Kansas City, Missouri
September 7, 2013
Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars
In April 1991 one of the great “spectacle” musicals opened on Broadway. The show was “Miss Saigon,” which I had the privilege to see shortly after its opening. The show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, winning three for Lead Actor in a Musical (Jonathan Pryce), Lead Actress in a Musical (Lea Salonga) and Featured Actor in a Musical (Hinton Battle). “The Will Rogers Follies” took home the bulk of the awards that year, including Best Musical. But “Miss Saigon” had the last laugh. While “The Will Rogers Follies” ran for two years, “Miss Saigon” ran for almost ten. In fact, as I write this, it is the 12th longest running show in Broadway history. The current touring production opened this week at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City and it proved a fitting end to a successful season under the stars.
Saigon. 1975. As the war in Vietnam comes to a close we meet Chris (Charlie Brady) and John (Nkrumah Gatling) as they pay a visit to Dreamland, the local club where you can find ANYTHING you desire, courtesy of the club’s owner, who calls himself The Engineer (Orville Mendoza). The club is buzzing with the heat of a steamy night as well as the heat coming off the girls who work there. New to the club is Kim (Manna Nichols), who has just lost her family and now finds herself homeless and alone. As the girls gyrate and compete to win the nightly crown of “Miss Saigon,” Chris spots Kim from across the room. In this terrible place torn apart by war he has discovered an angel. John arranges with the Engineer that Kim and Chris spend the night together and, when morning comes, they are in love. But any plans they make for the future come to a halt when Chris, his fellow Marines and the US Ambassador evacuate Saigon.
Brilliantly staged, this production of “Miss Saigon” is equal in scope to the one I took in more than two decades ago at the Broadway Theater (that is the name of the theater…it’s actually on 53rd Street and is currently hosting the revival of “Cinderella”). I’ve always been impressed with Starlight’s ability to reproduce the scale of Broadway on their stage and they do it again with this show. The cast is well voiced and bring an emotional quality needed to the subject matter. I must give special attention to both Mendoza and Nichols who were, in my opinion, as good as their Tony Award winning predecessors. On an unseasonably hot September night their voices soared high and clear over the audience. Technically the show is also first rate, from the direction to the new choreography by Baayork Lee. Theatre fans may recognize Miss Lee as the original Connie in “A Chorus Line.” She has done an outstanding job or translating the show in her own way.
Recent rumors of a “Miss Saigon” film are running rampant, based on a comment producer Cameron MacIntosh made regarding the success of the recent “Les Miserables.” Since that film made almost $150 million in the US alone, I’m betting that the heat will soon be on at a theatre near you!
“Miss Saigon” continues at Starlight through September 13.
Hartford September 16
Detroit September 24
St. Paul October 8