Rockville native Eymard Cabling is back in Washington performing in Miss Saigon, which runs through January 13 at the Kennedy Center. Based on the opera Madame Butterfly and from the creators of Les Misérables, the musical follows an American soldier and a Vietnamese woman, Kim, who fall in love in Saigon during the Vietnam War and have a child. Like most onstage couples, the duo is star-crossed: Chased by the Engineer, who owns the bar where Kim works, the two are separated by the conflicts of war while Kim struggles to reunite her child with his father. Cabling alternates playing the Engineer and performing in the ensemble. We chatted with him about representation, DC’s local scene, and what it’s like to perform at home.
What does Miss Saigon mean to you?
Miss Saigon is the first show in which I ever saw an Asian performing in theater. I was totally inspired. I didn’t even know that was possible when I was 16 years-old. It was the first show that made me believe that this career could be possible. It’s always been an inspirational show, and it’s changed my life for about 16 years now.
The story of Miss Saigon is about a mother who would give her life to have her son or child have a better life. That, to me, is my mom’s story: She was born and raised in the Philippines, and she immigrated here to the US in the late ’70s. To imagine her getting on an airplane and coming to a country that she’s never been to before, leaving her family and what she’s familiar with—that to me is the ultimate sacrifice. I’m eternally grateful for that, so that’s like Miss Saigon to me.
How did you get your start in theater?
I got into theater later in life, when I was in high school. A teacher told me to join the drama club and I became hooked. It was an after-school activity, and that was the first place that I ever stepped on a stage. I just felt at home. A friend of mine told me to attend a drama pre-college program in the summer at Carnegie-Mellon, and then I went to college for theater there.
How does it feel to be back in your hometown?
I’m so excited to be home. When I’m back in Rockville, I sleep in my childhood bedroom. I think my mom has purchased over 100 tickets to the show on her credit card. Everybody is coming—friends, family, acquaintances.
As a Washington native, what’s it like to perform at the Kennedy Center?
The Kennedy Center really is my home theater. When I was growing up, it’s where my family took me to see shows, but I didn’t know that I would ever be on that stage. Now that it’s real, it’s just unbelievable. I need to pinch myself every day; to be here is totally full-circle for me.
I find the theater to be a living memorial to John F. Kennedy and his dedication to the arts. Seeing that view from the rooftop—it’s just a monumental way to celebrate theater and be a part of an enormous family of artists and creators who are influencing the world.
What do you like about the DC theater community?
I performed at the Kensington Community Theater after college, and whenever I come back home to Maryland, I try to audition at the Olney Theatre Center. Working at local spots, I’ve realized that the theater community here is so closely knit. Signature Theatre, Kennedy Center, Olney Theatre, National Theatre—everybody knows each other. It’s a small community that is enormous, if that makes any sense. It’s great to know that everybody supports each other.
This interview has been edited and condensed.