Thirty years later, ‘Miss Saigon’ still offers important message

Emily Bautista plays Kim in the national touring show of "Miss Saigon." Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The chaotic last days of the Vietnam War before the fall of Saigon provide a perfect backdrop for a love story, says the actress who portrays Kim in the national tour of “Miss Saigon.”

“It shows that love survives in the most broken of places,” says Emily Bautista, who understudied Kim in the 2017 “Miss Saigon” Broadway revival before joining the North American touring company of “Les Miserables” as Eponine.

“Miss Saigon” will be at the Peace Center for an eight-show run beginning Tuesday, Jan. 15. The original production ran on Broadway for a decade beginning in 1991 and is still the 13th-longest-running Broadway show ever. When that national tour played at the Peace Center in 2000, it was the first time a Broadway production played more than the standard weeklong run.

It tells the story of a young Vietnamese woman named Kim. In the last days of the Vietnam War, the 17-year-old is forced to work in a bar run by a notorious character known as the Engineer. There she meets an American G.I. named Chris, but they are torn apart by the fall of Saigon. For three years, Kim goes on an epic journey of survival to find her way back to Chris, who has no idea he’s fathered a son.

While this production features the same iconic songs and plot, it also gives a more raw and realistic look at the human cost of the war, Bautista says.

“There’s a rawness and realness behind the scenes,” she says. “We work a lot on storytelling to make sure we are accurate to a documentary you would watch on the Vietnam War. We really try to capture the true effect of what was happening. The history side of it is the perfect backdrop for a love story — a love story between Chris and Kim and a love story between Kim and her child.”

Take the geography of the Vietnam War out and it’s a story that is being played out today much closer to home, Bautista says.

“When we first started rehearsals, every time you turned on the TV, you saw kids from Mexico in cages and refugee camps, so it still happens today,” she says.

Bautista’s favorite scene is also the production’s most famous — the nightmare scene where the last Americans are evacuated from the embassy roof while a crowd of abandoned Vietnamese screams in despair. The scene features a real helicopter landing on stage.

“That is such a beautifully written scene,” she says. “Everyone is on stage giving it their all. The music the orchestra plays is dramatic and supports the scene.”

Bautista says “Miss Saigon” was attractive because of its powerful female roles, something she says is big on the current Broadway scene but was lacking when she attended college.

The actress can thank her father for helping her get to her own “Dreamland.” She enrolled in Ithaca College for theater studies after being rejected from several collegiate musical theater programs. She was in the middle of transferring to Ithaca’s communications program when she got the call to audition for “Miss Saigon.”

Turns out that while she was getting those college rejection letters, her dad found producer Cameron Mackintosh’s email address on his website and sent a note that his daughter would be interested in auditioning. A year later, she got a call from Tara Rubin Casting. After multiple auditions, she had landed a Kim understudy and female ensemble role.

What: “Miss Saigon”

When: Jan. 15-20

Where: Peace Center

Tickets: $40 and up




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