‘Miss Saigon’ brings us back to Vietnam in heartrending music and drama
LANSING, Mich.–Is Miss Saigon the epitome of the broken American Dream?
Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of
flies its way back on to the Michigan State University’s Wharton Center Great Hall stage March 12-17 and brings with it a lot of connections to the Vietnam War and a time many of us still find difficult to recall. It is also based on Giacomo Puccini‘s opera Madame Butterfly
Kim (Emily Bautista) escapes a brutal attack on her village and an arranged
marriage to Thuy (Jinwoo Jung) just to end up selling her body and her virtue to an American marine (Anthony Festa) in “Dreamland,” a brothel in Saigon in 1975 just before its fall. Love is sparked at first sight between the two and Kim is promised to be swept away from the cruelty of war, married and brought back to America.
However, she is left behind for three years, pining for her lost love while Chris returns to America and moves on with his life, even marrying another woman, Ellen, (Stacy Bono).
Kim dreams that her GI will save her and their son, while her previous pimp, the Engineer (Red Concepcion), decides to
scam on her situation in order to get his own VISA to get to America himself. Kim’s child is considered to be born American even while still Vietnam.
Thus the problem in Act II: way too many soldiers left behind children after being stationed overseas during the war and the number “Bui Doi,” opens the act with a conference like one of those “feed the hungry” commercials, broadcasting pictures of deserted American babies in orphanages. Kim’s son Tam, played by three different young actors, still has his mother, and she and the Engineer can contact the American Embassy to get to Chris in America not knowing that he is already married to someone else. Chris learns of his son and reluctantly tells his wife, prompting them to go to Bangkok to find Kim and Tam.
During the search for each other, Kim goes to Chris’s hotel room and learns
of the new wife. She immediately understands that it’s too late for her
and Chris, but it not too late for her son and begs Ellen to take Tam back to America and give him a better life. But Ellen sees it a
different way: in the song “Maybe,” she tries to convince herself that she can let Kim go despite seeing the love between her and Chris.
It’s evident why Red Concepcion won awards for best male performance in a musical: He owns the role of The Engineer. In the number, “American Dream,” he sings and dreams that life will be filled with money and Cadillacs, blondes, and fresh air. He begins the show a bit mumbly, but he definitely clears it up and builds a character that you can love to hate.
Ms. Bautista has a powerhouse voice and uses it in a heartbreaking conclusion in her final scene when she sings to her son and sees Chris once again.
This production is directed by Laurence Connor, The lighting is designed by Bruno Poet, and is a vital element throughout the show, from the repeating helicopter’s
“American Dream” to the city lights in Bangkok.
Like most popular Broadway musicals, Miss Saigon has experienced a revival
and fresh changes. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, new songs like “Maybe” and a traditional Vietnamese spin on the “Wedding