Story: A 17-year-old orphan named Kim in 1975 is compelled to seek work in a Saigon bar and brothel called Dreamland under the scheming eye of a man known as The Engineer. A group of American soldiers visits, checking out the mock “Miss Saigon” pageant while choosing which young woman to take into a bedroom.
A Marine named John encourages his unhappy comrade, Chris, to select Kim for some quick pleasure before the soldiers’ impending departure from Vietnam. Chris reluctantly agrees, then finds that he and Kim are mutually attracted. Eventually the other women hold a “wedding ceremony” for Kim and Chris and he vows to take her back to America with him.
Thuy, an officer in the North Vietnamese Army, learns that his cousin Kim has made a vow with Chris. He reminds her that she was betrothed to him by her late father and he intends that she honor that arrangement. He leaves angrily when she refuses.
Three years later, Chris is back in the United States. He was unsuccessful in his efforts to get Kim out of Vietnam. He’s lost touch with her and, after a period of grief, has married an American woman named Ellen. Thuy has become a leader of the new communist regime and has ordered his soldiers to find The Engineer and, through him, locate Kim.
John now works for an aid organization which tries to connect ex-soldiers with the children, known as bui-doi, that they may or may not have known they left behind in Vietnam. He learns that Chris fathered a child by Kim and also finds out that Kim and her son live in Bangkok, still with The Engineer.
John, Chris and Ellen journey to Thailand, where Chris hopes to once again see the woman he still loves, despite the subsequent complications in their lives. But is he too late?
Highlights: The first touring production of the 2014 revival of this acclaimed musical shows once again the power and majesty of the original 1989 musical based on Giacomo Puccini’s classic tragic opera, Madame Butterfly. It features a poignant and stirring score by Claude Michel Schonberg, who collaborated earlier with lyricist and author Alain Boublil on another epic musical, Les Miserables.
Other Info: Boublil co-wrote the lyrics to Miss Saigon with Richard Maltby Jr. and the book with Schonberg. Miss Saigon features exhilarating music and wondrous choreography, the latter designed by Bob Avian, who also conceived the musical staging of the show’s many wondrous numbers.
Miss Saigon ran for more than 4,000 performances each in London’s West End (1989-99) and on Broadway (1991-2001), where it garnered three Tony Awards after winning two Olivier Awards in London. Those shows, under the auspices of producer Cameron Macintosh, featured white actors in the roles of The Engineer and Thuy, causing considerable controversy.
This touring version of the revival, which opened in London in 2014 and transferred to Broadway in 2017 (closing in 2018), is highlighted by a sensational performance by Philippine actor Red Concepcion as The Engineer, a role that brings to mind the MC in Cabaret and one played by Concepcion direct from the current touring show in the United Kingdom.
Concepcion is front and center in the second-act sensation, The American Dream, an eye-popping, rousing, glorious salute to capitalism run amok in the United States, with The Engineer soaking up all the material decadence he can muster in his fantasy about the future home he covets.
It’s an extravagantly exquisite piece which takes full advantage of Bruno Poet’s lavish lighting and the imaginative set designed by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley along with the design concept of Adrian Vaux.
Concepcion's ingratiating, electric performance is complemented by the fine work of Emily Bautista, reprising her role as Kim from the most recent Broadway production, and Anthony Festa as Chris, the GI torn between two loves on different continents. The latter pair show strong chemistry on affecting ballads such as Sun and Moon and The Last Night of the World. (Myra Molloy portrays Kim in select performances.)
The show’s other standout number is The Morning of the Dragon, which opens the second part of the first act beneath an imposing likeness of Ho Chi Minh. It features a cadre of acrobatic dancers in costume designer Andreane Neofitou’s totalitarian martial attire performing impressive feats in unison to Schonberg’s pulsating score.
Jinwoo Jung brings depth and dimension to the role of Thuy, showing him not as a villain so much as representing the traditions of another culture, while J. Daughtry finely depicts the evolution of John from a pleasure-seeking soldier to a charity official seeking to right previous wrongs for children who were unknowing victims of a senseless war.
Stacie Bono displays a beautiful voice as the compassionate Ellen, while Christine Bunuan as Gigi effectively represents the desperate world of the brothel girls.
Michael Mahler provides additional lyrics, the rich orchestrations are courtesy of William David Brohn and musical supervision is by Stephen Brooker. Mick Potter adds the pulsating sound design, most accentuated on the remarkable helicopter-simulation evacuation scene late in the second act, and the revival also includes useful projections by Luke Halls above the action.
Geoffrey Garratt adds his considerable efforts to the compelling choreography and director Laurence Connor ensures that audiences are kept engrossed by the sweeping score and story during the musical’s nearly three hours of time.
Miss Saigon was last performed at The Fox in 2000 in its original incarnation. This revival retains all of the power and humanity while adding savvy and sophisticated elements of its own.
Musical: Miss Saigon
Company: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: Through May 5
Tickets: $27-$99; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Matthew Murphy and Johann Persson