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If you are looking for a bright, buoyant, feel-good musical, Miss Saigon is not it. The current U.S. tour of this prize-winning PG-13 rated musical extravaganza, now playing Raleigh Memorial Auditorium as an encore presentation of Broadway Series South, dramatizes one of the darkest and ugliest chapters of American military history: the Fall of Saigon on April 29-30, 1975, and its horrific aftermath for the Vietnamese people who helped the U.S. war effort.
The subject of this magnificent rock opera, with book and songs by Les Misérables creators Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, plus lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., is the stuff of nightmares. Saigon on the eve of its capture by the North Vietnamese Army is a veritable cesspool of decadence and debauchery; and the final evacuation of American troops, U.S. Embassy personnel and dependants, and precious few Vietnamese citizens who helped them degenerates into a mad stampede for too few open seats on too few helicopters.
Big League Theatricals Inc.’s traveling version of Miss Saigon, energetically staged by director Mitchell Lemsky, with bold and brassy musical staging by choreographer Jodi Moccia, recreates the show’s famous helicopter scene with a convincing video projection by Sage Marie Carter. Scenery designer Adrian Vaux does a terrific job of recreating bar, street, and bedroom scenes from the seedier parts of Saigon and Bangkok, Thailand; lighting designer Charlie Morrison helps keeps the atmosphere sleazy and ominous; and costume designer Andreane Neofitou mixes drab American and Vietnamese uniforms with colorful outfits for the pimps and bargirls of Vietnam and Thailand.
Musical supervisor Paul Raiman and musical director/conductor Kevin Casey provide exuberant instrumental accompaniment for this tragic tale inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s poignant 1904 opera Madame Butterfly; and sound designer Lucas J. Corrubia Jr. does his best to ensure that the cast members’ dialogue and vocals are audible. Even so, some dialogue and some lyrics were hard to hear opening night (Tuesday).
Alan Gillespie and Jennifer Paz are excellent — superlative actors and singers — as Chris and Kim, the show’s star-crossed lovers. (Chris is a world-weary U.S. Marine, and Kim is a novice bargirl forced into prostitution when her family is killed.) Their brief but passionate romance just before the Fall of Saigon results in a son, Tam (five-year-old Jonathan Wade in a touching, mostly mute cameo role).
Johann Michael Camat is wonderfully wicked — a real pistol — as The Engineer, a Eurasian wheeler-dealer, pimp, and proprietor of the bar where the virginal Kim must turn her first tricks. Emerita Alcid is a regular ball of fire as Gigi, a veteran bargirl who takes Kim under her wing; Ashley Hunt is quite good as Ellen, the deeply concerned American wife whom Chris married when he thought Kim was killed during the Fall of Saigon; and Mario Tadeo is a master of menace as Kim’s cousin Thuy, a brutal NVA officer who tries to force her to honor the marriage contract their families made when they were children.
D.J. Oliver handles the preachy role of John, Chris’ best friend, fellow Marine, and hell-raiser par excellence, very well. Haunted by the horrible plight of the Amerasian children left behind in a society that scorns them as “Bui Doi” (the dust of life), John becomes an international relief worker trying to rescue as many Bui Doi as possible from persecution.
The current U.S. tour of Miss Saigon, which received an enthusiastic and unusually lengthy standing ovation at the final curtain on Tuesday night, is an all-around outstanding rendition of the hit West End and Broadway musical. Don’t squander the chance to see this entertaining and thought-provoking show.
Note: For more information on how to help the Bui Doi, see the Amerasian Child Find Network (http://www.amerasian-childfind.org/ [inactive 1/07]), which helps reunite Vietnamese children with their American fathers; and see the Amerasian Hope Foundation (http://www.aahope.org/ [inactive 8/06]), whose mission is to help “victims of the war from 1962 to 1975, including children and young adults who grew up without benefit of a father.”
Broadway Series South presents Miss Saigon Thursday-Friday, Feb. 17-18, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 19, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 20, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1. E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $29-$64. BTI Box Office 919/831-6060. Groups of 20 or More: 919/857-4565 or http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/group.html#saigon [inactive 5/05]. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/broadway.html [inactive 5/05]. London Site: http://www.miss-saigon.com/ [inactive 9/06]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=6149. The Tour: http://www.misssaigontour.com/ [inactive 9/06]. Study Guide: http://www.misssaigontour.com/studyguide.pdf [inactive 12/05]. Fall of Saigon Marine Association: http://www.fallofsaigon.org/ [inactive 8/05].
Broadway Series South will bring Miss Saigon, the magnificent PG-13 rated Vietnam War musical inspired by the tragic East-West romance in the classic opera Madame Butterfly (1904) by Giacomo Puccini, back to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium for eight more performances, starting tonight. The current U.S. tour, produced by Big League Theatricals Inc. and directed by Mitchell Lemsky, with musical staging by Jodi Moccia, stars Alan Gillespie as Chris and Jennifer Paz as Kim, a battle-hardened U.S. Marine coming apart at the seams and an innocent Vietnamese girl newly arrived from the country and forced into prostitution.
Young Filipina/American actress Emerita Alcid, who plays Gigi, a veteran Saigon bargirl who befriends Kim, says Chris and Kim meet at Dreamland, a sleazy bar for GIs run by The Engineer (Johann Michael Camat). Kim and Chris fall deeply in love during the final days before the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese Army on April 29-30, 1975.
The night that Chris and Kim meet, Gigi wins the bar’s nightly contest to be crowned “Miss Saigon” — and sold to the highest bidder. In “The Movie in My Mind,” Gigi describes Dreamland’s customers — young American soldiers on the make — in acid terms:
They are not nice, they're mostly noise
They swear like men, they screw like boys
I know there's nothing in their hearts
But every time I take one in my arms
The movie in my mind ….
Alcid says, “Gigi is basically the main bargirl at Dreamland and has been there the longest out of all the girls. [Kim and Gigi want] to get out Saigon and start a new life in America and leave the past behind. Gigi ... is close to John [D.J. Oliver], Chris’ friend [and fellow Marine]; and she hopes that he would be able to make her dream come true, but [it] turns out he wasn’t as serious as she was. It’s totally heartbreaking to have all her hopes and dreams crushed.”
Emerita Alcid says Chris and Kim are separated during the frantic American evacuation of Saigon; and Chris thinks Kim is dead, never realizing that she not only survives but is pregnant with his child and living precariously, first, in the newly rechristened Ho Chi Minh City and, later, as a penniless refugee in Bangkok, Thailand, where John — now an international relief worker trying to help the “Bui Doi” (dust of life) Vietnamese children with absent American fathers — finds Kim and her three-year-old son, Tam (five-year-old Vietnam-born Jonathan Wade), in 1978. More than anything, Kim still wants to take Tam to America to reunite with Chris and live as man and wife.
Alcid, whose family moved from the Philippines and to New Jersey when she was 10, says, “I’ve been here about 12 years. I went to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York for a semester, then[, three years ago,] I heard about auditions for [the U.S. tour Miss Saigon]. So, I went and auditioned, and I got the job. It’s okay [that I dropped out of AMDA], because I think this is a better learning experience for me anyway.”
Alcid says, “This is my first professional job, and it’s my third year [touring in Miss Saigon]. I started as ensemble only, and my second year I became the Gigi cover.” This year, she took over role of Gigi and is understudying the role of Ellen.
"I love the show, I love the story, and I love touring, too,” Alcid says.
Alcid says she has never known anyone like Gigi. “I haven’t experienced anything like that,” she says. “But, in life, there’s always something that you looking for and things that don’t work out; and you get hurt and you just lose all hope.
"Gigi’s a strong woman,” claims Emerita Alcid, “because she’s gone through so much in her life. But she longs for a perfect life where she doesn’t have to do the things she does to survive.”
Also in the tour cast are Ashley Hunt, who will play Chris’ American wife Ellen, who accompanies her husband on his trip to Thailand, never realizing that Chris has a secret agenda; and Mario Tadeo, who will portray Kim’s cousin and ruthless persecutor Thuy, a North Vietnamese Army officer who tries to force himself upon her.
The world-premiere production of Miss Saigon, produced by Cameron Mackintosh and directed by Nicholas Hytner, opened on Sept. 20, 1989 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London’s West End. Before it closed on Oct. 30, 1999, after 4,263 performances, Miss Saigon won The Evening Standard and the London Theatre Critics Circle awards for Best Musical.
Miss Saigon made its Broadway debut on April 11, 1991 at the Broadway Theatre. Before it closed on Jan. 28, 2001, after 4,092 performances, the show was nominated for 11 1991 Tony Awards®, including Best Musical, and won three Tonys —for Best Actor in a Musical (Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer), for Best Actress in a Musical (Lea Salonga as Kim), and for Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Hinton Battle as John) — plus four Drama Desk awards, three Outer Critics Circle awards, and one Theatre World award.
How does the current U.S. tour of Miss Saigon differ from previous productions of this show? “There are certain things that we don’t have, certain sets,” notes Emerita Alcid. “This is a touring version of Miss Saigon, and we have to make sure that everything can travel with us.”
Alcid says the direction and musical staging of Miss Saigon also differ from that of the Broadway production, which was directed by Nicholas Hytner, with musical staging by Bob Avian. She says U.S. tour director Mitchell Lemsky has taken a fresh new approach to this timely love story, which — according to the London web site of Miss Saigon — has been translated into 10 different languages and performed in 138 cities in 19 countries before a combined audience of more than 31 million people.
"Being on [the Miss Saigon U.S. tour] from the very start,” Alcid says, “we were able to come up with our own characters and our own blocking. A lot of things are the same [as they were in the Broadway production] and a lot of things are different from the Broadway version. But this production is just as good; it could be on Broadway right now.”
Before serving as director of the current U.S. tour of Miss Saigon, Mitchell Lemsky was associate director for the show’s original Broadway production and subsequent U.S. tours, as well as Canadian, German, and Japanese productions of this award-winning show by the French creators of Les Misérables: composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricist Alain Boublil, who collaborated on the book for Miss Saigon. (Richard Maltby, Jr. helped Alain Boublil write the show’s English lyrics.)
Before doing the musical staging for the current U.S. tour of Miss Saigon, Jodi Moccia was the associate choreographer for the show’s Broadway production, subsequent U.S. tours of Miss Saigon, and the Toronto production of the show.
In addition to Lemsky and Moccia, the creative team for the current tour includes executive producer Daniel Sher, associate director Shidan Majidi, scenery designer Adrian Vaux, lighting designer Charlie Morrison, costume designer Andreane Neofitou, musical supervisor Paul Raiman, projection designer Sage Carter, animation producer Leon Grodski, and sound designer Lucas J. Corrubia Jr.
If you haven’t seen Miss Saigon, says Emerita Alcid, “You should just come and see the show. It will definitely touch you. You’ll definitely enjoy the show. It’s a powerful show; it’s part of our history. You’ll be able to learn a couple of things, too.
Broadway Series South presents Miss Saigon Tuesday-Friday, Feb. 15-18, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 19, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 20, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1. E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $29-$64. BTI Box Office 919/831-6060. Groups of 20 or More: 919/857-4565 or http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/group.html#saigon [inactive 5/05]. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/broadway.html [inactive 5/05]. London Site: http://www.miss-saigon.com/ [inactive 9/06]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=6149. The Tour: http://www.misssaigontour.com [inactive 9/06]/. Study Guide: http://www.misssaigontour.com/studyguide.pdf [inactive 12/05]. Fall of Saigon Marine Association: http://www.fallofsaigon.org/ [inactive 8/05].