Elder Conservatorium graduate Louisa Vilinne makes her musical debut as alternate for Miss Saigon’s Kim - but there’s nothing secondary about her connection to the role.
Louisa Vilinne is Miss Saigon 2.0
When Louisa Vilinne goes to the stage door after a show, “the ones that really speak the most even though it comes in the least words” are middle-aged South-East Asian women who tell her “thank you for making me feel seen”.
“They have no words, but they just hug me because they’re so overwhelmed and their eyes fill with tears and they pepper me with kisses,” she says.
Louisa knows the production is far from “feel-good” and is proud to produce something “substantial”.
Miss Saigon premiered in 1989 on the West End and went on to become one of the big four alongside Cats, Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, winning over 70 major theatre awards.
The musical follows Kim, a young Vietnamese woman, who meets and falls in love with Chris, an American soldier, during the Vietnam War. The couple is separated by the fall of Saigon, after which Kim battles to reunite with the unknowing father of her son.
“Musicals talk about how there is the ‘I am’ song or the ‘I want’ song, but for Kim … there is no time for such luxuries,” Louisa says.
“It’s just ‘I need to provide for my child and I want my child to live better than I did’.”
The fact that conflict and war is still with us generations later “makes me feel very grateful for what I have right now even more”, she says.
The Indonesian-born performer understands the character’s “steely determination” to protect her child on an extreme level: Louisa’s family fled Jakarta to Singapore when she was three years old to escape political conflict.
“Playing Kim is very real because I was one of those kids who had to leave their own home country because of unrest,” she says.
Louisa is also inspired by her grandmother, who told stories of how she’d only see her sailor husband three or four times a year, conceive a child, and wait for him to return to give birth.
“She always only went into labour when he was back – and for her fourth child he was late, but she said she held on and waited one extra week for him to be back in Indonesia,” Louisa says.
“I’m not sure how true that story is, but in many ways, she was a single mum for the longest time… and she had to endure raising four children by herself.”
Louisa’s mother is also integral to her Miss Saigon role, in that she gave Louisa her blessing to move from STEM-centric Singapore to Adelaide in 2019 to study musical theatre.
“I don’t really ask my mum for a lot of things,” Louisa says. “She understood how important it was to me and she said ‘you go, I’ll figure things out here’.”
The actress says there is sentimental value in returning to her “Australian home” of Adelaide with her first production.
“[The Festival Centre is] where I watched so many professional musicals while I was studying… wishing that I could be performing on that stage,” she says.
Now Louisa puts on Aesop’s geranium leaf body balm that gives Kim her orange-tree scent, and tells herself “there’s nothing to prove, only to share”.
“You see your loved ones and how you being on stage has given them hope that dreams come true – it’s the best feeling.”
Miss Saigon is at the Adelaide Festival Centre from January 2–28, 2024. Tickets are available here.
Read more about the production in the Summer print edition of CityMag. Hitting the streets near you soon.