Miss Saigon playing at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre through November 3, 2019. Get tickets and more info here.
Cameron Mackintosh has been called the “Napoleon of Broadway” because of the incredible, large scale theatrical events he has produced on both London and New York stages. The smash hit Miss Saigon is, without a doubt, one of his greatest hits. A new production is currently touring in North America, and you should get tickets soon as it is only playing a few more days Seattle’s Paramount Theatre
The musical-modern opera is based on the more classical Puccini opera, Madam Butterfly; except that is updated to the 20th Century and takes place toward the close of the American involvement in Vietnam. At a sleazy club called “Dream Land” the “Engineer”, a smarmy pimp that will do anything necessary to get a visa to the United States, runs a scam by selling the bar girls to the intoxicated American soldiers. Every girl prays that she can land herself a soldier, be rescued from her life and taken back to the United States for the American Dream. On this evening The Engineer is presenting a new 15-year-old, virginal girl named Kim. An American soldier named Chris is captured by her innocence and naiveté and his friend John buys her for him. Chris and Kim go off together. In the morning, Chris is infatuated with Kim; he feels sorry for her and wants to help save her, so he asks her to move in with him. Kim innocently takes this as a marriage proposal and a house blessing turns into a wedding. But it is the eve of Saigon’s fall, and so Chris is separated from Kim during the chaotic, last minute evacuation of the U.S. Embassy. As the last helicopter abandons the Vietnamese people that have sacrificed their lives to help the Americans, Kim is left behind as the Vietcong take over the Embassy and the city. Three years later, Chris is back in the U.S., has remarried a woman named Ellen (without ever mentioning Kim’s name to her), and is haunted by the nightmares of war as well as the horrible possibilities that could have befallen Kim. When John informs Chris that he has not only found Kim alive in Bangkok, but that Chris and she are also the parents of a young boy named Tam. Chris and Ellen travel to Bangkok to take responsibility of the child and pay for his upbringing. Kim accidentally meets Ellen first and alone. She finds out that Chris has a new wife, and that all of her dreams of being with him will never happen. Kim realizes that their son now has no hope for a future; he is Bui Doi – the dust of life, unless she can get Chris to take Tam back to the United States.
The cast of Miss Saigon are all excellent. The supporting roles all do wonderful jobs engaging the audience and performing with great skill and precision. Ellie Fishman plays ‘Ellen’, and does a good job playing the American wife. Her voice is warm especially in beautiful duet “I Still Believe” where both ‘wives’ sing of the cloudy future with their shared husband. Her voice shows its full strength in the (newly revised) song “Maybe”, as Ellen processes what meeting her husband’s wife could mean for all three of the people involved. Christine Bunuan plays ‘Gigi’, the lead bar girl until Kim appears. Her role is brassy and yet breaks your heart as she leads the bar girls in the song, “The Movie in My Mind”; a haunting fantasy of escaping their current lives and observing the ‘boys’ that play at being ‘men’. Her voice is strong and Ms. Bunuan delivers the pain-wrenching sentimentality with skill and excellence.
The two star-crossed lovers are beautifully portrayed. The couple definitely show their passion and affection towards one another, even as their world is being torn apart around them. Anthony Festa plays ‘Chris’. He possesses a powerful instrument that demonstrates the character’s range of emotions from frustration (as in the song “Why God Why?”) and love (“Sun and Moon”). As he realizes that his patriotism has betrayed him in ‘The Confrontation’, the audience definitely feels his inner emotional conflicts. When he and Kim sing the beautiful duet, “The Last Night of the World”, the audience can’t help but sharing the emotional bonds and believe in their survival.
Emily Bautista plays the innocent Kim. Ms. Bautista is fantastic showing the audience the pain and loss that brings her character to the compromises of being a “Bar Girl”. Kim may be naive in her relationship with Chris, but Ms. Bautista does well in seducing the audience with her innocence. Ms. Bautista’s voice soars in the tender song to her son, “I’d Give My Life For You”. The audience feels her pain when she sings the heart wrenching (and newly revised) “Little God of My Heart”.
Red Concepcion is extraordinary in the driving role of “The Engineer”. This character needs to be strong, ruthless, and charismatic in order to do what the role requires, and Mr. Concepcion delivers it with a vengeance. The fulsome conniving pimp immediately repulses the audience, and yet we cannot take our eyes off of him and secretly, wish him to succeed. Whether he is wheedling for a Visa, or trying to sell any of the girls, Mr. Concepcion’s talent still makes the loathsome character of ‘The Engineer’ endearing. The constant viewpoint of spotting the immediate opportunity is always first and foremost, as The Engineer sings of the demeaning demands placed on him in “What a Waste”. It is his 11 o’clock number “The American Dream” where Mr. Concepcion’s full talents slowly build until overflowing with the blissful joys of which only a conman can dream.
Miss Saigon is a beautiful update to a classical opera. It should not be missed. It is the second major, international work by the team Claude-Michel Schonberg (music) and lyrics by Alain Boublil and Richard Maltby Jr. Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg also wrote Les Miserables. This new production has several lyric changes (for those of you fans with a good ear for listening) from the original cast CD, and two songs that have been revised almost completely. While the story is definitely a love story, there are many situations, which may not be suitable for younger audience members. The ending may not be uplifting, but in the immortal words of the great sage, Bugs Bunny: “It’s an opera folks. Did you really expect happy ending?”
Miss Saigon first opened on Broadway on March 23, 1991 and closed on January 28, 2001. Originally starring Lea Salonga and Jonathan Pryce in London, the show caused great controversy in the United States with Mr. Pryce playing an Asian man – which goes against Equity laws. After Cameron Mackintosh’s veiled threat to cancel the American production, Mr. Pryce was allowed to recreate his role on Broadway as the Engineer with Lea Salonga (once again as Kim), Hinton Battle (John), and Liz Calloway (Ellen). The show was originally nominated for 11 Tony Awards, winning three: Best Actor in a Musical (Jonathan Pryce), Best Actress in a Musical (Lea Salonga) and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Hinton Battle). A revival hit Broadway from March 23, 2017 – January 14, 2018. The revival was nominated for two Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical.