by Frank O’Donnell
Last Friday was a busy day at the Providence Performing Arts Center. The theater was gearing up for the launch of the national tour of “Miss Saigon” that evening. A select group of journalists were asked to visit with cast members in the lobby that morning to talk about the show.
Red Concepcion, Emily Bautista and Anthony Festa, the stars of the show, took turns talking with each of us. Meanwhile, in a nearby salon, the show’s creators, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, and the show’s legendary producer, Cameron Mackintosh, were hold court for an even more select group of journalists.
“The creators are right there,” said Festa, who plays Chris, an American GI trying to get out of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. “They’re watching us.”
“It’s an honor,” says Bautista, who plays Kim, a young Vietnamese girl who falls in love with Chris. “It’s daunting to have them here, but it’s an honor.”
“He picked us,” said Festa. “You don’t do this show without his approval.”
Concepcion wasn’t daunted by Mackintosh’s presence. “He’s watching. He’s very passionate, very particular.” But that doesn’t bother Concepcion, who’s playing the Engineer, a wheeler-dealer who’s working every scheme to get himself a ticket to the USA and the American Dream. “He really keeps the show fresh,” he says about Mackintosh.
Concepcion has played the Engineer before, in the show’s United Kingdom run. “They found me in Manila,” he says. “They audition a lot in Manila for this show. They liked me in the UK run, and invited me to come to the US.”
When we spoke, the cast had been at PPAC for about three weeks. The crew had been there longer, getting the set ready for rehearsals. Everyone was looking forward to opening night. “It’s our first audience,” says Festa. “We’ve been singing to 3000 empty seats since we got here.”
He admitted that he had butterflies. “We just want people to enjoy themselves.”
All three actors sang the praises of PPAC. “It’s such a stunning theater,” said Bautista. “It’s a great theater to tech in,” says Festa.
They’ve been enjoying a lot of the local cuisine. “I like Cleo’s, pretty close by,” said Bautista. “A lot of good Greek food.”
Festa is fond of the Old Canteen. “I’m Italian. I love good Italian food.”
They’re all looking forward to having some long sit-downs on this tour. Times when the show runs in the same town for four to five weeks. “There are lots of benefits to being in one town for a while,” says Bautista.
The actors are looking forward to a long sit-down in San Francisco, and to being at the Kennedy Center for Christmas. “They have a killer New Year’s Party,” said Festa.
Concepcion is the show’s protagonist. He gets a little philosophical about the show, and about his role. “It’s almost a cautionary tale about war. No one escapes completely clean. The Engineer is just more sullied than the others.” But he says there’s “something very delicious about seeing a guy almost getting away with things. People root for him in spite of themselves.”
Concepcion says it’s a fun role, and he hopes “the people of Providence will love it too.”
“Miss Saigon” runs through Sunday, September 30 at the Providence Performing Arts Center. Visit www.ppacri.org for complete details and ticket information.