BWW Interview: Jackie Nguyen of MISS SAIGON at Majestic Theatre
In today's world there are so many stories of trial and triumph, sacrifice and success, loss and love. MISS SAIGON is such a story that shows all of this and keeps everyone engaged and emotional. BWW caught up with Jackie Nguyen recently for a chance to find out how MISS SAIGON is her very own mother's story as well.
What was the first time you every remember performing onstage?
The first time I performed on stage was with seventh grade choir. It was really nerve wracking but at the same time out of your comfort because, at that time, the performing arts was a hobby for me. It was an elective at school. I stayed a choir for quite some time but then I started doing hip-hop dancing when I was a teenager. I joined the hip-hop team and then we had this crazy opportunity to work at SeaWorld when I was 16. It was for an opening act for Ashley Simpson who was a big pop star. That kind of got me into a performing bug. Thanks to different mentors in high school who guided me and led me to musical theater in college and the stones just fell and I started walking on top of them as they came. It was never my real intention. I didn't grow up doing theater or musical theater at all. I just dove in pretty late to musical theater in college.
At what point did you say okay this is going to be my career?
College. I would say junior senior year of college. You have to audition for this huge conservatory. I went to Cal State Fullerton. The conservatory really prepares you for the career of an actor. We had cabarets in New York. They flew us out there to get a grasp of that career. I think that in college I made a decision to try and pursue it professionally.
Who do you look up most in your life and why do you think that is?
Definitely my mom. Her story is very similar to that of Kim's. She was 17 when the war began which is the same as Kim's narrative in MISS SAIGON. My mom met an American G.I. and she fell in love and she had three kids from that relationship. They are my three half-brothers. My mom had to endure a lot of the Vietnam War. She lost everything. Her husband left to go back to America and had to communicate with her via letters. He would send them money a little bit and try to bring them over to America. She was insistent at first to stay in Vietnam because she was really afraid of coming to America. The poverty just got so bad and the opportunities became lost for my brothers. They were half American and a lot of prejudice was happening at the time with any children that were born American from the war because they were shown as traders in a way. So, my mom immigrated to America in 1984. My mom and her husband, the American G.I., later divorced. Then she ended up meeting my dad. So that is a very similar tie to Kim's [story]. She is who I look up the most because she has faced so much adversity. She's had to pick up her life and start completely over. She had to acclimate to America and create a life here. She's done really well for herself raising me. I feel like I'm pretty successful and she was able to give me opportunities to explore it here. I just can't stress how much strength my mom has shown me, not even just in America, but just the stories that I've heard through what she's had to deal with and what she's gone through. She's who I look up to the most.
Was that what inspired you to want to be a part of MISS SAIGON?
Yes, absolutely. It's because it's one of the few musicals in mainstream musical theater that use Asian actors. There was an opportunity for me but also an amazing opportunity to tell my mom's story; my family's story. I am [also] the Vietnamese language consultant, so I had an opportunity to teach the cast the Vietnamese to make sure that if there is any Vietnamese in the show that it's spoken in a Vietnamese American accent or in Vietnamese. My mom helped me a lot with that.
I'm sure she's proud of your success and has seen you perform many times.
She's so proud and yes has seen it many times. It is difficult for her to watch just because it's such a part of history that she doesn't really want to live through but she's more honored that the story is being told because often in history classes it's brushed over. The fact that it's being exposed is enough for her.
What do you think is the most important message that comes from MISS SAIGON without giving too much away?
I would say the theme of love and the theme of sacrifice so, I think those two elements. You can take away from our show how much love you have for another person, for your country and how much you're willing to sacrifice for the person you love and for the love of your country. I think those two elements would probably be the most important things and I think it's super relevant for today. I think our society right now there's a lot of people; a lot of stories that are similar. The refugees' stories and I do see if we really learned about what they do for love and what they had to sacrifice to make it in America. It's so relevant to today so I think those two elements would be the most important thing that you could receive from our show.
MISS SAIGON comes to the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio, Texas for one week only. January 7-12, 2020. Contact the Majestic Theatre's website for ticket availability.
PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Murphy