Broadway Beyond Louisville Review: MISS SAIGON at the Aronoff Center
Anthony Festa as Chris and Emily Bautista as Kim in the North American tour of Miss Saigon. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil
Directed by Laurence O'Connor
Review by Taylor Clemons
Entire contents copyright are © 2019 by Taylor Clemons. All rights reserved.
Miss Saigon has a unique and interesting history. The show originally opened on Broadway in the 90s after the success that was the London production, and would quickly make a star out of Lea Salonga, who would go on to win a Tony Award for her Broadway debut as Kim. in 2014 a new production opened in London to positive reviews, and would transfer to Broadway in 2016. Now that brand new production is embarking on a national tour of the United States.
I'll try and give as brief a synopsis as I can without giving too much away, but in an epic tale such as Miss Saigon, there's a lot to unpack. The story is a tragic romance between Kim (Emily Bautista) and Chris (Anthony Festa). Set towards the end of the Vietnam war, Kim's (at this point she's only 17) parents have died and she's been ripped from her family. In order to survive, she becomes a prostitute working for The Engineer (Red Concepción), a glorified pimp who dreams of a life of capitalism and consumerism in America. Kim's first night on the job, John (J. Daughtry), a friend of Chris, buys Kim as a gift for Chris. Chris is repulsed by the idea and initially wants nothing to do with this notion, but ultimately leaves with Kim for her protection. They spend the night together, and Chris begins to feel things for Kim he never expected. In a quick and rash decision, Chris decides to take Kim away from Vietnam to live with him in America. They have a small ceremony to pledge their love to each other, and then quickly prepare to leave is Vietnam crumbles. Chris leaves Kim to make final arrangements at the US Embassy, but things don't exactly go as planned. We then fast forward three years to discover that Kim has been left in Vietnam and is living in poor conditions raising her and Chris' son, Tam (Tyler Dunn). The Engineer and Kim team up to travel to Bangkok in hopes of making contact with Chris to propel them all to America. Little does Kim know that Chris has moved on and has been married for two years, all the while Chris has no idea Tam exists.
The cast is led by Emily Bautista as Kim. Bautista's Kim is strong with hints of vulnerability. She sings the role exceptionally. The intensity she brings to a lot of the score is downright goosebump inducing. She is well matched by Anthony Festa as Chris. Festa brings so much charm, but also a sense of insecurity to the character. His voice is gorgeous, making "Why God Why" a definite highlight. Rounding out the principal characters is Red Concepción as The Engineer. Concepción plays a lot of the role for laughs, but I honestly think that adds to the character's likability and makes him easier for the audience to sympathize with. He often commands the stage during his scenes bringing true showmanship to the forefront as he sell's every bit of himself to the audience and they happily buy it.
As for some of the supporting cast members, Stacie Bono plays Ellen with heartbreaking sincerity. The role is small, but Bono makes a great impression in her limited time onstage. J. Daughtry does a good job with the somewhat think-less role of John. While the character lacks depth, he wows with the second act opener "Bui Doi", about the children Americans fathered in Vietnam. His vocals are wonderful, and the song is very moving. I would also regret not mentioning Christine Bunuan as Gigi. Her presence is brief, but her solo moment during "The Movie in My Mind" is heartbreaking and brilliant.
The design elements of the show are jaw dropping and gorgeous. There was no expense spared in this production. The set is massive and vast, using multiple levels and the depth of the stage to create the world of Miss Saigon. The costumes are beautifully crafted and the intricate lighting is breathtaking.
I can honestly say I would recomend this show to anyone who loves theater. If you've seen Miss Saigon and you love it, this is a must. If you've never heard of it and you love it, its a must. Every aspect of this production is near perfect, and I can't imagine seeing a better version of this show in my lifetime. Miss Saigon is an emotional and visual experience that must be seen and felt to be believed.
Now - April 21
Procter & Gamble Hall - Aronoff Center For The Arts
650 Walnut Street Cincinnati, OH 45202.