BWW Interview: Chicago actor Christine Bunuan returns in MISS SAIGON national tour
Chicago actor Christine Bunuan stars as Gigi in the national tour of Miss Saigon, which plays at Broadway in Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre November 14 through December 8. Bunuan recently spoke to BroadwayWorld Chicago about bringing this epic love story on the road.
You have quite the resume of Chicago theater credits! How do you feel about returning to the city with Miss Saigon?
It's really incredible. I grew up in California, but I went to the Theatre School at DePaul University. My professional career has been in Chicago, so it's very special for me to bring this show there. I wouldn't be doing Miss Saigon without all of the love and support that I've gotten over the years from the theater community in Chicago and the fans of theater. So I'm excited, scared, happy... everything positive that you can think of!
MISS SAIGON has been so popular over its nearly 30-year history and is still going strong today, with recent revivals on Broadway, the West End, and now a new national tour. I'd love to hear your take on the enduring appeal of this show.
First, it's a love story between Chris and Kim, two people who come from two very different worlds. But they understand each other, because they speak the language of love. They instantly see each other and fall in love.
Also, it's the love that a mother has for their child and the sacrifice that a parent is willing to give for their child. I think these are the two biggest things that people take out of this show.
This show is set in a specific moment in history: during and after the Vietnam War. How has the history of the period informed this production?
It has been incredible talking with the creative team about the Vietnam War. We all have done research; we've watched the Ken Burns documentary and other documentaries, and we've even spoken to some Vietnam War vets.
Actually, one of our cast members, Jackie Nguyen, has a mother who is Vietnamese. Kim's story was her mom's story. The big difference is that she was able to bring all three of her kids to America, and then she had Jackie here in America. To hear that this was somebody else's story, and knowing that the Vietnam War was such a difficult time in the history of the world, I feel like the show has opened up conversations to try to help heal people.
Recently, in San Francisco, there was a Vietnam War vet who came and saw the show. Afterward he spoke with Stacie Bono (Ellen), and he said that the song "Why God Why" saved his life. He possibly may not be here today had he not discovered that song.
It's been very eye-opening and wonderfully overwhelming learning this history. I have so much respect for the stories of that time, and I hope that it comes out in the work that I do.
Could you tell me more about Gigi: what she's like and how you prepared for the role?
I never thought I would play Gigi. I first did Miss Saigon at Drury Lane Theatre, and Rachel Rockwell was my director. The week that she passed is when I did my callback for the Miss Saigon tour, and one of the first things that I did to prepare for Gigi was to reach out to her out there in the universe. I said, "Please, Rachel, help me tell this story." I dedicated that audition to her.
Gigi is the main bar girl. She's the madam. In preparing for her, I had a wonderful work session about "The Movie in My Mind" with Claude-Michel Schönberg, our composer, and [director] Laurence Connor. They showed me this book of images of the Vietnam War, and there was a huge section that had pictures of the Gigis, the prostitutes. [Connor] said, "These are just girls. They're girls who don't have any other choice but to do this in order to survive." You can see the sadness in the women, but also the fight, because they don't know when a bomb might go off or when somebody might shoot them.
Gigi is forced to become a prostitute in order to survive in a war-torn country. You only see her in the first 20 minutes, and then you don't see or hear anything from her ever again in the show. It's very possible that's what many of these women's stories were like. In the 30 years that this musical has been out, this is the first time I've met somebody (Jackie Nguyen) whose parent had this story.
Could you speak about your experience working with this cast?
This cast is extraordinary. We've become a family, pretty instantly. Somebody's always throwing a birthday party or celebrating something. When a swing or understudy goes on, they're so incredibly supportive. I could talk about this for hours! I am awe of every single one of them, and I learn something new from them every day.
Our Kim and Chris, Emily Bautista and Anthony Festa, are amazing. Emily is fierce; I don't know how she does it six shows a week. I also love watching Myra Molloy, who is our alternate Kim. It's wonderful to watch her figure out who her Kim is; she grows exponentially every time I see her. And Red Concepción, our Engineer, is so fun. He's Filipino, and I'm always asking him to speak to me in Tagalog so I can learn it.
It's a really, really, close-knit cast. We're very, very lucky.
Is there anything else you would like Chicago audiences to know?
I would love for them to just come and see the show with an open heart. And enjoy the music, because it is an opera; it's sung from beginning to end.
Also, a big thank you to the Chicago theater community and to the Chicago audiences for all the love and support and for supporting theater. I wouldn't be here without my family in Chicago. I'm living my dream, because Chicago has been so good to me and has helped me grow as an artist. I wouldn't be here without them. So, thank you, thank you, thank you.
MISS SAIGON runs November 14 - December 8 at Broadway in Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60603. Tickets are available at 312-977-1700 or broadwayinchicago.com.
Interview by Emily McClanathan