This week, for your behind the scenes look into the process building Paramount’s Miss Saigon, I thought it might be fun for you to see these excerpts of my answers to a recent online interview. The questions were:
1) About Joe Foronda being cast as “The Engineer”.
2) About the casting of Brandon Moorhead as “Chris” and Shawna Haeji Shin as “Kim”.
3) What makes Paramount a great place for producing musical theatre?
4) The helicopter.
1) Of course I thought of Joe! I had my doubts he may have tired of the role or would be resistant to running with a director who had some new ideas about the character. Joe was so enthusiastic about continuing his work on the role and the idea of doing something new with it! He even came in to stand around the piano and sing for conductor, Shawn Stengel, and give us a listen. Joe is in great voice! And giving a performance he says he has never given before in this role. Makes me proud to hear him say, “I love it!”
2) Brandon came in, pulled up a chair and sat down to sing, “Why God Why?”. It was one of the most moving auditions for me ever. The emotion expressed in his glorious tenor made him the guy to beat. And our Shawna emailed me a video submission singing “Sun And Moon”, and “I’ll Give My Life For You”. It was stunning, self-produced and directed and showed a very real actress with the most gorgeous “spin” in her voice. A true soprano with a beautiful “mix-belt” and a fresh new voice for “Kim”. After seeing countless young ladies for the role, we kept coming back to “Haeji.” She distinguished herself as incomparable. It was a huge risk to cast her without meeting in person but I had to believe, have faith, she was the right girl. Before we met on the first day of rehearsal, I could not stop thinking about her. When we saw each other for the first time we let out a sob and ran into each other’s arms and hugged. During that first rehearsal, this young girl from Seoul, Korea and this young man from Tulsa, Oklahoma were sitting next to each other at their music stands singing “Sun And Moon” holding hands! My eyes looked to heaven as I said, “Thank You!” under my breath without making a sound.
3) Hard to believe it took 80 years for Paramount Theatre to transform from a road house/movie palace to a legitimate regional musical theatre. When Tim Rater called me three years ago, my jaw dropped when I saw this ornate temple of a theater. How will we fill this enormous stage and proscenium? And we have to have at least a week of technical rehearsal. And we have to fill the huge pit with the full complement of musicians playing the original orchestrations. When Tim agreed we would have to do that, I signed on as the theatre’s first Artistic Director. But then we had to find a building to rent for our scene shop. Create a costume shop. Find a rehearsal hall. None of this was in place. So much happened so quickly! Before we knew it we had opened our first offering, MY FAIR LADY, and the critics and audiences were on board calling us as good as Broadway! What it is that makes Paramount a great place is people. Their humanity and integrity on both sides of the footlights. Paramount is buoying up the economy of Downtown Aurora and contributing to the excellence of The Chicago Theatre Scene. We have been embraced and acknowledged and supported by both communities. And I am a new man because of it, just to be a part of it, ever grateful.
4) The helicopter. In the script, the scene is entitled: “Kim’s Nightmare.” But it was really mine. I think it’s hard for someone to grasp the tremendous responsibility it is to be a first time Artistic Director and deliver on peoples’ expectations of these great, popular, beloved shows and still be true to one’s gut and vision. I have never thought MISS SAIGON was about a helicopter any more than PHANTOM of the OPERA is about a chandelier. Responsibility has to be taken for the show being set in the Vietnam War. Real lives suffered and souls were lost. It is not some romance in a random war torn setting because this is a non-fictional, historical and very disturbing, tragic time for many American Vets and Vietnamese refugees and survivors. The focus has to be on the human story and not on the space and expense and time it would take to stage a helicopter simply because that is what everyone expects to see. Even if I had the time, money and space, I would not choose to deliver a helicopter to you. I lost sleep thinking, “am I being some arrogant ego maniac thinking like this? Isn’t it important to give the audience what it wants? Am I going to jeopardize the success of the theatre, disappoint our patrons and get killed by the critics?” The authors of the show were inspired by a photograph so the decision was made to base our helicopter scene on a photograph as well. Again, it was people who pulled it off. The Team: the set, the lights, the haze, the wind machines, the sound design, the cast, the crew, everyone rallied around the idea to focus on the victims left behind on that stairway rather than the spectacle of a machine. It is a spectacle of souls suffering and the brutal atrocity that is war.
Love & thanks,