BWW Interview: Red Concepcion Plays the Engineer in MISS SAIGON Opening in New Orleans Next Week
There are a handful of musicals that I firmly believe every self-proclaimed theatre lover needs to see, if for no other reason, to say they've seen it. Among the ranks are LES MISERABLES, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, WEST SIDE STORY, I think it's now pretty safe to add WICKED to the list, and MISS SAIGON. They're classics, if you will. New Orleans is lucky enough to have two of these as part of the 2019-2020 Broadway Across America season, and gracing us this coming week is none other than MISS SAIGON.
MISS SAIGON is a beautiful story of love and hardship at the time of the Vietnam War. At the start of the show we find ourselves just before the fall of Saigon. Christ, an American G.I., and Kim, a bar girl and prostitute in Saigon, fall in love, but are separated among the chaos. Chris eventually returns with his wife Ellen, to find out that he and Kim had conceived a son. Together they must all decide what is in store for their future.
Here to chat about his start in the theatre, his journey with MISS SAIGON, and what this show has in store for us is Red Concepcion who plays the Engineer in the current US Tour.
To start us off, I'd love to hear a little about yourself and how you got started as a performer.
Well, my parents were actors, so I grew up in a very theatre-y, musical family. My grandmother was also a music teacher. I started, actually, as a child voice actor when I was 10. I've been working professionally for about 15 years in the Philippines where I'm from, and in that region (Southeast Asia), but this is my first time working in America on this tour. I've been on this tour for over a year now, and then I did a year and a half almost in the UK in the same role for the MISS SAIGON UK Tour. So it's cool, I've been in this role for about 3 years now.
How has it been different, or has it been different working in the United States?
I feel that people react differently. I feel like people are more connected to this show here in the USA because it's part of the US's history, so people feel a lot more connected to it. We get veterans and survivors of the Vietnam War come up to us after the show or we get messages from people about it, so it's great to see that people are actually moved by this who went through it.
What was your first exposure to MISS SAIGON?
It was really big in the Philippines where I'm from because the first cast had a bunch of people from the Philippines in there, and there's been a long line of Filipinos involved in the show. The most recent Broadway revival had Jon Jon Briones who is Filipino. It was really big in the Philippines, and when I was growing up we had the cassette tapes of the original recording so we would listen to that as a kid. We would skip over the Engineer's songs because my mom thought as a young kid you probably shouldn't listen to that. He's not, I would say, the most wholesome character in the show, but the show itself is very wholesome. It's got a lot of heart. It's got a lot of things that tug at the heart and have value. But, the Engineer is a very unsavory character.
Which are sometimes the most fun characters to play!
Oh it's completely fun! I'm having so much fun doing it. It's been a few years now and I'm still not over it yet. Do you know what I mean? I'm still finding new things and enjoying it. It's great.
Tell me a little more about your character and how you do keep it fresh since you've been in the role for so long.
I just try to stay true to the moment of time, and when you stay true to the moment it's very hard for it to become stale. I'm working with some really fantastic actors who also do the same thing, and we just try to be honest to the moment. But, also we have a lot of fun! The whole cast gets along fantastically well, so backstage I feel like if the working environment is great then the work is great. I think we've been lucky enough to be in such a fantastically talented environment in a fantastically talented cast, and that shows on stage as well. Plus, the Engineer is just fun. Like I said, he's very unsavory, and he's got some questionable methods, but he also has the most fun onstage. I'm the only character that can kind of break the fourth wall and interact with the audience and actually speak directly to them. He's also very naughty, and it's very fun to play.
How does the Engineer come into the story?
The show is set a few weeks before the fall of Saigon towards the end of the Vietnam War. That's where it starts. The Engineer owns a bar. A kind of seedy house of ill repute is what I like to call it. That's where all the G.I.s go and that's where they meet girls, and that's where the show starts. The Engineer finds Kim to be one of their bar girls, and Chris who is a G.I., that's where they meet and that's where the story starts. You follow us as we try to deal with the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
Do you have a favorite moment or song in the show that you can share with us?
A favorite moment. Well, my favorite song is The American Dream to perform. It's right at the very end, it's a razzle dazzle number, it's great. But, my favorite song really is I Still Believe, which is a duet between Kim and Ellen, and it's about these two very strong women powering through and just letting their love get them through whatever hardship they're... I don't want to spoil the show too much. It's sung fantastically by these two fantastic women, very talented women. It's right before my number where I have to kind of stop myself from listening because it's a very emotional song and I'd get very carried away. It's one of my favorite moments in the show.
This is a show that's been around for quite a long time. What do you think it is about MISS SAIGON that keeps audiences seeking it out?
First of all, it's a love story, but more than that it's about how love forces people to do incredible things, and whatever kind of love that is. All of the characters, we're all kind of trying to survive and using love to power through. I know that sounds very cliché, but I think that's what resonates. It's a very human story. Even though it's a very epic kind of musical, it's just a very human story. Also, it's a reminder, I think, of what war brings and what kind of people war produces. The Engineer is a product of that war and he turns into a very cynical, manipulative person because that's the only way that he's learned to deal with the world. You see what happens to Kim and what happens to Chris, and we're all kind of dealing with the horrors of war. The show spans 3 or 4 years, and you see how it affects us. I think it's good to be reminded of that and to be reminded of how we have to do everything that we can to prevent war from ever happening again. I think that's the power of art. It reminds us and opens up our minds to things that we may not exactly have an experience of or a consciousness of, and I think that's one of the reasons why MISS SAIGON has endured for this long. It's got a lot of truth in it.
I, for one, and over the moon excited that MISS SAIGON is coming to New Orleans. I hope that you will all join me there in welcoming Red and the rest of the cast to our city, and come out to experience the truth and beauty of this story. For tickets and more information, visit www.saengernola.com. Hope to see you there!