Miss Saigon follows several characters who are tragic victims of the political and cultural climate during the war in Viet Nam. Kim is a young Vietnamese woman who is forced to prostitute herself in order to find the means to survive. Though she was betrothed to a young Vietnamese man named Thuy, Kim falls in love with American soldier Chris, and they spend two weeks together before Chris has to leave during the fall of Saigon. He wants to take Kim with him, but she is left behind and, unbeknownst to Chris, is pregnant with his child. The action then jumps to several years later as we see what has happened to Chris and to Kim, and we follow the events that lead to the emotional final scene.
Miss Saigon is filled with anguish from beginning to end - no one escapes tragic circumstances, and these circumstances only become more dismal as the show progresses. Chris is sad that he met Kim so late and has had to abandon her, and guilty later because of not knowing about his child. Kim is sad because her parents are dead, she has had to compromise her decent nature due to poverty, and she was left behind by Chris and cannot provide a good life for her child. The Engineer, an opportunistic Vietnamese/French figure, has a few comic moments in his songs, but is bitterly miserable about the lot he has drawn in life. Not to mention Chris' wife's sad state, with her husband pining over a lost love and later wanting to bring Kim and his child to the U.S. - and Thuy, who has taken his misery out in cruelty within the lines of military duty. There's no question there will be no happy ending here.
Holding up his end of the bargain, playing Chris as tormented and furrowed of brow, Brian Noonan approaches stridency with his vocal approach to some of the fine songs written by Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, and Schonberg. Ma-Anne Dionisio is a wonderful Kim. She sings beautifully and shows the emotion of the character without appearing soppy. Kevin Gray succeeds as The Engineer; he is in fine voice, and plays up the ironic humor in the material his character is given. As Thuy, Telly Leung sings gloriously, though he looks like a boy dressing up in his father's clothes in ill-fitting costume and facial hair (but just close your eyes and listen!). Jessica Hendy as Chris' wife Ellen delivers with skill on her songs. A highlight of this production, in showstopping fashion, is Alan H. Green's second act opener "Bui-Doi" - a powerful and stirring presentation that deserves accolades.
The ensemble is excellent in voice and movement.
The set for the original Miss Saigon was famous for its helicopter, as Phantom is for its chandelier. The copter and the rest of the sets (which were created in partnership with Paper Mill of New Jersey and American Musical Theatre of San Jose for this regional collaboration) are scaled down substantially in this production, which puts the responsibility on the story to impress, and there isn't 100% success achieved in that aspect.
If you are a fan of the story and the music of Miss Saigon, you most likely will be a fan of this production. However, if it took the whole big package presented by the original production to wow you, you will be disappointed here. And, if you've never seen Miss Saigon, you may appreciate the score, but wonder what all of the hoopla was about.
Miss Saigon at the Benedum Center for Pittsburgh CLO. Through June 22. For performance and ticket information, call 412-456-6666 or visit www.pittsburghclo.org.
Miss Saigon. Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg. Lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Alain Boublil. Adapted from the original French Lyrics by Alain Boublil. Additional Material by Richard Maltby, Jr. Originally Produced on the stage by Cameron Mackintosh. Musical Director, Tom Helm. LIghting Design John McLain. Scenery Design Michael Anania. Scenery, props and costumes created in partnership with Paper Mill: The State Theatre of New Jersey and american Musical Theatre of San Jose.
Kevin Gray, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Brian Noonan, Jessica Hendy, Alan H. Green, Telly Leung, Anthony J. Perrone, Kevin Quach-Le. Ensemble: Aaron J. Albano, Lisa Asari, Randy B. Ballesteros, Francis J. Cruz, Dexter Echiverri, Kearran Giovanni, Eric Hatch, Emily Hsu, Joanne Javien, Leon Le, Dominic Lim, Courtney Laine Mazza, Mayumi Miguel, Garrett Miller, Scott J. Pearson, Zachary Prince, Luke Rawlings, Mark Sanders, Eric Daniel Santagata, Julius Sermonia, Justin Tanner, Lisa Yuen.