Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's reviews of Kings and The Panties, The Partner and The Profit:
The Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington is hosting the resplendent touring production of Miss Saigon, based on the production that opened in London in 2014 and appeared on Broadway in 2017. The cast is large, the musicians accomplished, and the human drama surprisingly intimate in such a vast setting.
The epic musical romance by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) and Richard Maltby Jr. & Alain Boublil (lyrics), inspired by Puccini's Madame Butterfly, originally became famous for its image of a helicopter hovering above mobs of people trying to flee the fall of Saigon in 1975. The spectacle is still there but, as directed by Laurence Connor, the actors never get swallowed up.
That said, scenic designers Totie Driver and Matt Kinley have devised a multi-level set that is often fascinating to watch: the walls of a building unravel to form fences and barriers, then recombine in other shapes. Lighting designer Bruno Poet uses cones of light and jolting bursts to create cinematic effects onstage.
Connor is working with a 42-member cast of acting, singing dancers driven by Bob Avian's visceral choreography: bar girls vamping, Marines brawling, Vietnamese soldiers parading before an enormous bust of Ho Chi Minh, tourists (in this production, including a Mormon missionary) crowding the streets of Bangkok's red-light district.
Emily Bautista remains the heart of Miss Saigon as Kim, the Vietnamese orphan who endures the deaths of her family, the destruction of her village, degradation, abandonment, re-education, and single motherhood as she awaits the return of the man she loves. However, Red Concepción is the unrivaled star of this production as The Engineer, the sleazy Saigon bar owner and pimp determined to do anything to get a U.S. visa. Where the character is often played as reptilian and sly, Red Concepción is campy and broad in his gaudy suits (Andreane Neofitou designed the knockout costumes). He's shameless, cloaking his feral ambition in raffish charm, and it all culminates in the excess of "The American Dream."
As Chris, the Marine who falls in love with Kim and tries to rescue her from the fall of Saigon, Anthony Festa never quite captures the nuances of his character. Chris is supposed to be dead inside when he meets Kim and she gives him a reason to go on; Festa sings nicely but comes across as boyish rather than damaged. In contrast, J. Daughtry is a dominating figure whenever he appears as Chris' friend John, who matures from selfishness and cynicism to strength as an advocate for Vietnamese-American children fathered by soldiers. Stacie Bono is lovely as the next woman in Chris' life, who gradually realizes she's in over her head, and Christine Bunuan as "showgirl" Gigi stands out in "The Movie in My Mind."
For more information on the tour, visit www.miss-saigon.com/us-tour.