As I sat down in the vast cavern that is the North Shore Music Theatre, I told myself I'd only have to make it through two acts of Boublil & Schonberg's "classic" and then I could get my tail out of there along with the rest of my extremities. My worries were unfounded. Not only did I sit through both acts, but I ended up enjoying almost every minute of it.
With Miss Saigon, NSMT continues its tradition of reinventing shows that we thought couldn't be done any other way. I should have known that when they made Fiddler on the Roof watchable last year, that Miss Saigon would be just fine in these guys' hands. Yes, the banal lyrics are still there. Yes, the story still moves much too fast, but this Miss Saigon is a joy to watch nonetheless.
From the chaotic and crowded opening number to the cheesy glitz of "The American Dream," the choices made by the creative team are first rate. The beautiful scenic design of Dex Edwards' works fantastically and allows all the different locales in Saigon to appear seamlessly. The lighting by John McLain was a bit too green at times, but delineated the settings nicely as well. The only area in which the physical production falters is in the use of tacky slides to show us time and place. The scenery and lighting do that just fine without the use of these slides, which just seem out of place.
The cast is also rather top-notch, which seems to always be the case at this theatre. Rona Figueroa, who portrayed Kim in the Broadway production for two years, makes a fine debut here. Ms. Figueroa seems very comfortable in the role, as should be expected, but at times her characterization seems a bit too old to be the 17-20 year old Kim is written to be. This attribute is useful in the later scenes where Ms. Figueroa gives us a strong, determined woman who will stop at nothing to get her son a slice of "The American Dream."
Kevin Gray is absolutely charming as the devilish Engineer. With a strong voice and just the right touch of smarminess, Mr. Gray gives us the greasy side of the Engineer while making us long to see him achieve his dreams. Brian Noonan's characterization of Chris is a bit over the top and too frantic to be believable. On second thought, this may be the fault of the writing, but there must be a better way to find the realism in Chris.
Under the firm hand of Kathy Rubbicco, the orchestra sounds marvelous. William D. Brohn's orchestrations are more accentuated and sound much better at NSMT than they did in the gigantic Broadway Theatre. The only fault with the NSMT's production is the staging by director Barry Ivan. Mr. Ivan's blocking seems contrived and doesn't have a natural flow. However, Mr. Ivan does give us exactly the right feel for the bar scenes, making the stage feel overcrowded, cramped, and hot.
So, even if you'd rather watch the "movie in your mind" (pun intended) get yourself over to see the inventive new production of Miss Saigon at North Shore Music Theatre.