THE CHOPPER LANDS AT THE HISTORIC FOX THEATRE TO OPEN THE 51ST SEASON OF BROADWAY BY THE BAY WITH THE BREATHTAKING 'MISS SAIGON'
Broadway by the Bay opens their exciting 51st season with the stunningly powerful production of MISS SAIGON - now on stage at the historic Fox Theatre in Redwood City through April 3rd. Based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, MISS SAIGON is set in the 1970s during the final days of and following the Vietnam War. The award-winning hit with music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Richard Maltby, Jr. and book by Alain Boublil. This is the second time BBB has produced this musical and this 2016 new view of “Dream Land,” director Jasen Jeffrey says “I have been inspired by the vast research I have done on the history of this period. There are many untold stories of tragedy, travesty, and triumph, and these truths have informed my vision. I have created a narrative that does not politicize these events, but allows us to see the common humanity not only in these characters, but in the parallels that are present in today’s global society.” Jasen has assembled an accomplished cast, and BBB has pulled out all the stops for this musical, even with its dark storyline the three leads are all Broadway quality, and the stunning projections by Steve Channon bring Saigon and Thailand to the Fox Stage.
MISS SAIGON begins in the ending days of the Vietnam War. Chris, powerfully played by Terence Sullivan is a U.S. soldier stationed in Saigon in 1975, who falls in love with Kim, the excellent Danielle Mendoza, a young Vietnamese girl he meets on her first night as a bar girl. When Saigon falls weeks later, Chris is forced to evacuate and leave Kim behind. Mendoza is superb in the part, she is vulnerable, poignant, a loving mother and she's got a captivating rich soprano singing voice. Sullivan is a great match for her vocally, with an impressive tenor voice and that square-jawed, all-American good looks and demeanor that make you root for him, even when his actions leave something to be desired. The story jumps forward three years, Kim and her Amerasian son, Tam, escape Vietnam by boat to a U.S. refugee camp in Thailand, where they await Chris' return. But their waiting is in vain, as Chris has married and moved on with his life.
The love story is the emotional core of "Miss Saigon," but the show's core and lifeblood is the Engineer, and Antonio Rodriguez III steals the show with his first rate performance as The Engineer. The shady, owner of "Dreamland" who wines and dines American Soldiers to pay his scantily dressed girls trading drinks, drugs, and sexual needs. Desperate to reach the land of opportunity, the Engineer arranges to bring Chris and Kim back together in hopes of securing a U.S. visa for himself.
The drama is set against a, gritty backdrop of bamboo shacks and neon strip joints, and it's lushly embroidered with a shanty town projections that are striking against Kelly James Tighe set design. The enemy uniforms and whores dressed women/men are striking in the costumes designed by Leandra Watson and coordinated by Nic Nelson. Mendoza has many wonderful solo’s, but her reprise of “Sun and Moon” is the most impressive. Rodriguez III is charismatic and confident as the Engineer and has a vibrant personality, a fluid ease and likability. His solo numbers in each act "If You Want to Die in Bed" and "The American Dream" are show stoppers - he sings, dance, and creates an engaging performance. Catherine Brady has a belty solo as Chris' wife, Ellen; She is stunning and elegant in “Now That I Have Seen Her.” Aaron Grayson is sympathetic as Chris' fellow soldier, John, an ex-G.I. who heads an agency dedicated to caring for the "bui-doi," the more than 20,000 Amerasian children left behind in Vietnam by U.S. soldiers dramatically seen in the historical footage that blends into the set. Three-year- toddler “Buggy” Beltran is a charm of poise and focus as the tiny, innocent Tam. And the exceptional Brian Palac is menacing as Kim's dogmatic cousin Thuy, a Viet Cong officer who tries to force her into marriage. Palac is engaging as the villain and has a phenomenal voice and is a force on stage. “Coo Coo Princess” and “Kim’s Nightmare” are highlights along with Mendoza and Rodriquez III.
With its complex melodies and uninterrupted, operatic score, "Miss Saigon" is as challenging as Sondheim, and musical director Sean Kana does a masterful job, particularly the harmonies in the beautiful ensemble number "The Ceremony." Kana as the conductor of the 18-piece orchestra provides a full, lush canvas of Eastern gongs, bamboo flutes, and gamelan and never drops the ball with the relentlessly paced, two-hour, 45-minute score. Nicole Helfer choreography is lively and creative, and Jeffrey’s direction is smooth, detailed and fast-paced with the current political feel from today's headlines about immigration.
Jeffrey teamed with R.J. San Jose to choreograph ellegant fight sequences. Jon Hayward, Mackenzie Haynes, and Brigitte Wittmer created a flawless sound design including the shows iconic helicopter that was very impressive. The light design by Michael Oesch is vibrant moody that mixed perfectly with the fast moving timeline and constant animated projections. The show's most famous scene is the evacuation of the American embassy, featuring a huge helicopter, and the sad tableau of dozens of Vietnamese frantically trying to scramble over the embassy gates to reach the aircraft as Saigon falls. Jeffrey is superb here, moving the actors behind, beside, and in front of the chain-linked gates, building tension steadily until the chopper lifts off.
Other exceptional performances to note include Vida Mae Fernandez as Gigi, Alysia Beltran, Camille Edralin, Leslie Chocano, Cheyenne Wells who were the girls in “Dreamland”. The Marines all tall and routy included Chris Aceves, Jesse Cortez, Alexander Gomez, Efrian Lazcano-Ibarra, Brendon North, and Jay Thulien. Local favorite Neal Pascua stood out as the voicetress club owner.
MISS SAIGON is a musical that is a must to add to your spring season theatre season. The company has produced a moving stunning production of this classic story of love and the effects of war and immigration. It is also important to note that this story hits so close to home with the important vietnamese community just a few miles from the Fox stage. The fall of Saigon had huge effects here in the bay area as so many families were relocated to San Jose in the months and years after that failed war. And it was very essential to see such a mix audience in the sold out opening weekend performance of this not be forgotten era of the American Dream. It is a must see.
Broadway By The Bay
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Richard Maltby, Jr.
Book by Alain Boublil
Directed by Jasen Jeffrey, Music Director Sean Kana,
Choreographer Nicole Helfer
March 18th through April 3rd
The Historic Fox Theatre
2215 Broadway Street, Redwood City, CA
Tickets: 650-579-5565 or www.broadwaybythebay.org
Photos by Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin