BWW Interview: J. Daughtry of MISS SAIGON at Peace Center
The US touring production of Miss Saigon lands at the Peace Center on January 15.
BWW: Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is J. Daughtry, I am from Bartow, Florida. I've been on Broadway twice, in Beautiful- the Carole King Musical and The Color Purple. I actually just came off tour. I was in Greenville with The Color Purple when we were there on tour, I played Harpo. And I've been in Motown the Musical. I've done a few shows with Cirque D'Soleil and a few cruise ships. And so here I am now with Miss Saigon.
BWW: You jumped off one tour to start another one. What kind of break did you have in between?
I was out of The Color Purple in August and the next week we started rehearsals for Miss Saigon, so there was no break.
BWW: Tell me a little about your part in Miss Saigon.
I play John who is the best friend of Chris, who is the lover of one of our main characters, Kim. And I run an organization which is intended to link kids who were estranged from their fathers who were in the military during the Vietnam War. Their mothers were Vietnamese women. And I find out that my best friend has a child from our main character, Kim. My job is to reunite them and to bring them back into communication with each other, and try to get them to take Kim and the baby back to America, which is what Kim wants to happen. Unfortunately, it does not happen that way. I don't wont to give away spoilers, but Kim ends up making the ultimate sacrifice in order for her child to have that American dream life.
BWW: How familiar with the show ere you before you started?
I went to see one of my friends, Antoine Smith, play one of the roles on Broadway, the role that I'm playing now, John. I went to see him play it and that was the first time that I saw the show. I didn't grow up in musical theatre. I didn't actually start doing musical theatre until about seven years ago. I was a banker up until then. When the banks crashed in Bartow, that's when I left corporate America. I taught school after that, then went to musical theatre. So a lot of musical theatre I was new to, including this show. But when I saw it, it was such a big show. Our cast has 42 cast members in it, and that's a lo-o-ot of people! There's a huge helicopter in this, a grand set, and when I saw it, it was just a spectacle, there was so much to see - I was awestruck.
BWW: How do you think your tour version compares?
It's pretty much the same. It's huge and I think that's what really captivates audiences. It's such a big show. Coming from The Color Purple - which had like fifteen people in it and the set was literally chairs and people and wood - coming from that and going into a show like this where there's an actual helicopter that flies in, and there's people doing flips and acrobatics - it is what happened on Broadway. It reminds you of what you think of when you think of a Broadway show. It's big, with smoke and guns and people flying through the air!
BWW: So you saw your friend's performance - do you think that informed any of your choices in performing the role?
I don't think so. I think what informs my performance is what we're experiencing now in our culture and in our world, especially when it comes to immigration and how we treat immigrants and the children of immigrants. So that informs my character. I sing a song that is specifically about the children of immigrants and how we as Americans have to take responsibility and step forward in how they are treated. It's a message. There are moments when you see a direct relationship between how the Vietnamese war, how Americans treated that situation, and how we're treating situations even today. How we have the same mind even though we thought we'd experienced change. It's so relevant. There's a scene in the show where Chris, who is my best friend in the war, I'm telling him that we have to evacuate, that we have to leave, and I sing to him a line. "It's not you, it's war that's cruel. And if some dreams get smashed, perhaps it's best they were." And then I say, "Wake up my friend, your mercy trip has failed, there's nothing you can do." Then I say, talking about Kim, "She's not the only one we'll have betrayed." And even today, even though we think we're making the decisions we think we have to make for ourselves, that we think we're making the right decisions, there's always someone betrayed by that decision. And it's so powerful, it's such a moving and powerful story. And there's another side to the story. There are people who are victors, but there are also people who are left betrayed by our decisions.
BWW: So this is really one of those shows with giant spectacle that will blow your mind but at the same time you've got a real relevant message undergirding the whole thing. And to think this show is thirty years old and is still so timely.
It is. From the stage, we sometimes have a hard time judging what the audience is experiencing because sometimes it's very quiet. But what we've realized is that the story we are telling sometimes makes people reflective and it makes them think. It's such a powerful, moving story.
BWW: Well on a lighter note, what if anything do you remember about Greenville from your last visit?
I was training for a marathon when I was there so I found a nice trail there and ran a lot.
BWW: The Swamp Rabbit Trail.
Yes! Swamp Rabbit, that's it! And there's a woman named Danielle Brooks, who is in Orange is the New Black and was in The Color Purple on Broadway and she's from there and her mom made us this banana pudding that was amazing. So the Swamp Rabbit and banana pudding, that's what I remember! And there's a beautiful waterfall.
BWW: Well, I'm really looking forward to seeing the show. I loved The Color Purple, which is small and powerful, and I look forward to seeing you in this one, a show that's much bigger.
It's a huge show, but it's just as powerful as that smaller show. And I really love that this cast allows the story to be the star of the show versus any single player in the show trying to be the star of the show. Everybody is phenomenal in that we all allow the story to be the main focus. And make sure you don't sit too close. You need to see the entire stage!
Experience the acclaimed new production of the legendary musical Miss Saigon, from the creators of Les Misérables. In the last days of the Vietnam War, 17-year-old Kim is forced to work in a bar run by a notorious character known as the Engineer. There she meets and falls in love with an American G.I. named Chris, but they are torn apart by the fall of Saigon. For three years, Kim goes on an epic journey of survival to find her way back to Chris, who has no idea he's fathered a son. This new production features stunning spectacle and a sensational cast of 42, performing the soaring score featuring Broadway hits including "The Heat is On in Saigon," "The Movie in My Mind," and "Last Night of the World."
Miss Saigon contains some scenes and language which may not be suitable for younger audience members, including scenes of a sexual nature. This performance will contain strobe lights, gun shots and pyrotechnic effects.
For tickets and additional information, call the box office at 864-467-3000 or visit PeaceCenter.org.