Stacie Bono plays Ellen, the wife left behind by an American soldier during the Vietnam War in the new national touring company of Cameron Mackintosh’s Broadway revival, Miss Saigon.
It’s a challenging role, to say the least, and Bono’s moments on stage in the updated version of Boublil and Schonberg’s Tony-winning musical are wrenching and emotional. In our interview, Bono talks about the difficulty of embodying the betrayed wife when audiences are naturally rooting for the success of the love story that’s central to the plot.
How would you describe Miss Saigon to someone not familiar with the musical or this particular production?
As an epic story of the survival of love during the tumultuous Vietnam War. The romantic love within the story is life-altering for both lovers, but the truly profound love within the show is that of mother and son. The story itself is beautiful, but enhanced by the gorgeous score, it is truly awe-inspiring. Also — it has a super cool helicopter.
Do you remember the original, and what are some of the ways the 2019 production is different than Miss Saigon in the 1990s?
The original album was a huge part of my childhood, but I never had the opportunity to see the original production except for bits and pieces on YouTube. There have been quite a few lyric changes since the original, even a new song for my character, Ellen. The aim of this updated production is to make the story more gritty and realistic, so the audience can really understand the pain and consequences of the war.
Your part accounts for just 20 minutes on stage but is such a pivotal piece of the story. How did you approach this role and what about it appeals to you?
Ellen is definitely a very challenging role. Although she is faultless, she is commonly viewed as the villain of the story, as it’s her existence that denies Kim her happy ending. In my approach to her portrayal, my biggest goal was to make her as fully flushed out of a human as possible with her limited time onstage. It was imperative to show the audience all the different facets of the emotions she is juggling as her husband’s betrayal is revealed.
The story packs much more of a punch if Ellen is a sympathetic, compassionate woman put in a horrible situation, rather than someone digging her claws into her man and cursing the universe for her circumstances.
Can you describe your biggest musical moment with Ellen?
It’s the new song, “Maybe,” which has replaced “Now That I’ve Seen Her.” The impetus for this song is the revelation that her husband lied to her about his relationship, love and marriage with Kim. “Maybe” is a push/pull of emotions as Ellen processes her husband’s deception, tries to reassure herself of his devotion, and finally comes to the decision that if a life with Kim would finally bring him peace and happiness, she would let him go.
What is the biggest challenge in playing the wife at the center of a love triangle?
Dealing with the pain of betrayal every night. It’s only 20 minutes onstage, but that third of an hour is wrought with a lot of intense emotions. The other challenge, which is something I shouldn’t even consider, but my ego sometimes does, is that the odds for the audience’s favor are stacked so highly against me. They have emotionally invested in this epic romance between Kim and Chris. Although I am his lawful wife, I am the “other woman.” That is a little hard to deal with, but I know my role is important in delivering the gravitas of this story, so I do my job.
Cover photo: (From left) Red Concepción as The Engineer, Jace Chen as Tam and Emily Bautista as Kim in the North American Tour of Miss Saigon. Photo Matthew Murphy