BWW Review: The Heat is on in MISS SAIGON
How quickly can you fall in love? Can this feeling be distinguished as true love or is it lust and infatuation disguised as such? For Chris, an American soldier whose last nights in Vietnam should be nothing more than routine, meeting Kim at a Saigon bar forever altered his life. Their star-crossed love story intertwines two lives in more ways than one and plays out on the Benedum stage in the blockbuster musical Miss Saigon.
Scripted over Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Miss Saigon transposes the classic tragedy to Vietnam during the final days of the Vietnam War.
On one of their final nights in Vietnam, Chris (Anthony Festa) and his fellow soldier friends go to Dreamland, a Saigon bar/brothel. Chris expects a typical night out: drugs, liquor, and prostitutes. What he gets, however, is irrefutable infatuation when he lays eyes on Kim (Emily Bautista), a 17-year-old girl from the countryside who had just started working at the bar as a means of survival.
Kim goes reluctantly with Chris that night, but after knowing Kim for only hours, Chris's feelings cannot be contained to his heart. "I liked my memories as they were, but now I'll leave remembering her. Just her," he says, conflicted with his impending departure.
Kim feels just as passionately about Chris, and they begin to imagine a life together in a sensual scene where the pair serenade each other on a fire escape in "Sun and Moon."
Chris plans to take Kim with him, back to the U.S., but we eventually learn that something in this plan had fallen through; three years after that passionate night, Kim is in Vietnam still while Chris is in the U.S. We also learn of two bombshells unbeknownst to the opposite: Kim has had Chris's child, and Chris has married an American woman. Through an old military friend, Chris finds out about his bastard son and faces yet another dilemma: How does he tell his wife of this, and does he travel to Saigon to see him, and inevitably, Kim?
This show is comparable to many others outside of Madama Butterfly. The Engineer (Red Concepción) is a charming ringleader, like the MC in Cabaret. His 11 o'clock number "The American Dream" will dazzle and wow and his energy is consistently high throughout the entire production. Likewise, the company delivers a powerful and intense "The Morning of the Dragon," which is reminiscent of "A New Argentina" in Evita. Also like Evita, and worth knowing before attending, Miss Saigon is a musical almost entirely sung.
Ms. Bautista delivers a stellar performance, remaining on stage for the majority of the time and belting over a dozen songs in the show. At a time when Kim is protecting her child and expressing her unconditional love, Ms. Bautista gives her best performance with the song "I'd Give My Life for You."
Opposite her, Mr. Festa matches his female counterpart in emotion and intensity. His portrayal in "The Confrontation" will give chills, as his heartache is palpable and steeped in sentiment for Kim and his current wife.
All of this unfolds in front of incredible backdrops and scenery. This Cameron Mackintosh production aligns with the standards he has set with hit shows like The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Les Miserables. Its production value is impressive, illuminating the talent on the stage and allowing them to shine even brighter.
The production as a whole can be described as dramatic. It is not over-the-top or hyperbolic; it is the type of dramatic that leaves a lasting impact. From the immaculate set design to the wonderful orchestrations to the gut-wrenching story, the show allows you to empathize with tragedy and relish with passion. More than just Saigon fell in 1975; Kim fell for Chris, Chris fell for Kim, and the world they knew would never fall in line the same way ever again.
To see or not to see score: 7/9; Recommended Show
Photo by: Matthew Murphy