Get Out Your Hankies For TUTS' Miss Saigon

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Director Bruce Lumpkin is a Houston native bringing Miss Saigon back here for a five-week run with Theatre Under the Stars, after his first successful tour here in 1991.

He says some people consider it an anti-war show, but it is that and more. "It's anti-war but it's also a very tragic love story. The two main characters almost make it out; they almost make it work."

Lumpkin was doing Grand Hotel on Broadway when he first saw Miss Saigon after it had opened on Broadway. "It moved me to tears. It is a beautiful story." When it closed on Broadway he says he was approached and asked if he thought it could work in the round and he said yes.

"The music is just beautiful. It's a modern-day rock opera, one of the best."

He says most people don't realize that the fall of Saigon happened so quickly, that people had only 17 hours to get out before the Viet Cong came marching down the streets of Saigon.

When he was doing a D.C. production of the play, which is based on Madame Butterfly, the cast had a chance to meet the entire crew of the last helicopter out of Vietnam.

Actor Eric Kunze, who has performed the role on Broadway, first played Chris, the American serviceman who loves and leaves Kim stranded in Saigon, 15 years ago. He says the story is "a little gritty, a little dark. It's a love story that's heart-wrenching, a wonderful play to do."

Despite its anti-war message, Kunze says "vets would come to the stage door to tell their stories."

"You can hear people in the audience crying at the end. It reaches out to so many people."

Steven Eng, who plays Thuy, an officer in the North Vietnamese Army, first played the role in Germany and in German, which he didn't speak. "They taught me the role phonetically." This is his third time in Miss Saigon, the second in English,

"The story itself is pretty timeless. The situation is not new. Continually as a culture we deal with war and loss and hope."

Adding to that, he says, "This country is in two wars right now. Both of the wars are nowhere near us. There's the same element of away and not in front of us."

Eng, who was born and raised in Houston and still has family here, went to MacArthur High School, and then on to SMU before moving to New York City a couple years later.

"I used to usher at the Hobby to see the shows for free. It's sweet that I get to come back."

Eng takes on some extra duties in the show. He's one of the bad guys and often is threatening and loud in the show. He goes out of his way to make friends ahead of time with whatever young actors -- in Houston, Audrey Kim, 4, and her sister, Emma Kim, 6 -- who will be filling the role of Kim's son Tam.

"When they first come to rehearsal I work hard to make sure they get to know me before I become someone else."

"I'm going to be very loud and I'm going to be very mean but I'm just playing in costume. So when they see me on stage, they still remember it's me and they just remember to do what they're directed to do. They never withdraw from me."

Eng says Miss Saigon will be around for a long time, but that it has a special pull on audiences now because its setting is not in distant times.

"It was just 35 years ago. It doesn't take on the aura of World War II and I where it's just a textbook."

Theatre Under The Stars' Miss Saigon will run at the Hobby Center for Performing Arts February 9 - 21. Tickets are available on-line at TUTS.com, by phone at (713) 558-8887, or at the Theatre Under The Stars Box Office, (800 Bagby.)

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