“The Morning of the Dragon”: Broadwayʼs Paul HeeSang Miller talks about the legacy of Miss Saigon and its relevance in 2017
- OnStage New York Columnist
I sat down with Broadwayʼs Paul HeeSang Miller, who opens in the anticipated Broadway revival of Miss Saigon at the Broadway Theatre. Since our undergraduate days as young, hopeful musical theatre nerds at the Boston Conservatory, I have had the privilege of seeing Paul dance on Broadway in the long running Mamma Mia!, Bartlett Sherʼs revival of The King and I, and now Miss Saigon. Paulʼs talent shines without mention, but it is his humility, steadfast work ethic, and sense of the community effort required to run a Broadway show that most impresses me. He was generous enough to answer a few questions about what itʼs like to work on a show with such a rich production history, as well address some of the political undertones in Miss Saigon that echo ever so clearly in our current political climate.
Congratulations on opening in Miss Saigon on Broadway! What is it like to perform in the revival of this iconic show at the same theatre where the original Broadway production played for ten years in the 90s? Is there any Miss Saigon lore you can share?
PHM: Thank you! As you well know from casting ourselves as Ellen and Kim in college, I am a total musical theatre nerd and being able to perform this show back in the theatre where it started is surreal. I mean, I get to see and interact with Bob Avian who choreographed the original Miss Saigon at this same theatre! The memory is well and alive at the Broadway! Itʼs a tradition to sign under your dressing room station when you leave a show, and Iʼm currently in the same station as Chris Peccaro and Jarrod Emick who were members of the original production. Alan Ariano, a dear mentor and friend who was in the original Saigon for its entire run, was describing backstage of the show. To hear about similarities from someone who paved the way could not be more awesome. Every night I pass by the program slip of when Lisa Yuen went on as Gigi in the original production. I met Lisa almost six years ago during a regional contract and have admired her ever since. Some of the stage crew who worked on the original production have incredible stories about Saigon at the Broadway Theatre as well.
You've performed in long running Broadway productions of Mamma Mia! and The King and I. What are the specific challenges of performing in a piece as emotionally super charged as Saigon? How does it differ from your previous work on Broadway?
PHM: Well, in any show the stakes should be high. In Mamma Mia! it was the party atmosphere. The challenge was to keep the energy high and to be dancing queens every night. In King and I the stakes were to be almost never seen or heard. In Saigon I get to portray many different roles, and therefore live the story through many perspectives. A hustler, a waiter, a figment of what the “American Dream” is, both North and South Vietnamese. Every ensemble member gets to have their own story, and in that way the emotion of the production is highly charged.
It must feel like quite an honor to tell this story of the Vietnam War, which encompassed some of America's darkest days. What is it like to perform such a poignant story in such a large company of Asian American actors?
PHM: We did a lot of research on the time and the war prior to blocking the show. The cast is very diverse, even within the Asian American actors, and thatʼs what keeps the journey interesting. Some of us have never been to Asia at all, some grew up there and came to America as kids, and some have family who were part of the exodus from Vietnam. We all have had different paths to bring us to tell this story, and that is how we are able to fight to believe.
Miss Saigon very clearly resonates with audiences in these ever so current times of political strife and uncertainty. Can you comment on the musical's resonance with today's political climate? Do you feel audiences have reacted to the piece in a specific way due to our current events?
PM: I have had a few people come up to me post show and express gratitude that this story is being told in our current political climate. The story is, unfortunately, completely parallel to our current society. Hopefully people who come to see it will recognize that sometimes the “power” America has is not always used in a positive manner. We are a powerful country, but when the power is only used for the benefit select few, no one really wins.
The music in the show is so epic! What are some of your favorite musical moments?
PHM: The song “Please” has always been a favorite of mine. The melody is heart wrenching, and how Kim starts the song with John yet finishes it in her own fantastical world…itʼs stunning. Also, the line “I still taste your kisses” makes me cry every time. “I Still Believe” and “Movie in My Mind” have always been shower songs of mine, and these ladies take those songs to the next level. Singing “Bui Doi” with this group of men also gets me so pumped.
Miss Saigon is such a tearjerker! What are some of the more fun aspects you enjoy working on the show despite its heavy, tragic tone?
PHM: This cast is incredible. Itʼs fun getting to perform on stage with them, but the offstage energy is honestly what keeps this show such a joy. Merri Sugarman and Tara Rubin assembled a cast of humans who, in their individual ways, make this show a joy to be in eight times a week!