A Perfect Bowl of Phở was the first show on the final night of the 2017 University of Toronto Drama Festival. It was the Victoria College Drama Society’s (VCDS) submission to the festival. The musical was directed by Abby Palmer and written by Nam Nguyen, who also stars in the show. The show had its musicians placed directly on stage behind the set, and was led by Music Director Kevin Yue, who also plays a part in the show.
Phở is about the life of Nam and how the Vietnamese Noodle Soup Phở has played an integral part in his life. Nam weaves in and out of stories about his life, between situations he has encountered through his and through other people’s perspectives which are mainly centered around Phở. He also goes back in time, discussing Vietnamese lore surrounding Phở and the story of a Phở restaurant owner whose restaurant played a central part in planning the Tet Offensive. Nam smashes down the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience early on in the show when he and Kevin Yue (both playing themselves) discuss the origins of the script, and proceed to cast the show in front of us. The role of Nam is given to Jasmine Cabanilla, who has a commanding presence on stage and takes the reigns of many scenes afterward.
Some of the scenes that stood out to me included: Jen, played by Alice Guo, wanting to have the best food for World Cultures day at school and rapping about it; the story of the “humble” dish in Vietnam culture; Nam messing up his first date with Amy, played by Victoria Ngai, who sings about wanting to get a larger bowl of Phở but being conflicted about ordering more food than Nam; and a scene with Nam’s father, played by Yimeng Sun, singing about the hardships he has experienced in his life.
The show was extremely funny and the audience’s positive reactions showed their level of enthusiasm. The combination of humour, social commentary, music, and performances allowed for an overall high-quality production. This show is about family, friends, first dates, but also Vietnam’s history and rich culture. We are smiling throughout knowing the genuineness of the story because it is told exactly how it happened. Rich with humour, Nam comes right at you with how important Phở is to him, allowing the audience to laugh and learn so much.
The last song in the show was particularly poignant; it is about coming home to Toronto from a long bus ride from North Bay, Ontario. Cy Macikunas performs this final song and caps off the show with a fantastic expression of emotion as he sings about how he misses home. The simple line of “Wherever I go, I’ll always miss Phở” brought forth the cultural significance of the dish in Nam’s life.
The show received a standing ovation and was awarded the President’s Award for Best Production and the Audience Choice Award for the evening.
An encore performance of A Perfect Bowl of Phở will be put on in the Cat’s Eye on March 18th at 8pm.