When Jackie Nguyen was 17, she went to see "Miss Saigon" at the former Starlight Theatre in Balboa Park.
A competitive hip-hop dancer at the time, Nguyen attended Preuss School UCSD and interned at the La Jolla Playhouse where she would organize headshots and escort actors in for auditions. She also performed at the Del Mar Fair and at SeaWorld during its past Summer Nights events, opening for big names like Ashlee Simpson.
While her interest in musical theater started to pique at the Playhouse, it wasn't until a teacher convinced her that she finally went to see a musical. Her best friend worked at the Starlight Theatre as a plane spotter — someone who would alert the actors on stage to freeze while a plane flew over — so they saw "Miss Saigon" together.
"That was my first real experience for musical theater," she said. "After that, I was so enamored."
Now, 13 years later, she's gone on national and international tours performing in "My Fair Lady," "Hair," and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." But perhaps her most significant role yet is touring with the ensemble of the show that started it all and bringing it back home. "Miss Saigon" opens on July 9 at the San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., with shows through July 14.
"It is the ultimate full-circle moment, especially doing 'Miss Saigon,'" Nguyen said. "That's where I first saw a Broadway tour, and now I get to bring a Broadway tour back home. It's insane."
Beyond the ties to her childhood and the beginning of her career in musical theater, Nguyen said she's connected to the show because it resembles so much of what her mother, Minh Nguyen, went through when she escaped Vietnam more than 30 years ago.
"My mom has a really close connection to the show because a lot of her story and her journey from Vietnam to America is pretty similar to that of Kim's," she said.
"My mom was 17 when she met her first husband, who was an American G.I. in the war. They had three children, and she fell in love, married him, and was brought over to America in 1984. It was just a long process because of everything."
While her mother will definitely be attending the show, Nguyen said she hopes to see other Vietnamese faces in the crowd.
"There is a huge Vietnamese population in San Diego, and I hope that many of them are able to make it out," she said. "This is a huge show, with a huge cast and amazing Broadway elements and, I'm just really proud of what we're going to bring home."
For tickets and more information about "Miss Saigon," visit broadwaysd.com.