For decades, “Miss Saigon” has been stunning audiences on and off Broadway with its powerful story of love, perseverance and Vietnamese culture.
But for ensemble member Jackie Nguyen, who will be performing in the Broadway in Boston run June 12–30, the story is even older and more personal than its stage history.
Adapted from Puccini’s classic opera “Madame Butterfly,” “Miss Saigon” follows a Vietnamese woman named Kim as she struggles to escape her war torn country, falls in the love with an American G.I. and fights for the survival of her family.
Just like the title character, Nguyen’s mother was 17 at the start of the Vietnam War and similarly fell for an American G.I., with whom she had three children.
“My mom said there are scenes in our show that are directly similar to what happened back in the day,” says Nguyen. “I do think that our version of the production does a really good job of showing the truth. It’s taken from history, so we’re emulating real people’s stories.”
It turns out 17 was also a pivotal age for Nguyen, who first saw “Miss Saigon” then as a high schooler and immediately knew she was wanted to pursue a career on stage. Now, years later, she’s performed in the ensemble and as the lead character Kim. She currently serves as one of the Vietnamese Language Consultants for the touring Broadway production.
Seeing the show also prompted her to explore her own personal cultural history. Although Nguyen doesn’t like to press her mother for details of a painful experience, having a primary source and a personal connection to the show has greatly enhanced her performance.
“Miss Saigon” is firmly rooted in the historical moment of the Vietnam War, but Nguyen says the core themes of the show are more relevant than ever. “The story is one of refugees,” she says. “We’re not a stranger to war; we’re not a stranger to trying to survive to trying to fight for our rights. The themes of love and sacrifice and survival will withstand time.”
The show is also impactful for women in particular, as it centers on a woman left to fend for herself with next to no resources. Nguyen says, “What women now can take away from that is power, perseverance and strength in being vulnerable and sad.”
For Nguyen, the experience of seeing the show is just as important as the content of it. She says this touring production maintains every single element that was produced on Broadway from cast size to props and scenery. “It’s as if you had flown to New York and bought a ticket to Broadway,” she says. “Hopefully [the audience’s] journey from beginning to end is an emotional one.”