BWW Review: MISS SAIGON at Durham Performing Arts Center is Too Loud, Too Heavy-Handed, and Too Much
In the second act of MISS SAIGON, there is a song called 'Too Much for One Heart.' And that's how one might describe the national touring production of MISS SAIGON which opened at the Durham Performing Arts Center last night. It's just too much.
The original Tony Award-winning production opened on Broadway in 1991, two years after making its world premiere in London's West End. Set in Vietnam in 1975, the musical tells the tale of a Vietnamese girl named Kim, who falls in love with Chris, an American GI, and how the ill-fated lovers cope with the aftermath of war.
According to Music Theatre International (MTI), the original production of MISS SAIGON was one of the most spectacular and technically complex productions ever made. And yes, technically, this touring production, based on the 2016 Broadway revival, does not disappoint. It is a spectacle, helicopter and all.
However, this production is directed by Laurence Connor, whose heavy-handed approach overshadows the grandeur and beauty of Claude-Michel Schonberg's sweeping score, not to mention the "epic" love story that is central to the plot. Throughout this production, the performers seem to be shouting their way through practically every number, rather than singing fluently. The sound is loud, piercing, and almost deafening at times. It is one of the loudest theatrical productions presented at DPAC in recent memory.
In addition, watching this play through a contemporary lens is just plain painful and discomforting. Unlike other shows like CABARET or CHICAGO, which one might argue tackle the sexual objectification of women with finesse (if that's even possible), the sex scenes in this production feel gratuitous, brutish, and unsettling. Perhaps a less is more approach may have made the show feel updated and fresh, and ultimately, would have made it more entertaining.
There are times in this production where the audience sees what the show could have been or even might have been in its former life. For example, J. Daughtry's rendition of 'Bui Doi' is powerful, strong, and intense. The duet 'Sun and Moon' between Anthony Festa's Chris and Emily Bautista's Kim is beautiful and operatic. Festa's voice alone is gorgeous, melodious, and rich. But even these small redeeming moments get weighted down by some production element or over-the-top visual that is disserving.
Connor and company have thrown way too many esoteric ideas into this production that, in an attempt to make it grittier and more authentic, just make it feel disjointed, disconnected, and tortuous. Consequently, audiences may be better served just downloading the original Broadway cast recording for the music or renting a video of Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY than suffering through this mess.
MISS SAIGON runs through Sunday at the Durham Performing Arts Center. For more information visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/.