Sometimes, a blind email from Dad can change a young artist's life.

Twenty-one-year-old Emily Bautista, who portrays one of the most heart-wrenching romantic leads in musical theater, landed the role of understudy to Kim in "Miss Saigon" on Broadway after her father sent a "random email" to famed producer Cameron Mackintosh's website asking for his daughter, then a high school senior, to be seen.

"My daughter is very accomplished, she loves musical theater; if you guys have any auditions, we would love to have her be seen," the email read, said Emily Bautista, who grew up in Simsbury, Conn., and studied at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts nearby in high school.

Her father knew no one in the musical theater business. But his shot in the dark worked: His query went all the way up the chain of command to Tara Rubin Casting, which asked Bautista, who is of mainly Filipino descent, to send in her head shot and resume.

By the time she was 18 and a freshman in college, Bautista was called in to New York for her first "Miss Saigon" audition. In the highly competitive world of musical theater, the actress had not been accepted into a musical theater program for college. She began a degree in theater studies, which focused on the business side of the industry, at Ithaca College in New York, and was planning to switch to a communications degree.

All of that changed when Bautista first auditioned for the role of Kim, who starts out at age 17 in the "Miss Saigon" story, in January 2016.

"I was called back into New York about 10 times" said Bautista, who traveled by bus from Ithaca to New York City.

Just before sophomore year, she landed the roles of Kim understudy and Bar Girl in the Broadway production of "Miss Saigon," which played a limited engagement in 2017-18 before kicking off its national tour in September. Bautista was just 18 when she booked the role and 19 when she began rehearsals for her Broadway debut.

Understudying for Eva Noblezada, she played Kim about 16 times on Broadway. Bautista now plays the lead role on the tour, which will run at Playhouse Square's State Theatre in Cleveland Tuesday through Feb. 17.

"I think definitely lots of stars aligned," Bautista said of her Broadway debut. The actress, speaking by phone earlier this month from the tour in Washington, D.C., said being the right age and look for the part had a lot to do with it.

The musical by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, also the creators of "Les Miserables," hadn't played on Broadway since its original 10-year run that ended in 2001. It also hadn't toured the United States since the second national tour, which ended in 2000.

The "Miss Saigon" revival opened in London in May 2014 to record-breaking advance sales, where it ran until 2016 before transferring to Broadway. The revival also will play in Germany and Switzerland over the next year and is also slated for Asia.

War-torn love story

The musical starts in 1975 with the story of young Vietnamese woman Kim, who is orphaned by the Vietnam War and forced to work in a bar run by the Engineer. She meets and falls in love with American G.I. Chris but they're torn apart by the fall of Saigon.

For three years, Kim struggles to find her way back to Chris, who has no idea he's fathered a son. The production's dramatic score includes Broadway hits "The Heat Is on in Saigon," "The Movie in My Mind," "Last Night of the World" and "American Dream."

Playing Kim, who has an undying love for Chris, is an emotionally devastating role. Bautista said that as an understudy on Broadway, playing a romantic love interest was very new to her.

In the national tour, she plays opposite leading man Anthony Festa as Chris, with whom she has formed a solid bond of trust.

"It's definitely a little bit awkward at first. Those love scenes we do are very intense," Bautista said. "He [Festa] really made me feel comfortable. He's a very giving actor."

Kim is a single mother fighting to survive in a war-torn country. Later in the story, she and other refugees, along with the corrupt Engineer, set out on a ship to Bangkok, Thailand.

Bautista said rehearsing the musical's refugee scene in August was eerie as the news showed real-life families being torn apart at the U.S.-Mexican border at the time.

"I remember turning on the news and it was children in cages," she said. "It would be rehearsing the refugee scene and going home and seeing that actually happening [on the news] and loved ones being torn away from each other."

Bautista has been very busy since her fortuitous Broadway debut: In between "Miss Saigon" on Broadway and on tour, she also played Eponine in the current North American tour of "Les Miserables," a show that she said she has always seen as racially ambiguous.

The huge "Miss Saigon" cast of 42 features both Asian and Western performers. Filipino actor Red Concepcion leads the tour as the Engineer, having come from the UK tour, and Jinwoo Jung, a native of Korea, plays Thuy.

"We're coming into a time where there are a lot more shows for people who look like me," Bautista said. "I think before this, there weren't a lot of shows for us."

"I've been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I definitely think there's a lot of ground to be gained but we're moving in that direction. I think I'm very lucky to have entered the business when I did."

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.