Review Roundup: MISS SAIGON on Tour, What Did Critics Think?
"The heat is on" in the U.S. as the national tour of "Miss Saigon" brings this classic to audiences across America. Check out what the critics in various tour stops have to say about the tour in their reviews below!
Miss Saigon Tour Cast
Emily Bautista returns to the role of Kim, after understudying the role in the Broadway revival company, and is joined by Anthony Festa, who plays Kim's GI lover, Chris. Red Concepción comes straight from the UK and Ireland tour to reprise his role as the Engineer. J. Daughtry plays Chris's fellow GI friend, John, with Stacie Bono as Ellen and Jinwoo Jung as Thuy. Kyra Malloy plays Kim at certain performances.
San Francisco Reviews
Sam Hurwitt, The Mercury News: Solidly played by the orchestra conducted by Will Curry and consistently well sung by the cast, the music is a curious hodgepodge, from forcefully keening laments to catchy if derivative '70s-style pop, such as the opening number "The Heat Is on in Saigon" (conspicuously reminiscent of Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not to Come") and syrupy love ballads like "Last Night of the World." The real showstopper is "The American Dream," a big old-time Broadway production number delivered by the roguishly sleazy pimp the Engineer, played with devilishly sardonic charm by Red Concepcíon.
Lily Janiak, Datebook: But "Miss Saigon," which is directed by Laurence Connor, isn't awful only because it's racist. It's theater not as Disney movie, but as Disney theme park ride. Characters and plot threads are only as defined as plastic dioramas you encounter for a split second before a roller coaster whisks you to the next thwack-thwack-thwack of that infernal helicopter, the musical's signature, which lurches down from the rafters with all the grace of a claw crane in an arcade game.
Andria Tieman, BroadwayWorld: While the cast are all incredibly talented, the strongest vocal performance of the night is Anthony Festa as Chris. Providence theatre fans may remember him as Fiyero from the 2016 tour of Wicked, and this production of Miss Saigon really allows him to belt. His emotional conflict as Chris, is palpable. He seems to truly love Kim and resent the war he's fighting, but the fact that he goes back to America and marries someone else one year later makes it very hard to sympathize. Festa plays this torment fairly well, and it's easy to empathize with him as he obviously has PTSD, but he gets over the top at times.
Channing Gray, Providence Journal: And while I hate to use the term "chemistry," it just didn't exist between Kim and Chris, who apparently wedded in a ceremony that Chris seemed completely bewildered by. Yes, there was some slow dancing between them, but I never got the sense she devoted her life to him, like the heroine in Puccini's opera.
Janine Weisman, NewportRI.com: Festa has the vocal chops to deliver the big soaring sound and range the show's many ballads demand. He's physically in top shape. But his face looked drained and exhausted during the final bow at press night.
Catey Sullivan, Chicago Sun Times: But something remarkable happens under director Laurence Connor's direction of the lavish, no-expense-spared national tour. Powerfully aided by Bob Avian's choreography, the Broadway-sized ensemble cast captures the annihilating destructiveness of war with merciless, shattering vividness. If you missed the first televised war when it brought Vietnam into the living rooms of Mr. and Mrs. America in the 1960s and '70s, "Miss Saigon" offers a glimpse at the kind of images that helped the tide turn against the U.S. involvement there, and subsequently, of all the fatal, arrogant flaws in American foreign policy and those who carried it out.
Hedy Weiss, WTTW: The one element in this "Miss Saigon" that never disappoints is its visual splendor which has been conceived by Adrian Vaux, with design by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley, lighting by Bruno Poet, projections by Luke Halls and some sort of state-of-the-art engineering and holographic tricks at work in the helicopter scene.
Rachel Weinberg, Rachel Weinberg Reviews: While these characters are underdeveloped and in many ways stereotypical, the tension between actors Emily Bautista and Anthony Festa feels real. Not only do they have believable chemistry, but they carry out the vocal Olympics their roles demand with ease. Bautista in particular commands the stage in every moment she appears. She has found all the layers in her character's desperation and hopefulness, and she embodies Kim's never-ending determination and willingness to sacrifice all that she has for what matters most. Bautista has one of her most haunting moments in the act one finale "I'd Give My Life for You," which she makes a stunning anthem of survival and a demonstration of her vocal prowess.
Kerry Reid, Chicago Reader Though revamped for the 2017 Broadway revival, everything about Laurence Connor's staging feels old-school, in a bad way. True, when you're starting with Madama Butterfly as your narrative inspiration, melodramatic stereotypes of Asian women dying for love are perhaps unavoidable. At least this production avoids the "yellowface" controversy that plagued the original, when Jonathan Pryce-eyelid prosthetics and all-was cast as the Eurasian pimp known as the Engineer. (Red Concepción plays the role here, and he is magnetic in his moral turpitude.)
Matthew Nerber, Third Coast Review: The score, one of Boublil and Schönberg's most enduring, is as epic and lush as the story would suggest; the cast here presents a powerfully sung interpretation, particularly in the lavish and erotic full-company numbers. Red Concepción is delicious as the shameless Engineer (his showstopping "The American Dream" is a real crowd-pleaser). Anthony Festa exudes the ennui and struggle of Chris from the moment he is spotted in Dreamland. And Emily Bautista as Kim, our determined, fated heroine, delivers a devastating, empathic performance, beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful.
Alexis Bugajski, Picture This Post: As we change settings during MISS SAIGON, different set pieces fly in and out to create the scenes before us - from the seedy bar Dreamland all the way down to the slums of Vietnam. They feel realistic as they capture the minute details of each setting. Not to mention the ginormous details as well, namely a helicopter looking like it's about to land onstage.
Misha Davenport, BroadwayWorld: Chicago-based actress Christine Bunuan (AVENUE Q at Mercury Theatre and the Goodman's A CHRISTMAS CAROL, among many others) also shines as Gigi, a go-go dancer and prostitute whose aspirations extend beyond the boundaries of the seedy nightclub where she works. Her vocal work on "The Movie in My Mind" is emotionally heartfelt and soaring.
Washington, D.C. Reviews
David Gerson, DC Metro Theater Arts: Emily Bautista is thrilling as Kim. She has a powerful, rich voice and clearly conveys the timidness of Kim that gives way to strength. Red Concepcion is a revelation in the pivotal role of The Engineer. The Engineer is an unsavory fellow, a pimp, a petty criminal who functions as a sort of master of ceremonies. As played by Mr. Concepcion, The Engineer commands every moment he's on the vast stage at the Kennedy Center Opera House. He possesses the broad style, the flair and, elan, that the material requires.
Alexander C. Kafka, DC Theatre Scene: The entire ensemble ignites in the seedy-sexy Saigon and Bangkok bar sequences, the Ho Chi Minh City "Morning of the Dragon" military drill and acrobatic number, and the Vegas-style "American Dream." Hats off to choreographers Bob Avian and Geoffrey Garratt.
Jennifer Perry, BroadwayWorld: Miss Saigon has been criticized among some experts to be one of those British mega-musicals that's low on substance and high on production values. Sure, a massive helicopter appears on stage in the impressively immersive Act II flashback scene in this tour (and here, I must give kudos to set designers Totie Driver and Matt Kinley, projection designer Luke Hall, sound designer Mick Potter, and lighting designer Bruno Poet for creating such a cohesive, audiovisual experience). However, I'd argue that there is a real story at its core and one that has heart, at that. The production elements just enhance it. The music is expertly orchestrated by the dearly departed William David Brohn and played with vigor by a talented orchestra under the direction of Will Curry. It brings the drama to even greater heights.
Dr. Mark Dreisonstok, MD Theatre Guide: "Monsieur" (actually, marine) Chris, the American character central to this drama, is portrayed ably by Anthony Festa, who sings "Why, God, Why" with poignancy and pathos. 17-year-old Vietnamese orphan Kim is played by Emily Bautista (Myra Molloy, in some performances), who elicits our sympathy both for her purity of character and her hopeless plight, all synthesized so well in her beautiful solo "The Movie in My Mind." When Chris/Anthony and Kim/Emily come together in the duet "The Last Night of the World," the results are magnified brilliance.
Cameron Kelsall, BroadStreetReview.com: The production itself doesn't. Directed to bloated excess by Laurence Connor, it resembles an animatronic amusement-park attraction-the sights garish, the performers anonymous and interchangeable. Like most musical productions these days, it aurally assaults the audience with overamplification. Luckily, this becomes a blessing of sorts: if you could understand the lyrics, you'd cringe.
Alyssa Biederman, BroadwayWorld: The national tour's stunning production design (by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley) and extremely talented young cast leave nothing on Broadway. But when you strip away the beautiful lighting, iconic helicopter, and glowing harmonies, you're left with a musical that has lost its lustre with time.
Bethany Ao, The Inquirer: From the first flashy musical number, which features scantily clad Vietnamese bar girls draped over the laps of American GIs, to gibberish lyrics that are supposed to sound like Vietnamese during Kim and Chris's marriage ceremony, the stereotypes perpetuated throughout the entire musical were difficult to ignore. As Kim expired during the last scene, Chris' wife, Ellen (Stacie Bono), scooped Kim's son into her arms in preparation to take him to America, suggesting that Asian women are replaceable as wives, as mothers, and as human beings. It's hard to swallow but perhaps not surprising, in light of the origins and original audience for this musical.
St. Louis Reviews
Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post Dispatch: Directed by Laurence Connor, this is the kind of show that tends to wow audiences more impressed with spectacle than substance. The book by Boublil allows for plenty of hurlyburly, including a scene involving the fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces and featuring a reasonable facsimile of a helicopter.
Rob Levy, BroadwayWorld: Red Concepción is the heart and soul of MISS SAIGON. His portrayal of the Engineer paints the character with shades of grey, giving audiences a fascinating conundrum of a man who is utterly despicable yet completely compelling. His performance of "If You Want to Die in Bed" Is one of the show's highlights.
Tina Farmer, KDHX: Emily Bautista glides through the show with a reserved demeanor and an aura of innocence despite working in a brothel. Her voice is pure and fluid, with a crisp, clear high range that contrasts and compliments Anthony Festa's Chris. Festa is strong jawed and strong willed, with a strong, smooth voice to match. Jaded by war and tired of the false intimacy of the brothel, he initially seems more interested in keeping others from Kim than he is in being with her. The two create believable chemistry from their first few hesitant, awkward steps, and their duet "Sun and Moon" plays like a beautifully voiced lyrical poem.
Joe Gfaller, Limelight: If Kim is Miss Saigon's Fantine, Gigi is the show's Eponine. (Les Misérables comparisons are rife and unfortunately unavoidable). Christine Bunuan gives Gigi a veneer of earthy stoicism, which buries most glimmers of hope, which is beautifully articulated in "The Movie in My Mind." Given her performance, it's hard not to wish Gigi's story continued after the first few scenes.
D. L. Groover, Houston Press: This new touring production is the 2014 London revival. It's immensely cinematic, effortlessly shifting scenes under Bruno Poet's pin-spot lighting and Totie Driver and Matt Kinley's gliding set pieces.
Brett Cullum, BroadwayWorld: Emily Bautista is the perfect actress to bring Kim to life. She has a pleasing voice, a fierce acting ability, and nails every moment with the right emotional gravitas. She's lovely, and audiences will be in her palm every night. Her performance rivals any of the Broadway actresses who have done the part. Anthony Festa as Chris is impressively physically built and has a soaring tenor. His fiery passion is a good match for Bautista's, and together we believe in their rather quick love affair and its lasting results. Red Conceptión steals the entire show with his sleazy treat of a performance as the Engineer. He one-ups the creep factor of the Emcee of CABARET, and turns in the eleventh-hour tour de force number with "The American Dream." He is easily MISS SAIGON's most valuable player, and his face should be on the side of that helicopter.
About Miss Saigon
The 2017 production of "Miss Saigon" was nominated for "Best Revival" at the 2017 Tony Awards. The tour is produced by Cameron Mackintosh ("Les Misérables," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Cats"), and features a book and lyrics by Alain Boublil, book and music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Michael Mahler, and direction by Laurence Connor.
How To Get Tickets
Don't wait until the "last night of the world" to catch this tour in their upcoming cities, such as Louisville, San Diego, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and many more. For the full tour schedule and ticket information, tap here.