BWW REVIEW: THE HEAT IS ON IN 'MISS SAIGON' AT NSMT
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil; adapted from the original French lyrics by Alain Boublil; additional material by Richard Maltby Jr.; orchestrations by William D. Brohn; scenic and lighting design, Jack Mehler; costume design, Paula Peasley-Ninestein; sound design, Michael Eisenberg; wig and hair design, Gerard Kelly; production stage manager, Shawn Pryby; music direction, Andrew Bryan; associate director/choreographer, Jonathan Stahl; directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford
Cast in Order of Appearance:
The Engineer, Francis Jue; Kim, Jennifer Paz; Gigi, Rona Figueroa; Mimi, Lynn Craig; Yvette, Yuki Ozeki; Yvonne, Tiffany Toh; Chris, Jason Forbach; John, Rodrick Covington; Thuy, Devin Ilaw; Ellen, Haley Swindal; Tam, Isabella Shee; Assistant Commissar, Hansel Tan; Captain Schultz, John B. Williford; Owner of the Moulin Rouge, Andy Danh; Ensemble, Cameron Bartell, Mark Willis Borum, Nathaniel Braga, Lynn Craig, Andy Dahn, Anthony Fedorov, Rona Figueroa, Michael Linden, Corey Mosello, Kara Chu Nelson, Cheeyang Ng, Yuki Ozeki, Futaba Shioda, Jonathan Stahl, Hansel Tan, Tiffany Toh, Christopher Vo and John B Williford
Performances and Tickets:
Ends Sunday, November 17, North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Rd., Beverly, Mass.; tickets are priced from $45-$75 and are available by calling the Box Office at 978-232-7200 or online at www.nsmt.org.
North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is bringing its 2013 musical season to a close with a triumphant production of MISS SAIGON, the Vietnam War Era adaptation of Puccini's tragic opera Madame Butterfly. With a tremendous cast led by the thrilling Jennifer Paz, Jason Forbach and Francis Jue, this brilliant in-the-round staging of the Boublil and Schönberg classic is at once epic and intimate, making the improbable love found amidst the ruins of war all the more agonizing and profound.
MISS SAIGON is among the best of the sung-through poperas of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Set immediately before, during and after the Fall of Saigon in April 1975, the story pivots on the agonizing separation of the young South Vietnamese prostitute Kim (Paz) from her American soldier husband Chris (Forbach) when the U.S. orders the immediate evacuation of all its troops. For the next three years the refugee Kim (now the mother of Chris's son Tam) relentlessly sets out to find her husband and deliver her son to a better world. With the help of her pimp and opportunistic protector The Engineer (Jue), she makes good on her vow only to find that Chris is now married to Ellen (Hayley Swindal). In abject despair, Kim seizes upon one final act of courage to ensure that her son is raised by his father in America. With unflinching determination, she proves that no power on Earth is as strong as a mother's love.
Through a score that pulsates with passion and urgency, and with an invaluable assist by lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr., MISS SAIGON unfolds with a clarity and urgency that reaches deep inside and won't let go. In this production in particular, the story feels as raw and compelling as if the Vietnam War were still being played out in our living rooms on the nightly news. Director/choreographer Richard Stafford seems to be working here almost intuitively, infusing his cast with a life force harnessed from all the soldiers and all the abandoned war brides and all the orphaned children ever to suffer the indignities of war. When ill-fated lovers Kim and Chris dance to the haunting sounds of a prescient solo saxophone, it truly feels like it is "The Last Night of the World."
The entire cast is stellar, but it is the heartbreaking performance of Jennifer Paz as Kim that sends shockwaves of emotion through the theater. As delicate as a rose petal but as fierce as a cornered lioness protecting her young cub, Paz is quite simply stunning. A standout in the very fine Ogunquit Playhouse production of MISS SAIGON a few years ago, Paz is even more indomitable here.
Jason Forbach is also formidable as Chris, the painfully conflicted American soldier who wants only to do good but can't assuage the agony that the presence of the U.S. troops has wrought upon the Vietnamese citizens. An emotionally wounded warrior whose return home is marred by nightmares and guilt, he experiences devastating personal torment over his inability to do right by both Ellen and Kim. Defeated and forever disillusioned, Forbach turns his desperate pleas in "Why God Why" and "The Finale" into excruciating wails of anger and helplessness.
As Ellen, the wife caught between her devotion to Chris and her empathy for Kim, Haley Swindal is both resolute and sympathetic. In what can be a thankless role, Swindal finds warmth and compassion. When she sings "Now That I've Seen Her" it is with a pain that makes it clear that she, too, is yet another innocent victim - just one more piece of collateral damage from a war that no one wins.
Another potent performance is turned in by Francis Jue as the angry and opportunistic Eurasian "businessman" The Engineer. Wily, seductive, wry but also well aware of the dangers around him, he is the ultimate salesman when peddling the flesh of his working girls and the ultimate survivor when evading the wrath of Saigon's newly installed fascist regime. He infuses "The American Dream," a vaudeville-style number that simultaneously exalts and denigrates capitalism, with both a lusty desire and a hissing cynicism that strike at the heart of the unbridgeable gap between the have-nots and the haves.
Also deeply moving are Rodrick Covington as Chris's friend John, the embassy worker who has made it his personal cause to fight for all the orphaned children left behind, and Isabella Shee as Tam, the one child whose mother Kim will not allow to be forsaken. Covington brings a gospel-like intensity to his fervent plea "Bui-Doi," and Shee displays a silent sadness, devotion and vulnerability far beyond her years.
This NSMT production of MISS SAIGON delivers its power through intimacy instead of bombast. As a result, its love is far more moving and its anguish more personal and profound.
PHOTOS BY PAUL LYDEN: Jason Forbach as Chris and Jennifer Paz as Kim; Jason Forbach and Jennifer Paz; Francis Jue as The Engineer; Isabella Shee as Tam