(Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Written by Patrick Chavis
The subject of tragic love has been covered in plays and stories for centuries — think of the iconic example of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Tragic love stories are told and retold because love is such a powerful and all-encompassing topic. Everyone can relate–whether for an object or a person, people search endlessly for some type of love. When told well, stories can show how fragile love can be and how easily it can be taken away. It’s no surprise these tales strike a chord deep in our hearts.
Cameron Mackintosh Presents Boublil & Schonberg’s Miss Saigon, playing now at the Segerstrom Center of the Arts, strikes a strong chord with a soulful but tragic storyline and a cast of Broadway-level vocalists who deliver.
Set near the end of the Vietnam War, Miss Saigon is the story of Kim (Emily Bautista) a girl from the Vietnamese countryside who gets hustled into working at a brothel/bar called Dreamland by the sleazy owner known as The Engineer (Red Concepcion). During her first night on the job Kim meets an American GI named Chris (Anthony Festa), and they fall in love. The war separates the two lovers, and as time progresses things get more and more complicated as the couple work to overcome the many obstacles blocking their reunion.
There are many obvious, stereotypical ideas used in this show. Miss Saigon is a product of the time it was made, around the late ’80s. Unfortunately, the result is yet another story about love at first sight, over done. It’s also another story featuring an Asian character written with minimal personality. I mean,how much do we really learn about the character Kim?– virtually nothing besides the fact that she falls in love hard and fast.
Even with these issues, there exist positive reasons why this musical has lasted this long. One of the strongest parts of the story is the section about the Bui Doi. There’s a full song about the Bui Doi — children of American Soldiers and Vietnamese women who were abandoned during the Vietnam war. This was true, and one of the many horrible things that took place because of the war. Although the message is delivered in a highly melodramatic style, Miss Saigon shows at least some of the toll the war had on the Vietnamese and everyone it touches in this story.
The acting between our leads Festa and Bautisa is excellent, and they really do sell their love on stage. The performance from Ellen (Ellie Fishman) was fantastic while delivering one of my favorite songs from the show–“Maybe.”
The songs and music in this production are very well produced. The singing from Emily Bautista (Kim) is delicate but strong enough to be heard throughout the entire building. The score is a beautiful mixture of classical, jazz and Vietnamese sounding melodies under the direction of conductor Will Curry.