Remember Tam of ‘Miss Saigon’? Meet Geena Quintos!

‘I never understood how legendary it was,’ referring to Miss Saigon. ‘I was so young.’ Photos:

By Cristina DC Pastor

How many of us who watched “Miss Saigon” on Broadway in the 1990s, thought the young child who played Tam was a boy?

How so wrong we were!

This week I met 29-year-old theater actress Geena Quintos who remembers going to Broadway Theatre every day for more than a year to portray the son of a Vietnamese bar girl Kim. To her at the time, it felt like going to work every night and playing Tam eight times a week.

In this tragic love story  written by the exceptional tandem of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, Kim and Tam are  abandoned by the  American G.I. who is Kim’s short-lived romance Chris and Tam’s father. Geena’s role as Tam was brief – doodling on the floor as Kim belts “I’d Give My Life for You” – but it was the drama’s high point.

“I was 4 years old when I auditioned for the role of Tam,” was Geena’s recollection when interviewed by The FilAm. “All I remember from the audition was having to draw whatever I felt in a notebook and throw a ball back and forth between some cast members. It was fun!”

At a young age Geena had no idea she was part of an iconic production that won for Lea Salonga her Tony Award for Outstanding Performance of the Year by an Actress in a Musical. However, Salonga was not Geena’s Kim. It was Deedee Magno who continued the role in 1997 after  Salonga (1991-1995) and Joan Almedilla (1995-1997) had stepped down.

Geena as Tam with Deedee Magno playing her mother Kim. YouTube screen shot

When Salonga made a special Broadway comeback  in 1996 to reprise Kim for one month, Geena portrayed Tam. At the time, Salonga was already a Tony honoree.

“I never understood how legendary it was. I was so young,” she said.  “All I remember was going to work, hanging out with friends who put on their costumes, their wigs and hearing the orchestra.” At the time, too, she alternated with a young child actor named Eric Kramer.

Daughter of a nurse

Geena was born in Sunnyside, Queens to  Filipino parents who were both nurses and now retired. Both were working in the Philippines until they immigrated to the U.S. on a family petition. Her mother Gloria started out as a floor nurse and became an administrator at the Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital and other facilities until her retirement. Her father Isagani worked for Visiting Nurses Services and is now also quietly enjoying his 60s. Her parents are from Lingayen, Pangasinan and also the town of Dimasalang, Masbate.

My mom and dad came in the 1980s to work as nurses in the U.S. My dad’s uncle who was also a nurse showed them around, helped them find jobs. The Aids crisis was huge at the time, and they were opening doors to foreign nurses,” she said. “I am really proud of my parents for the life they have given us. They have worked so hard their whole lives and I want to work hard to give them a great life too.”

Geena in Here Lies Love (top) and Soft Power. (below)

The Quintoses have four children whose names all start with the letter G: Gemini, Gail, Geena, and only brother Ganilo.

Geena is an alumna of LaGuardia Performing Arts High School at Lincoln Center. After “Miss Saigon” she continued to perform in theater  touring the country in various musicals and plays. Her next professional gig was joining the National Tour of “A Chorus Line” when she was 19 years old. She has created roles in Off-Broadway and out-of-town productions.

Her website says she loves the outdoors.  She is a coffee and dessert enthusiast and enjoys binge-watching “Top Chef” when she has time to spare.

Right now, she is part of a production called “Good Enemy” written by Chinese immigrant Yilong Liu to stage at The Audible Theater in the West Village. Geena plays a young college student who is desperate to connect with her distant father who is reckoning with his past after Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. The father role is played by Francis Jue with Alan Ariano, another “Miss Saigon” alum as the swing.

Said Geena, “I have so many wonderful memories from my time in ‘Miss Saigon.’ I loved all the people I met and my fellow cast members who became family to me.”

A feeling she will always treasure is being giddy with excitement as she walked down a Broadway stage with Kim and seeing the stage light up. It was such a sad and intense moment coming from a poignant scene after Act 1, but Geena felt otherwise.

“I would have to bite my lip to stop myself from smiling because I was just so happy.”

© The FilAm 2022

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