Reimagined ‘Miss Saigon’ Is Grounded In Realism
Reviewed by: Justin Williams
It is hard to believe but in over 20 years in the theatre world I had not seen a production of Miss Saigon. I had heard of its success on both the West End and Broadway and of course knew most of the score, just never had the opportunity to witness it. Tonight that changed and let me tell you, it was every bit as good as I have heard for the past 20 years.
Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed new production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical Miss Saigon opens tonight for a limited engagement at Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W Randolph St) through Saturday, December 8, 2018.
Miss Saigon was inspired by both Madame Butterfly and a photograph of a Vietnamese mother leaving her child at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to board a plane for the U.S. to live with his father, an ex- GI. It tells the story of a young Vietnamese woman named Kim, who is orphaned by war and forced to work in a bar run by a notorious character known as the Engineer. There she meets and falls in love with an American G.I. named Chris, but they are torn apart by the fall of Saigon. For 3 years, Kim goes on an epic journey of survival to find her way back to Chris, who has no idea he’s fathered a son.
Mr. Mackintosh has quite a knack for putting together one hell of a spectacle, this new production of Miss Saigon doesn’t dispel that. With beautiful costumes designed by Andreane Neofitou, spot on lights by Bruno Poet, well-executed projections by Luke Halls, and a stunning and detailed set design by Matt Kinley and Totie Driver you are dropped right into the heat of Saigon. Laurence Connor (Director) and Bob Avian (Choreographer) work together seamlessly to create the rest of Saigon, there is never a wasted moment on that stage. The real cherry on top for me is the realism that is brought to the stage throughout the show. It is extremely easy to cast performers into these roles strictly because of their voice; however that is not what was done here, every single person in this production is pouring heart and soul into every note and lyric they sing.
Red Concepcion is outstanding as The Engineer. The transition he portrays throughout the show is the perfect combination of enterprising and entertaining. You really get a lesson in stage presence during his big number “The American Dream” as he commands a bare stage for 90% of the number.
Emily Bautista is exquisite in the role of Kim. Her first moments on stage are enrapturing as she takes you an emotional journey through lust, love, and motherhood. Bautista’s voice is stunning; her range is immense and has so much power. The Act 1 finale “I’d Give My Life For You” is now in my top 10 moments of musical theatre.
Anthony Festa handles Chris with expertise. Festa’s voice is one of the best voices I have heard in quite some time. Festa’s “Why God Why?” was as beautifully acted as it was sung, giving us a glimpse into the emotions and thoughts that were going through Chris’s mind.
The chemistry between Bautista and Festa is white hot! Their voices mix perfectly and they have a connection on stage that is absolutely beautiful. Connor gives these two plenty of wonderful moments to show off this chemistry and allows us to really fall in love with them.
J. Daughtry gives several standout performances during the show, but, the most outstanding is the ACT 2 opener “Bui Doi”. Daughtry paired with a powerful projection clip from Luke Halls make this number an extremely powerful piece. Stacie Bono who plays Ellen has a gorgeous voice and delivers one of the most heartfelt performances during “Maybe”.
Miss Saigon covers a lot of relevant political and social issues in which an open dialogue should follow to ensure that history will not repeat itself.
Miss Saigon plays through December 8, 2018 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. For more information including ticket purchase visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.