Elizabeth Paw '00, Starring in Miss Saigon Successfully Blends
School and Stage
By Lisa Mitsuko Kitayama
Why is it
that so many of Broadway's brightest stars claim Columbia roots?
From the composer and lyricist teams of Rodgers and Hart and
Rodgers and Hammerstein, to a noted playwright like Terence McNally
'60, to Death of a Salesman star Brian Dennehy '60, the connection
between the two worlds runs deeper than mere pavement.
the tradition of College people shining on Broadway is Elizabeth
Paw '00, one of the stars of the long-running musical Miss
Saigon. Though she hasn't yet received the Tonys and other
accolades that have gone to luminaries like Oscar Hammerstein II
'16, Lorenz Hart '18, Richard Rodgers '23, McNally and Dennehy, the
24-year-old Paw is exceptional in that she has achieved so much
while also a full-time student at Columbia.
Paw's path to
Broadway began at age 9, in a summer community theater production
of The Sound of Music. At 16 she auditioned for Miss
Saigon, and by her first year at Columbia she was appearing in
the lead role of Kim at the Cameron Macintosh Theater on
Puccini's Madame Butterfly and set in the final days before
the American evacuation from the Vietnamese capital, Miss Saigon is
the ill-fated love story between an American soldier, Chris, and a
young Vietnamese prostitute, Kim. The New York production has been
seen by over 5.5 million people; 10 international productions swell
the total audience to more than 13 million.
is a hectic one, but Paw has learned to juggle her roles as student
and performer. She was a member of the Long Island children's
theater troop "Kids for Kids" and appeared in school productions,
and at 16 she began studying at the American Academy of the
Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. She first auditioned for Miss
Saigon while she was a sophomore at Half Hollow Hills High
School in Dix Hills, L.I, and a year and a half later, during the
summer before her senior year, she was hired as an understudy for
the role of Kim. She climbed the ladder from understudy to
alternate for the matinees and then to the lead, which she played
on Broadway for six months before joining the second national
was an adjustment for Paw to balance her mornings as a student and
afternoons as the tragic heroine, but she credits her fellow cast
members for their support and guidance.
"It was great
watching them perform and watching how they lived their lives
outside as well," she said. "That was a big deal for me, because
all of a sudden, here I was making money and coming into the city
every day from Long Island. At the same time it was my senior year
in high school, so they were also involved in my experience as far
as homecoming and prom - someone from the show even designed my
prom dress. It was very much a family experience for me, and I'm
very appreciative of that."
In the fall
of 1994, at the same time that she entered the College, Paw's
responsibilities with Miss Saigon increased. Then, when the
second USA national tour was launched in 1995, Paw took a year off
from Columbia to tour with the company. The production averaged
four weeks in each city, staging eight shows each week. Paw played
the main role of Kim and was responsible for six evening
performances, with an alternate taking over the two
From the National tour of Miss Saigon.
PHOTO © JOAN MARCUS
grateful for the chance to travel the country and for the
experience she gained on and off the stage, she is happy to be back
with the New York production. Since November, Paw has been playing
Kim twice a week at matinees, which she will continue to do until
her contract expires in July. This schedule has allowed her to
focus on her schoolwork and other non-Broadway interests, which
this year have included a magazine internship at ESPN. A political
science major, she is interested in a career in journalism after
graduation this month and plans to gain more practical experience
in the field this summer.
"As much as I
love theater, I wanted to pursue my education and other interests
as well, and New York was the ideal place to do that. I've been
very fortunate," she said. She's also been involved with the show
for so long, stepping into the role of Kim for the past year's
matinees has been "second nature. It's a great release for me,
especially with school and the magazine. I can just relax and enjoy
the time commitment of the show, Paw has taken six years to
complete what is traditionally a four-year college experience, and
has seen many friends from her entering class graduate before her.
But she harbors no regrets. Her experience with Miss Saigon
afforded her the exciting opportunity to live in different cities
and meet many people. It also paid for her education.
Paw says that
one of her favorite aspects of being involved with Miss
Saigon for seven years has been working offstage with the
children who have played her son in the various
She also has
a favorite moment in the show. It's a number in the second act,
"Sun and Moon Reprieve," where Kim is dressing in her wedding
clothes before what she thinks will be her meeting with Chris.
"I've always loved the way that moment is staged," she said. "It's
the one moment Kim has in the show where she gets to be happy and
to be reflective; in the rest of the show, she is willing to do
something for someone else, or pushing for something."
relates to it so well because, as a woman who has spent so much of
her young life on the go, Paw understands the importance of such
moments of solitude.
author: Lisa Mitsuko Kitayama is an editorial assistant for
CCT and a graduate student in GSAS. Out of respect for the hearing
public, she has no intention of venturing near the musical world of
Broadway, except as an audience member.