The heat is on in Adelaide this January as Miss Saigon arrives at the Festival Theatre with young, diverse Asian-Australian talent – led by Sean Miley Moore playing a revolutionised Engineer – ready to tell their stories like never before.
Miss Saigon’s Seann Miley Moore is serving ‘slayasian energy’
Seann Miley Moore is confident their “Enginqueer is here to stay, honey”.
Their surety in such a zeitgeist wasn’t easily achieved, the Indonesia-born singer having left Australia for Europe 10 years ago to chase a reception lacking here.
Seann says of diversity in theatre – that they can bring “big slayasian energy” and “the gorgeous rainbow flag” to their role as Miss Saigon’s Engineer – “means the absolute world”.
“It’s a testament to the Australian creatives and also [producer] Cameron Mackintosh championing new voices and new ways to deliver a show that’s been around for 30 years,” they say.
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.
Seann’s Engineer is the owner of Dreamland nightclub where Kim is a sex worker.
Miss Saigon is at the Adelaide Festival Centre from January 2, 2024
“I didn’t know this role was for me because it was played a certain way,” the Filipino-Australian says.
“Asian representation, especially with pimps or sellers, they’ve sort of been played a submissive, foxy sort of way.
“I was like this is not how I want to play this character.”
Taking musical inspiration from the “so homoerotic” ‘The American Dream’ lyric fat like a chocolate éclair as I suck out the cream and ‘The Heat Is On In Saigon’, the performer decided to “amp up the sex”.
“[The Engineer] is the ultimate showman; he is sell, sell, sell.
“It’s nightlife, it’s girls, it’s sex, it’s making the deal, and it’s really working the crowd he has, on and off the stage.”
Seann is adamant that “the fierceness that I see in [Kim’s] eyes, there’s nothing submissive and there’s nothing submissive about Asian people at all”.
“This Kim has claws; she came in with all her nails,” they say.
“When I was a young kid watching … I just saw these fierce, fabulous women owning their bodies and owning who they are.
“As their engineer, I am an ally to these ladies, because in this house we are in charge.”
Abigail Adriano who plays Kim says there is more “lion” to the character “than what the text on the surface seems to show”.
“Unlike previous productions, we’ve really increased the dynamic that we have,” Abi says.
“It looks like the Engineer [is in charge], who’s like ‘come on, you can do this, you do that, I’ve got plans for you’ but I love to highlight that Kim is the writer of her own destiny.”
Seann’s time at Pride festivals overseas may have helped them prepare for their role, but they don’t desire the same path for the next generation.
“Audiences are really feeling all the fire and passion in the show because all my POC Australian, Australian-Asian people are giving all of themselves… but the main issue is where are the other Asian stories in Australia?” they say.
“I don’t want my colleague Abi to leave [in order] to be a leading lady.
“She can be a leading lady in this Asian musical, but I hope she can be a leading lady like on Home and Away.”
Abi, more than a decade younger than her castmate, has appeared in The Voice Kids (2014) and Matilda (2015).
“I have been showered with so many opportunities here in Australia… a lot of Asian people in our cast who are much older than me, they have fought for representation,” she says.
“What it means to me is that someone who looks like me sitting in the audience can say to their mums or say to themselves ‘if she can do it then I can do it’.”
Seann says the “unapologetic” production contributes to rising “Asian excellence” in the entertainment industry.
“We’re gonna be in the summer so all I can say is: Adelaide, the heat is on in Saigon.”