I had somehow missed the musical Miss Saigon, with music by Claude Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil, until I finally caught up with this production at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. When I was in New York several friends said not to miss it, and last time I tried to see it I was a week late. Well, now I have seen it and loved it.
I had thought I’d be seeing a version of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly but Miss Saigon is so much more. The music isn’t Puccini but is by the same team that gave us Les Miserables, and the music is similar to the music from Les Miserables but lusher, and very romantic.
Butterfly is set in Japan but Miss Saigon is set in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. The result is a scathing indictment of war, and this war in particular, but it is also a tribute to the human spirit.
In the confusion and turmoil of the war an American soldier meets and falls in love with a Vietnamese girl, only to be separated at the end of the war. They struggle to find each other, but there is an amazing scene where a helicopter arrives onstage and flies off with the soldier but with no girl, only a few citizens desperately holding on trying to get out of the country. I understand this scene was even more powerful in the New York production where they had a much bigger copter, but it worked here too. The girl has a baby, and the soldier and his new wife find out and come to find her, and take the baby. The musical is very hard-hitting, complete with a bar filled with whores, a nasty pimp, and a huge statue of Ho Chi Minh.
The cast is quite wonderful, headed by Jacqueline Nguyen, a real Vietnamese performer and the first such to play the role, as Kim. She is a lovely actress and singer. Joseph Anthony Foronda, a performer from Chicago, is suitably oily and scary as the Engineer. Lawrence Cummings is a powerful John (what a voice!). Cassandra Murphy is Ellen, the wife of the soldier, and does a splendid job in a difficult role. Kevin Odekirk is wonderful as Chris, the soldier, and he has a glorious voice. Brian Kite did a splendid job of directing, as did Dana Solimando as choreographer. John Glaudini is the musical director.
Miss Saigon will play at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through May 6. Go to this one!