BWW Review: Technically Stunning MISS SAIGON at PPAC

BWW Review: Technically Stunning MISS SAIGON at PPAC

MISS SAIGON, the tragic love story of a Vietnamese woman who falls in love with an American GI during the Vietnam War, is certainly not short on drama. Based on Puccini's Madame Butterfly, this retelling focuses both on the love affair between the two main characters, but also the horror of war and desperate hope to better one's circumstances. This is one of the most elaborate sets this reviewer has ever seen, and the drama almost takes a backseat to the phenomenal technical and sound design. This new tour, from the 2017 revival, features some outstanding vocal performances, but also doesn't try to hide away or reconcile previously controversial content.

Kim is a young Vietnamese woman whose parents have both died, so she travels to Saigon to look for work. Once she arrives, she meets a man who calls himself The Engineer, who runs Dreamland--a bar and brothel frequented by American soldiers looking for fun, and populated by desperate Vietnamese women hoping to find an American man who will take them home with him. Amazingly, on her first night of work at Dreamland, Kim meets and falls in love with Chris, and they later marry in a non legally binding ceremony with Kim's friends from Dreamland. Chris and the American forces are ordered to evacuate Saigon immediately. Kim is left behind, and she waits three years for him to return for her.

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. Also, juxtaposing his circumstances with what Kim is going through, having moved with her son to Bangkok, it's hard to feel as sympathetic for his character as the book clearly wants one to.

What's also unexpected in what appears to be a story of doomed love, is how big the part of The Engineer becomes. Red Conception as The Engineer, is a outstanding performer and he winks and nods at the audience and provides much-needed comic relief, but in the second act the pro-America message really starts to come through in a way that's distracting. Miss Saigon is frequently criticized as trying to portray a story of Vietnamese people, but really only the way that Americans want to see them. It's certainly believable that people living in a war-torn country would be looking to escape, but The Engineer's over-the-top musical homage to western capitalism--complete with convertible, Statue of Liberty and a Marilyn Monroe lookalike, is a clearly reflecting back to an American audience exactly what they expect from a stock Asian character.

The props and backdrops of The Engineer's song The American Dream, are show-stopping, farcical and fantastic. The scene when Chris and his unit are evacuated from Saigon are also technically amazing. Seemingly from out of nowhere, a giant helicopter appears above the gates of the United States Embassy, and the sound and sight of it is just as astonishing as if it was actually there. The sound by Mick Potter and lighting engineering by Bruno Poet in this production are exceptional, and also with the sets, clearly an aspect of this show that got a lot of attention and skill. Even though the plot proves to be problematic, the technical aspects of this show make it worth seeing.

MISS SAIGON is among Broadway's longest-running productions, and this new tour is definitely pulling out all the stops. Despite the effort and expense put into this production, it's hard to reconcile some of the more dated aspects of plot and underlying current of western exceptionalism. Still, the cast is very strong, and being aware of the issues with plot make this something that can be a historical learning experience, as well as an entertaining show.

MISS SAIGON is at Providence Performing Arts Center September 27-30, and continues its national tour. More information about the tour can be found at www.miss-saigon.com/us-tour/tour-dates. Providence Performing Arts Center's 2018-2019 season info and tickets are available at www.ppacri.org, or by visiting the box office 220 Weybosset St Providence, Rhode Island 02903 or calling (401) 421 - ARTS (2787).

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From This Author Andria Tieman

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