in January 2017. Pumunta ako sa church sa New York, I was by myself, naramdaman ko 'yung presence ng isang tall guy. Pogi. Pagtingin ko, napa-double look ako. Sabi ko, ‘That’s the guy I’m going to marry!’ I claimed it na talaga!” Rachelle shares, obviously delighted.

“But I had to stop myself at that point. Sabi ko, I’m here to focus on the Lord, hindi sa lalaki. So I focused kay Lord,” Rachelle continues.

It was actually in New York where she experienced deep spiritual growth. “Dumating kasi ako sa point na I was very lost out there, and wala akong matakbuhan. Mag-isa ako doon, hindi nakakatulog, hindi nakakakain. 'Yun na talaga ako kinalabit ni Lord. ‘I’m just here. Talk to me,’” she says.

She attended a church service, saw the guy she knew she was going to marry, didn’t make a move “and then na-meet ko husband ko,” and everything fell into place.

“Inaayos pa rin naman ni Lord 'yung puso ko, but in New York, I was only there for seven months pero 'yung journey ko doon spiritually, napakalalim,” she says.

Rachelle is a proud Christian, declaring “I love Jesus” on her Instagram bio. She means it. In London, the couple doesn’t just attend worship, they work for it too; Martin belongs to the prayer team and Rachelle to the worship team. “I sing in Church on my rest days,” she says. “Sunday is my rest day pero sabi ko, ‘Lord give me extra energy to do it.’ I still need to rest so I don’t do it every Sunday but I do it when I can.”

On those Sundays that she needs to rest, Rachelle does so by going out to a movie with her husband or having a Sunday roast. “I love hosting people, oh my gosh. I love it. I love to cook. And I love sharing our Filipino dishes to other cultures. Ang sarap.”

She claps her hands, closes her eyes, and smiles. Then it hits us: Rachelle has clearly gotten the hang of it, all of it — living abroad, living her life, living her purpose, living her dream.