A New Englander immerses herself in the world of ‘Miss Saigon’
At 21, Emily Bautista is already a theater veteran. The Acton native, who plays Kim in the touring production of “Miss Saigon” now at the Opera House, made her Broadway debut in the show’s ensemble two years ago, while understudying the lead. Last August, she stepped into the starring role for the national tour.
“It was wonderful to be a part of the ensemble, to be steeped in the world of Saigon at this pivotal moment, and then be able to zoom in and focus on Kim and her story,” says Bautista.
“Miss Saigon,” written by “Les Miserables” creators Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with additional book and lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr., updates Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly” and sets it in the final days of the Vietnam War. In the musical, Kim, a 17-year-old orphan, and Chris, an American GI, fall in love, but are separated during the chaotic evacuation of Saigon. After the war, Kim struggles to care for their son, Tam, and holds out hope that Chris will return to rescue them, ultimately sacrificing herself to ensure a better future for her son.
“We spent a lot of time in rehearsal watching documentaries about this period,” says Bautista, who grew up in Simsbury, Conn. “It helped us understand the desperation of the people in the city.”
“Miss Saigon” is best known for its dramatic prop — a helicopter that lands onstage — and Bautista says that spectacle is critically important to the story.
“When I was a member of the ensemble, I climbed that fence, felt the fear, felt the wind from the propellers,” she says. “We’re committed to making sure every performance feels authentic.”
The touring company includes several Vietnamese performers, who serve as language and culture consultants. “They work with us a lot on language,” says Bautista, who is of Filipino descent, “so that all the ad-libs in the dialogue — especially in the chaotic helicopter scene — are in Vietnamese.”
Although Kim is young and innocent at the start of it, she becomes the strongest character in the show, Bautista says. “Channeling that ‘mama bear’ protective instinct for her son was new for me,” she says, “but very powerful.”
The show is so vocally demanding that Bautista has an alternate, Myra Molloy, who steps into the role, mostly on days when there are two performances.
Molloy, who graduated from Berklee College of Music last month, grew up in Thailand, where a winning performance on “Thailand’s Got Talent” launched her career at age 13.
“I still work a lot in Thailand,” she says (including doing the voice-over for Disney’s “Moana” in Thai), and when I was 15 I auditioned for the London production of ‘Miss Saigon.’ They told me to come back in a few years, so here I am.” At the same age, she moved to the United States to be closer to her father’s family in Virginia.
“I went to a British school in Bangkok,” she says. “So I had no idea what an SAT test was. Luckily, I was classically trained as a singer from the age of 9. I think having that classical foundation, and then adding pop and musical theater was a great preparation for majoring in songwriting at Berklee.”
Both actresses hope to stay with the touring production of “Miss Saigon” through 2020, and then head back to New York to see what’s next.
“We get to travel to cities across the US,” says Molloy, “and be part of a story that moves people every night.”
Russian troupe mounts ‘Masquerade’
“Masquerade,” a verse play written by 19th-century romantic writer Mikhail Lermontov, marks the return of the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia to Boston June 18-19.
Directed by Rimas Tuminas, the company’s Lithuanian artistic director, “Masquerade” is a lavish commedia dell’arte production that boasts vibrant costumes and a snow-covered stage to bring the story of Yevgeny Arbenin, a man whose flirtation leads to tragedy. The Vakhtangov production also features music by Soviet composer Aram Khachaturyan originally written for the 1941 production of “Masquerade.”
“Masquerade,” often compared to “Othello,” will be performed in Russian with English subtitles at the Cutler Majestic Theatre. Tickets ($55-$125) are available at www.emersontheatres.org or by calling 617-824-8400.
‘Lightning Thief’ at the Huntington
“The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,” an adaptation of the best-selling young adult novel by Rick Riordan, will play at the Huntington Avenue Theatre July 17-28.
Percy Jackson, a teen who discovers he is the son of Poseidon and has superpowers, sets out to return Zeus’s lightning bolt and prevent a war between the Greek gods. His wild adventure is set to the sound of a rock score written by Rob Rokicki, with a book by Joe Tracz. Originally produced off-Broadway, “The Lightning Thief” appears in Boston as part of the show’s national tour and will feature Chris McCarrell and Kristin Stokes, who are reprising the roles of Percy Jackson and Annabeth.
Tickets ($20-$115) are available at www.huntingtontheatre.org or by calling 617-266-0800.
After more than two decades of presenting annual awards to the Boston theater community, the Independent Reviewers of New England has disbanded.
Its members wrote for blogs, websites, and other outlets and made up the city’s second organization of stage critics. The Boston Theater Critics Association (which includes this writer and the Globe’s Don Aucoin), the group that has presented the Elliot Norton Awards for the past 37 years, represents more prominent media outlets including WGBH, WBUR, the Patriot Ledger, Edge Media, the Dig, and the Globe.
The announcement comes just weeks after some members of the theater community published an open letter on April 8 — the date of this year’s IRNE awards — that took its committee to task for a lack of diversity among the nominees, requested that its awards focus exclusively on New England-based productions and exclude national tours, and sought transparency in the selection process or qualifications for membership.
“Although our decision was perceived as a response to that letter, the core group that did most of the work of organizing the awards has been talking about stopping for a few years,” said Nancy Grossman, who writes for the website Broadway World.
“When Beverly Creasey [who writes for Boston Arts Review blog and Theater Mirror] and others started the awards, the idea was to draw more attention to diversity and to the fringe theaters who were not getting attention from the major media outlets,” Grossman said. “I think we were successful at that.”
Grossman says the growth of the fringe theater scene made it increasingly difficult to get to all the shows. In addition, the shrinking number of media outlets meant there were fewer independent reviewers reviewing plays, so it was harder to meet the group’s requirement that members see at least 50 plays each year.
Jen Alison Lewis, a longtime Boston theater artist and one of 13 people who collaborated on crafting the original letter (which was ultimately signed by more than 600 people), said she was surprised the committee decided to dissolve.
“The original letter was a reaction to the IRNE nominations and was an effort to articulate a lot of things people had been talking about for a while,” Lewis said. “We thought it would begin a conversation, but I hope their decision will become an opportunity to reimagine theater criticism and those awards.”
Presented by Broadway in Boston. At the Opera House, June 12-30. Tickets from $44, 800-982-2787, www.broadwayinboston.com