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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Miss Saigon's Helicopter
Lands in the East Bay

Also see Richard's reviews of The Overcoat and Linda Lavin at the Plush Room

Miss Saigon
Catherine Gloria and Dane Stokinger
The helicopter of Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Richard Maltby's Miss Saigon has landed at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, compliments of the Diablo Light Opera Company. It will remain there along with the large cast consisting mostly of Asian Americans through October 1. This marks the first time the extravagant musical has played in the East Bay. This is an excellent production of the challenging musical of girl meets boy with confused emotions in Vietnam in 1975.

Miss Saigon has grossed $1.7 billion world wide and is the seventh longest running show in Broadway history (4092 performances). This marks my sixth time to see the operatic musical. The current production features mostly community actors from the East Bay. The sets are from the Fullerton Civic Light Opera and were designed by Dustin J. Cardwell for the southern California opera company. There is also a helicopter to take the Marines away from Saigon during the evacuation. However, the big "American Dream" scene does not contain the Cadillac, and Miss Chinatown has to walk on stage carrying the Statute of Liberty torch.

The opening scene takes place in a bar in Saigon where American soldiers and prostitutes gather for sexual encounters. When we first saw this musical at the Drury Lane Theater several days after it opened in September 1989, this scene was very anti-American, with the soldiers almost raping the young Vietnamese girls. One year later, at the same theatre, the scene had been toned down. The current DLOC production is even tamer since it looks like everyone is having a good time - with the exception of Kim (Catherine Gloria).

Dane Stokinger (finished a two year run with the National tour of the musical) as Chris looks like a Marine, and he has an excellent voice that resonates thoughout the whole theatre. Catherine Gloria (this is the first public appearance of this recent high school graduate) persuasively plays Kim. In a heart-rending performance, she has an excellent, bell clear voice and she gives the role both fragility and great inner strength. Franc-Anton Harwart (worked mostly with Paramount Entertainment as a dance captain) as the unscrupulous Engineer seems more like a spoiled brat than the slimy character usully portrayed. However, he does come through during the big "American Dream" number.

Nephi Speer (CCNT production of Grease) as Chris' best friend John shines, especially in his solo at the top of act two, "Bui-Doi." The words are banal, but he sells the song so well it becomes one of the high points of the musical. Jennifer Graham (CCCT productions of Anything Goes, Jekyll and Hyde) as Chris' wife performs competently and gives a nice rendition of "Now That I've Seen Her" in the second act. Sung Park (student at the Solano College's Actors Training Program) is striking as the Viet Cong leader, Thuy. He has a powerful voice and makes a strong appearance on stage.

Under Daren A.C. Carollo's direction, the action never slows. The opening scene in 1978 Bangkok is well done as the Engineer and the Ensemble sing "What a Waste." The realistic scene of the evacuation of Saigon is thrilling. James Du Beg's choreography is highly effective, especially the mock martial ballet around the statue of Ho. The "American Dream" sequence also shows great moves on the part of the dancers, although I did miss the Cadillac. Chris Guptill's lighting design is very efficient. Sets by Dustin J. Cardwell show commendable control in the early scenes only to knock your socks off with the colorful and muddled Bangkok street scene in the second act. Costumes by Mela Hoyt-Heydon are authentic for the period. Both set and costume designs were for the Fullerton Civic Opera production.

Miss Saigon presented by the Diablo Light Opera Company runs through October 1 at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets please call 925-943-SHOW or visit www.dloc.org.


Photo: Diablo Light Opera Company



Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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