Also see Susan's review of The Beauty Queen of Leenane
With its current production of Miss Saigon, Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, demonstrates that this work does not need elaborate scenic effects to succeed as long as it has leading performers with sufficient dramatic and vocal power. Diana Huey's crystalline soprano voice and vivid passion as Kim, and Thom Sesma's magnetic yet malevolent performance as the Engineer more than make up for the absence of a literal helicopter onstage.
Diana Huey and Jason Michael Evans
Photo by Christopher Mueller
The pop opera by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) and Richard Maltby Jr. & Alain Boublil (lyrics) borrows its plot from Puccini's opera Madama Butterflythe tragic romance of an Asian woman and an American military manbut adds a layer of sociopolitical comment by setting the story in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. Kim is an orphan forced to work as a bar girl in the Engineer's seedy nightclub/brothel; Chris (Jason Michael Evans), a jaded Marine, finds purpose in rescuing her from degradation and planning to make a life with her in the U.S. What separates them are the vagaries of fate and the chaos during the fall of Saigon, not the willful desertion of Puccini's heroine by his hero.
Huey manages to show Kim's progression from naiveté, through hope, to despair without ever making the character simply a victim; once she understands her fate, she accepts it without question. However, Sesma provides the electricity that powers the production with his steely facial expressions, his lithe physicality, and his total identification with the character. "The American Dream" has always been a standout number, but Sesma's performance and Karma Camp's choreography turn it into a musical breakdown comparable to "Rose's Turn" or "Live, Laugh, Love."
Gannon O'Brien, in for Evans as Chris, is capable and affecting in what is actually a relatively small role. Chris Sizemore stands out as Chris' friend John, whose performance of "Bui Doi" soars.
In an environmental staging directed by Eric Schaeffer and designed by Adam Koch, the audience walks through strings of red lights and random pieces of trash as they approach their seats. Signature's MAX Theatre is an intimate black box, so viewers sit within a few feet of the stage, surrounded with rags overhead and haze in the air. Chris Lee's lighting design uses startling spots and washes of color to set moods, while Matt Rowe's sound design joins with Gabriel Mangiante's 16 musicians to propel the action.
August 15th – October 6
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. & Alain Boublil, adapted from the original French lyrics by Alain Boublil
Additional materials by Richard Maltby Jr.
Saigon, April 1975:
The Engineer: Thom Sesma
Gigi: Cheryl Daro
Yvonne: Eunice Bae
Yvette: Katie Mariko Murray
Mimi: Tamara Young
Kim: Diana Huey
John: Chris Sizemore
Chris: Jason Michael Evans
Marines: James Gardiner, Vincent Kempski, Gannon O'Brien, Stephen Gregory Smith
Barmen: Kevin Kulp, Ryan Sellers, Nicholas Yenson
Thuy: Christopher Mueller
Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), April 1978:
Citizens of Ho Chi Minh City: Company
Assistant Commissar: Ryan Sellers
North Vietnamese Army Soldiers: Nicholas Yenson, Kevin Kulp
Ellen: Erin Driscoll
Tam: Matthew Berman, Erin Chen, or Joel Chen
Atlanta, September 1978:
Conference Delegates: Company
Bangkok, October 1978:
Hustlers: Kevin Kulp, Stephen Gregory Smith, Nicholas Yenson
Tourists: James Gardiner, Vincent Kempski, Gannon O'Brien, Ryan Sellers
Club Owner: Nicholas Yenson
Club Dancers: Eunice Bae, Cheryl Daro, Katie Mariko Murray, Tamara Young
Saigon, October 1975 (Flashback):
Captain Schultz: Stephen Gregory Smith
Marines: James Gardiner, Vincent Kempski, Gannon O'Brien
Vietnamese Civilians: Company
Bangkok, October 1978:
Inhabitants of Bangkok: Company
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Choreography by Karma Camp
Music direction by Gabriel Mangiante
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or www.signature-theatre.org
-- Susan Berlin
Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.