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What makes ‘Miss Saigon’ still relevant today

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 25, 2024 5:00 am

You’d think it would be hard to keep a 35-year-old musical set in the 1970s during the Vietnam War relevant. Turns out Miss Saigon couldn’t be any more current.

Turn on any news source: Wars. Immigrants. Refugees. Uprooted families. Starvation. In the Ukraine, or Gaza, Syria, Africa or dozens of other hotspots, it’s still there every day. So Miss Saigon, now returning to Manila after 24 years, manages not only to stay up to date with the tumultuous times, but adds a new Asian-centric spin to things.

Brought by GMG Productions, the Australian company bringing this staging to The Theatre at Solaire (opening gala night on March 26) includes the young Fil-Aussie talent Abigail Adriano making her professional lead role debut as Kim. Australian-American Nigel Huckle plays American soldier Chris, tortured by the US role in Vietnam. Joining them for the press call were Filipino-Kiwi actor Laurence Mossman (playing Thuy) and Filipino actress Kiara Dario (playing Gigi). But it’s probably Seann Miley Moore’s completely revamped take on ‘‘The EnginQUEER’’ that will get heads turning.

Abigail Adriano and Nigel Huckle in production of Miss Saigon.

A special treat was a visit from composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, who sat down with hostess Yanah Laurel to discuss how Miss Saigon continues to stay relevant.

As Schönberg pointed out, the same problems of war that plagued the characters in Miss Saigon remain today: destruction, displacement and degradation.

Which, of course, doesn’t mean it’s not still an engaging, rousing musical with catchy songs and jaw-dropping visuals. Despite its heavy content and air of tragedy, the new cast promises to bring a bright new edge to the show.

Fil-Aussie Abigail Adriano makes her lead role debut as Kim in Miss Saigon’s Manila run at The Theatre at Solaire.

There’s more to this new adaptation than meets the eye: subtle shifts have taken place onstage and between the lines to show women’s empowerment, decentralizing the “heroic” white GI role, while highlighting an LGBTQ subtext in The Engineer’s worldview. Yes, the song American Dream has turned into quite a lavish spectacle onstage, complete with clashing chords at the finale. (I asked Schönberg if he intentionally altered the song this time to make it more dissonant. “I searched for several days to find the most dissonant chords I could,” he said, dead serious. “I wanted it to be very unpleasant to the ear.” To reflect the times we live in, one supposes.)

In addition to adding lines, there’s a shifting emphasis among characters. Moore says his favorite new moment comes at the end of Act I, when Kim—instead of subserviently following The Engineer offstage—is the one who actually leads the cagey survivor off into the wings. Subtle.

Miss Saigon cast—with composer Claude-Michel Schönberg at center—including (from left) Kiara Dario (Gigi), Nigel Huckle (Chris), Abigail Adriano (Kim), Laurence Mossman (Thuy) and Seann Miley Moore (The Engineer) 

Another shift comes with a new song part written for Ellen (Sarah Morrison), the suffering American wife of Chris. By design, the spotlight is focused more on the female perspective for this revival, giving them greater agency.

Then there’s the very enthusiastic Moore, excited about adding a new spin to his wheeling/dealing character, one that’s likely to leave memories of Jonathan Pryce or Leo Valdes’ Engineer in the rear-view mirror. The emphasis on Asian power at this moment was not lost on the Manila fan crowd. Moore emphasized it’s “time for Big Slaysian Energy” to take over the world. 

Seann Miley Moore as The Engineer.

What emerges is that Miss Saigon is not only an enduring show that’s still relevant, but one that’s become a seminal first musical experience for generations of Filipino actors abroad. The 19-year-old Adriano spoke about its impact, growing up in Australia. “It absolutely changed my life. It was my comfort music, it really takes you away, and was an escapism for me—which is ironic, because the show is such a beautiful tragedy. But yes, this show means so much to me because it’s changed my life. You know, Kim is 17, and I’m still navigating my life, so one thing I like to think of is me and Kim are holding hands, navigating this whole new world together.”

She adds that the show “brings to light again how the Vietnam War affects mothers, affects people in romantic relationships, and all sorts of relationships—but then you see Kim’s story of hope, and what she’ll do for love.”

Composer Schönberg pointed out once again that the show “would not exist without the Philippines” and this was a theme taken up by all of the actors on stage. “We did not have enough Asian entertainers to open the show,” the composer recalls of the talent search back in 1989. “And it’s in Manila that we found 75 people for our original cast. It was a revelation to us. And so many of them managed to go to the West End, Broadway, and become big stars.”

Because of the huge success of Lea Salonga, Miss Saigon has long been an aspirational play for Filipino entertainers, despite its dark subject matter. Between the tragic shifts, there’s still hope and love underneath. There’s still Kim, there’s still Chris. But now it’s become a generational musical, one that continues to have resonance for all Filipinos, wherever they may be living and working.

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GMG Productions brings Miss Saigon back to Manila. Tickets available exclusively through TicketWorld. Contact The Theatre at Solaire at 288888888 for information and visit for upcoming Manila events.