The North American tour of “Miss Saigon” took a refreshing detour Thursday morning, to a place where the actors could be their best and also be themselves.
Inside the century-old auditorium at Lewis and Clark High School, “Miss Saigon” stars Emily Bautista, Anthony Festa and Christine Bunuan not only hit the high notes – they sang three songs from the show – but shared the lowdown of life on the road.
In the audience were hundreds of high school drama students from LC and North Central. They came with dreams, wonder and so many questions.
Perhaps the most intriguing was “How do keep your character fresh after so many shows?”
That was a fair question, considering the actors were coming off a Wednesday night show at the First Interstate Center for the Arts. Ahead lay six more performances in four days, followed by another series in Seattle.
On top of that, Bautista, who plays the part of Kim the bargirl in the hit Broadway show, is battling a cold.
“But you wouldn’t know it,” said Festa, who’s been under the weather a few times himself but always tries to keep things fresh.
“As we grow, we change, and we bring a sense of that to our characters on the stage,” said Festa, who portrays Chris Scott, a love-torn U.S. Marine Corps sergeant in the waning days of the Vietnam War.
“That’s what makes an incredible show and an incredible actor,” Festa said. “If you’re in the audience, you’re going to know how hard the performer is working.”
“And all that comes from what’s happening in your life,” said Festa, whose journey to Broadway was full of real-life experiences bartending in Manhattan to pay the rent.
There were missteps, too. “I didn’t dance so great” during one audition, said Festa, who fruitlessly pursued several shows before landing in the casts of “Wicked,” “West Side Story” and other big shows.
Bautista, who just turned 22, had been singing for friends and family since she was 3, but had a “very long history” of not getting on the cast of productions at Ithaca College in upstate New York.
However, her father – who has no connections to show business – sent a few fortuitous emails. A year later, Bautista was asked for a headshot and a résumé, followed by a long series of six-hour rides to Manhattan before understudying for the revival of “Miss Saigon” on Broadway in 2017.
More than most professions, show business is about the journey, including the bumps.
“I’m just really grateful to have open conversations about how difficult this business can be, surrounding yourself with supportive people, and knowing that you’re not alone,” Bautista said.
All three started young.
Bunuan, who plays Gigi the showgirl, said she watched “The Wizard of Oz” every day as a child. Her revelation came in junior high school, when she watched other kids in a show and exclaimed, “I want to do that.”
“That’s when I started taking voice lessons, and singing and creating my own little shows in my room,” Bunuan said.
Festa started by doing magic tricks in his home. “Then my mom got me involved in theater at the age of 5,” said Festa, who by 12 was playing the Artful Dodger in “Oliver Twist.”
“The reaction was a huge applause,” Fest said. “I remember that moment, that this is what I want to do, because I got addicted to what it’s like to tell a story.”
The actors would have loved to tell more stories on Thursday, but the fun ended at 11 a.m. That’s also lunchtime at LC, but no one was leaving.
“This is so rare,” said LC drama teacher Greg Pschirrer. “The opportunity to see professionals of this caliber … it’s something that most people in their lifetimes never get to have.”
Dozens of students, filled with inspiration, lingered in the aisles.
Said LC sophomore Kristen Reser: “I’ve learned that if you really love acting, nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams.”
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