First of all, there's a billboard of 'Miss Saigon' on the damn 5 freeway. Can we just take a moment for that?
Today marked week two of rehearsals for 'Miss Saigon' at the McCoy Rigby La Mirada Theatre. Last week was full of introductions, readings, hours of singing and blocking, and ample time for discovery and specificity. My cast is superb. I could not have asked for a better group of people to love and to take this incredible journey with. I felt like I lived a lifetime last week, experiencing horror, fear, love, frustration, anger, helplessness, powerful, vigorous and unstoppable -- as 'Kim' and as Jackie.
Fact: I am the first Vietnamese woman to star in a major production of 'Miss Saigon'. Pretty epic, right? Well, at least to me. I saw my name in an article in a Vietnamese newspaper today. Now that's rul Vietnamese. Brief story - My mom lived through the war. Kim's nightmare part 1, 2, and 3? Yes, my mom knows exactly where the evacuation happened, and in fact my half-brothers' dad was in fact....an American GI. My mom had her first child at 17 years old, and had to fight her way to get her and the family here to America in pursuit of that 'American Dream'. This story is very real. The circumstances could not be more alive and current in my life through seeing the journey that my mother endured to be here.
Those are some of the thoughts that go on in my mind during rehearsals. Other than "Oh shit, I hope I can make my mix belt strong on that line" or "....damn, what's the quick change gonna be like?" I do often think about my mom, and what she had to witness and endure back then in '75.
Other thoughts that circulate through my crazy ass mind is I am also a newbie to the 'Saigon' world. This is my first real professional production of "Miss Saigon". And as Kim too. I've done years of research in all of the 'Kims', understudied a few, and some are even my friends. I did a production of it at Cal State Fullerton (which in itself, was a magical experience) and have auditioned a million times professionally for this part, just never having the chance. Until now.
I remember my first experience with 'Miss Saigon'...I was 17. I was a senior in high school, and 'Saigon' was showing at the Starlight Theatre in Balboa Park in San Diego. My voice coach at the time, Jackie Maraya-Griffin, was in the Germany Co. of Miss Saigon and recommended me seeing the show because she said I was "perfect for the show".
My best friend Lisa had worked at Starlight before, and so she and I went to see the show. We bought nachos, bought a coke to share....and snuck in. Hey! We were bad ass. And broke. (errday we hustlin', errday we hustlin')
Anyways, Jennifer Paz was starring as Kim. She was phenomenal. I remember choking up during Thuy's Death, crying hysterically during the nightmare scene, and then losing my shit during Room 317. That show changed my life. I kept the program next to my yearbooks, to never forget seeing that show and how it made me feel that night.
Funny story is, 4 years after seeing that show, a very talented, kind and amazing director who is also a good friend of mine now, called me asking if I wanted to be an emergency understudy for a new cabaret style show in Downtown LA at the renowned East West Players. I said YES immediately without knowing anything about the show. How could I turn down an opportunity to work at EWP? I got the itinerary and rehearsal schedule in an email an hour later. What does it say?
Understudy: Jacqueline Nguyen.
I could've shit my pants. I was going to understudy three women who played KIM on BROADWAY. And including THE Kim that I watched as a senior in high school who inspired me to do what I do today.
I will never forget that experience, and how I felt that day while I was able to connect my present with my past in such an inspirational way.
Now, I'm playing Kim, in a major production. And guess what? Jennifer Paz is coming to see it in a few weeks. What is my life? And how did it get this amazing?
I feel blessed beyond comprehension. Everyday I come to rehearsal invigorated and pumped. I just want to be able to tell this story as truthfully as possible, and show audiences how devastating and beautiful this story means to me, my family, and to my Vietnamese culture. In addition, the cast is mind-blowingly talented, and hilarious, too. The pieces are coming together, and I can't be more excited to be exactly where I am right now. Even though I know I'm nervous, and want to do the best job that I can do...I have a heart like the sea. A million dreams are in me. :)