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“Miss Saigon,” one of Broadway’s longest-running shows from the same creative team behind “Les Misérables,” lands at the Wharton Center Tuesday.
Claude-Michel Schönberg’s musical is revamped with elaborate set pieces, including the massive hovering helicopter, and a cast that doesn’t wear makeup to make themselves look Asian, which caused so much controversy in Jonathan Pryce’s Tony-winning portrayal of the musical’s French-Vietnamese antagonist, The Engineer, in 1991.
Anthony Festa plays Chris Scott, a U.S. soldier who falls in love with a Vietnamese waitress, Kim, despite already having a wife waiting for him in the United States. Festa spoke with City Pulse via phone about the role.
You’re being thrust as the lead in a musical drama based on a really dark period in American history. How did you prepare mentally for the role as Chris?
I watched a butt-load of documentaries. I watched Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War — there’s so many out there. I’ve watched from both perspectives as well; we weren’t viewed very positively at all by the Vietnamese.
We did a lot of crazy shit there; we didn’t belong there. It was 30 years of something we shouldn’t have been involved with. It was really eye-opening before I came into rehearsals to watch all these different documentaries and dive into the history of it all.
The original ‘Miss Saigon’ was inspired by a photograph of a Vietnamese mother handing her child off to be taken to the United States. What impact did the photo have on you?
That photo is the whole basis of the entire show. Claude-Michel Schönberg wrote the show because of that photo. It’s everything that happens in our show as well. The evacuation that happens when we bring the helicopter in, which is an unbelievably epic scene, correlates back to that one moment. In rehearsals, Claude us the story and he said when he saw the photograph that’s when he knew he had to tell this story. And that this story was just one story within so many other stories during that time.
Let’s talk about your costar, Emily Bautista, who plays Chris’ love interest, Kim. How has your chemistry evolved as the tour goes on?
It’s fun because we get to experience each other and it feels like something new every night; it feels like a new pair of shoes every night.
What’s amazing is that she brings so much nuance to her role every night. She’s such an incredible actress that there’s always something new and exciting that’s brought to it.
I have to thank our executive producer and associate director, Seth Sklar- Heyn. Every other month he’s here, and he’s always giving us new ideas and fresh thoughts.
I think it’s about mixing it up and having fun with your co-star at the same time. Night after night, it’s impossible for it to be the same exact thing. I do believe that every audience receives the same story, but we make sure that the story is live and real.
Tickets start at $43
Through March 17
Wharton Center for Performing Arts 750 E. Shaw Ln., East Lansing
whartoncenter.com, (517) 432-2000