BWW Review: MISS SAIGON: Love and War in Vietnam at Orpheum Theatre
I've always been drawn to stories that revolve around sacrificial love- the love of a mother for her child, the love of star-crossed lovers, and the willingness to let go out of love. MISS SAIGON is filled with love and remains a story that speaks to me despite its unfamiliar landscape of war.
Cameron Mackintosh's MISS SAIGON, the sweeping tale of love amidst war-torn Vietnam opened first in London in 1989 and came to Broadway in 1991. Written by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubill with lyrics by Boubil and Richard Maltby, Jr., it is loosely based on Puccini's Madame Butterfly. An American soldier falls in love with a young Vietnamese woman who has been forced into prostitution at the hands of a greedy pimp. The story is filled with longing: longing for love, longing for freedom, longing for a better life.
The national touring production of MISS SAIGON arrived at the Orpheum with an arsenal of talent as well as a mind boggling set. There was much to feast on visually while listening to some truly fine voices. The one drawback is that occasionally the words were lost in the noise of the background or through unclear diction. Several patrons mentioned they couldn't understand what was being said, whether spoken or in song.
But the music! The voices! J. Daughtry brought me to tears with "Bui Doi." He not only delivered the song with powerful vocals, he moved me with his emotional cry for the
forgotten children of Vietnam. The background chorus' harmony was chilling. I cried.
Also chilling were the girls in "The Wedding Ceremony." There was something about the melody and the purity of their harmony...
Red Concepcion as the always popular Engineer won the approval of the audience with his great voice and audacious performance in "The American Dream." The set, the lighting, everything about that number felt like a big Radio City Music Hall production. It was big and it was thoroughly entertaining.
Emily Bautista's innocence grabbed at my heart. Her youthful appearance and her strong but angelic voice spoke of her anguish at being trapped in a life she never asked for. Her love for her adorable son Tam (Jace Chen) was visceral with fierce embraces that seemed to push him into a better life while simultaneously pulling him to herself.
As the protagonist Army soldier Chris, Anthony Festa played well his part as an American GI who wants to do the right thing, but doesn't have the strength of character to make it happen. His wife Ellen (Stacie Bono) came through with the strength he lacked. Festa's pleasing tenor carried some of the best songs, like "Why God?" and "The Last Night of the World," clearly. Christine Bunuan as Gigi sang one of my favorite songs, "The Movie in My Mind," in a rich voice that left me wanting more.
The visuals were spectacular! I loved the darkness of the lighting with flashes of red or spotlights of white crisscrossing the actors. Particularly cool was the image of the Statue of Liberty head dissolving with the shattered dreams of America and the fences that separate Vietnamese citizens from American soldiers. And wait until you see the helicopter!
Some things you don't need to see. The gratuitous simulated sex acts on stage during the Dreamland/Moulin Rouge scenes were uncomfortable and distracting. I would have liked this production to tone down the shock value and trust in the beauty of the story and the music. A love story set in the hell of war needs little addition. We get the picture.
I had a friend comment that he didn't like the original MISS SAIGON and disliked this one as well. He called it emotionally one note. He may have a point, but I was moved to tears at least twice. I laughed. I even cringed. I experienced a whole scale of notes and left with a song in my head. I Still Believe MISS SAIGON is symphony of feels.
MISS SAIGON runs May 28-June 2 at the Orpheum Theatre.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy