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BWW Review: MISS SAIGON at The Academy Of Music

BWW Review: MISS SAIGON at The Academy Of Music
Photo by Matthew Murphy and Johan Persson

With only the second annual National Vietnam War Veterans Day right around the corner, it seems fitting that the national tour of Miss Saigon should fly into Philadelphia.

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.

Miss Saigon is one of Boubil and Schonberg's hit musicals chronicling the story of Kim (Emily Bautista), a young Vietnamese woman who falls in love with Chris (Anthony Festa), an American G.I., during the war. Once he leaves her for the states, she finds herself a single mother struggling in post-war Vietnam.

The show itself is focused almost entirely around tragedy, with Little Room to breathe. There's suicide, brothels, rebellion, and bastard children, but unlike Boubil and Schonberg's timeless Les Miserables, the characters experiencing this tragedy learn little from it and it seems as though they never change or grow over the course of the three hour musical.

While Miss Saigon may be political commentary on the United States' controversial involvement in the Vietnam War, the script is littered with racial stereotypes and undeveloped characters that blur the message that in the end left me, quite honestly, depressed.

The show focuses on Kim who, despite being maybe the only character in the show with a steady moral compass, continually falls into poverty and is forced into prostitution to support the young child she had with Chris. Even though at her core Kim is a dedicated mother with a strong tie to religion, she is consistently portrayed as a sex object.

This is not new for Asian women in show-business. Every other Asian woman in the show plays a supporting character or ensemble member and, while I'm glad a touring production of this show has cast so many Asian actors, I wish they are given more opportunities to play roles that do not exploit their sexuality.

At the end, when Kim has to give up her child to Chris's white, American wife for a better life and realizes she can no longer be with Chris, she commits suicide. The curtain closed and I was forced to wonder, was love the only thing this strong woman really had to live for?

The Engineer (Red Concepcion) is a pimp who is profiting off of these young women. He has a 9 o'clock number about his 'American Dream': to open a brothel in the states.

In a world where immigration is so hotly contested, is it really ok to tour a static leading character who wants to come into the country just to become a rich human trafficker? I say no.

Chris is at first uncomfortable with the exploitation of women at the brothel, but after Kim's body is purchased for him by his friend John (who out-of-nowhere goes from womanizer to Vietnamese-born American children advocate, but that's another story), he against his better judgement takes her home and impregnates her. After offering that she can go home with him instead of back to the brothel, he is treated like a hero.

Chris and Kim's love is so much more real for her. She is left in war-torn Vietnam with his son while he goes back to the U.S. and within a year marries an all-American girl, Ellen. Despite knowing Kim's deep love for him, he vows to stay with Ellen. He comes out of this tragedy fairly unscathed, but Kim is dead.

That being said, the production itself could not have been done better. The cast left everything they had on the stage, and I was dazzled by big set pieces, costumes, and revolutionary design by Bruno Poet.

However, I do not want to see musicals where women are treated like objects and Vietnamese people are portrayed as lesser-than. The theater community needs to start being more socially responsible about the kinds of shows we champion.

Miss Saigon runs until March 31 and tickets can be purchased HERE.

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From This Author Alyssa Biederman