Actress is indebted to ‘Miss Saigon’

Melinda Chua is appearing in her eighth production of Miss Saigon, opening May 25 and running through July 17 at the Walnut Street Theatre.

But don’t think for one moment that this actress/singer ever grows tired of the role.

“I never get tired of appearing in the production because I pretend that every night is the first time I’m doing it, and, of course, this really is the first time the audience is seeing it. I think it’s such a beautiful story that I just love playing the role,” she said.

Taking inspiration from the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon is a classic love story brought up to date in a stunning theatrical spectacle. In the turmoil of the Vietnam War, an American soldier and a Vietnamese girl fall in love, only to be separated during the fall of Saigon.

Their struggles to find each other over the ensuing years end in tragedy for the young girl and a fighting chance for the child the soldier never knew he had.

Miss Saigon, which premiered in 1989 in London, where it ran for 10 years, had its Broadway premiere in 1991, earning 11 Tony nominations, including for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score.

According to Chua, who plays Kim, the Vietnamese girl who is left behind, “audiences never tire of seeing this show because it’s a story everyone can relate to. It’s a love story, and also the story of the love of a mother and her child. And having played it all over the globe, including Germany and New Zealand, I believe it’s a story for everyone to enjoy.”

She explained that the production is “completely sung through, almost like an opera, but the story has a backdrop of pretty recent history that a lot of people still remember. And I believe that people are still fascinated with that part of our history, reliving, perhaps, what life was like for people at that time.”

Playing Kim night after night is quite an emotional experience for Chua.

“Technically, you have to be aware of all kinds of safety issues onstage. But emotionally, it can be so draining that right after the show I’m exhausted. So you really have to get used to doing a role like this,” she said.

Chua, whose father was in the Air Force, moved around quite a bit, which might account for her self-described shyness.

“I was always involved in music, as was my whole family. All the kids played musical instruments, and at the age of five I started taking piano lessons, then violin and clarinet,” she said.

But she always loved singing, although when shyness got hold of her, she could be found singing in her closet, Chua said. Later, when her mother offered her voice lessons, she quickly agreed and her career actually took off from there.

“After high school I attended the University of Redlands (in California), but they concentrated their musical curriculum mainly on opera. So I soon transferred to New York University to get more involved in musical theater,” she explained. “Not long after I enrolled, I got a chance to try out for Miss Saigon and got a part in the ensemble and as understudy for Kim.”

After a lengthy and supportive conversation with her parents, Chua left NYU and took the part. Although she still hasn’t been able to finish college, she has learned so much from the show and the travel involved, she explained.

ldquo;Over the years, I did do some work in Disneyland and local shows,” she said. “But this show has taken up most of my professional career. And since it is truly the role of a lifetime, it’s been my honor to keep doing it.”

For ticket information, call 215–574–3550.