Meggie Cansler is not the only metro area connection to the cast of “Miss Saigon.”
Four-year-olds Daphne Valenta of Shawnee and Arianna Yi of Kansas City alternate in the role of Tam, the young son of the American GI and a Vietnamese woman. In order to play the role, the young actresses and a parent had to agree to travel out of town with the show, which is a co-production of Starlight and theatres in Connecticut, Detroit and St. Paul.
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Daphne, who is part Czech and Chinese, auditioned for the role after her mother saw an article in a local Chinese newspaper she receives. Daphne had a little performing experience through recitals for Nallia’s School of Dance, where she takes lessons.
“But we really didn’t know what to expect,” said her father, Daniel Valenta. “But after starting to come here (Starlight), now she’s very excited.”
Valenta described his daughter as a bit shy but “quite mature for her age.”
“We’re honored to be a part of this,” he said. “She’s definitely got opportunities there, but I don’t want to push her. It could be a great start to a career.”
Arianna, a preschooler at Oak Hill Day School, got the call to audition through Talented Unlimited, an agency that represents her for modeling work. Her audition consisted of playing games and following directions. Her mother Judy Yi described Arianna as an extremely happy, outgoing little girl with very long hair.
“The challenge for her is portraying a boy in a war-torn country,” Yi said. “The hard part is being serious. We’ve had talks about how to be serious. She said she thinks about when her momma and daddy give her a time out,” she said.
Arianna has one additional hurdle to jump over before opening night; cutting her long hair so she’ll look like a boy.
“I spoke about it with her and she seemed OK with getting a Tinkerbelle haircut,” Yi said, “We’re hoping to donate it to Locks of Love.
Yi will also join her daughter on tour to the other cities for this production of “Miss Saigon.” According to both Valenta and Yi, their daughters have become fast friends which will make traveling together much easier. Both girls are being paid for their first professional stage role. While Daphne’s father isn’t sure his daughter will pursue a career in professional theater, Yi isn’t ruling it out for Arianna.
“She’s a very bright girl,” Yi said of Arianna. “I would be thrilled if she wanted to pursue a career in the arts.”