BWW Review: The U.S. Tour of MISS SAIGON Breathes New Life Into a Classic Musical
Just until this Sunday, March 17th, you can catch well-known Broadway musical Miss Saigon at Wharton Center for the Performing Arts in East Lansing. Inspired heavily by Giacomo Puccini's opera entitled Madama Butterfly, Miss Saigon first played on Broadway from 1991 until 2001 and has had several worldwide productions ever since, including a 2017 Broadway revival. Though this show has often been met with controversy throughout its history, the U.S. national tour currently hitting East Lansing does its best to portray the Vietnam War as honestly as possible.
With music and a book by Les Misérables playwrights Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, as well as additional lyrics from Richard Maltby, Jr., Miss Saigon is based around a love story between an American G.I. sergeant named Chris [Anthony Festa] and a 17-year-old Vietnamese bargirl named Kim [Emily Bautista]. Though their love story primarily occurs in the first act of the show, the rest of this musical dives deep into the struggles of life during the Vietnam War from a variety of perspectives including Kim, Chris, Thuy [Jinwoo Jung] and the Engineer [Red Concepción].
There are a few guarantees when you go to see Miss Saigon at Wharton Center. The first one is that you're going to hear a breathtaking score accompanied by topnotch singing. The music in this production feels so much more alive and exciting than it does on the cast album, and Bautista's Kim is an unbelievable achievement. One might think that matching original Kim Lea Solanga is an impossible feat, but I spent most of Miss Saigon reveling in Bautista's incredibly powerful voice. I can't wait to hear more from her.
The second guarantee you'll have when you see this production is that you're going to be going on an emotional roller coaster. One minute of this show you're watching Kim and Chris fall in love, the next minute you're watching the Fall of Saigon, and the minute after that you're watching the Engineer's spectacular dance number entitled "American Dream" (phenomenally acted by Concepción, I might add). If anything, Miss Saigon is a show that delivers on overall experience. Regardless of whether or not you come out liking the show, you're going to leave the theatre feeling something powerful.
The third guarantee is that you'll get to see some incredible lighting and scenic design work. This production, straight from Broadway, is Cameron Mackintosh's re-imagined and newly-staged version of the classic musical. Consequently, it's significantly grittier and "sexier" than ever before. Outside of that, though, the scenic design is simple yet beautiful, and the you can tell that they put a lot of work into thinking about how their lighting works to enhance every single moment in the show.
Obviously, a standout moment from this show is when the helicopter lands during the Fall of Saigon. If there's any other reason to see this show besides hearing these talented actors sing along to this lush music, it's to see the helicopter scene. In my opinion, it has to be one of the most jaw-dropping scenes in all of musical theatre.
One caveat with this re-imagining, however, is that some classic moments were replaced or rewritten. For example, one of my favorite songs "Now That I've Seen Her" is replaced by "Maybe," a solemn ballad. While "Maybe" is a captivating song sung by Stacie Bono's Ellen, I much prefer its predecessor. There were some additional changes, including a few new songs and new lyrics. While new fans of the show won't care about these types of changes, longtime fans of this classic musical might find some of them frustrating.
Nevertheless, the good changes of this production certainly outweigh the bad. For example, gibberish was replaced with real Vietnamese in the wedding ceremony scene, a change that should have happened all the way back in 1989 when the show first premiered on the West End. In addition, the fresh new staging adds significantly to the show's quality as a whole.
My conclusion? New and old fans alike should, most definitely, give this production of Miss Saigon a viewing. Though the show has never been one of my personal favorites, I have to say that this re-imagined U.S. tour is more than worth the visit to Wharton Center.
Tickets are on sale now at Wharton Center's official ticketing outlets: online at whartoncenter.com, at the Auto-Owners Insurance Ticket Office at Wharton Center, or by calling 1-800-WHARTON.