Miss Saigon

Miss Saigon 2024: I went for Kim, stayed for the Engineer

Seann Miley Moore’s queer take on The Engineer was powerful enough to take my eyes off of Kim for a bit—which isn’t a problem, really.

Thunderous applause greeted the cast of Miss Saigon after their premiere night last March 26 at the Theatre at Solaire. 

And why wouldn’t the beloved musical garner such a reception? It is, after all, the production that catapulted Lea Salonga, one of our poster children for ‘Pinoy pride,’ to global stardom 35 years ago at London’s West End. Miss Saigon would then debut with much fanfare in Manila in 2000, with Salonga reprising her role as Kim.

And with more actors of Filipino descent bringing the musical alive—Eva Noblezada, Isay Alvarez, Jon Jon Briones, Cocoy Laurel, and Rachelle Ann Go come to mind—it’s no wonder that the legendary Claude-Michel Schönberg, Miss Saigon’s composer and the also the man behind Les Misérables, once said that without the Philippines, Miss Saigon would not have been possible.

Twenty-four years later, the musical returns with a lead cast comprising mostly thespians of Filipino descent—and in true Pinoy fashion, their voices impressed a crowd of longtime fans and new audiences. 

Miss Saigon Manila Cast
Claude-Michel Schönberg with the cast of Miss Saigon in Manila: Kiara Dario, Nigel Huckle, Abigail Adriano, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Laurence Mossman, and Seann Miley Moore. All photos from GMG Productions.

The four cast members of Filipino descent are Filipino-Australians Abigail Adriano (Kim) and Sean Riley Moore (The Engineer), Filipino-Kiwi Laurence Mossman (Thuy), and homegrown talent Kiara Dario (Gigi). Completing the main cast is Australian actor Nigel Huckle (Chris). And among them, it’s Seann Miley Moore that stands out.

Moore’s queer performance elevates the crass and conniving pimp with a flamboyance that doesn’t feel forced onto the character of the Engineer. More than his resounding voice, Moore’s expressive physicality, combined with shifts in pitch (he goes from ditzy Marilyn Monroe to concert arena belter in mere minutes in “The American Dream”), commands your attention. 

What unfolds on stage is a deranged tragicomic figure who uses every part of his body and every voice he can sing to express his fervent desires, not just to gain material wealth amid the war, but to ultimately cross the seas to reach the land of the free.

Miss Saigon Manila the queer Engineer
Moore commands the stage as the queer Engineer—the “EngiQueer,” as the production calls it.

The Engineer isn’t alone in this dream, however. Throughout the musical, we see this reiterated desire to reach America: in the opening sequences (“The Heat is On In Saigon”), we see Gigi van Tranh winning “Miss Saigon” and getting raffled to a marine, which she begs to take her to America. In the intense helicopter sequence where the Americans were ordered to evacuate Saigon immediately, we witness a throng of Vietnamese citizens at the gates of the Embassy, desperate to get out of the increasingly chaotic city. 

And then there’s Kim, yearning for her American lover Chris, that runs parallel to the passionate desire of The Engineer. The young Vietnamese girl meets the marine sergeant at Dreamland, where Kim is forced by The Engineer into working as a bargirl. John (played by Lewis Francis), Chris’ fellow marine, buys a room for Chris and Kim, and after reluctantly opening up to each other, the two fall in love and eventually engage in a ‘wedding ceremony.’ 

However, despite Chris’ promise to take Kim with him to America, the two get separated in a chaotic sequence at the Fall of Saigon. The desire to reconnect, especially with Tam (Kim and Chris’ son) in the picture, drives the latter half of the musical. 

Miss Saigon Kim and Chris
Amid fever dreams and hot nights in Saigon, Kim and Chris spark a romance that’s bound to transcend race and distance.

Several posts and sentiments online by longtime fans of Miss Saigon in the Philippines cite this love story as their foremost memory and primary motivation to rewatch the musical in Manila. These thoughts are exactly why I felt slightly puzzled after watching the premiere last week, because I left the theater feeling that I followed The Engineer’s story more than the couple. It’s as if I watched a musical production about The Engineer, and Kim’s story was relegated to a close second—which isn’t exactly how the original piece pans out. 

In a way, The Engineer drives Kim toward circumstances that push her story: he ‘discovers’ Kim and puts her in Dreamland, where she meets Chris. Then, when Saigon falls down, he helps Kim and Tam flee to Bangkok, where they eventually run into John, Chris, and the latter’s wife, Ellen, played by Sarah Morrison. 

Don’t get me wrong: Abigail Adriano made me teary-eyed as she cried her heart out in “I’d Give My Life For You” and when she died in Nigel Huckle’s arms in a short reprise of “Sun and Moon.” I got tense when Laurence Mossman, portraying Thuy’s ghost, haunted Kim at “Kim’s Nightmare.” And I felt sorry for Kiara Dario and the girls of Saigon as they sang “The Movie in My Mind.”

Miss Saigon Manila Kim

Miss Saigon Manila Gigi
Though they lead different lives, Kim and Gigi are driven by the same yearning for America. The former yearns for her lover and for Tam to lead a good life with his father, while the latter desperately seeks a better future in a foreign land.

But it’s Moore’s convincing portrayal of The Engineer’s cunning, conniving, and desperate spirit that made me more invested in his story. Even in his seemingly optimistic and bombastic number in “The American Dream,” Moore dishes out a performance that makes you feel that this sorry man is so close to his deepest desires, but fate and circumstances would take him to a completely different direction. 

For these reasons, I somehow understand why Moore’s name got top billing in the souvenir program—yes, above Adriano, Huckle, and the rest of the cast—and why he bowed last (and drew a roaring applause) during the curtain call at the premiere. And with his queering of The Engineer, I might just fearlessly declare that he is my real Miss Saigon.

Miss Saigon Manila The Engineer
At the end of the musical, The Engineer wins my vote as Miss Saigon.

The Asian Tour of Miss Saigon is produced by GWB Entertainment. The Manila season is produced by GMG Productions, co-presented by Union Bank of the Philippines, with Philippine Airlines as the Official Airline Partner. For updates and exclusive announcements, visit www.gmg-productions.com or follow @gmg.productions on social media.

Features Associate

The new lifestyle.