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Love among the Ruins: Worcester Foothills Stages Gripping "Miss Saigon"

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"Miss Saigon"

Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Lyrics by Richard Maltby and Alain Boublil, Directed by Paul Dobie, Choreography by Robert Tatad, Musical Direction by Robert Rucinski, Costume Designs by Kurt S. Hultgren, Scenic Design by Erik Diaz, Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg, Sound Design by Ed Thurber

Principal cast members:

Kim, Audri T. Dalio

Ellen, Maureen J. Daw

Chris, Christopher Kale Jones

Thuy, Skie Ocasio

John, Jay Pierce

Engineer, Herman Sebek

Gigi, Sachiko Wachi

Tam, Ashley Goodacre

Performances: Now through April 10

Box Office: 508-754-4018 or www.foothillstheatre.com

Fourteen years after its opening on Broadway and 30 years after the last American troupes were evacuated from Vietnam, the ground-breaking musical "Miss Saigon" still enthralls. Its soaring, often hauntingly beautiful score – a mix of 1970s-style American rock music, traditional Asian-influenced orchestrations, and modern pop ballads – still deeply touches us with the tragedy of young love dashed by the circumstances of war.

Inspired by a real photograph of a Vietnamese mother stoically saying goodbye to her tearful daughter as she forces her to board a plane destined to deliver her to her American soldier father, "Miss Saigon" transforms this moment of indescribable suffering into a full-blown contemporary adaptation of Puccini's opera, "Madame Butterfly." "Miss Saigon" is made even more potent in some ways than its source material, however, because the love between the American GI Chris and the Saigon prostitute Kim is true. They are ripped apart not by the soldier's callousness but by the cruel bureaucratic twists of fate that are beyond their control.

The current production at the Foothills Theatre Company in Worcester, Mass., is an energetic and powerful work that sharply contrasts the intimate beauty of the love affair between Chris and Kim against the raucous, seedy, and grim backdrop of the Vietnam War and its aftermath. In the romantic leading roles, Christopher Kale Jones and Audri T. Dalio are exquisitely tender and passionate with each other. Their voices are clear and strong in their solos and duets, and their portrayals are endearing as well as heart-wrenching. Director Paul Dobie wisely centers the musical on their story. Their love is never forgotten amidst the swirl of helicopters, the opportunism of pimps, Chris's return to "normal" life in America, or the symbols of political and social upheaval in two very different lands.

In the role of the Engineer, Boublil and Shonberg's deft characterization of a Eurasian man who both aspires to and mocks American excess and hypocrisy, Herman Sebek is dazzling. Without the benefit (or detriment?) of the original production's pink Cadillac, Sebek sells his show-stopping "American Dream" through sheer interpretive talent, excellent singing, and delightful choreography. His subtle transformation from a self-indulgent parasite in the opening number, "The Heat Is on in Saigon," to an almost kindly protector of Kim's son Tam at the Finale is very appealing.

The entire ensemble of this Foothills production is solid, with Jay Pierce as Chris's buddy John being the most notable featured standout. The only complaint with this staging of "Miss Saigon" – and it is a significant one – rests with the orchestration and sound design. Obviously synthesized strings create a harsh rather than romantic effect, and overamplification of both the orchestra and singers distorts rather than enhances. All of the principals – Sebek, Dalio, Jones, Pierce, and Maureen J. Daw as Chris's wife Ellen – have beautifully rich voices that resonate on their own. If the orchestra were dialed down several notches, these leads would be able to project to the back row of the intimate Foothills Theatre without the annoying electronics.

This all too common contemporary musical aggravation aside, "Miss Saigon" still packs an emotional wallop. It's a pleasure to once again hear songs like "The Movie in My Mind," "Last Night of the World," "I Still Believe," and "Bui-Doi" delivered with such sincerity and passion.

 


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