Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Miss Saigon's Helicopter Lands In San Jose
Also see Richard's review of Peggy-Ann
The American Musical Theatre of San Jose is currently presenting Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Richard Maltby's Miss Saigon. This is one of the first regional theatres in the United States given permission by Cameron Mackintosh to present the three time Tony Award winning musical. This musical is a co-production with Paper Mill Playhouse and Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.
Since its premiere in 1989, Miss Saigon has received 29 awards worldwide and is one of only six productions in Broadway history to reach 4000 performances. This is my third time viewing this invigorating musical. I was privileged to attend the world premiere of Miss Saigon at the Drury Lane Theatre in London on September 20, 1989. That cast included the wonderful Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer, Lea Salonga as Kim and Simon Bowman as Chris. I remember the opening scene of the G.I.s in the Saigon Bar had very strongly anti-American tendencies; the soldiers were almost like beasts to the women. One year later, I saw the production again at the Drury Lane with a different cast. The opening scene had been toned down because of complaints from American tourists coming to London. It was no longer anti-American but G.I.s having a good time.
The AMT presentation is the first production of Miss Saigon I have seen in this country and it is exciting, stimulating, tender, raw and uncompromising. The production is top rate and everyone in the cast is excellent. The sets are spectacular for a touring company and even the helicopter scene is very well done. This production does not rely on the hydraulics and spectacular effects that were primary in London. As a result, the love story comes over more successfully and the musical has more heart.
Set during the final days leading up to the American evacuation of Saigon, Miss Saigon is a tender and tragic story of love and self-sacrifice involving a young Vietnamese girl and an American soldier. It is Madame Butterfly all over again with riveting music by the Les Miserables composers. I believe it is a better score then Les Mis
Saigon's top level cast has not one bad voice or shaky performance. Many of the ensemble are local Bay Area dancers and singers. Dina Lynne Morishita is very poignant in her portrayal of Kim. She is properly vulnerable and she boasts a soaring soprano. Aaron Ramey as Chris has striking good looks and a great tenor voice. It broadens into a forceful voice when the occasion arises. Local singer Erwin G. Urbi is excellent as Kim's Communist boyfriend. He not only delivers a song with power but displays a great stage presence. Alan H. Green scores dramatic points as Chris's friend. He has a commanding voice in his one song in which he makes an impassioned cry to the children of American solders abandoned in Vietnam.
The duets between Chris and Kim are beautiful. The duet of the beautiful translucent "Sun and Moon" is flawless. The last line, "How in one night have we come so far," rebounds bewilderingly on Kim in the last scene of the musical. Katherine Von Till, a hometown girl, makes the most of the role of Ellen, wife of Chris, and her rendition of "Now That I've Seen Her" is marvelously sung.
The greatest coup is the casting of Kevin Gray who plays the Engineer. Gray plays the role differently than Mr. Pryce. Whereas Pryce played the role in a sly manner, this artist makes the entrepreneur more slimy. He pimps and preens with devilish glee and he projects greed so brazenly that you really can't help but love him while at the same time you hate the character. Kevin really shines in the two big production numbers, "What a Waste" and "American Dream."
Melanie Tojio's choreography for the Vietnamese solders in the "The Morning of the Dragon" sequence is very military and thrilling in its execution. The "What a Waste" number in the second act is spectacular. Michael Anania's sets capture the gaudy and frightening atmosphere of war-torn Saigon and the costumes by Ray Delle Robbins and Gail Baldoni strike the right note visually. The lighting by F. Mitchell Dana is perfect. The orchestra under the direction of Bryan Nies is brilliant.
Miss Saigon plays through November 17 at the American Musical Theatre located at 255 Almaden Blvd. San Jose. For tickets call 408-453-7108, 888-455-SHOW or visit www.amtsf.org. The next production will be The Sound of Music.