BWW Review: MISS SAIGON at Rochester Broadway Theatre League
The RBTL continues its 2018-2019 season with one of Broadway's most transporting musicals, equal parts soaring and beautiful and devastatingly sad. Miss Saigon has been wowing audiences for over three decades, and it's here to wow Rochesterians for just four more days.
Miss Saigon is, of course, the 1989 musical phenomenon written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil (of Les Miserables fame) set in Vietnam during the mid-70's at the tail-end of the war. Adapted from the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly, Miss Saigon tells the story of Chris (Anthony Festa), a young American solider, and Kim (Emily Bautista), a 17 year-old Vietnamese girl pressured into prostitution by a sleazy brothel owner referred to only as "Engineer" (Red Concepcion), and their doomed-from-the-start romance that spans years, geography, upheaval and tragedy. After a brief time together, Chris and Kim are separated as Saigon falls and Chris is forced back to America, where he meets and marries Ellen (Stacie Bono) and during which time Kim gives birth to her and Chris' son Tam. After learning of Tam, Chris returns overseas to once-again meet Kim and decide how to move forward.
The individual acting performances from Bautista, Festa, and Concepcion are all top-notch, each delivering masterful solo performances; Bautista's rendition of "I'd Give My Life for You", as is often the case in Miss Saigon, was soaring and powerful and moved the audience to tears.
More impressive than this production's individual acting performances were the large ensemble numbers, which moved with crisp, militant precision one minute and were bursting with chaotic energy the next. "The Heat is On in Saigon" and "The Morning of the Dragon" are both knockout ensemble numbers.
This production of Miss Saigon is likely as bold and ambitious as any that's ever been staged. From the precision of the choreography, to the jaw-dropping spectacle of Ho Chi Minh City, to the famous helicopter scene, audience members certainly get their money's worth when it comes to special effects and the show's overall visual grandiosity.
As visually and audibly impressive as Miss Saigon is to behold, it's difficult to watch a production of it in 2019-no matter how good (and this production is certainly a recent best)-without at least slight squeamishness over how poorly the narrative has aged. Kim, the story's female protagonist, is never granted any agency or given a compelling character arc. The Engineer-while often funny for innocent reasons-never really has to answer for his exploitation and abuse of women, his character mostly presented as comic relief rather than a villain. And there's a pretty strong case to be made that it perpetuates Asian stereotypes. But it's also a compelling and heart wrenching love story; audience members will have to weigh the soaring musical numbers, brilliant visual effects, and romantic passion against some of the show's cringier elements, as is often the case with Broadway's most iconic-but older-shows (also see Carousel, My Fair Lady, and others).
Miss Saigon is a big, powerful, moving musical that still impresses after 30 years. It's playing at RBTL's Auditorium Theatre until March 10th. For tickets and more information, click here.