BWW Review: MISS SAIGON at the Paramount - The Heat is On, but Not All the Way
Dear Readers, I've been a fan of "Miss Saigon" for years now, ever since it first came out back in 1991. I've seen tours, local productions, revivals on Broadway, and even a one-man interpretation that needs to find new life somewhere. So, I know what I'm looking for in any production; amazing voices and a heart wrenching, tear inducing love story. The current production at the Paramount has the voices but lacked the honesty and realism that would satisfy the love story.
Based on Puccini's opera "Madame Butterfly" we open in 1970's Saigon shortly before the end of the Vietnam War and the proprietor of Dreamland, The Engineer (Red Concepcion), is getting the working girls in his employ ready to go out and snag themselves an American G.I. for the night. He's found a new girl to exploit, the innocent Kim (Emily Bautista), and sells her as his new virgin. Enter the soldiers including John (J. Daughtry) and his best friend Chris (Anthony Festa). John's determined to buy a girl for the reluctant Chris and settles on Kim. The two spend the night together and fall in love, of course, but soon after all hell breaks loose and the Americans swiftly pull out of Saigon and Chris must leave Kim behind. And thus begins an epic story of love, betrayal, and obligation as Kim tries to work her way back to Chris.
Aside from the soaring music from Claude-Michel Schonberg, Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil, the show is famous for one thing, that damn helicopter landing on stage during the fall of Saigon. An effect that wowed me years ago and wowed again when I saw the revival on Broadway but here, on tour, felt a little rickety and underwhelming. But we're not here for the helicopter, as there's so much more to this wonderful show, or there should be. But again, I felt a bit let down when compared to the other glorious productions I've seen.
The ensemble is technically superb. All with incredible voices and tight staging. And the massive supporting cast is top notch. I just struggled with a few of the leads. Festa fits the look of the dashing American and has killer pipes but was working really hard in his emotional delivery ... a bit too hard. So much that it looked like he was working hard. His delivery just came across as forced, over the top and unreal and when one half of the love story isn't coming across as honest, it can kill the love story. Similarly, Daughtry felt a little presentational and more about his performance and not the story.
However, the rest were top notch. Bautista was lovely and nailed the power in her Act One closer. Christine Bunuan as Gigi, one of the more experienced working girls, sold the heartbreaking "Movie in my Mind" beautifully. And Concepcion was a deliciously slimy and opportunistic Engineer.
Every other production I've seen has affected me emotionally (even that one-man version) and while I teared up a bit, this one left me wanting. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give this production of "Miss Saigon" at the Paramount a "missed the mark" MEH+. If you're telling a love story, make sure the love is in the story. Otherwise it's just pretty music.
"Miss Saigon" performs at the Paramount Theatre through November 3rd. For tickets or information visit Seattle Theatre Group online at www.stgpresents.org.