BWW Reviews: MISS SAIGON at the Signature Theatre - The Heat is Still On!

By: Sep. 03, 2013
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Seeing MISS SAIGON's original Broadway cast at the cavernous Broadway Theatre (1,700 seats) was certainly a night to remember. It featured a huge cast of 40, a large orchestra, and the famous helicopter which landed on stage (yes there is a helicopter here). I recall when Baltimore was planning a new Broadway house, there was the clarion call for a theater where a helicopter could land.

What a different experience I had at Signature's MAX Theatre where since I was sitting in the second row on the side, I could have literally reached out and touched the actors. All I can say is "Thank God for the Signature Theatre" which has brought this massive entertaining hit musical to the Baltimore/Washington area where theatergoers can experience something really special written by composer Claude-Michel Schoenberg and lyricst Alain Boublil (English lyrics by Richard Matlby, Jr. and Boublil).

I am still perplexed that the 1991 Tony Award for Best Musical went to THE Will Rogers FOLLIES over MISS SAIGON, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, and THE SECRET GARDEN. How did that happen?

I had the pleasure of meeting lyricist. Boublil in April, 2012 backstage at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall following a wonderful concert version of his hit musical LES MISERABLES by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, I asked him about the possibility of MISS SAIGON returning to Broadway and he hinted that it was possible.

Coincidentally, you can see LES MIS now at Toby's Dinner Theater in Columbia. (See my review elsewhere on this site.)

And now you can also experience the hit musical MISS SAIGON at the Signature Theatre thanks to Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer who has also directed this outstanding production. Schaeffer has assembled a "Broadway Ready" cast.

The story is based loosely on MADAMA BUTTERFY. It opens in the year 1975 (coincidentally the same year A CHORUS LINE takes place...now having a superb run at the Olney Theatre Center until September 8) when the U.S. was still quite involved in the Vietnam War. GI Chris meets a naive young Kim at a bar where the "Miss Saigon" contest is being held among the prostitutes. Chris is immediately stricken with Kim,and attempts unsuccessfully to take her home to the U.S. Chris later marries Betty back in the states. Three years later, when he is informed he has fathered a child with Kim, he flies to Bankok to look for her and his son.

Playing the leading role of the Engineer, similar to the role of the emcee in CABARET, is the immensely talented Thom Sesma (who reminded me of Anthony Quinn). The Engineer rules the nightclub where the "girls" entertain in Saigon and is the perfect slim ball. His goal is to achieve "The American Dream" and somehow get the visa necessary to travel to the U.S.

Whenever Sesma is on stage, you cannot keep your eyes off of him. He is quite the performer in a role initiated by Tony-winner Jonathan Pryce. The show is on his shoulders as he opens the evening with "Opening Act One" and the classic "The Heat is on in Saigon". And at the end of the show, he has his 11 o'clock number, "The American Dream" which he nails. What a performance.

Playing the role of Kim is the incredibly talented Diane Huey. What a sweet voice she has and her duets with Chris are just beautiful. Gannon O'Brien plays Chris after Jason Michael Evans had to leave the cast due to physical problems with his voice and O'Brien shines in his low-key portrayal of Chris. The duets they have together are gorgious.

One of my favorite actors I've seen at Signature is Chris Sizemore who plays John, Chris' best friend. His rendition of "Bui Doi" which deals with the children left behind by American GIs is just plain breathtaking. Accompanying John's presentation is a vivid reminder of these children via a short film.

The ensemble is incredible talented, espeically the women. They are full of energy and spirit and undertake the great moves by Choreographer Karma Camp.

Another actor I've enjoyed recently is Christopher Mueller who plays the evil Thuy, Kim's suitor. He has a great future.

Playing little Tam was the wonderful Erin Chen (Matthew Berman and Joel Chen share the role).

Set Designer Adam Koch has assembled a remarkable amount of military artifacts including parts of a plane's wing and cockpit in the vestibule leading into the theater. There's also a video of the Vietnam bombing raids on display. The whole theater is enveloped with parts of parachutes. The inventive lighting is by Chris Lee, the superb period costumes by Frank Labovitz and Matt Rowe did the Sound Design and you can hear each and every lyric clearly. Certainly Laura Stanczyk should be applauded for her New York casting.

And finally, where we would be without the exceptional 15 piece orchestra under the baton of Gabriel Mangiante. Special kudos to William Mulligan who played "the solo saxophone".

There is a nice surprise. The production premieres a new song, "Maybe" sung by Ellen (Eric Driscol).

I highly recommend a wonderful background piece about the show by Nelson Pressley in the Washington Post (Sunday, August 11, 2013).

To learn more about the background of the writing of MISS SAIGON, I highly recommend "The Story of MISS SAIGON by Edward Behr and Mark Steyn.

The Signature Theatre is also offereing backstage tours on Saturdays at 5 p.m where one will see a short film featuring the production designers and director Schaeffer, a tour of the set and backstage areas and ends with a question and answer session with members of the cast. Tour dates are Sept. 7, 14, and 21 and tickets are $10.

For tickets, call 703-573-SEAT or online at www.signature-theatre.org.

Discusion performances are sechedule for Sept. 10 and Sept. 18.

The Signature should also be applauded for distributing informaton in the lobby about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

Do not miss this unforgettable evening of theater.

cgshubow@broadwayworld.com



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