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Miss Saigon premiered in London 30 years ago this September telling the heartbreaking fictional story of Kim, an orphaned bar girl, who embarks on a doomed life changing romance with an American soldier, Chris, at the end of the Vietnam War.
The musical was inspired by a photograph, which Claude-Michel Schönberg (Les Miserables) inadvertently found in a magazine of a Vietnamese mother leaving her child at a departure gate at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to board an airplane headed for the United States where the child’s father, an ex-GI, would be in a position to provide a much better life for the child. Schönberg considered this mother’s actions for her child to be “The Ultimate Sacrifice,” an idea central to the plot of Miss Saigon.
Five years ago (May 2014), the show was revived for the 25th Anniversary with new music and updated sets and lighting designs. One of the most exciting and well received changes in 2014 was the role of Thuy (played in London by Korean actor Kwang-Ho Hong) as sympathetic if not likable. Ray Shell from The Guardian said,
Kwang-Ho Hong is a majestic Thuy with a voice that makes your knees wobble. For once, I questioned Kim’s choice of paramour.
Now five years later we are lucky to see another Korean actor, Jinwoo Jung (USC Graduate), bring a heartfelt Thuy to a new generation of theatre goers.
Jinwoo Jung, whose credits include K-Pop Off-Broadway and The Christians at Mark Taper Forum, saw Kwang-Ho Hong perform as Phantom in Korea before he was a superstar and is proud to follow in his footsteps. Fast forward to 2012, Jinwoo Jung and his then girlfriend, now wife, were accepted to USC for grad school and made the transfer from their homeland of South Korea. So in a sense it will be like coming home again when the tour arrives at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood (Opening Night: 18 July 2019) for a month.
Who is Thuy?
Honor and patriotism are two of the foundations of the character of Thuy that drive him. Because Korea went through Japanese colonialism and many people fought against Japan during the early 20th century – including Jinwoo Jung’s great grandparents – it was easier for him to channel that into his portrayal of Thuy, a character who honors the family and has a certain pride in him that we can achieve our own independence by our own hand.
There aren’t many roles for Asian actors to chew on, like Thuy, so once the national tour open calls happened Jinwoo Jung walked in and gave it everything he had.
After seeing the 2014 Miss Saigon 25th Anniversary film, he was impressed because when Kwang-Ho Hong played Thuy it seemed the new direction of the show was that Thuy was not necessarily the bad guy. He had done bad things but the actual antagonist of the show was the war itself that ruined all the characters of the story. I wanted to play a human being so when it came to the United States and they started audition for the national tour I said “I have to play this part!”
A New Interpretation
At the very first rehearsal Jinwoo Jung had with Laurence Connor (Director) and the principals, Connor asked him to focus on Thuy’s heart.
He is not a bad person, he is in a bad situation and trying his best to figure things out.
In the dramatic Act One finale (including “Coo Coo Princess”), Connor said Kim would probably have gone with Thuy if it weren’t for her son, but she has Tam now and she can’t because she has to save the child. That gave Jung so much information about what his character could offer to Kim.
Making a Difference as a Company
This is a show that speaks to the needs of refugees and people in dire straits like Kim and Engineer. Many of his fellow cast members during the show’s run in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District took the opportunity to feed the homeless and give them free water and t-shirts.
Honoring our Vietnam Veterans
Miss Saigon is based on true events and many people in our generation have forgotten what has happened and what the generations before us have had to go through for us to live in this space and environment. It is really important to remember certain historic events whether good or bad. Jinwoo Jung explains,
It is a so important for us to honor the veterans and for them to feel proud and know their story was told.
How Has Fatherhood Changed The Show for Him?
After his recent paternity leave and birth of his first born son, Jinwoo Jung can now connect on another level with the scene where Kim introduces his character to her son Tam.
A big thank you to Jinwoo Jung for his time and congratulations on being a new father!
Jinwoo Jung hopes that when you come to see Miss Saigon, you will be persuaded to rethink choices and become a better person.