Play: “Miss Saigon”
Group: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through July 27
Tickets: Free to $64; contact 314-534-1111 or The Muny box office
Story: An updated version of Puccini’s opera, “Madame Butterfly,” this musical is written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, creators of another blockbuster musical, “Les Miserables.” With additional material and lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr., it tells the story of Chris, an American GI stationed in Vietnam in the waning days of the Vietnam War. Taken by fellow soldier John to a Vietnamese free-swinging nightclub, he meets Kim, an orphaned virgin embarking on a career as a prostitute in service to an entrepreneur named The Engineer. Chris and Kim fall in love, but are separated shortly thereafter when Chris is evacuated during the fall of Saigon, unable to bring Kim with him back to America.
Chris, who had married Kim in a quiet ceremony, subsequently marries an American woman, Ellen, uncertain of Kim’s fate. Several years later, through the efforts of John, Chris and Ellen find Kim living in Thailand and are urged by her to take Chris’ son back with them to America and a chance at a better life.
Highlights: The Muny has mounted a strong and stirring production under the direction of Darren Lee, who also contributes several rousing choreographic numbers in his well-paced show. Key to the success of this presentation is Francis Jue’s compelling performance as The Engineer. Similar in style and structure to the vile emcee in “Cabaret,” the slick and salacious character is given a rich and rewarding interpretation by Jue. He shines in the show’s best numbers, including the alluring rocker, “If You Want to Die in Bed” and the upbeat “The American Dream” near the show’s conclusion. The long, sometimes repetitive numbers are highly reminiscent of the style of “Les Miserables,” while the choreography often brings to mind the sexy, sassy stylings of Bob Fosse.
Other Info: Ma-Anne Dionisio is a strong and sympathetic Kim, capably handling love ballads such as “Sun & Moon” and “Last Night of the World” in duets with Eric Kunze. The latter does a fine job as the well-intentioned GI Chris, considerably nicer than the oafish Lt. Pinkerton of “Madame Butterfly” on which he’s based. Josh Tower is consistently solid as the well-meaning John, Michael K. Lee is effective as Kim’s nasty cousin, Thuy, to whom she was betrothed by her late parents, and Kathy Voytko does OK in the small role of Chris’ American wife, Ellen.
Jason Krueger deserves kudos for the splendid sound design, including the opening helicopter noise. Steve Gilliam’s beautiful set features an actual helicopter in the second act, as well as a splendidly painted backdrop that captures the essence of Southeast Asia, all handsomely lit by F. Mitchell Dana’s design which highlights the communist march through Ho Chi Minh City. Musical director Edward G. Robinson and his orchestra provide satisfying accompaniment to the proceedings throughout.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.