Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang Photos: Backstage Q & A with Thom Sesma and the cast of Signature’s Miss Saigon

This week, I took a road trip to visit with Thom Sesma, who is currently starring as The Engineer in Signature’s production of the Tony Award-winning musical Miss Saigon, directed by Signature Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer at the MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue in Arlington, VA.

Thom Sesma as The Engineer, on the set of Signature's production of Miss Saigon in Arlington, VA on October 3, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom Sesma as The Engineer, on the set of Signature’s production of Miss Saigon in Arlington, VA on October 3, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Miss Saigon is a modern, rock-infused adaptation of Puccini’s 1904 opera Madame Butterfly that explores the ongoing impact of love, loss, and the collision of cultures during the Vietnam War, which kicked off Signature’s 2013/2014 season with preview performances on August 16, 2013 and due to popular demand, has been extended through October 6, 2013.

Created by the acclaimed writers of Les Miserables with Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Alain Boublil, and adapted from the original French lyrics by Alain Boublil, Miss Saigon has orchestrations by William David Brohn. Originally produced in London’s West End in 1989, the show played for an astonishing ten years – a run of over four thousand performances. Broadway success followed in 1991.

Diana Huey as Kim, in her dressing room at the MAX Theatre of Signature's production of Miss Saigon in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Diana Huey as Kim, in her dressing room at the MAX Theatre of Signature’s production of Miss Saigon in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

The musical also stars Diana Huey as the Vietnamese bar girl Kim, Gannon O’ Brien as the American GI Chris, Erin Driscoll as his wife Ellen, Chris Sizemore as his best friend John, Christopher Mueller as Thuy and Cheryl Daro as Gigi. Stephen Gregory Smith, James Gardiner, Vincent Kempski, Nicholas Yenson, Kevin Kulp, Ryan Sellers, Katie Mariko Murray, Tamara Young, and Eunice Bae round out the cast.

Miss Saigon features an award-winning creative team that includes Karma Camp (choreographer), Adam Koch (scenic designer), Frank Labowitz (costume designer), Chris Lee (lighting designer), Matt Rowe (sound designer), and Anne Nesmith (wig designer). Gabriel Mangiante is the Music Director, and Kerry Epstein is Production Stage Manager.

Gannon O'Brien, Thom Sesma and Diana Huey, stars of Miss Saigon, in the lobby of Signature's MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Gannon O’Brien, Thom Sesma and Diana Huey, stars of Miss Saigon, in the lobby of Signature’s MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom Sesma

Thom Sesma

Actor/director Thom Sesma is a familiar presence on Broadway and Off-Broadway, in regional theatres, as well as on television. In January 2012, he returned to New York from Las Vegas where he played Scar in Disney’s The Lion King for a two and a half year run at The Mandalay Bay Theatre.

Thom Sesma, who plays Scar in The Lion King Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay, in his dressing room on August 23, 2010. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom Sesma, who plays Scar in The Lion King Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay, in his dressing room on August 23, 2010. Photo by Lia Chang

On Broadway he starred in the Twyla Tharp-Bob Dylan collaboration,The Times They Are A-Changin’. Other credits on and off Broadway and in national tours include leading roles in Miss Saigon, Titanic, Search & Destroy, Man of La Mancha (2003), and in Ivanov, Rashomon, Baba Goya, In a Pig’s Valise, As Thousands Cheer, A Hard Heart, Cymbeline, and Othello. Other credits include Durango, Dinner with Friends, The Molly Maguires, Romeo & Juliet, The Normal Heart, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Twelfth Night, The Winter’s Tale and The King & I, at some of America’s leading theatres including Yale Rep, The McCarter, The Old Globe, Arena Stage, Baltimore Centre Stage, Berkeley Rep, and others.

TV and film credits include guest starring roles on “The Good Wife,” “Person of Interest,” “Third Watch,” “Law & Order,” “Whoopi,” “Trinity,” “Lay the Favorite,” “Over/Under,” among many others and daytime soaps. He trained for several years with the late Uta Hagen, with Sam Waterston, and voice with Joan Lader.

Thom Sesma, who starred as Captain Ahrab in the Twyla Tharp/Dylan Project The Times They Are A-Changin', backstage at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York on November 15, 2006. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom Sesma, who starred as Captain Ahrab in the Twyla Tharp/Dylan Project The Times They Are A-Changin’, backstage at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York on November 15, 2006. Photo by Lia Chang

His directing credits include Jennifer Camp’s Natural History, (Walnut Street Theatre), LIFE (x) 3 (Repertory Theatre of St. Louis), and Outcry (NAATCO), along with Hair, Lend Me a Tenor, The Drawer Boy, Once in a Lifetime, Waiting for Lefty and others in various regional and stock theatres across the country.

Thom is a member of Actors Equity Association (AEA), Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (SAG-AFTRA), and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC).

Thom was born in Sasebo, Japan (his mother is Japanese and his father was a Latino-American) and raised in San Diego, California. He is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego, where he holds a degree in Modern European Intellectual History.

Diana Huey, Ryan Sellers and Thom Sesma on the set of Signature's Miss Saigon in Arlington, VA, during their fight call on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Diana Huey, Ryan Sellers and Thom Sesma on the set of Signature’s Miss Saigon in Arlington, VA, during their fight call on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

I came to photograph Thom backstage for my Lia Chang Asian Pacific American Theater Photography and Other Works Portfolio in the AAPI Collection/Library of Congress. We sat down to chat about the show, a new generation of Asian American musical theater performer and how he spent his summer in musical theater Bangkok.

Thom Sesma in the hair department, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom Sesma in the hair department, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: What has the audience response been like to Miss Saigon?
Thom: Fantastic, amazing. Signature is an actors’ theatre, in the truest sense of the word. And it has a very mutually supportive, almost family-like sensibility. This has been absolutely wonderful…Audiences here in the DC area are incredibly sophisticated and perceptive. They see things from a wide variety of perspectives and that’s refreshing.

Thom Sesma in the hair department, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom Sesma in the hair department, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

I think Miss Saigon has gotten a reputation for being a spectacular show of epic proportion, and I think it’s pretty unfair, you know, that it’s all about helicopter and a Cadillac. In fact, it’s a very, very intimate show. It’s about the journeys of three people, and ultimately five main characters and their search for redemption, after a long conflict in which there were no clear answers, there were no good guys and bad guys. There were just people that were trying to do the right thing. Invariably, their attempts to do the right thing go wrong for each of them.

Ryan Sellers and Thom Sesma, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Ryan Sellers and Thom Sesma, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

The show asks very, very difficult questions, but I think of all of those British super-musicals that came through the musical theater from the late 70’s – 90’s, this was probably the most well-made, certainly the most intelligent. I think dramaturgically, the most well constructed, and it was also the most complex in its ambitions of making an intimate story the core of this big epic musical. It’s easy for a big show to pretend to be an intimate human story. And while they might be emotionally moving, they’re not necessarily small stories, not like Miss Saigon. That’s what truly makes this an extraordinary piece of theatre, and I think audiences get that. In this theater of 400-500 seats, it’s impossible to do this in any other way, than as a very intimate play. As soon as you try to explode it, as soon as you try to magnify it into something more epic, and sometimes the music demands that- it is a challenge for the actor to resist that- it becomes phony, it becomes arch, it becomes bad acting. One of the original creatives on the show, came to see it. I spoke to him afterwards, he was smiling, he had this curious smile on his face. I asked him what it was all about. He just looked at me and said, “See, it just really is about three people.”

Thom Sesma in the hair department, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom Sesma in the hair department, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: You are revisiting the role of The Engineer for the first time since leaving the Second National Tour of Miss Saigon in 1997. What is it like to revisit the role of The Engineer?
Thom: Well I didn’t even listen to the music for the show for 16 years after I left the show, so it was very surreal to go in and re-learn it, if it was still deep down in my body and my distant memory… For me, as an actor, it was a brand new show because the original was really just gone.. The scope and the designs of the show are so different from the national tour that it was learning something brand new, with a new sensibility and a new consciousness. It was our own reinvention of a well-designed and well-worn wheel. It was really wonderful. There wasn’t a comparison. It was a brand new show. For me, as an actor, it was a brand new role in a brand new show because the original was in every sense just gone.

Thom Sesma, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom Sesma, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

What I did remember about working on it before, was the people. That was a different generation of Asian American musical theater performer, than the current generation of Asian American musical theater performer. Most of those Asian American performers hadn’t been exposed to a lot of opportunities to work, back then, all there was, was Miss Saigon. Consequently, over the past sixteen years, an entire generation of Asian American performer has grown up in this country knowing that there’s the possibility that they can work, and not just in Miss Saigon, but in television, in film, in musical theater. The roles are written for them, ensembles are filled with them occasionally. And it’s exciting. We’re also one more generation away from the Vietnam war. In the mid-nineties, the Vietnam was still resonating in our country. It was still the tailend of current events. 15, 16, 17 years later, it’s history. It’s ancient history. That was very interesting. As far as the nuts and bolts of doing the play, this was brand new. It’s wonderful.

Kim Huber and Thom Sesma. Photo by Christopher Clark, Music Theatre of Wichita

Kim Huber and Thom Sesma. Photo by Christopher Clark, Music Theatre of Wichita

Lia: What other shows were you working on this summer?
Thom: I was doing a workshop of a new musical that takes place in Bangkok called Behind the Painting, by Richard Maltby and David Shire. Then I went to Wichita to do The King and I; then I came here to start rehearsals for Miss Saigon, the second half of which takes place in Bangkok. Just this week, on my day off, I returned to New York to do a reading of Behind The Painting. In a way, I’ve been in musical theater Bangkok since June of this year. It is now October.
Production Photos: Music Theatre of Wichita’s The King and I Starring Thom Sesma, Kim Huber, Alan Ariano, Karl Josef Co, Kay Trinidad, Tami Swartz at Century II Performing Arts Center through July 14, 2013

Thom Sesma, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom Sesma, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom Sesma, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom Sesma, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom: Behind the Painting is a very, very interesting new musical which I absolutely love, not just because it takes place in Bangkok, or that it has Asian themes, or that the leading man is a young Thai man. The thing that I love about it is that is an unapologetic, mature romantic love story between two grownups, with some of the most rapturous, romantic music that I’ve heard in a Broadway score in years. Very, very traditional American musical theater. The plot is based on a very famous Thai short story which has been made into a couple of films there, is about a young man who has a love affair with the younger wife of a Siamese diplomat. This is in the years right before World War II. In this incarnation of Behind the Painting, the Thai diplomat’s wife happens to be an American. This young Thai man, in addition to falling head over heels with this beautiful woman, is also in love with America. So much in love that he is in danger of cutting himself off from his Thai roots. It is an interesting journey because it is a well told story about how this American woman whom he loves, is obsessed with, and who loves him in return, is the one who inspires him to return to his Siamese roots. The role I play is that of the diplomat, the older husband. The wife was played by Jill Paice, whose work in the reading was just extraordinary, who is currently on Broadway, playing the schoolteacher in Matilda. And it stars the Thai pop sensation Bie as the young man. It was presented in Bangkok by Broadway producer Thakonkiat Veerawan. The American adaptation is by Richard Maltby (with whom Thom worked with on Broadway’s Nick and Nora) and David Shire in collaboration with Thakonkiat (“Tak”) and is being produced by Tak and Jack Dalgliesh.

Cheryl Daro, who plays Gigi, in the hair department backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Cheryl Daro, who plays Gigi, in the hair department backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Remaining performances for Miss Saigon
Sunday at 2:00 pm & 7:00pm

Signature Theatre is located at 4200 Campbell Avenue (22206) off I-395 at the Shirlington exit (#6). After the exit, blue Signature signs mark the way to the theatre. Free parking is available in two adjacent public garages. Please note that Campbell Avenue is a new street and some GPS online mapping systems do not yet recognize Signature Theatre’s address. For directions visit http://signature-theatre.org/map.htm.
CONTACT INFORMATIONSubscriptions/Groups: (703) 820-9771
Single Tickets: Ticketmaster (703) 573-SEAT (7328)
Signature Theatre • 4200 Campbell Avenue • Arlington, VA 22206
http://www.signature-theatre.org

Thom Sesma, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

Thom Sesma, backstage at Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

The set of Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

The set of Signature’s production of Miss Saigon at the MAX Theatre in Arlington, VA on October 2, 2013. Photo by Lia Chang

ABOUT SIGNATURE
Recipient of the 2009 Regional Theatre Tony Award®, Signature Theatre is a non-profit professional theater company in Arlington, Virginia dedicated to producing contemporary musicals and plays, reinventing classic musicals, and developing new work. Under the leadership of co-founder and Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer and Managing Director Maggie Boland, Signature has presented 38 world premiere productions and is renowned for combining Broadway-quality productions with intimate playing spaces.

In addition to hosting the finest talent from the DC metropolitan area and New York, Signature has been home to such theatre luminaries as Chita Rivera, George Hearn, Hunter Foster, Emily Skinner, Ann Reinking, Marc Kudisch, Judy Kuhn, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Cameron Mackintosh, Terrence McNally, and the company’s signature composer, Stephen Sondheim.

Since its founding in 1989, Signature has won 78 Helen Hayes Awards for excellence in the Washington, DC region’s professional theater and has been honored with 320 nominations.

Signature is partially supported by a grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts and by a gift from the Arlington Cultural Affairs Division of Arlington Economic Development and the Arlington Commission for the Arts.

Lia Chang. Photo by Thom Sesma

Lia Chang. Photo by Thom Sesma

Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia recently starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, Lorey Hayes, Marcus Naylor and Phynjuar.

Other articles by Lia Chang:
A Summer in Bangkok for Thom Sesma, Star of Signature’s Miss Saigon
Production Photos: Music Theatre of Wichita’s The King and I Starring Thom Sesma, Kim Huber, Alan Ariano, Karl Josef Co, Kay Trinidad, Tami Swartz at Century II Performing Arts Center through July 14, 2013
National Black Theatre Festival Photos: Backstage with André De Shields, Marie Thomas, Erin Cherry, Sean Phillips and Morocco Omari in Knock Me A Kiss
Photos: Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Phylicia Rashad, John Earl Jelks, Leslie Uggams, Anthony Chisholm, S. Epatha Merkerson, Taraji P. Henson, Jesse L. Martin, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Kenny Leon and More Set for August Wilson American Century Cycle Recording Series at The Greene Space in NY, Aug. 26-Sept. 28, 2013
Photos: All-Access Pass to August Wilson’s Two Trains Running with John Earl Jelks, Harvy Blanks, Chuck Cooper, Anthony Chisholm, Owiso Odera, Roslyn Ruff and James A. Williams
Signature Theatre’s 2013-14 Season Features New Works by Albee, Hwang, Enos, Taylor, Wilson, Clarke and Jacobs-Jenkins
Photos: The 58th Annual Drama Desk Awards and After Party
Photos: Yellow Fever Playwright Rick Shiomi Explores New Territory with An All-Female Cast
Other articles on Thom Sesma:
Christine Toy Johnson, Thom Sesma, Ali Ewolt, Jose Llana, Ann Harada, Telly Leung and More Set for The Asian American Composers and Lyricists Project at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre on May 19, 2013
Thom Sesma, Francis Jue, Robin de Jesus and John Tartaglia set for MUNY’s Aladdin, July 5-13
Thom Sesma is the keynote speaker for the Library of Congress celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) at the Mary Pickford Theater on May 17
Photos & Video Disney’s The Lion King Las Vegas-In the Makeup Chair with Thom Sesma
Spotlight on Shanghai Moon’s Thom Sesma
Photos: Highlights of Shinsai: Theaters for Japan (3pm) with Andre Bishop, Mary Beth Hurt, Jennifer Lim, Angela Lin, Philip Kan Gotanda, Thom Sesma, Sab Shimono, Richard Thomas, Jay O. Sanders, and more
Photos: Highlights of Shinsai: Theaters for Japan (8pm) with Oskar Eustis, Patti LuPone, Lisa Emery, Ann Harada, Paolo Montalban, Thom Sesma, Sab Shimono, Henry Stram, Richard Thomas, John Weidman and more
Extended through 8/23- “In Rehearsal” Lia Chang Theater Portfolio at Library of Congress Featuring Robert Lee and Leon Ko’s Heading East Starring BD Wong, Thom Sesma as Scar in The Lion King Las Vegas
Photos: On the town with Rick Shiomi, Co-Editor of “Asian American Plays for a New Generation”, in D.C. & NY
Backstage at The Lion King Las Vegas with Thom Sesma
Thom Sesma as Scar in The Lion King at Mandalay bay
Thom Sesma, Peter Kim and Andrew Cristi star in Durango
Thom Sesma Stars in Jeanne Sakata’s Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi
Thom Sesma in The Epic Theatre Ensemble’s A HARD HEART
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive.

SaveSave

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow Backstage Pass with Lia Chang on WordPress.com