Last week, I called Red Concepcion. He’s the actor currently portraying the Engineer in Miss Saigon’s US tour. After speaking to him, I’m not sure who is more pumped up about the show’s Philadelphia stop- me or Red! With almost two weeks here, March 19th to the 31st, Red is excited that Miss Saigon is making longer than usual visits to each town, giving him a chance to explore the US for the first time.
Miss Saigon begins in the last days of the Vietnam War. Teenager Kim is forced to work in a bar run by the Engineer. Kim meets Chris, an American G.I. and they fall in love. With the fall of Saigon, they are torn apart and Chris returns to the US to live a normal life. We follow the journeys of Kim and Chris over the next few years through survival, secrets, and love.
Red, a native of the Philippines, grew up with parents who worked in musical theatre. He says the theatre scene is thriving in the Philippines now, but not so much when he was young. As a result, his parents left theatre to raise a family and instilled the love of the arts into their son.
“I grew up watching Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Julie Andrews,” Red says. “I wanted to be Gene Kelly after seeing Singing in the Rain.”
And so, he joined glee club. He worked as a voice talent actor (and still does). He then began working in theatre performances throughout the Philippines with credits including Hamlet, West Side Story, and Hairspray to name a few.
His parents also played the Miss Saigon cast recording frequently, a show with a large following in the Philippines. “But [my parents] skipped over some of the Engineer’s parts,” Red says of listening to the songs from the show. “It’s not very kid-friendly!”
Before this US tour, Red played the Engineer for a few years in the UK and Ireland. Prior to landing the role, he had not seen the show. Knowing a bit about the music and the story, he came into the job with a fresh set of eyes.
“One of the challenges [of playing the Engineer] is how to juggle the role,” Red explains. “He’s a criminal, but he also needs to be likable and charismatic. Most deceptive people, like the Engineer, are charming- that’s how they get you!”
Red says the Engineer has unsavory ways because of the character’s background, but his persistence is what endears him to the audience despite how horrible he is. We are introduced to the main characters and their stories very early on into the show. The Engineer has a story as well and Red’s job is to bring this character to life in a way that the audience wants to follow his story as well. “He’s a fool, a villain, the comic relief,” Red says.
Red plays into the humor of the role. Lots of wit is built into the character’s songs, so he uses that to his advantage. He’s a complex character and though he’s an antagonist, Red was still able to find some similarities between the Engineer and himself.
“When I approach a character [I’m playing], I don’t judge them,” Red says. “I have to understand [who they are] and be in the character. I identify because he’s a survivor. The audience identifies as well because of that. The Engineer keeps getting knocked down but finds ways to come out on top. He’s persistent.”
Looking at other roles Red has played in his career, he cites Adam/Felicia in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. He played the character through the show’s Philippines/Singapore run and had a lot of fun doing it…proudly in heels! Though the character is very different than the Engineer, Red likes roles that send the audience home with a broader mind and make them think. In Priscilla, it’s tolerance and acceptance. In Miss Saigon, we are reminded of war and the lengths people will go to for love.
And speaking about love, Red says his favorite song from Miss Saigon is “I Still Believe”. “It’s an amazing song about how love propels these two women to endure. It’s beautiful,” he says.
Red was such a pleasure to talk to and he told me everything I needed to know about the show without giving anything away. I truly can’t wait to see his Engineer and how he helps bring the show to life. Fans of Broadway will not want to miss this one, as Miss Saigon hits the Kimmel Center this week!
Tickets are available here.