One of the most successful musicals of all time, Miss Saigon, the tour, is now playing at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music until March 31.
Theatre legend Cameron Mackintosh has created a visually exciting and emotionally-charged new production of the legendary musical Miss Saigon. This marks the first time Philadelphia will experience this London, international, and Broadway blockbuster by Alain Boubill and Claude-Michel Schonberg in an updated retelling in part based upon the world-renowned masterpiece by Giacomo Puccini, Madame Butterfly. Miss Saigon takes place during the Vietnam conflict in the 1970s. It is a three-year saga spanning the fall of Hanoi in 1975, Ho Chi Minh City and Atlanta in 1978, and concluding in Bangkok in 1978.
After its opening in London in 1989, Miss Saigon opened on Broadway in 1991 with the largest advance ticket sales in history, with the run turning a handsome profit for its investors, even with the considerable controversy surrounding the production. There were allegations of Orientalism, racism, and misogyny levelled against Miss Saigon. Cameron Mackintosh insisted that his two London stars recreate their roles on Broadway. The Broadway community (and Actors Equity in particular) pushed back, insisting that Americans should play the roles made famous by Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer and Lea Salonga as Kim. As it turned out, both actors won the Tony award for their outstanding performances in their respective roles.
In this production, the star is The Engineer, a petty hood and pimp, here played with oily creepiness by Red Concepcion. Emily Bautista is Kim, the Cio Cio San character from Madame Butterfly. Kim is a teenager who has escaped murder in war-torn Vietnam only to fall into a life of prostitution in Hanoi, and later again in Bangkok, Thailand. Ms. Bautista is a fragile, yet resilient Kim. As Sgt. Christopher “Chris” Scott, Anthony Festa was everything the role called for: handsome, tired, passionate, torn by regret and loss. A role almost impossible to believe because two women found that life without him was impossible, so deep was their undying love. He was forcefully separated from Kim during the ensuing chaos of the evacuation associated with the fall of Hanoi. As the plot holds, Chris was bereft for over a year, until a beautiful, young woman named Ellen saved him from deep depression. She became his wife. Stacie Bono is Ellen, who sang with daring and heartfelt commitment. John was played by J. Daughtry, a soldier in Hanoi who later led a campaign in America to reunite the war-torn survivors with their American husbands and fathers. He shone in his solo from the well-known anthem, “Bui Doi.” Rounding out the principals in the cast was Jinwoo Jung as Thuy, Kim’s former fiancé who later becomes an official in the new government. Mr. Jung finely acted and sung his supporting role.
The large supporting cast spectacularly sang, danced, or moved about the stage as soldiers, chorus boys, prostitutes, tourists and townspeople, with one male S&M sex worker especially riveting in a harness with a whip. The live orchestra played with emotion and power, and the special effects were outstanding. The helicopter was thrilling (as it should be), the dragon dance was smartly done, and the big fantasy number “The American Dream” was a true highlight of the evening.
All told, Miss Saigon is a spectacle with deep emotional expression and outstanding music. Miss Saigon is well worth your visit.
Miss Saigon is part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Philadelphia season. Miss Saigon will be performed at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia until March 31. For information about this production and the rest of the Broadway Philadelphia season, visit www.kimmelcenter.org .
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