By Harvey I. Barkin
Photos courtesy of Miss Saigon
SAN JOSE – After almost 30 years, Miss Saigon continues to draw audiences.
The show ran for 10 years and was seen by more than 36 million people all over the world.
It has won over 70 awards.
When the original Broadway production opened in 1991, it had the largest advance ticket sale in the history of Broadway at $37 million.
Perhaps, this ties in with why the US tour is billed as the epic love story of our time.
Because love stories like Romeo and Juliet and West Side story invariably tell the tale of two different people finding love sweeter in the midst of conflict. No matter that the end is tragic. People will want to see a love story re-told again.
Kim is Juliet and Maria.
In the new Cameron Mackintosh production for Broadway San Jose (which ran from November 13 to November 17 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts), Kim is played by Emily Bautista. Her mom is originally from Tagaytay; her half-Filipino dad, Ohio.
She quit Ithaca College in New York when she got her break playing a bar girl for Miss Saigon in 2016.
Bautista knows Miss Saigon inside and out. She has been playing Kim for more than a year now.
To date, there have been less than 10 Filipino and Filipino-American actors (most recently, Eva Noblezada) who played Kim. While they may seem to be preferred for the role, the auditions are actually harrowing. Bautista got the part of bar girl number 9 after about 10 auditions.
It takes a while to produce a show like Miss Saigon because they audition all over the world and they have to cast more than 40 international actors.
According to Mackintosh, his new production features an original choreography by Bob Avian and “takes a grittier, more realistic approach that magnifies the power and epic sweep” of the original Miss Saigon.
They actually brought in part of a Huey helicopter gunship for realism. In fact, premier night was delayed until Wednesday when delivery for part of the scenery didn’t make it in time for the original Tuesday opening night.
The nightmare scene is one of Bautista’s favorite scene with lush orchestration and the “iconic” Huey of the Vietnam war era.
To Bautista, getting the role of Kim “was a matter of being there at the right time and at the right age.”
She watched Noblezada’s scenes and, with director Laurence Connor, went through the script and tried on ad-libs and milked it for whatever context she can get.
Old school critics would probably call Kim’s character an ingénue. Not yet a woman but probably not quite Nabokov’s Lolita. More innocent than pretty but compelling in her vulnerability.
Castmate Christine Bunuan plays Dreamland bar girl Gigi. Her family was originally from Tarlac. Like Bautista, the performing bug bit her early in Junior year when she was in Wizard of Oz.
She says “it’s stunning to watch (Bautista’s Kim). She’s young but she goes through a lot in life and there’s a strength about her. She has depth of character at her age.”
Bautista said there were other Filipinos in the cast, including Red Concepcion (who plays The Engineer) straight from the current UK tour.