THE FALL OF SAIGON AND THE AMERICAN DREAM FOR KIM AND HER ENGINEER IS STILL POWERFUL AFTER 28 YEARS
The helicopter is landing and the American dream is the “movie in their mind” as Kim and “The Engineer” yearn for new lives. Fresh from the West End, this new breathtaking powerful production of MISS SAIGON - is now on stage at SHN’s Orpheum stage through November 4th. Based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, MISS SAIGON is set in the 1970s during the final days of the Vietnam War. The Tony award-winning moving musical and book by Alain Boublil, and music by Jean-Claude Schönberg, and Richard Maltby, Jr. This new production of MISS SAIGON is truly magnificent and the perfect fall Cameron Mackintosh production that will bring more than tears to your eyes. This is a grittier, more plausible approach that brings the power and epic sound of Boublil's and Schönberg’s tremendous score.
This is a brilliant eye catching opera that captures every scene change from 1975 Saigon to Bangkok in 1978 with a show stopping flair that includes a flawless, talented 42 member cast. MISS SAIGON begins in the final days of the Vietnam War. The glorious Red Concepcion brings the heart of this story as he sings “The Heat is On” with the entire company. Chris, powerfully played by Anthony Festa, is a U.S. soldier stationed in Saigon in 1975 who falls in love with Kim, the excellent Emily Bautista, a young Vietnamese girl he meets on her first night as a bar girl. Bautista sings “The Movie In My Mind” with Christine Bunuan who plays a striking, Gigi. When Saigon falls weeks later, Chris is forced to evacuate and leave Kim behind, Bautista is superb in the part, she is vulnerable, poignant, a loving mother and she's got a captivating rich soprano singing voice. Bautista and Festa are wonderful in “This Money’s Yours” that begins their love for each other.
Festa is a great match for her vocally with an impressive tenor voice he sings a solo “Why God Why” and brings you close to his new passion. Festa 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 Concepcion steals the show with his distinguished 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 is lushly embroidered with a shanty town with realism that is striking against Christine Peters’ and Adrian Vaux’ dynamic set design. The enemy uniforms and whores dressed women/men are striking in the costumes designed by Andreane Neofitou and Dryl A Stone. The elegant Stacie Bono has a fully realized solo as Chris' wife; she is marvelous in “Now That I Have Seen Her.” J. Daughtry 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 designed by Luke Halls that blends into the set.
First grader Jace Chen is a charm as the tiny, innocent Tam. Four young actors fill in for the boy at various performances; Ryder Khatiwala, Fin Moulding and Melanie Ramirez. The exceptional Jinwoo Jung is menacing as Kim's dogmatic cousin Thuy, a Viet Cong officer who tries to force her into marriage. Jung 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 Bautista and Jung.
Bautista has many wonderful solos, but her reprise of “Sun and Moon” is the most impressive. Concepcion is charismatic and confident every time he enters and has a vibrant personality, a fluid ease and likability. His solo numbers in each act "If You Want to Die in Bed" and “What a Waste” are electric. The true showstopper and my favorite number in this epic is his solo “The American Dream”. Concepcion sings, dances, and creates an engaging performance that instantly brought the sold out opening night crowd to their feet.
MISS SAIGON’s complex melodies and uninterrupted, operatic score is as challenging as Sondheim and Bernstein. Will Curry is the conductor of the 18-piece orchestra that 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. Director Avian’s choreography is lively and creative, and his direction is huge, detailed, fast-paced with the current political feel from today's headlines about immigration. Geoffrey Garratt choreographed elegant fight sequences.
Mike Potter and Adam Fisher created a flawless sound design including the shows iconic helicopter that is ground breaking craftsmanship. The light design by Bruno Poet is vibrant, moody that mixed perfectly with the fast moving timeline and 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. The staging is superb, moving the actors behind, beside, and in front of the chain-linked gates, building tension steadily until the chopper lifts off.
MISS SAIGON since first opening on the West End back in 1989, then moving to Broadway has had its controversial moments. The most history changing is removing white actors from playing parts meant for Asian actors. The honored Jonathan Price first played the Engineer until the original producers recast the role for an Asian actor in 1992. This new National Tour company has produced a moving stunning production that brought me to tears at least three times. This is a classic story of love and the effects of war, immigration, and the lost “Bui Doi” children. It is also important to note that this story hits so close to home with the important Vietnamese community just a few blocks from the SHN stage door. The fall of Saigon had huge effects here in the Bay Area as so many families were relocated to the Bay Area 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 performance of this visually epic drama of the American Dream.
Its is a beautiful, important musical and needs to be on your Fall list of theatre to attend. SHN as always offers rush tickets for 40.00 that go on sale 2 hours before each performance. Mobile rush seats are offered through TixToday.com as early as 9 am on show days.
SHN BROADWAY Presents
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Richard Maltby, Jr.
Book by Alain Boublil
Directed by Laurence Connor
Music Director Will Curry, Choreographer Bob Avian
Must close Nov 4
SHN's Orpheum Theatre
1192 Market Street, San Francisco CA.
Tickets box office at 888-746-1799
For more information on the tour www.miss-saigon.com/us-tour.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
Design team: Adrian Vaux (design concept), Totie Driver and Matt Kinley (production design), Bruno Poet (lighting design), Mick Potter (sound design), and Andreane Neofitou (costume design). Luke Halls (projections) Bob Avian (staging)
They're called Bui-Doi.
The dust of life.
Conceived in Hell,
And born in strife.
They are the living reminder of all the good we failed to do.
We can't forget
Must not forget
That they are all our children, too.
Like all survivors I once thought
When I'm home I won't give a damn
But now I know I'm caught, I'll never leave Vietnam