Actor's Role in 'Miss Saigon' Helps Him Uncover Family's Own Ties to Vietnam War - NBC 7 San Diego

Actor's Role in 'Miss Saigon' Helps Him Uncover Family's Own Ties to Vietnam War

"I am Vietnamese, and the show is centered around the Vietnam War and the Vietnamese people, and my parents escaped during that war," the Vietnamese actor said. "It has a lot of significance to me."

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    Actor's Role in 'Miss Saigon' Helps Him Uncover Family's Own Ties to Vietnam War
    Matthew Murphy
    The touring cast of "Miss Saigon."

    Actor Matthew Overberg grew up in Australia, the son of two refugees from the Vietnam War. 

    So joining the cast of the hit musical "Miss Saigon" on tour felt like more than just another job to him. It meant a lot to the actor -- and it's brought his family closer together. 

    "I am Vietnamese, and the show is centered around the Vietnam War and the Vietnamese people, and my parents escaped during that war," Overberg said in a phone interview with NBC 7 San Diego. "It has a lot of significance to me." 

    "Miss Saigon" tells the story of Kim, a young Vietnamese woman orphaned by the war and forced to work in a bar where she falls in love with an American G.I. named Chris. 

    Only when he booked the musical did the Vietnamese actor speak with his parents about their experiences fleeing from the Vietnam War, for the first time ever.  

    "I got them to open up about their experiences in the war, in Vietnam, and they hadn't actually told me that," Overberg explained. "I'm 27, and it's been 27 years of me not knowing their stories." 

    During the Vietnam War, Overberg's father traveled by foot, bus and horseback across Vietnam trying to escpe, pretending to be a Vietnamese teacher under the Communist regime to get into Thailand. 

    "If he had been discovered, they probably would have killed him," Overberg said. 

    His father was turned away from one country, but ended up in Malaysia as a refugee before eventually relocating to Australia. 

    During the Vietnam War, his mother was very young. She drifted out to sea for months and tried to find refuge in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Eventually, she ended up in Australia, where his parents would eventually meet. 

    The fact that his mother is even alive is a miracle, Overberg said. 

    "Even today, there's stories like that happening: of people drowning at sea, moms not being let into other countries, it's still happening," Overberg said. "My mom was one of those people. It was a miracle that she made it."

    Learning about his parent's trecherous journey has brought the family closer together, the actor said. 

    "I know much more about their history and I've told the whole company about their story," Overberg said. "They're just really proud that stories like theirs are being shared on a global scale." 

    The actor first saw the musical in 2008; it immediately landed on his list of dream shows to join. 

    But at the time, Overberg had his heart set on becoming a violinist. 

    Something about the show, though -- the orchestrations, the music, "everything is so grand and soaring and massive," Overberg said -- changed the course of his life. He eventually became a performer. 

    "Seeing other Asian people on stage, which in 2008 was something I had never seen before, and people singing at the top of their lungs with excellent technique but still dancing and doing flips, and all the costumes and set changes -- everything was so wow," he said.

    Though "Miss Saigon" is a love story, Overberg said, he hopes audiences can see past that narrative and take in the whole picture. 

    "It's a love story not between a man and woman, but also a love story between a woman and her country, a woman and her family, and her culture," Overberg said. 

    The actor wants audiences to consider the show in context of the current political and cultural climate, especially given current events. 

    "I just hope that it makes people aware that things happening in the show are still happening today," Overberg said. 

    "Miss Saigon" runs in San Diego at the San Diego Civic Theatre from July 9 to July 14. For tickets, click here. 

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