Miss Saigon is a retelling of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly by Composer, Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricist, Alain Boublil that uses the Vietnam War as its backdrop. The musical depicts the tragic romance between an American G.I., Chris (Anthony Festa) and a virgin-ish bargirl, Kim (Emily Bautista), whose fortunes are dictated by the resourceful character of “Engineer” (Red Concepcion) who runs the busy brothel.
Bautista, with her angelic voice, is heartbreaking as Kim, the shy showgirl forced upon Chris at the sleazy “Dreamland” sex parlor. A night of passion changes their lives forever with Chris promising to take her to America and marry her so she can leave her volatile country. But Saigon is falling and the lovers are doomed. While Kim is packing her bags, Chris goes to the embassy where he is detained and forced to evacuate without her. The years pass and Kim remains hopeful of his return, supporting their little boy by continuing to work at the strip joint. She has no idea that Chris has married another but remains scarred by the past.
Bautista and Festa have palpable chemistry and are supported by a stunning cast of over 40 people. As ‘The Engineer,’ Red Concepcion ( Equus, Sleeping Beauty) fully inhabits his character, a resourceful pimp eager to make his way to America. He is the focal point of this production, part-character and part-narrator, emceeing his way across the stage with gyrating hips and crude comments.
But the spotlight shines equally bright on Lighting Designer, Bruno Poet, Sound Designer, Mick Potter, the projections by Luke Halls, and Production Designers, Totie Driver, and Matt Kinley. Case in point is the dramatic scene where we watch Chris frantically searching for Kim behind a tall chain link fence with razor wire. She is one among the countless desperate people begging to leave on the last chopper to America as the city falls to advancing North Vietnamese troops. The countenances of the desperate Vietnamese people losing hope of escaping will stay branded on my soul for quite some time. Chris and other Americans board the copter as it descends on the rooftop of the building, and Lighting Designer, Bruno Poet enhances this scene so that it appears as if the life-size bird takes off from the stage and flies over the audience’s head.
Here’s an evening of big, moving musical numbers and thrilling set pieces. And then, of course, there’s that helicopter — simply astonishing.
— Victor Riobo
Miss Saigon is playing through August 11th at the Hollywood Pantages Theater.